Twitch Plays FF7 Part 1.1: Pressing Start and Ticking Bombs

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PART 1 - **NEW** PART 1.1 - PART 1.2 - PART 1.3 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6 - PART 7 - PART 8 - PART 9 - PART 10 - PART 11 - PART 12 - PART 13 - PART 14 - PART 15 - PART 16 - PART 17 - PART 18 - PART 19 FINALE

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Hello and welcome to the new and improved beginning of this blog series! As mentioned in the original Part 1, this was supposed to be a simple one off post describing my experiences with Twitch Plays Not Pokemon but FF7. It quickly became clear there was way too much to cover and I'm voraciously long winded, so after writing a full 18 episodes, I've decided to return to the start and give the beginning the proper treatment it deserves. These posts will be written entirely from scratch, using the methods and techniques I've developed over the past week and change of writing these updates. If you've already read Part 1, some similar ground will be covered here but this will still serve to fill in a lot of critical gaps, as my coverage didn't properly start until I had already joined the run almost 13 hours in. For example, this entire update covers material that received less than two paragraphs in the original post, criminally underrepresenting chat's early struggles. Housekeeping out of the way, let's get into it.

The Setup

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Twitch Plays Pokemon became an internet sensation way back in the heady days of 2014, but some may not realize it never actually stopped since then. Dozens of Pokemon games and romhacks have since been conquered, and during breaks between runs various other games have been attempted as well. Last year chat defeated Final Fantasy 6, and during this current intermission the legendary seventh entry in the franchise will be tackled. This is early and often decried as simply impossible, due to the unique limitations chat faces in playing this game.

If you've never heard of Twitch Plays Pokemon, the premise is relatively simple. The game on stream is entirely controlled by the text typed into chat, with no restrictions on who can play. Typing the word up will cause the character to move in that direction, circle will confirm, and so on. Up to three inputs can be combined and there are multiple shorthands, so N+E+X- for example will run northeast for two steps. Deciphering the necessary sequences presented a steep learning curve from the very beginning, especially as they can take many valid forms. S+X+A functions identically to b+circle+down for instance, so parsing the incoming commands in the chat box was constantly challenging.

There are a few other control options available to chat. At any time votes can be cast towards switching between Anarchy, the default input mode, or Democracy, which allows voting on each input. Democracy enables much longer strings of commands, as well as slowing down proceedings to carefully select critical options or complete a delicate sequence. However, there is a nine second delay between inputs for the necessary voting rounds, bringing its own caveats. Chat also has limited access to Turbo mode, a channel operator command that functions similar to Anarchy except it repeats the last handful of inputs received at a very high rate. The catch is this basically eliminates any fine tuned control, but democracy still functions normally here at least. As this function cannot be toggled on or off by chat at will, turbo is used very sparingly throughout the run, typically reserved for worst case scenarios.

Reactor Bombing Mission

That classic playstation bootup sequence begins and chat is greeted with the beautiful simplicity of Final Fantasy 7's opening screens. For franchise fans, this game represents a marked departure from the traditional themes of the series, before now almost entirely medieval worlds with some light high technology trappings. FF7 is instead set in a gritty cyberpunk flavored universe where advanced science and arcane magic freely intertwine. This is definitely not a kid's game, your very first task an act of violent terrorism and the following hours spent soaked in the impoverished, crime riddled slums beneath the dystopian megacity. It earned that big fat T for Teen on the cover. No goal for the run has been set yet, to be determined once Midgar has been successfully escaped, if we can even get that far.

The first reactor mission serves as a tutorial, introducing you to various commands and systems, but the first true lesson for chat was simply adapting to this unique input method. Fights occur in real time, the active time battle or ATB bar slowly filling to determining when characters and enemies can take their actions. After recruiting Barret, who receives the first non default character name by dropping his T, democracy is enabled to enter the configuration menu, setting ATB to wait and cursor to memory. These two options would remain like this for the entirety of the run, wait pauses the ATB bar during targetting and sub menus, and memory cursor allowing repeating the same commands without having to select them each time. There's no way to fully pause combat though, and while the battle speed itself is not turned down yet, these two initial settings are absolutely critical.

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The trip into the guts of the reactor proceeds relatively smoothly, chat slowly deciphering the specific control nuances before us. Movement is early revealed as significantly more challenge than maybe anticipated, the required directional inputs based on the screen's camera angle and seemingly the developer's whims. A simple left input could mean many different things from one screen to the next. Ladders and stairs also make their first appearances as early foes, lining up an interaction point proving extremely delicate. Navigation would be a constant struggle throughout the entire run and will come up frequently.

Soon after beginning, chat encounters their first truly malicious actors. Trolling was rampant throughout the run, and I make it a point to highlight this as little as possible going forward, since their contributions were entirely negative and not worthy of recognition. It's worth mentioning here though, because start is still an available input allowing pausing during combat. Chat endures this terrible scenario for about twenty minutes before channel operators make the wise decision to disable the button entirely, outside of democracy. The miscreants will find other toys to mess with over time, but this run would have been literally unplayable with start spam in battles.

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After about an hour the first save point is reached and the true challenge begins. Guard Scorpion awaits, and after him a timed escape sequence. This first mission of the game is not intended to be difficult, but there are several unique challenges faced by chat. First is extremely limited resources, after saving we have only one potion and one phoenix down available, capping our ability to recover. A restore materia is collected before the boss but is sadly useless here, materia management locked until a later tutorial. This makes the first encounter much more difficult than intended, our initial attempt resulting in chat's first game over screen of the run. There are many, many more ahead.

After defeating the boss, chat still have to navigate back the way we came and escape before the ten minute timer expires. The first ladder presents immediate difficulty, as the same input for climbing will reattach at the top, and the subsequent down input required to proceed will also descend. With a significant and hard to judge delay between text typed and input reflected on screen, it's very easy to become caught in a loop, hopping on and off fruitlessly. The other danger is simply surviving the random encounters during the retreat, with no real resources remaining. Running from combat is not an option as we cannot hold buttons long enough to successfully increase the run chance. The second attempt wipes during one of these encounters, not even seeing the bomb detonate.

Eight escape attempts later, almost three hours since the first boss encounter, the decision is finally made to enable turbo mode. This isn't an immediate salve though as navigation in turbo is still quite difficult, the queue leaping between received inputs at random. The aforementioned ladder becomes a particular issue, and future attempts wait until after this has passed before enabling the mode. This instance of turbo is unique in that a channel operator was willing to hang around and toggle it as needed to clear the event. A welcome assist given the brutal difficulties faced.

Another two hours pass, and some further adjustments are made. The timer proceeds in real time throughout this whole sequence, including fights, so the battle speed is cranked to maximum for the first time. The sole remaining potion is also applied to Cloud early, as combat menus have quickly proven to be delicate. These changes are saved and after just one more failure, twitch chat finally completes the opening tutorial mission. It has been six hours since selecting new game, and the reactor escape took nineteen total attempts. Of those, nine were lost to the timed explosion, five wiped in random encounters and four died to the boss itself. The first major roadblock has been overcome and chat can breathe a heavy sigh of relief. We can finally play some of the actual videogame.

Returning to Base

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The next section is plot driven and presents little threat, the greatest dangers behind chat for now. Aeris is introduced and immediately ignored, marking the first instance of a soon to be common struggle. Selecting any menu option outside the first is extremely difficult due to the delay involved, particularly if preempted by dialog, confirm inputs carrying past the text boxes and into the following choices. Figuring out when the game would catch your commands and trying to predict the necessary sequence would be a constant challenge.

Cloud receives a full heal after exiting the reactor and while there are a few optional encounters with guards along the way, they don't present much risk. Chat swiftly proceeds back to Tifa's bar in Sector 7 and is presented with another naming opportunity. Juveniles sadly win the day and she is named Simpf, narrowly avoiding twitch's wrath. There's a bit more story, highlighting Cloud and Tifa's childhood relationship, and we're finally released into the first proper town of the game. Chat wisely opts for some brief shopping, grabbing a dozen more potions. There's a trip made to the tutorial hall as well, only to grab the All materia from within. However, attempts to outfit the party reveal yet another challenge that will become extremely familiar.

Even working alone and knowing exactly what you aim to accomplish, menus in this run are never easy. Any intentionally errant inputs or misguided attempts to help raised the difficulty dramatically, often consuming multiple minutes of fumbling just to modify a single equip. This often meant that in order to make forward progress or get critical menu work done, chat would have to relax and let someone drive for a bit. This is a bit antithetical with the concept behind Twitch Plays, but everyone still had a role to play. Suggesting strategy and course of action, rallying chat behind a common goal. This run was not about chaos, but coming together to overcome enormous challenges.

Second Reactor Bombing Mission

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Chat hops back on the rails and onwards to our next act of eco terrorism, destroying another Shinra mako reactor. There is a timed sequence aboard the train, but fortunately the penalty this time is not nearly as severe. Failing to reach the next cab before time expires just ejects the crew early, forced to walk a few extra screens with random encounters before reaching the reactor proper. Fortunately the bomb installed skips the alarm clock package this time, so there's no timer pressure in this section either. Even the dreaded synchronized button presses to open the exit door present no issue, swiftly handled on the fourth try.

The final save point before the boss is reached and an attempt is made to heal the party, but chaotic actors in chat render this difficult, so Tifa enters the final encounter against Air Buster already downed. The party is given a pretty hefty advantage in this fight though, executing a side attack on the boss and granting attacks to his rear a five times multiplier, opposed to the normally doubled back attack damage. A swift limit from Barret to the boss's backside ends the fight quickly, and Cloud takes a tumble off the plate, crashing dramatically into the sector 5 slums and our next story sequence.

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We've reached nine hours into the adventure now. Soon, chat will finally meet up with another iconic protagonist and take a trip through the seedy streets of Wall Market on a quest to render Cloud absolutely gorgeous. I expect this sidetrip back to Midgar will take two more parts and then we'll return to the very end of the game to wrap the whole thing up. I feel like this retelling was definitely worth doing though, Part 1 was extremely hard to read now and I'm much more pleased with how this is turning out so far. For reference, we haven't even reached the point where I started watching the run yet! Thanks as always for reading!

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PART 1 - **NEW** PART 1.1 - PART 1.2 - PART 1.3 - PART 2 - PART 3 - PART 4 - PART 5 - PART 6 - PART 7 - PART 8 - PART 9 - PART 10 - PART 11 - PART 12 - PART 13 - PART 14 - PART 15 - PART 16 - PART 17 - PART 18 - PART 19 FINALE

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