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Guest Column: Beating Tough Games, No Hands Required

Guest columnist Gino Grieco talks to Giant Bomb community member Nickieroonie about his incredible FEETs in the Community Endurance Run.

The one and only Nickieroonie.
The one and only Nickieroonie.

As one of the organizers behind the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run gaming marathon, I’ve come into contact with many incredibly cool members of the GB community. Every year we seem to attract more and more people doing increasingly wacky things to raise money for charity by playing video games. And of all the unusual things I’ve seen and been a part of, the number one, must-watch event in recent marathons has been Nickieroonie’s segment.

Nickieroonie is a GB member hailing from Nova Scotia, and he’s participated in the GBCER since 2014. At first he played fairly normal games in a fairly normal way: a Ratchet and Clank marathon one year, an “Over the Shoulder” marathon of Resident Evil 4 and Alan Wake another. Then two years ago he switched things up. He decided to play through Super Meat Boy… with his feet. The following year, he stomped on Olmec in Spelunky. With GBCER7 rapidly approaching (May 5th -7th, y’all) I reached out to Nickieroonie to see how he happened upon this incredible and outlandish niche of gaming and what his plans were for this year.

Giant Bomb: First question, how long have you been gaming?

Nickieroonie: I've been playing video games since I was 3 or 4 years old. According to my brother, my first game was FF2 (FFIV) on the SNES and my first enemy was a waterbug (which i think is named Amoeba or something in later versions).

GB: What ended up drawing you to hyper difficult platformers like Super Meat Boy and Spelunky?

N: As I've gotten older certain aspects of games have become played out, and while I still enjoy them, I'm lately more drawn to games with really good mechanics. For example, Ocarina of Time is widely regarded as one of the best games ever, but there was a long time in my life that I thought that game was really mediocre, and it's because that game has mediocre mechanics. The combat is just really shallow. Then I came back to it after watching people create their own mechanics via speedrunning. So I guess I find a lot of fun in the way a game plays, and SMB and Spelunky play extremely well.

GB: I can see that. I've kind of had a similar experience in my own gaming life. It eventually led me to speedrunning for a similar reason. Some of the games I used to love felt played out without that added restriction. Have you given speedrunning a shot?

N: Yes and no... I've never gotten a timer, set up splits, looked up routes or anything like that, but even since I was young I've always had fun beating games faster and faster. It's able to carry me through some games that I would otherwise find kind of boring. I played through the Darksiders series as fast as possible since it felt a little too familiar and it made the game more fun for me. I've definitely been interested in speedrunning something, but I'd want to fully commit, and I'd rather be doing other stuff before that.

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GB: Like playing games with your feet?

N: Playing games with my feet has purely been for GBCER. It's very crampy and frustrating!

GB: How did you settle on that being a recurring feature of your GBCER experience?

N: I figure it's just something that draws attention, so I've been trying to do a new game each year since the first.

GB: So far you've beaten Super Meat Boy and Spelunky, no hands required. Did you require any special equipment to make that happen or do you just have very dexterous toes?

N: For Super Meat Boy I used "normal" equipment, keyboard and controller, although most people wouldn't be using both at the same time. For Spelunky I had to buy a USB device with 3 foot pedals. The Xbox controller just isn't designed to be used by feet. So even if you were a person who had extremely dexterous feet, I don't think you could really use that controller properly. Spelunky required a keyboard, 3 foot pedals, and the Xbox controller. Xbox controller for movement only, keyboard for the Action button and ropes, and pedals controlled jumping, whipping, and bombs. SMB is a much simpler game for controls, so it was just movement and jumping.

GB: With a setup that elaborate, did you get many opportunities to practice your foot runs before your live attempts?

N: Hmm, I actually didn't practice a ton for both games, probably 4-5 hours for SMB and 6-7 hours for Spelunky. But yeah, it was annoying to set up for practice.

GB: Wait...what?

N: I had the games set up in ways that I could control them with macro foot movements, so it was more down to understanding the games and less about pressing the buttons really fast.

