Speedrunning The Psychological Fog Of Silent Hill With Punchy

Alex McCumbers,

January 29, 2018 10:45 AM

Following his stellar late-night performance of a run through the original Silent Hill at AGDQ 2018, Punchy took the time to speak with us about what brought him to the game and his take on speedrunning as a whole.

Speedrunning transforms playing a video game into understanding a video game on a level often beyond even developers’ knowledge of how it works. Awesome Games Done Quick is a celebration of these highly skilled players, from the best that we get to see to the record-setting runs that go on behind the curtain, all running for a charity and for the pure entertainment factor. One of the most entertaining runs, despite the late night timeslot, was Punchy’s run of Silent Hill.

Alfie Mussett or Punchy as he’s known online, is a runner from England that holds several records in the Silent Hill series and has more recently has been running Xenogunner. The first Silent Hill that started the exceptional franchise, while a fascinating horror game in its own right, has some interesting aspects when tackling it as a speedrun. Mussett makes even the most convoluted strategies not only insightful, but hilarious to watch.  

Being run on a PSTV, Silent Hill is a speedgame that has more going on that what can be seen. Routing is all about knowing how to squeeze by particular enemies, managing items, and surprisingly opening doors just right. Punchy says throughout the run that if one is playing with logic, then they’re wrong. Things just don’t make sense in the speedrun of Silent Hill. Fitting considering the game’s narrative themes.

Now that runners have made their way home and getting over any bugs they may have picked up along the way, it’s the perfect time to catch up with a few and pick their brains. So we asked for an interview over Twitter and Mussett agreed.

We asked first how he got into gaming in general.

“I don't really remember when I first got into gaming,” Mussett replied, “I've had at least a Sega Megadrive as far back as I can remember. I'm pretty young, so gaming was kind of a ubiquitous thing for kids by that point. Although, I was never actually that into my Megadrive, since it was out of date by the time I was born, let alone old enough to form coherent thought. Kids are fickle like that.”

Punchy recalls classic PlayStation 1 games like Tomb Raider as his memorable entrypoint into gaming and eventually speedrunning.
Punchy recalls classic PlayStation 1 games like Tomb Raider as his memorable entrypoint into gaming, and eventually speedrunning.

“It took sometime later when my grandmother got one of the original PlayStations for me to really get into it. My grandmother had extremely good taste in games and I distinctly remember that the first game she ever played with me was the first Ape Escape. She then went on to share the Crash Bandicoots and Tomb Raiders with me and I've been extremely dedicated to the medium ever since.”

Punchy also shared the origin of how he got into speedrunning in the first place.

“Speedrunning came about sometime after AGDQ2013. I'd always been kind of a speedrunner just by nature. I would frequently time my playthroughs through a game, but without any rigorous method behind it so much as I'd just decide to see if I could beat a given game in a couple of hours, so that event really opened my eyes to the entire subculture existing. It was a perfect fit for me, really.”

Once he was into the community and dedicated to acing some games, Punchy described how he found his way to Silent Hill for one of his focused runs. It was actually one of the very earliest entries in his speedrunning history.

Silent Hill birthed a psychological brand of horror against the aggessively violent nature of other horror games that came before and after it. Speedrunning it is also a complex journey of smoke and mirrors to accomplish thoroughly.
Silent Hill birthed a psychological brand of horror against the aggessively violent nature of other horror games that came before and after it. Speedrunning it is also a complex journey of smoke and mirrors to accomplish thoroughly.

Silent Hill is actually the second speedrun I ever learned how to do (the first was Eastern Mind, a weird point-and-click game) and that came about because I happened to be playing through it sometime in 2013, really enjoyed it, and noticed it had an endgame clear time on the results screen.”

“While I was clearing up the unlocks for fast playthroughs, I figured ‘I kinda already know how to do this fast, so why not?’. So I looked up the top time on Speed Demos Archive where I found a time set in 2004 and at that moment that was the only time I could find online for that game. Due to it being so ridiculously old, the record hailed from an era of Speed Demos where even time saving glitches were banned from use. I thought that if I had the advantage of actually using time-saving glitches then it'd be a cinch to beat the record and update the time with something I felt was more proper for the game.”

Punchy mentions that by using glitches and knowledge gleaned since the record before his, he was able to break the old record in relatively short order.

“It didn't take me terribly long to beat the time and I've remained a fairly permanent fixture at the top of that game's leaderboards ever since. I have been running Silent Hill for about 4 years.”

This last AGDQ wasn’t the first time Mussett had performed in an event either. He had performed in front of crowds at another event prior to his run at AGDQ 2018, albeit on a very different game in a very different situation.

“I did a run of a 5 minute game jam game called Shuriken at SGDQ 2017. It was a 5 minute run in the middle of the night and I think it was the second shortest run of that marathon, so it wasn't exactly primetime viewing. I did however, do couch commentary for Freedom Planet during that same marathon and that made way more of an impact than my own run.”

