Cho Ren Sha 68k World Record and Analysis

I’ve now picked up my fourth bullet hell world record to date (and the third just this year), this time in Hard Mode in the excellent Cho Ren Sha 68k. This is a shmup quite similar to Blue Wish Resurrection in many ways, with a very strong following and is one of the most well-regarded PC shmups currently out there. Most players play “Normal” mode, but I decided that I wanted to pursue the Hard Mode world record instead, both because it makes for by far the more exciting and dramatic visual spectacle, and because the Normal record is so optimized that I would basically just be playing to exercise my skills at precisely memorising spawn patterns and navigating a relatively easy set of bullet patterns, rather than playing to exercise my reflex skills navigating an incredibly challenging set of bullet patterns. The game is longer than most, coming in around forty minutes, and is notable for two elements: return bullets, and the presence of two “loops”, which make it quite distinct from the three previous games I’ve picked up the world records in.

Firstly, return bullets. Whereas in many shmups ships simply come on screen and shoot their bullets, in some games destroying a ship causes it to release additional bullets. Depending on the game and the difficulty, this might be only a single bullet aimed at your ship, a random cloud of bullets, a line of bullets, or some other pattern. In the case of CRS68k Hard Mode, there are two kinds of return bullets. On the first loop (see below for what this means) ships fire multiple lines of long pink bullets roughly towards the player’s location, with the smallest ships firing a single stream and larger ships firing up to six or eight streams simultaneously, which quickly fill up the screen and limit the player’s options, whilst moving extremely swiftly. On the second loop a burst of thick individual bullets are fired in every direction; in some ways the second loop’s return bullets are easier, I think, because although larger, they don’t form the kind of thick bullet-lines that cannot be traversed. Additionally, being close to an enemy ship prevents the return bullets from spawning when it dies, but you actually get points for every single return bullet that spawns. There is therefore a risk/reward element here: being close to an exploding enemy reduces the number of return bullets (and you’ll see me do this a few times), but for each return bullet that spawns, you get more points – and with a tremendously impressive score of 25.5m to beat (which I only beat by 0.1m!) I knew that I had to try to let every return bullet spawn (see gif below for example) that I could allow in order to eke out those few extra points.

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“Loops”, meanwhile, refer to the practice of playing through the same stages a second time, but with a difference. In the case of Cho Ren Sha, this means the player plays the game’s seven stages, and then upon completing them and defeating the “final boss”, the player is them reset to stage 1 and plays through all seven again, but with a change to the return bullets and the score given for each spawned return bullet (each individual bullet spawned in loop 2 is worth more than each bullet in the pink bullet chains in loop 1). This means that just being able to maintain one’s focus and composure for the entire period becomes even more crucial than in other games, which tend to take somewhere around twenty-five minutes to play, and by the end of the playthrough I was definitely reaching my limit of mental and eyeball focus without a break.

Lastly, scoring and an additional unusual mechanic. Scoring is simple: kill everything, get bonus points for ships and bombs and shields stored at the end of each level, and maximise the number of return bullets that spawn. Part of this is also a final interesting mechanic – when you kill power-up ships, they will drop three power-ups which spin in a circle. These are shields (which is a binary on/off and protects you from a single hit), bombs (you can have up to 5, they clear the screen and do major damage to everything on screen) and power-ups (which boost your gun), and for each million points, you also get a “1up” appearing here instead of the shield. However, if you sit in the middle and move down the screen with the powerups, they will speed up and after a few seconds you collect all three (see below), which is crucial to maximising points. I’m remarkably bad at this, especially in the first half of the run when I’m still warming up, but you’ll see me do this a lot in this playthrough. As a result, I do think that getting all of these perfectly, and avoiding my one death, would get my score up to around 26.5m or more, but I’m not going to try for that unless someone takes the Hard Mode WR back from me.

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Now, on with the analysis! Since the game has two loops, the time-stamps in the sections below below will take you to both of the loops.

Second Boss (4:50 and 28:45)

The second boss is indicative of much of this game, which is to say that there are lots of “secrets” and hidden attacks and optional enemies and whatnot that spawn or appear depending on the player’s actions. You’ll see here that I spend very little time in the first phase actually shooting the boss, aside from defending myself against the missiles which are very fast and weirdly dangerous if you don’t attack them. Once I’ve waited long enough, extra little ships spawn, which are worth killing to boost your points score. There are actually even more ships that can spawn if you wait longer, but I didn’t do that in this run, mainly because – sigh – I simply forgot; however, if I find myself having to come back and improve this record, this is somewhere I can get an easy optimisation for another 100k points or something by keeping it alive a little longer.

