Throughout the Speedrun Spotlight series we have established some common variables. Speedrunners often have a strong online presence, interacting often with their chat and twitter userbase, and forming bonds and friendships with other runners within their game. Discord is the main driver of discussion and knowledge sharing, and helps to amplify the resources of anyone getting into the intricacies of running specific games and categories. Now that we have a focal point and understanding of speedrunning, I want to begin to examine some of the complexities of the pursuit. My goal with this entry into the series - Dark Souls speedruns by Catalystz - was to gather some depth more acutely about the runner themselves and the distinct games and methods they use.
There are four main categories of Dark Souls speedruns: Any%, Any% No Wrong Warp, Any% Force quit, and All Bosses. For Catalystz, Dark Souls has been his main speed game for three years, and he has run each category except for Force Quit. He maintains the 1st place World Record currently in the Any% and All Bosses categories. Catalystz feels All Bosses is the exemplary category. “All of the Any% categories are shorter, so I don’t think they really do justice to the game,” Catalystz tells me. “At the same time, All Bosses has a really cool goal, that’s also really easy to understand. There are 26 bosses in dark souls, and you have to kill them all.” It’s a less complicated ruleset overall, with the added allure of watching someone beat these typically hard bosses very quickly.
As a fan of speedruns, I watch, but I have never tried speedrunning myself. There are not many comparable activities - an activity with a 1 hour or more commitment as a practice time - so it is hard to gauge the difficulty of training for runners; across games and across categories within games. As an outsider, I was intrigued to find that Catalystz finds the hour-long All Bosses category less intensive. I asked if he felt stressed having to put in such long times to perfect the run. “To to contrary, I find it more annoying to run the shorter categories,” Catalystz explained. “It is easier to get an Any% run to the point where you have to rely on RNG more than anything else. At that point you are fighting to get the game to line up the numbers for you and get the patterns that you need.” In essence, the longer Dark Souls runs are more time consuming, but more directly affected by player performance. You can grind a section perfectly on repeat, but if an enemy doesn’t drop the run-specific item you need, you have to restart anyway.
Catalystz sits at the top of the leaderboard for a few categories, and I was wondering what kept him coming back to the game and to speedrunning itself. “Speedrunning goes really well with streaming,” he said. In a game like Dark Souls, most runs require you to get a specific drop from an enemy. When Catalystz is repeating a cycle of the run waiting to get his item drop to trigger, he is able to get good content out of discussion with his chat. “I like to make my stream a lot about conversation. Talking about politics is something very common on my stream. When you’re resetting in the early game, its really easy to keep up with the audience. That’s what I most enjoy about speedrunning.” Catalystz is studying Political Science, so this opportunity to blend his studies with his streaming is an added layer of enjoyment.
I have a more than cursory knowledge of Dark Souls. I have beaten Dark Souls three times, twice on the Xbox 360 version, and once on the remaster. Having background information about the games, and first-hand experience, helps to articulate just how ludicrous some of these runs are. For people familiar with the game, keep track of how long it took you to get to Sen’s Fortress, and then how long it took you to complete it. In Catalystz’s SGDQ 2019 All Bosses run, he is inside Sen’s Fortress in 7 minutes and 45 seconds, and done with it, and into Anor Londo, only 3 minutes later. This combines a multitude of skills beyond simply mastering the mechanics of the game. Even being high proficiency at the game’s techniques, you also need to be able to execute them continually. You also have to master performing precise glitches and certain exploits, many requiring precision timing and reflexive button presses. I wanted to know what Catalystz thought of the dedication and effort it might take to become well-versed in some of these intricate tricks. “The difficulty of Dark Souls mostly lies in the knowledge of the game,” he expounds. He continues on to explain that in comparison to a game like Mario 64, Dark Souls has less movement and execution to perform. “Most of the time you are running around, rolling boss’ attacks, and punishing them,” he says. “The most important thing is understanding how to punish bosses correctly, and you amass that knowledge over time.” Every enemy that you encounter in Dark Souls will have an impact, but you don’t know how they will react to you until you are in the run. A hollow make block your path, and force you to do an extra roll. That roll may put you out of the position for the next enemy you were going to face. Having the knowledge to properly mitigate the roadblocks the enemies give you leads you to the top of the leaderboard. Dark Souls has many tools to be able to learn area skips and exploits. You can save your state or position in the game, but you cannot prepare for an unpredictable enemy movement or attack. The people who make it to the top, Catalystz says, are the ones who can most expertly adapt to what the game throws at them.
Having watched Catalystz run at GDQ events, specifically SGDQ 2019, I find him entertaining due to skill at the game, but that is enhanced by his personality and charisma. He is adept at running the category, while also explaining the complexities of the run, and on top of that making jokes and having a good time with the crowd. He attributes this to being so comfortable with the game. Having played Dark Souls enough, he never feels his focus drop when he is interacting with people in chat, or when he is playing on a live stage, such as a speedrun event. “I don’t really get nervous in general,” Catalystz told me in a flourish of confidence that he often exhibits on stream. “The nerves can really show when I get close to a World Record pace, or even just a personal best, but that’s just a part of speedrunning: handling the nerves and the pressure.” When asked about his nerves at a GDQ event, being in front of a large number of people, he was just as sure. “The nerves go away after the first minute. You aren’t there to perform the perfect run. That’s what you do on your stream. You’re there to entertain and show off something cool, and that’s always my goal.”
Catalystz started running Dark Souls in November 2017. He guessed his first All Bosses run was somewhere in the ballpark of four-and-a-half hours. Three months later, he was top five in the category. He admits that the leaderboards were less active at the time, but it is quite the achievement regardless. When you look at the World Records now and you see the name Catalstyz, you assume he is the elite runner, and the best in that category. Catalystz was quite humble when I proposed this merit. “I attribute it to the fact that for the past three years, I’ve been playing the game more than anyone else,” he starts with, before pivoting to another point, “There are people that are a lot better at understanding the inner mechanics. There are people who discover glitches and look through the files. That is something that I cannot do.” He believes that anyone who puts in the time to run repetitively has all the resources to succeed just as he has. “Speedrunning is all about the community effort. I’m the guy who puts together the route, grinding down the times. There are a lot of people behind those times, making these runs possible.”
The idea here that Catalystz suggests, is that consistency is key in a game like Dark Souls. The knowledge and community is there for anyone to access, but he puts in the most time towards those speedrunning record goals. Community members have dissected the game, figured out what needs to happen in each section, and the person who best performs those actions can achieve good times. There is still a lot left up to chance, and Catalystz supports the idea that being consistent across everything you can control can assuage the pitfalls of the game’s RNG. You can prepare for things in game that are certain, and help your chances most by executing well in those parts. In the upper echelon of runs is when you will also need a bit of luck here and there.
Catalystz is a full time student, and his streaming is an endeavor of love. “I want to give it as much as I can because it is something I really enjoy doing.” He also wants to pursue speedrunning content creation on YouTube. Due to the variety of glitches and categories Dark Souls has, as well as the community support and randomizers, Catalystz feels content running Dark Souls for a long time. “There is always something more to run, and more goals to reach.” Catalystz is a talented and captivating streamer that mixes talent across Dark Souls with conversation. Be sure to check him out on YouTube and Twitch for World Record times.