Punchy enjoys providing commentary on gameplay. He claims to have been practicing and engaging in commentary well before he was actively running games himself, which helped build his overall presence and presentation when it came to his own runs.

“I've had a lot of practice with presenting commentary for video games in general over the years though, like well before I ever got into speedrunning, I used to be big into doing Let's Plays. My early attempts were frankly, miserable rubbish to watch, but I connected with other LPers during those times and improved those presenting skills by leaps and bounds over years with feedback from that community. The practice transferred extremely well by the time I got into speedrunning, so I've been delivering pretty good major marathon performances.”

Games with results screens at the end like the Silent Hill one shown have been enticing to speedrunning achievements since the very earliest days of the community.
Games with results screens at the end like the Silent Hill one shown have been enticingly conducive to achievements and record-setting since the very earliest days of the community.

It’s always interesting to see how the speedrun discipline translates to other aspects of life, so we asked Mussett if he had noticed anything like that in himself.

“Speedrunning is the thing that actually taught me the value of putting in effort for a desired result. Which feels like a really stupid place to learn it from, but at least it went in at some point. Before speedrunning, I used to subscribe to a notion of nebulous talent where if I wasn't good at something, it was innate and not something I had an amazing ability to fix.”

To this end, Punchy described how speedrunning not only gave him a drive to better himself at achieving strong video game runs, but also changed his philosophy on how he approached games in general.

“Nobody is born good at video games and especially nobody is born good at speedrunning. You have to work at it, but you don't have to grind until you can't feel your fingertips,” Punchy advises. “Just practice as consistently as you possibly can and you'll see results in time. This extended as far as helping me build the endurance to learn Japanese through self-teaching while I was in college. I'm not native-level fluent or anything, but I can play import games and understand them, on top of all of the other useful perks of knowing that language. I'd say that's a huge net positive for my life, as well as my outlook. ‘Put effort into thing to get result’ sounds comically obvious once said out loud, but you gotta learn it somewhere.”

Even despite the tremendous opportunities for player achevement, Silent Hill also plays host to a number of things that make for some entertaining fodder during runs.
Alongside the tremendous opportunities for player achevement, Silent Hill also plays host to a number of things that make for some entertaining fodder during runs.

We then talked about the community side of speedrunning, particularly in the frame of events like Games Done Quick.

“I think the communities themselves would've existed anyway, but it's gotten a lot more centralised and connected in modern times. Players of a game naturally seek out other players of that game, but the advent of speedrun.com and the GDQ marathons have really brought it together into something that resembles a cohesive whole, even if fundamentally it's still a lot of smaller groups with little more in common than taste in video games.”

Punchy explained his particular investment and enjoyment in Games Done Quick events for the way in which they bring together people from all corners of the community to put up stellar play and help others in the process.

“GDQ in particular is an excellent showcase of tons of these little community performances and it's amazing how so many of them have talented people willing and able to entertain a ton of people for a good cause. You wouldn't really think a bunch of people whose hobbies involve meticulously replaying the same video game would make for compelling entertainers, but frankly, everyone surprises me. I surprise myself.”

Lastly, we asked Mussett on his goals for the future, both as a speedrunner and as a person.

“As a speedrunner I generally just try and be the best at stuff I do. A lot of speedrunners have a philosophy of only competing against yourself and I think that's a healthy attitude to some extent, but I'm not like that. I'm competitive, I'm always thinking about climbing the rankings. It's good to compare against yourself, because you can always do a little better than yourself, but I also think there's nothing wrong with looking all the way to the top to remind you of how much better you could be if you want it.”

Even only as far as one month back (as of this writing), Punchy still pushes the limits, sitting at the top of the speedrun.com scoreboard in Silent Hill for the NG (Easy) category.
Even only as far as one month back (as of this writing), Punchy still pushes the limits, sitting at the top of the speedrun.com scoreboard in Silent Hill for the NG (Easy) category.

“As a person? I just like creating stuff people will remember and enjoy. Being a part of GDQ is a pretty huge fulfillment of that, being able to entertain hundreds of thousands of people is extremely wild. But I also like contributing my playtesting efforts to indie games, because if I can make that game just a little better for everyone else, then it's totally worth the time investment. Games are obviously a pretty huge part of my life, so I like giving back in some respect.”

Speedruns are often more than just a number on any given leaderboard, they’re the physical manifestation of dedication, skill, and discipline. Punchy took something he enjoyed and made his mark with it on the world of gaming, but it’s not just the fact that he can beat Silent Hill super fast or hold several records at once. Presenting as he did at Awesome Games Done Quick makes connections throughout the world.

That’s what is so fascinating about speedrunners. It’s not the games or the sites that host them or always staying on top of a leaderboard. It’s the people.

If you’d like to see Punchy in action or follow him, you can often find him streaming his Twitch channel.



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