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Fourth Boss (11:00 and 34:50)

The fourth boss has always been, for me, the decider between a good and bad run; if I die here I normally reset. Rather than a single ship, the fourth boss is a selection of half a dozen identical ships that drift onto the screen from alternating sides, and consist of many components – a core, wings, and guns on those wings. This multi-component nature is what makes it so difficult on Hard Mode, because every component gets return-bullets, and the player is certainly encouraged to maximise the number of components they destroy in order to boost the points they get from the boss. I use a bunch of bombs, which are certainly not perfect but more than good enough to keep playing with, especially on the first loop – as I say, any playthrough where I don’t just outright die against this boss is very good. There are a few particularly hairy moments in both of these bosses where I’m trying to hold out against using a bomb for as long as possible, and I have to say I think the previous WR holder is quite a bit better than me at this boss; if memory serves, their record is hit- and bomb-less on one loop, and one-hit and bomb-less on the second loop, which is amazingly good and better than I do here.

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Fifth Stage (12:10 and 36:00)

The fifth stage is particularly difficult due to the presence of the large multi-component ships that drift slowly down screen, and have numerous rapid-firing guns as well as a central core that needs to be destroyed. They put out a lot of bullets which wall off large areas of the screen very quickly. Equally, once you have killed the central segment, they then take quite a few seconds to actually explode, which means that by the time they explore they’ve moved even further down the screen, which means that the return bullets will come on from the side of the screen and be even harder to dodge than bullets coming from the top of the screen. You’ll see that I just don’t kill quite a few of these enemies for these reasons, and instead hide on one side of the screen or the other in order to slowly lure their bullet streams down one side of the screen. Even after completing the stage 4 boss, I often screw this stage up, but it goes well here.

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Fifth Boss (14:15 and 38:10)

I think the fifth boss is the most well-designed boss in the game. Basically, it has five “conveyor belts”, and along each conveyor belt a bunch of hexagonal segments spawn and slowly slide along until the belt is full. They then open up and fire bullets at you, and every single hexagon also fives return bullets when destroyed; alongside these challenges, the core of the boss fires spirals of pink bullets, and then fast-moving circles of purple bullets as you do more damage to it. In this first stage you therefore want to kill as many of the hexagons as possible to maximise your points; once you’ve done enough damage to the core, any remaining hexagons self-destruct, and the conveyor belts “close up” and the boss shifts onto a new phase. Here, again, you want to destroy the “coverings” on the conveyor belts before killing the main boss, and it shifts to a sequence of more precise and predictable, but generally faster and more extensive, attacks. In terms of killing the covers before destroying the boss, I do better in the second phase than the first, pushing the boss to its later attacks and therefore getting more points out of it. It’s a tough boss, but a really interesting one and a lot of fun to play, and one that really rewards the player’s skill. Again, I could get a few more points here if I made absolutely sure to skill all the segments, and the “covers”, before killing the boss.

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Sixth Boss (17:45 and 41:40)

The sixth boss was an issue for me for a long time. It is hard to really optimize it and stay close to its relatively small hitbox, although by this point I had found a fairly reliable timing system for being very up-close, whilst the “splurge” attack of bright purple bullets is very tough and fires in a very weird pattern that I find quite difficult to see. The second attack with the three sweeping patterns of long pink bullets is also tough, but then once you destroy the first phase, the real boss begins. The first attacks of dense blocks of pink bullets are hard to dodge and make it tricky to stay close to the boss to maximise damage (although I do my best here) and then an incredibly fast sequence of attacks starts, which I do partly from rote-learning and partly from reflex. It was these final sequences of attacks that sunk so many playthroughs – I had a lot of attempts that died at this boss on the first loop – until I figured out how to handle that attack, and how to speed up the first boss to minimise the number of times I have to face that weirdly-angled bright purple attack.

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Seventh Stage (19:20 and 43:15)

Whew, the seventh stage! This is just total madness throughout, and yet, weirdly, the denser the screen is in bullets, in some ways the easier I seem to find it. Perhaps because there are so few safe areas at any one time that my brain has to process a smaller number of possibilities? I’m not sure. Either way, these stages went really well both times, even if I had to use bombs pretty often to clear out the screen and pick up more powerups. The final segments of this stage is one of my favourites, with the spinning triangular ships that tumble down the screen and spew out bullets; they look completely wild, but they’re actually one of the easier parts of the stage, and once I get here I know I should get to the boss without any more hits/bombs being expended.

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True Last Boss (47:45!!)

The “final boss” – the massive thing that drifts above the screen before properly coming in to fight, and has three components – is tough, but not actually that tough as long as you kill off one of the side segments before it does the attack where it “traps” you within a funnel of bullets. The True Last Boss (TLB), though – whew. This guy appears when you beat the “final” boss on the second loop; the final boss drops to the bottom of the screen, it explodes, your score comes on screen… and then this amazing music starts playing and the true last boss rises from the bottom of the screen. This guy has three phases, each harder than the last. The first phase restricts the player’s movement, fires these sweeping “shotgun” blasts, lines of bullets that overlap and can be hard to track, and a range of overlapping bullet blasts from various angles that (if your ship is at full strength, which mine was) shouldn’t last too long. The first phase is scary when you haven’t really played the boss much, but not too bad once you know what’s coming.

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The second phase is much harder, due to two main attacks – these six overlapping streams of rapidly-fired densely-packed pink line bullets (at the start of the gif below) and the splurges of light purple bullets that sort of “tumble” down the screen in the second phase, and also overlap. This second part is made even harder at the end when massive volumes of bullets are pumped out on both sides of the boss, too many for anyone to dodge, which are basically designed to limit how much of the screen the player can actually move within. A very hard phase, and the six-sweeping-pink-lines phase came very very close to hitting me towards the end when I rushed to the right-hand side of the screen, but happily that didn’t happen, and the tumbling bullets phase went well.

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The third phase then appears, which is totally bananas. It basically bounces around the screen firing thick lines of bullets, even thicker lines of bullets that track you, and spinning whirls of bullets with only the tiniest gaps between them, as well as just firing out mad bursts of different-sized bullets all over the screen at extremely high speed. I’m honestly amazed I didn’t lose a life here, as I think this is the first playthrough I’ve ever had where I didn’t lose a life on the TLB. However, in fairness and in the interests of reasonably objective reflections on my own play – I definitely got lucky on this phase. Sometimes this final phase trolls you terribly and the boss just sits at the bottom of the screen, or jumps back and forth more rapidly than it does here, so I definitely got a relatively pleasant final phase. The previous world record holder in Hard Mode, if memory serves, had a pretty rough time with the moment pattern of this guy, so that certainly helped my attempt just a little bit. Nevertheless, the TLB is always super-difficult irrespective of how the final phase behaves, and although I used a few bombs, I’m very happy with my performance here, and it’s a very visually striking conclusion to the run.

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Next Game

So, er, I really wasn’t planning on getting this record so quickly, and so I hadn’t really given a lot of thought into what game I was going to play next. I’m considering Warning Forever, maybe Patriot Dark, maybe returning to my Xbox 360 and getting the world record in Decimation X3 (the previous game from the guys who made Score Rush), or maybe competing for the Western records in some of the super-high-competition classic danmaku games, like Ketsui or one of the DoDonPachi series. We’ll see. See you all next week!

Blue Wish Resurrection World Record and Analysis

An unexpected blog post this week! Yesterday I managed to achieve my third bullet hell world record to date, this time in the very popular “Blue Wish Resurrection”. Score Rush was quite a substantial shmup in terms of player base, but Danmaku Unlimited 2 was somewhat smaller in its visibility, but this is almost certainly the most visible world record to date, or to put it another way, is probably a game played more than both of my previous two record-games combined. This blog entry is therefore the now-standard world record analysis post, with lots of gifs and the video (just below), and some thoughts about what I’m going to be playing next. Enjoy!

(For those wondering about the next regular URRpdate – that’ll now be next week, and now somewhat larger than it was otherwise going to be).

First Level Optimization (00:15)

The first level only takes a moment to restart if I screw it up, so in the first level you’ll see me really pushing my luck in a bunch of places because there’s very little to lose at this point (and also because I wasn’t really playing for the record yesterday (!), so I was actually probably taking more risks than I usually would anyway). In the gif below you can see me pushing right up against the top of the screen in order to kill things as quickly as possible and open up the “point well” – that thing in the left pillar spewing out golden cubes – as soon as it comes on screen. For the rest of this level I spend almost all my time near the top of the screen, as you get points for the golden cubes enemies drop and they decrease in value the longer they take to pick up, so you’re encouraged to kill things up close. The time I don’t spend at the top of the screen I spend waiting until there are enough bullets on screen to be worth converting into points (when large enemies are killed), or killing enemies at a particular speed/pace to maximize the points I get from them. This was one of the best playthroughs of the first levels I’ve ever had – though not the best ever – but more than adequate to continue with. I think a truly perfect playthrough, however, would be something like 100k points higher.

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Second Level Mid-Boss and Boss (03:50 and 06:10)

The second stage has a few slightly tough sections. The mid-boss (shown below) is quite interesting in that it consists of five parts – the main body and four little turrets that directly target the player. When you destroy each of those turrets, the bullets surrounding them (though not on the entire screen) get converted into points cubes, so it became clear I needed to kill this in a sufficiently optimal way that I could get maximum points from these smaller segments. As such, you’ll see here I hug the edge (which is slightly scary) whilst destroying the right-most turret, then destroy the second one when the boss does a “splurge” bullet attack at the exact right time to get a full conversion of those bullets into score cubes, and then (in the video) I kill the other two close up to maximize the bullet conversion there as well.

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The second boss (i.e. the boss at the end of the second stage) is has the first attack that I would say is genuinely tough, which is this final attack. It fires bullets in four directions which then fire a range of smaller bullets at an angle that’s very unusual in shmups, as you far more ordinarily get bullets coming straight down, or at least straight at your ship (or where your ship was when the bullets were fired). In addition, these chains of unfurling bullets are then fired directly towards the player’s ship, which makes it harder to stand in one place for two long just moving up and down, which would probably be easiest, and instead gets you to move side to side. I think there was a particular dodge in this boss fight that turned out to be weirdly close, in the end, but this phase went well, and by the end of this phase this playthrough was starting to look pretty decent.

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Third Level Boss (08:40)

The stage 3 boss is, to me, the real transition in the game from fairly easy stages to very hard stages – there’s a big spike from the middle of stage 3 (and everything before) to the end of stage 3 (and everything afterwards). The third boss has a particularly difficult final attack, shown in the gif below, in which bullets spawn extra bullets of various sorts, some just spewing madly around the screen and some targeted directly at the player. Trying to “re-stream” – to stop tapping left and start tapping right, or vice versa, and therefore cut across the current line of bullets trailing you – is especially hard in this attack, but I’ve found that moving as slowly as possible both reduces the number of re-streams you have to pull off, and also makes the “wall” of bullets less challenging to break through. It’s still a pretty crazy attack, though, and it’s a real trap for newer players who will always think that moving more is the best way to play these sorts of games.

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Fourth Level Mid-Boss Final Attack (12:15)

Not much analysis here, other than to say that the attack below is one of the toughest in the game, I think; it’s very fast, the pink bullets are quite large, the blocks of purple bullets are even larger, and there’s very little relationship between how the two elements are aimed, which makes it basically impossible to rote-learn a way through – in turn, one has to just reflex it every time. Right at the end of this attack I actually took a slight risk, since I expected to have killed it already and I was moving up screen to maximize my points from the subsequent bullet conversion, so almost died! Happily, though, this didn’t happen and the mid-boss did, indeed, expire a second later, but if you watch the video, you’ll see this moment just before the mid-boss explodes.

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Fourth Level Boss (13:25)

Whew, Boss 4 is very tough. None of its attacks are trivial, but the two I’ve outlined here are definitely the toughest. This first one has the boss’ four “wheels” spin around it, each of which fires out chains of light bullets in a pattern that also rotates independently of the wheel’s rotation, and spew out a chain of dark purple bullets, and the main part of the boss fires groups of three lines of thin bullets from its middle, its left, and its right (if you watch the gif you’ll be able to see everything I’ve just described). This is a super-difficult attack due to the volume of bullets on screen, the different patterns and trajectories they all follow, the risk of bullet overlap (one bullet being hidden by another bullet) and just the general confusion of the whole thing. This is one of the very, very few parts of the game I actually just learned a precise set of moves for – the game is deterministic, after all, and this attack always looks the same each time as long as the player moves the same way (since many bullets are aimed), and so I managed to figure out a particular sequence that gets me through this nightmare safely.

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And then we have this attack, which just looks completely ridiculous until you look more at it… after which it continues to look completely ridiculous. Basically, there are five lines of bullets too dense to move through being fired, and then dozens of lines of bullets being forced from the two sides of the boss at various angles. Navigating this nightmare involves placing yourself between the thick lines and being able to see where the lines of circular bullets with gaps will next be crossing over, and then crossing through them, without letting yourself be squashed against the walls of bullets. This was an attack that continued to give me trouble even as I got close to a world record standard, and it’s easily the hardest attack in the same outside of the final boss… and maybe actually the hardest attack per se? It’s hard to say, but it’s damned tough – and I found it too fast to learn a sequence for, so this is just pure reflex every time I play.

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Fifth Level Pre-Boss (18:10)

Before the final boss these two particular enemies spawn, and I’ve always found their attacks weirdly impossible. I think I’ve only cleanly dodged them without losing a life or using a bomb once or twice, and that’s just not consistent enough; however, using a bomb converts all the bullets into score cubes, and with such a large number of score cubes on screen, I realised that it might not actually be the worst idea to use a bomb here deliberately to clear out the screen. You get extra points at the end of the game for each bomb unused, but I’m pretty sure that doing this gives us roughly enough extra points to offset the points lost at the end – and ensures I don’t die!

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Fifth Level Boss (19:00)

Ah, the final boss. Considering the final bosses of this game, DU2, and Score Rush, I think this is probably the hardest, though the DU2 final boss is a very close second. The first two phases you’ll see on the video are trivial, but then this (the below gif) phase begins, which is the other phase with a legitimate claim to being the hardest phase in the game (just like the final attack of the Stage 4 boss). This has thick lines of thin pink bullets that constrict the player’s movement to within only a small chevron of the overall space on-screen, combined with massive swirling chains of purple bullets, and a chain of thick purple bullets being “washed” back and forth across the screen from the middle of the boss, and some aimed lines of pink bullets coming from either side of the boss (which, weirdly, are often the toughest part to avoid). It’s pretty rough, and I tried to create a particularly sequence to survive, but again, I found it rather tricky to emulate, so this is mostly reflex with a few small rote-learned elements. A lot of this attack is about making sure you move into the next segment you’re being pushed towards at a particular speed; too slow and the impassable lines of bullets will catch with you and kill you, but too fast and you’ll be stuck waiting around in one area whilst all the aimed lines target and destroy you. It’s a careful balance to strike, and one that took a lot of practice.

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There are then three other attacks between the above gif and the below one, both of which are tough and tricky, but doable – this final attack, however, looks like a complete nightmare, but is actually remarkably workable. Basically, the boss is firing the dark purple circular bullets, and those spawn the pink bullet-shaped bullets, and the boss also fires thick lines of pink circles directly at the player. This is one of those attacks where you actually want to move as little as possible; a lot of the bullets drift off the sides, the purple circular shots are few and far between, and the aimed chains of pink circles take quite a while to get to you, so broadly speaking I basically try to slowly drift from one side to another during this phase, and to always choose to take a tiny “gap” between two pink bullets than to make a larger dodge. By moving very little in this attack, therefore, I only really have to focus on the bullets in my immediate vicinity, which move relatively slowly and are very predictable in their movement, and that transforms this completely mad-looking attack into something remarkably doable (believe it or not!).

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What next?

Well, that’s a third world record. When I started playing these games I wasn’t really expecting to get more than one, and certainly not in a game as well-known and well-played in the genre as Blue Wish Resurrection, so I’m particularly proud of this one. Naturally, different world records are “worth” different amounts depending on the volume of players, but I don’t know of any Western players who has ever stacked up three world records, two of which are in games that certainly have substantial playerbases. Equally, although I’m getting “older”, I do seem to be accelerating; I played Score Rush for two years before getting the WR, Danmaku Unlimited 2 for a year before getting the WR, and Blue Wish Resurrection for only six months before getting the WR. If this pace continues, another world record will appear before the end of the year… but I don’t think that’s realistically likely, especially as for the next month I’m primarily focused on finishing URR 0.8, I have papers to finish, and an entire book to write, so I wouldn’t expect a fourth WR until some time in 2018. Nevertheless, I will next be pursuing the Hard Mode world record in the excellent and profoundly hectic Cho Ren Sha 68k…

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…but first, I’m scheduled to play Blue Wish Resurrection at this year’s FDG/DiGRA conference, so I need to make sure I stay at the top level for just another few weeks until I can discharge that obligation! And then I’ll get onto CRS68k.

See you all next time for a return to standard URRpdates! (And a substantial one, at that, with lots of sentence generation, the conversation system, etc)

Danmaku Unlimited 2 World Record Analysis

On the 20th of December last year (i.e. a few weeks ago) I picked up my second danmaku/bullet hell world record, this time in the excellent Steam game “Danmaku Unlimited 2”. This is the second WR I got in 2015 after the Xbox 360 game Score Rush, and didn’t take me quite as long, although learning the more complex scoring system (see below) and relearning how much a given controller movement relates to my ship’s movement (again, below) made this more challenging than I expected. My ability to “read” the screen and predict the flow of bullets was unchanged, but my ability to play was impacted to a much greater extent than I had anticipated by the slight differences between the two games. Either way: much like last time, I’ve written up a little analysis post for you all. I recognize clearly this is predominantly a roguelikes blog, and there isn’t exactly a massive amount of overlap between the two genres, but danmaku games often do some very interesting things with space (just as the best RLs do) and always have enough detail to merit a close analysis. For those of you who aren’t keen danmaku, though – not to worry, next week we’ll be back with a major URRpdate, either about AI (finished?) or clothing (finished???) as we move towards starting the dialect generation and the conversation system towards the end of January. Otherwise: enjoy! Here’s the video – the previous record was 1.6 trillion and the video is 1.9 trillion…

…and here’s the analysis:

Controller Movement and Ship Movement

The first challenge was adapting to a new input system. In Score Rush, you could push the control stick any amount and your ship would move at an appropriate speed – the slightest touch would make your ship inch across the screen whilst pushing it as far as the stick goes resulted in far speedier traversal of the game space. The other difference lay in the potential movements, and again, Score Rush has a far greater range of allowed movements than DU2 – you can move at any angle the controller recognizes (I believe the 360 controller does, indeed, recognize 360 different angles, but perhaps somebody can correct me on this?). By contrast, DU2 allowed you to move in only the eight compass directions. To visualize this, therefore, imagine the ship is in the middle of these circles, and the red areas show both the directions the ships can move in, and the speeds they can move, where a red area closer to the edge is faster, and nearer the middle is slower:

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This, although it might seem subtle, required a significant re-learning on my part of the movement within the game. You can only move in eight directions, and either you don’t move, or you move at full speed; this necessitated a less fluid form of movement and a form of movement based move on “tapping” the controller rather than gently pushing the controller. Honestly, I think I prefer the Score Rush style of movement, though I did get used to the DU2 movement in the end. It was nevertheless surprising how incredibly different it felt to control two apparently similar games!

Scoring System

Firstly, this game has a scoring system which is vastly more complex than that of my previous world record game, Score Rush, and this took me a little while to fully figure out. There are three counters – “TM”, which goes up based on (I think) the number of gold stars you collect in a level, and only resets to 0 after a death; “Grazed”, which lists the number of bullets you’ve been grazed by without being killed by them, and gives you a bonus to every ship you kill, and increases your trance gauge (more on this shortly), but resets to 0 after a single hit,; and the largest multiplier, which I’ll just call “X”, and is reset automatically on each level and is increased by killing enemies up-close, collecting the diamonds they drop, and serves as a multiplier for that level (and might have some relation to the value of the gold stars?). Then there is the trance gauge – activating it when full transforms all bullets in your vicinity into diamonds (for improving that level’s “X” multiplier) and causes your extra points earned from grazing to skyrocket, and the bullets from destroyed enemies to turn into gold stars – which, as above, contribute to your overall “TM” multiplier. Confused about what the optimal way to play this is? Me too. I found this a fairly puzzling system, but some experimentation suggested that the best way forward was to quickly stack up a lot of grazing on the first level when you can’t score highly anyway (because your TM is low), and then otherwise to close distance with enemies extremely quickly, never use a trance too early in a level, and only activate the trance when you’re absolutely surrounded by bullets, in order to optimize the number of extra diamonds you get. What this means is that at the start of each level I tend to focus on killing close-up (for “X”) and sometimes grazing (to build up a trance), and then later in the level I use the trance ability every chance I get. It’s possible that there is a slightly more efficient method, but a) I haven’t found it and b) my world record is more than 2.5x the previous world record, so I’m not too concerned.

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Second Boss, Second Attack (6:02)

The first truly challenging attack in the game is the second attack launched by the boss of the second level, which is (in my view) a significant step up in difficulty from the rest of the level, and is harder than any attack of the third boss a level later! This attack fires out rapid circles of very closely-placed circular bullets, interspersed with thick blocks of diamond bullets and bursts of larger (and smaller) red bullets whose behaviour seems harder to predict (though I think it is nevertheless deterministic). This attack requires the player to nip between closely-packed lines of rapidly-moving bullets which also ensuring that the large wedges don’t get caught, and it’s surprising how much of the screen this attack “takes up” – nevertheless, I think this is a really good attack, although one that could have been made even better (and tougher!) had the large wedges of bullets been more varied in their trajectories. As you’ll see in the video, it isn’t too tricky if one remains near the middle of the screen for the second half and makes sure to move quickly.

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Third Level, Opening (7:35)

The next challenging section comes about two-thirds of the way through the third level. A large set of ships spawn that quickly fill the level up with bullets, or fire bullets in a spinning pattern extremely quickly, or fire large “blocks” of bullets that unfold themselves towards the enemy. Although it perhaps might not look it in the video, this was one of the first major roadblocks I encountered to getting the world record until I was able to find a strategy for navigating it all; and even then this resulted in a death a decent amount of the time. A very tough opening, and much harder than the rest of the level, due primarily to the massive volume of bullets, the speed of some of the bullets, and the amount of the play area removed by some of the attacks. A good bit of the video, though!

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Fourth Boss, Most Attacks (16:33)

The fourth boss is really tough, particularly due to the attack below, which is incredibly challenging. We have a massive range of lines of red diamonds being fired from the boss, pairs of large purple bullets being aimed towards the player, and these large purple bullets then fire out smaller, pink bullets. This attack is quite clever, however, because what would ordinarily be the tactic, i.e. taking it slowly, becomes impossible when you have the large purple bullets being aimed at you; it forces you to move quickly around the stage and makes it much more challenging than it would otherwise be, since you can only look so far ahead. Even whilst attempting the record I would estimate I lost at least a quarter of all my attempts on this exact attack – it’s just that tough (though happily in the record playthrough, it comes off without a hitch!).

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Fifth Level, Fleet (18:20)  

Immediately after the opening on the fifth level comes a very interesting section – the player navigates through a fleet of massive ships, interspersed with various smaller ships, that fire in all kinds of directions and cut across the screen either diagonally, or top to bottom. This is one of the most complicated parts of the game and, unless one is very careful and very efficient, the player will be faced with a massive volume of bullets coming from almost every direction. The best strategy I found here was to use two “super charges” when dealing with the diagonal ships, and then attempt to do so as many times as possible in the second phase; nevertheless you’ll see me weaving very quickly between and through a lot of ships before we then get to the miniboss/midboss, which segues nicely into our next section…

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Fifth Level, Midboss (19:45)

Whew. This is where things get really nasty. The first attack of this mid-boss is tough, but not impossible – lines of large red bullets with small gaps are fired out, with purple diamonds that cut back across the screen in the opposite direction from the red bullets. This needs a lot of quick thinking to keep track of the speed of the purple diamonds and see when (if at all) they’re going to intersect with the part of the red pattern you’re currently navigating.

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This one took a little working out, but tracking right-to-left like I do in the video proved to be the best way to deal with it. At the end things can get a little confusing with the additional streams of red diamonds that emerge afterwards clashing with the remnants of this first attack, but it’s not ordinarily too much of a problem. However, this midboss then unleashes by far its more deadly attack – this incredibly fast burst of bullets:

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This one took a lot of figuring out. I find it too fast to actually dodge on the fly, particularly since the bullets aren’t coming straight down the screen, and they’re diamonds instead of circles – those might seem like small things, but they’re very significant at this level. To deal with this attack I first experimented with the validity of hiding in one of the corners, but they always got hit; then I tried to find a bunch of other “safe spots” but I couldn’t find a single location on the map that a bullet never went through during its attack (I’m sure they exist, but I didn’t feel like playing “hunt the pixel” any longer). Instead I found a two part strategy; to follow the inside track of the diamond bullets until twelve have gone past me (in the video at 19:59 you’ll see what I mean), and then hug the right-hand side of those bullets, wait until the final moment, and then move up; that dodges all the shots without having to move too much, as some of these bullets are frankly too fast (and coming at too unusual an angle) to dodge on response/reaction with any kind of regularity.

Fifth Boss, Sixth Attack (24:44)

The “final” boss has some tough attacks, and some less tough attacks, but one of the toughest (and most creative) is the one below. The boss fires a ring of bullets around the player, reducing the play space the player can move in to less than 50% of the usual room, and then fires large purple bullets at the player. These leave trails, and the trails then turn into diamonds, set at 90 degrees from the direction of the trail, that then start moving. The result of this fairly complex description is being trapped in a tiny area with a large number of bullets coming at you at fairly high speed from all kinds of directions! Again, in this playthrough I don’t take a single hit here (though I do super charge at one point to clear the screen out), but it’s a really fiendish and really interesting attack.

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“True Last Boss”, Everything (25:50)

The “True Last Boss” or TLB appears after the “final boss” if one is playing on the highest difficulty and hasn’t needed a continue up to that point (both were the case on this record playthrough), and has three very nasty attacks. For the first, the thick lines of purple bullets, the player has only a few fractions of a second to sneak between them as they fire. For the second, the circles of pink bullets, they move in a confusing and visually painful pattern that required me to adopt a rather strange way of viewing the screen – it’s hard to describe, but once I learned to “zoom out” with my eyes and see the screen as a whole, weaving between these immensely fast bullets being possible. The third, the orange diamonds, are very hard to keep track of since the player has to circle rapidly and keep an eye on the trajectories of each set of bullets; like the others, this was hugely tricky at first, but I got the hang of it by the end by trying to move “forward” by one bullet each time a bullet goes past me (watch the video and this sentence will make more sense). Once this phase is finished, the TLB switches to one final attack, which is pretty crazy – I normally do it without taking a hit, and I confess to being slightly miffed by taking a hit in the world record playthrough, but such is life. I think this final attack is tremendous and really needs the player to split their attention between the regularity of the diamond bullets and the semi-unexpected trajectories of the circular bullets, as they come in from a different angle. A very tough attack, a fitting conclusion to the game, and a very visually striking minute.

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What next?

So there we are! That’s my second world record, and hopefully the second of what will soon be a much larger money. However, this game has two game modes – the same game but two different scoring systems. This mode is called “Classic”, whilst the other is called “Burst”, and I will probably go after this record too. Having done all the work to learn the game and the movement system and so forth, it would seem rather peculiar not to even bother with the other game mode, since I should already be reasonably close to getting that record just from my general ability at the game. When I get the “Burst” world record, I won’t post another analysis entry, since the game is basically the same even if the scoring system is slightly different;however, if it takes too long, I’ll just move onto Blue Wish Resurrection a little bit earlier(screenshot below shamelessly lifted from Youtube)…

parste

Right! That’s enough danmaku for now. Next week we’ll be back to URR, and I’ll see you all then. Hope you enjoyed the video!

