Hollow Knight started off as a game I actually disliked. It sets itself apart from other Metroidvanias in ways that I wasn’t used to, and it was off-putting. When I beat the game for the first time, I had gone on to tell my friends in detail what I didn’t like about it. A year later, on a Games Done Quick Twitch stream, I was watching a Hollow Knight run and decided to give it another shot. When I went back to replay the game, I realized I was too hasty in my assessment. Hollow Knight wasn’t bad because of the difference to other entries in the genre, it excelled because of it. It blended platforming and fighting seamlessly. There was a thread of story given to you, but much more to unravel if you wanted. The skills and abilities you unlock allow for varied and distinct playthroughs. Hidden secrets and upgrades reward the explorers, but talented players could excel without them. The difficulty was moderate and fair. Since then, I have gone back and beaten the game several times. Six months ago, after watching Emray’s Frost Fatales run in March, I was reinvigorated in my Hollow Knight fervor once again, and I reached out to her to find out a little more about this talented speedrunner.
Emray’s Frost Fatales run was in the “All Skills” category on the Nintendo Switch. Emray is on the frontier of Hollow Knight console runs. Being more focused on Xbox gaming myself, this was an immediate boon to me, and I enjoyed those runs more. PC tends to be the favorite when a game is available across platforms, at least for the optimum efficiency desired in speedruns. That was the reason Emray began running on Switch. “Every now and then we would get someone who came into the discord and they would say they guess they can’t keep up with PC runs because they only own console,” she said. “So I went and I did every single console run, so there was something on the leaderboards.”
This is monumental in cultivating a larger community of Hollow Knight speedrunners. Emray runs mainly on PC, but wanted everyone to see that it was possible on the Switch, and with comparable times. There are several reasons for the difference in times across PC and console versions. The console versions of Hollow Knight cannot be downpatched. That is, exploits that are patched out by the developers cannot be avoided by reverting to an older patch version of the game. The Switch is also locked at 60 fps, which Emray isn’t a fan of. “If you have the option of running on Switch or PC, I highly recommend PC,” she told me. “The game was programmed to be played at a higher fps, so playing it at 60 is a little awkward,” she continued, “there is a lot of input delay. It feels like playing underwater.” The hardware on the Switch also makes load times in the game much longer.
The reason for downpatching on PC is to maintain some exploits, glitches, and speedrun techniques that get patched out in later versions. The Hollow Knight community collectively decided to use these speedrun routes involving these techniques. “There is one glitch that’s only on patch 22.214.171.124 and that’s called lever skip,” Emray explained. These techniques are not only hard to master, they save a lot of time for speedrunners overall. Since many of them are no longer available to console players, they didn’t have a route or a path to follow for speedrunning. Emray pioneered the All Skills - Switch route, basing it heavily on the 112% route. “Not being able to do skips that the 126.96.36.199 patch could ended up causing a ton of re-routing in the mid-game. We need a lot more geo, and we need to get quickly back to Soul Sanctum.” When asked about whether she enjoys the routing process of the game, Emray told me she did it out of necessity for the Switch playthrough, but doesn’t necessarily enjoy it. She would rather grind some runs. “I like to push myself, against myself, and see how far I can take it. Routing isn’t really my specialty.”
Emray thinks the Switch versions have room for improvement. “The Switch version hasn’t been run enough to be optimized. Not enough high level runners compete on console versions.” Right now the consoles have limitations. You cannot downpatch for the common, advantageous exploits. There aren’t many high-performance runners enduring long sessions to work out strategies, or to watch to emulate their style, especially compared to PC. Emray attributes this to the caliber of player playing on PC right now. Her reverence for them is apparent, in describing their skills and their contributions to the leaderboard: “The current PC Any% record is just under 33 minutes by Pestilentbox. Pest is legendary. Pest and Fireb0rn were going back and forth for a little while with the PC world record. They are both very, very good runners. They have grinded out PC runs to get it optimized to the degree it has been. Nobody has done that for the Switch yet.”
Emray’s Frost Fatales run has a lot of flavor and skill on display itself. She is eloquent and knowledgeable about the game; performing tricks and expert movement while talking about the game and describing what is going on at the same time. Marathon runs are an interesting idea for runners because there are no resets or retries. You are on a stage, and you have to take whatever outcome you get. Sometimes tactics that would result in your death on a miss would have to be avoided, and slower strategies employed simply so that you could finish a run for the show. Considering all of that, Emray was only 43 seconds slower than her World Record 1st place time in this category.
During her run, she mentioned the trick Spire Pogo being a developer intended shortcut. I was interested in this developer-speedrunner relationship, so I pressed her on this to find out more. She explained the pogo is a tactic in the game, and there is an object you can pogo off of to skip the skill needed to reach the new section. The developer is aware of this and has never removed the skip. “There never directly said it to us, but they have removed skips they did not want in. You used to be able to get to Crystal Guardian 2 by pogo-ing off of a bookshelf,” she explained. “They removed that bookshelf.”
Speedrunning is an endurance pursuit, but Hollow Knight is a sprint compared to the games Emray used to run. She started out as a Pokemon speedrunner, often times going into runs of 3 or more hours. She is able to persist by virtue of the way speedrunning has been broken down into segments. “Focusing on each segment feels like a bunch of tiny runs, rather than a 4-hour long category.” Emray also came into Hollow Knight with the sole purpose of speedrunning it. “I never played it casually. I bought the game specifically to speedrun it.” Her enjoyment of the game, and of speedrunning it, allows her to pursue goals at her own pace. While she has thousands of hours logged, it didn’t feel like a laborious endeavor. It was a sort of natural evolution of absorbing the game’s mechanics. “You just kind of understand boss fights, and their patterns, and what outcomes can happen,” she says. “You get really good at reading what they are going to be doing.” Frost Fatales 2020 was her first Games Done Quick marathon, and along with her Hollow Knight run, she also did a run of Evergate, and the finale with Pokemon Shield. “Doing a marathon run has a different kind of rush to it,” she said. “and I get that fulfillment of being able to do something for charity.”
Hollow Knight has been Emray’s main game when streaming for the better part of 2 years. She will take breaks and play other games, and she says it helps with her performance across games. After taking a month or so to stream and play Metroid: Samus Returns, she was able to hit a Hollow Knight speedrun goal that she had been grinding for months. “You need that mental break to be able to come back and play better.” She attributes this to the streaming atmosphere she has cultivated, but laments that you do see a drop when playing an off-game. “I have a really great community, but I will see a drop in viewers when I play Evergate. There’s definitely a niche there for Hollow Knight, but that is just part of streaming.”
Emray got her start in speedrunning when she was much younger, challenging herself to get the fastest times she could on The Lion King. Now she is an elite Hollow Knight speedrunner with 1st place records and massive contributions to the surrounding community. The freedom that streaming allows, and the ability to make a career out of doing something you love is an attractive and incredible opportunity. Emray spoke of how lucky she was to be able to do this, and how supportive her chat and the Hollow Knight community are. She is a dedicated and very talented speedrunner, and her benevolence to the Hollow Knight community include her runs, but also her console routing and tutorials. Check out Emray at these links to see her streams, her art, and more: