World record holder Shirdel leading the charge to grow Tekken speedrunning
I was contacted on Twitter in mid-July by a guy named Hoody who wanted to let me know about his friend named Shirdel. He told me all about Shirdel, where he was from, that he ran a popular YouTube channel, and how he was also a world record holder for Tekken speedrunning. Everything sounded cool, until I heard Tekken and speedrunning in the same breath. How is that possible? As Hoody began to share more with me, I was introduced to a world of Tekken I had not known existed. From what I understand, speedrunning in Tekken is not necessarily new, but it is new in that it is becoming a competitive sport, and one man is leading the charge.
Shirdel, thanks for the interview, mate! Tell us about yourself. Is Shirdel your real name, and where are you from?
My real name is Charles Middlemiss, but most people call me Charlie. Online, I’m known as Shirdel, which is the name I’m also known as in the Tekken community. I’m from Southern England, about an hour away from London.
Middlemiss? I like that name. “Shirdel.” Does that name mean anything? What’s the story behind that?
It actually has a couple of meanings: It means ‘Lionheart’ in Persian, but it’s also a combination of my Grandparents’ names, Shirley and ‘Delboy’ Derek.
Ah! Shoutout to the grands! (laughs) Now when your friend Hoody contacted me, telling me about you and your accomplishments, I had no idea that speedruns even existed within Tekken. So fill us and our visitors in. What exactly is Tekken speedrunning, and when and how did you get into?
Speedrunning is definitely something that not a lot of people in the FGC know about! Essentially, the concept of speedrunning is to complete a game or a specific objective in a game as quickly as possible, such as beating the game, getting 100%, etc. Some of the more traditional speedrun games that people would know about are games like Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 and Portal. People can speedrun just about anything though, and Tekken is no exception. The first person to speedrun any Tekken game was RealmCopier, who started a few months before I did. But I fully got into it around July of last year and started taking it very seriously, making standards and rules, categories for people to run, and creating strats to beat the games as quickly as possible. A lot of people know about things like Time Attack leaderboards in Tekken. Speedrunning is in a way an extension of that, where you complete Arcade Mode with every character or a specific number of characters in a row. For example, in Tekken 3, you need to beat the game with the 10 default characters unlocked at the start of the game in order to unlock Theater Mode.
Why is this done primarily with Tekken 3?
As of right now, Tekken 3 is my main game in the series that I’m running. I chose Tekken 3 because it was by far the most popular in the series, and many of the gameplay mechanics that are still in Tekken 7 today were introduced in Tekken 3, as well as the core gameplay engine. This gives Tekken 3 an insane amount of depth for a game of its age, and also appeals to the nostalgia factor that is a huge incentive for people to watch speedruns or start speedrunning themselves. I do speedrun other Tekken games however, and once I get the times I’m happy with in Tekken 3 and optimize it as much as I can, I’ll be taking an extended break from it and focusing on other Tekken games.
Hoody is another Tekken speedrunner, and so far the only one who’s given me any real competition. Tekken speedrunning is still relatively unknown in the speedrunning community, at least until I ran the game at European Speedster Assembly (ESA), and so far I’m the only person who played Tekken at a high level before speedrunning it.
What do you do the speedruns on? I imagine this could also limit other people getting involved.
Right now, I play Tekken 3 on an NTSC PS2. There’s a couple of reasons for this. NTSC-U/J is faster than PAL for the first few Tekken games, due to the fact PAL plays at 50Hz and NTSC plays at 60. The PAL game engine is literally 5/6 the speed of NTSC’s, making it totally nonviable for speedrunning. We also use PS2’s due to their Fast Disc Speed option for PSX CD, which spins them at the same speed as PS2 DVDs, decreasing their load times.
And you’re a world record holder as well?
The thing about speedrunning is that if you have no competition, World Records are entirely focused on self-improvement. I was the first to run Tekken 3, I created the standards that people run on, and aside from Hoody I haven’t had any real competition. All I can do now is keep beating my own times until I optimise them to a level I’m happy with. This is why I really want more people to get into Tekken speedrunning; I want competition badly.
I’m sure it’s probably difficult, being that it is on an older system, and an older game. Were your records difficult for you to achieve?
As I said before, I’m currently the only Tekken speedrunner who played Tekken at a reasonably high level before speedrunning them. This means I’m currently the only one who knows how to do standard things like wavedashing, BDC’s, EWGF’s, and know a lot about frame data and punishing. You might not think this matters a lot when fighting against AI, but if you watch the run yourself you’d be surprised how often I need to fall back on my fundamentals to clutch a win.
I tuned a few weeks ago to watch your performance at the ESA, and I saw you do like one or two moves, and then an unblockable to get through stages. It looked fairly easy. Is that pretty much all there is to it?
When you first watch a speedrun, you might think that it looks incredibly easy, that all you need to do is this trick by pressing these buttons or doing that move and you can become a speedrunner yourself. However, speedruns are incredibly complex, and it’s hard to really understand just how complex they are until you try yourself.
Okay, so you’re not just a bunch of enthusiasts just trying to quickly ‘willy neelly’ your way through a game, but there’s a method to the ‘madness.’
The way it works with Tekken is that we essentially have strats we use, which vary depending on our character, the opponent’s character, the difficulty, how far we are into Arcade Mode. For example, Stage 8 opponents have totally different AI to Stage 3 opponents. And in Tekken games with walls, the stages. Then, depending on if the strat works, how much health you have left and how much the opponent has left, we resort to backup strats, which totally vary depending on the situation.
It sounds like you’re just playing Tekken normally.
In a way, it’s very similar to actually playing Tekken. Some people may look at tournaments and think they could be a good player because they can do all of the things the person playing can, but when they start learning the game themselves, it quickly starts to sink in just how massive the gap is between a newbie and a pro tournament player. Speedrunning is very similar, but there are a few key differences.
Different in what way?
Speedrunning is definitely a bit more linear as with most games, you’re doing the same things over and over and you’re essentially playing them non-stop to try and learn everything you have to do in the game like the back of your hand. Also, while the FGC only focuses on the biggest and newest fighting games, Melee being the exception, speedrunning is a lot more diverse – there are smaller, focused communities for each game series who share ideas with each other and support each other.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie with Tom Cruise called Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat, but what you said reminds me of it. Each time he would die, he had would take the information he had just learned and apply it to his next attempt, and sometimes he would do thing much quicker. I guess you could say he was speedrunning. (laughs)
That’s quite funny! For me, when I think of speedrunning I think of a famous quote by Einstein, ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.’ Einstein should have given speedrunning a go!
(laughs) Also at ESA, I think I heard one of the rules state that there could be no ‘game over throttling’ or something like that. Know what I’m speaking of?
Well, we have set rules and standards so that everybody plays under the same conditions and plays fairly. We ask that all players keep their game settings at default, with the exceptions of round number, which is set to 1, and difficulty, which is split into different categories. A crazy example of an unusual setting is the ‘change character at continue’ setting, which would allow players to choose the fastest character for runs – in Tekken 3’s case, Paul – blitz through Arcade Mode, die to the final boss, choose another character, win and get their ending instead of Paul’s. Rinse and repeat. This would totally break the system, so we have set standards to ensure everyone plays in the same conditions, much like fighting game tournaments do.
Are there very many people within the Tekken speedrun scene?
The Tekken speedrunning scene is currently very small, but very intimate and friendly. A lot of people when they first hear about Tekken speedrunning are very hesitant about the idea of it, thinking that it would be boring and repetitive. However, I’ve had tons of support and positive feedback from other speedrunners as well as pro Tekken players who have all shown support for Tekken speedrunning as well as me in particular. Quite a few pro Tekken players drop by my stream and watch me play, although none of them have started running themselves just yet. I’m really hoping this will change soon, especially after the massive success my run had at ESA.
Speaking of ESA, tell us more about that.What is that exactly?
There was a massive speedrunning event in Sweden called ESA, which stands for European Speedster Assembly. If you’ve heard of AGDQ/SGDQ, ESA is essentially the European version of these events. It’s a bit smaller, mostly only people who know about speedrunning watch the event, but it’s still very popular and a hell of a lot of fun.
This is all very new to me.
Like GDQs, people did speedruns for charity, and in total we raised roughly $335,000 for Save the Children this year. I personally got over $3000 worth of donations during the course of my run, which was totally amazing.
Yes, it is! Wow! In my opinion, that really legitimizes Tekken speedrunning! Wow!
One of the main differences between GDQs and ESA are that ESA is a lot more lax on rules and speedgames. This meant people could swear on-stream which is looked down upon at GDQs, which also led to loads of hilarious moments like a TimeSplitters 2 runner taking a ‘vape break’ mid-run while he had to wait for the game to catch up, as well as my now-infamous ‘fisting’ joke during my run – which you’ll have to watch in order to see.
This also meant that ESA was willing to take a gamble on Tekken 3, which was a relatively unknown speedrun that’s never been at a marathon before; and it turned out to be one of the most popular runs at the marathon. We had 6,000 viewers before my run, and at the height of my run our viewers peaked at 9000. Then as soon as I finished, it went down to 6000 again.
Yeah, that’s saying something!
It was surreal, almost everybody in the venue had stopped playing their own games and crowded around me to watch me play. Everybody loved the run, and I’m so glad I was able to prove Tekken belongs at these events. Another huge difference between GDQs and ESA is that ESA is a lot smaller and hence more intimate. Everybody there shared a common interest and we all hung out, watching each other practice on the CRTs in the back or travelling in a group from the venue to the city or to get food. It was so much fun to be there, and I am absolutely going again next year.