GB: How much time do you think you put into SMB and Spelunky playing regularly?

N: About 100 hours of each.

GB: That explains how you managed to A+ so many SMB levels on your first foot attempt. You knew what to do long before you needed to execute with your feet. Which is still incredible, by the way.

N: Yeah! Games with really good mechanics are often not as hard as they seem. It's just about learning the game inside and out. That's why you get people who say "Dark Souls isn't actually that hard," etc.

GB: Was there any point where you doubted yourself during your runs?

N: I was pretty confident in SMB since the levels are always the same, and I knew there was only one level that may take me a long time. In Spelunky, I was confident I could do it, but I wasn't sure how long it would take since the levels are always different. Plus, fatigue can set in and I might make mistakes on a good set of levels. I actually didn't get the Spelunky run the first night I had scheduled to do it. So I said I'd come back fresh in the morning, and got it very soon that day.

GB: Do you play drums or some other activity that keeps your foot strength up? Because for as much as you mention fatigue and cramps, your breaking point is still much greater than most people's would be.

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N: Hmm... Not really. Actually it's kind of funny because my feet cramp extremely easily. If I go swimming all of my toes cramp up. I think I only had one cramp during any of my runs.

GB: Swimming is more taxing than playing SMB?

N: Apparently!

GB: One last question about the older runs: What was going through your mind during the Olmec battle at the end of your Spelunky run? You made it so far, so fast, and then you seemed to tense up at the end.

N: I was trying my best to set up the room to make him fall into lava as safely as possible; but yeah, I was definitely psyching myself out. I had a parachute and climbing gloves. So I could have climbed the left wall after defeating the boss, moved across the top and hopped down safely. Instead, I just completely forgot about those options and tried to jump across the ropes, messed up, and was barely saved by the parachute. If not for the parachute, I would have taken fall damage and likely bounced into the lava. So part of me hesitating at the end was extreme carefulness, and part was me choking.

GB: So it was a bit of the old streamer's curse? Difficulty + audience = mistakes.

N: Yeah, not so much the audience since there wasn't much of one as it was early in the morning for most people. But just completing it for the event was making me nervous.

GB: Have you given any thought to what game you're playing this year?

N: I thought about Thumper, but I figured it might get a little boring to watch after the 1st level. Somebody suggested Ori and the Blind Forest, so I'm gonna try practicing that.

GB: If you want to learn the drums, Thumper might be a good backdoor way to learning kick pedal parts.

N: Yeah! I think I'd probably break some pedals playing that game.

GB: Especially with some of the weird time signatures towards the end of that game. Ori sounds like a good choice. Have you beaten it already?

N: I've beaten it once. Just a regular playthrough.

GB: So you wouldn't have as much experience, but the game isn't quite as punishing. Though you may have some trouble with menus.

N: Menus should be okay since there's not really any penalty for taking awhile. My biggest worry is the amount of buttons I need to press. Also there are some sequences in the game that need to be completed in one go. If you fail, you reset back to the start of the sequence.

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GB: You know this can only end with you playing a game with a DDR pad, right? It's the only way to have enough buttons.

N: I've thought about a DDR pad! But it seems like a bad choice of controller since it's big and mostly requires 2 entire feet. Analog sticks only require 1 toe.

GB: To wrap this up, is there any advice you'd give to someone trying to follow in your (in this case, literal) footsteps?

N: I'd just say don't be afraid to play games in different ways. There's no correct way to play a game. And when you're feeling a little burnt out, it's always fun to try playing in different ways. Also, don't be intimidated by alternative playstyles. You can do it! Also obligatory GBCER7 shoutout.

GB: Final question, are you going to paint your toenails again as a donation incentive this year?

N: Yeah, absolutely.

GB: Perfect. Thank you for your time and I look forward to GBCER7, kicking off May 5th and running through May 7th!

N: No problem, thanks for the chat. I'm looking forward to GBCER7 too!