The two guys on the couch during your ESA run, the commentators. Who were they? They seemed to be knowledgeable.
ThaRixer (left) and PeteThePlayer (right) who are both well-known European speedrunners. They don’t run Tekken seriously, but they helped me so much in regards to applying my run at ESA and with just general advice. They’re both fantastic people, as were everybody else who I met there.
Man, that’s what’s up. So obviously you haven’t been able to do speed runs as well as you can in Tekken 3. What kind of things do you hope are in Tekken 7 when it comes out so that you can speedrun?
Yeah, unfortunately Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 don’t have many speedrun-friendly categories. We can run Scenario Campaign and Fight Lab, but they aren’t as enjoyable as going through Arcade Mode with all characters. You can do that, but the problem is that you can unlock endings for every character far more quickly by just going through Ghost Battle non-stop, so it isn’t really viable to have Unlock All Endings as a category in these games. Hopefully, Tekken 7’s Story Mode should be an enjoyable speedrun, although I’m really hoping for a full Arcade Mode return with individual endings for each character, or at least some kind of trophy/achievement or unlockable for beating Arcade Mode with every character. That would make Tekken 7 a lot more fun to speedrun. The rest, gameplay, etc, can sort itself out.
True. I can see that. If speedrunning becomes a global phenom I can see Harada and the Tekken team making speedrunning-friendly content in future installments for sure.
Let’s switch gears. Many probably don’t know you for speedrunning, but indirectly for something else. You are also the creator of a fairly popular YouTube channel as well – Namco Music Center. What made you decide to create that channel? Thank you by the way, because I love listening to the music!
(laughs) Namco Music Center is a really fun side-project of mine. I created the channel because I love the music from the Tekken games too, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s what got me into Electronic, Techno and DnB music as a whole. As you can probably tell, my love for the Tekken series goes beyond just playing it against friends or competitively. I love the music, the gameplay, the story, everything about it. That’s why I like celebrating the series in perhaps slightly unconventional ways, such as speedrunning and the Namco Music Center channel.
You were just at LionZ Den 3 this past weekend. How’d that go?
LionZ Den was a lot of fun! It was great to meet some of my old Tekken mates there, and I think Lion-O did a fantastic job on making the event as fun and vibrant with personality as he could.
(laughs) That’s an understatement! It looked wild and crazy! I wish I had been there! Were there any speedrunners? Did you compete?
Unfortunately Hoody couldn’t make it due to work, so I was the only speedrunner there. I competed in the Tag 2 tournament, although I didn’t make it out of pools. I at least didn’t finish in dead last, so I can’t complain! I never took Tag 2 seriously, so I’m not too bothered. Maybe next year and Tekken 7 could be another story, though.
Indeed. What’s next for you?
Speedrunning events, there are always online marathons that I might sign up for, but ESA is the only big marathon aside from GDQs and since I’m starting at University in September, it’ll be hard for me to justify spending the time and money to go to any other events aside from those two.
How would you like it if speedruns were at EVO?
Well to be fair, the FGC and speedrun communities are actually quite similar! A lot of people at ESA brushed off a fighting game speedrun as boring and pointless until they saw my run, which ended up getting the second-highest viewer count of the marathon to Bloodborne, by the way. People watching EVO would likely say speedrunning doesn’t belong at a fighting game tournament.
Mmm, there may be a case for it. I think it would be very popular actually, especially if done with Tekken 7.
That being said, I’m all for breaking down barriers and trying new things, so if we get some momentum going and Tekken/fighting game speedruns in general start to get more popular, then hey, watch this space.
— Mark Julio (マークマン) (@MarkMan23) January 3, 2016
Next time we'll be better prepared for production at the @MadCatz stage at EVO. Sad we didn't do karaoke! Also wanna do speedrun stuff!
— Mark Julio (マークマン) (@MarkMan23) July 14, 2014
Good deal. How can people get into speedruns or learn more?
If you’re interested in speedrunning a game, especially Tekken, the best thing to do is watch speedruns play their games on Twitch and engage with them. Practically every speedrunner streams their attempts and races, and many are very good at talking with their chat and end up getting cult followings, like I’ve done. Many will try to help someone out who’s interested in running their game, and I’ve said many times that if anyone’s interested in running Tekken, especially from the FGC, I’d be more than happy to give advice and help in any way I can. Our little community’s fantastic, but we really need more runners, regardless of the skill level. If you’re interested in running Tekken, you can follow me on Twitch at twitch.tv/shirdel, Tweet at me at twitter.com/shirdel7221, or join our Tekken Speedrunning Discord Server. We’d love to see more people interested in running Tekken, and hopefully this interview’s peaked a few peoples’ interest and opened some Tekken players’ minds to the idea of speedrunning.
Thanks to TekkenGamer.com for the opportunity!
For sure, man! Shirdel, thank you for the interview!