2015 in Review

Last year I did a “year in review” entry around the end of the year, approximately the time of my yearly aging ceremony (as the two coincide almost to the day); I felt this went well last time, both in summarizing what had happened this year and what my goals were for the next year, and it’s always good to publicly post goals, so here’s 2015 in summary, and my intentions for 2016!

URR Development

This year I released the 0.7 version of URR. This version took the buildings that we’d seen released in 0.6 and allowed the player to traverse every single one: everything from cathedrals to slum settlements, longhouses to desert fortresses, and art galleries to shops, could now be explored. In the process a massive range of new graphics and look-up images were added, and lots of new stuff to the Encyclopedia too. Meanwhile, 0.8, which is approaching completion, has finally populated the world with people, and more importantly, began URR’s (long-awaited) transformation from a world simulator into a gameIn every city, town, slum, farm, fortress and encampment, the player could now see the populations of those areas going about their business. The game spawns demographics of NPCs appropriate for each area, which differ immensely, and also generates their faces, clothing, and much else, allowing the player to begin to learn the locations of each culture. This version willl also bring with it a highly detailed conversation system, allowing the player to converse with anyone they meet. This is by far the biggest release ever and is going to end up taking around a year in total, but it’s quite a grand undertaking and represents a colossal step forward. The next release after that, 0.9, I’m currently estimating at around four or so months, and will basically be a number of “additions” to 0.8, so things like allowing you to cross deserts/oceans with caravans/ships, implementing currency, etc, and we should start to see how some of the strategy-layer of moving around the world and making purchases will come together. I’m incredibly happy with how 0.8 works so far, cannot wait to get it finished and released, and extremely excited about what 2016 will bring for URR.

Academic Work

A good year on this front. Finished PhD, did minor corrections, got a postdoctoral fellowship at the Digital Creativity Hub, started said postdoc, had a paper on roguelikes published and three book chapters in press, scribbled down first drafts for another few papers, and had my first book proposal accepted! This postdoc lasts for up to three years, which is great, and the book is an extremely exciting prospect I’m enjoying writing. Tentatively entitled The Unpredictability of Gameplay, it will be my first major primarily theoretical contribution to game studies, and is shaping up to be something very impressive indeed. It will offer, in essence, the first comprehensive philosophy of gameplay unpredictability, ranging from procedural generation and card shuffling, to RPG drop rates and randomized damage outputs, to gambling and coin-flipping, and glitches and exploits, with the fundamental question of: what is it like to experience the play of an unpredictable game, and how should we categorize different forms of unpredictability? I’ll be posting more detail about this in the very near future, but press that bolded hyperlink to read the synopsis I posted a few weeks ago. This has been a strong year in my academic work, though not quite as strong as hoped (see later in this entry for the reason), and has laid the groundwork well (in fellowship and accepted book proposal) for the next year or two of my research and intellectual work.

Competitive Gaming

This year I obtained my first two world records: in Score Rush early in January, and then Danmaku Unlimited 2 (Classic) just a few days ago! I’m extremely happy with these as proof to myself that this is a level of gameplay I can still achieve. I’m actually working on potentially playing some of these games live on stage at a few events in the coming year, which could be rather interesting, but regardless of that, I’m really pleased to have found some games that really push me to the limits of gameplay ability. I’ll be uploading the video and commentary for this second world record some time early next year.

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Games Writing / Dissemination

This was my first year of trying any “popular”/”magazine” writing, and although a few deeply intellectually insecure individuals hate my writing because I dare to use words with more than three syllables, for the most part I felt it went rather well. Here’s a list of the pieces I wrote with appropriate hyperlinks:

“Warning Forever: A Danmaku Dialogue” (First Person Scholar)

“Before Spelunky and FTL, there was only ASCII” (Paste Magazine)

“The Demonic Properties of an Ampersand” (Kill Screen)

“How integral are letters and text to ASCII gaming?” (Imaginary Realities)

“Alternate History Aesthetics in Red Alert” (Memory Insufficient)

“Civilian Targets” and “Seeing Green” (Five out of Ten) [Paywall]

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I’m very happy with the reception of these pieces, though I remain disappointed I was not able to get a piece accepted to one or two of the larger websites I submitted proposals to. That will definitely be a goal for next year – and I have a few proposals planned that might be more to their liking – which segues quite nicely into the next section… although first, I should also add that I became the co-host of Roguelike Radio alongside Darren Grey! I think our best episodes to date are Information and Obsession, but a significant number are waiting for upload as I type this, so I recommend checking back often. Hopefully in the next year we’ll get some very interesting guests on and get the speed of episode releases back up to something a little quicker than it has been in the last few months (due primarily, I believe, to the illness of our audio editor).

roguelike_radio

2016 Plans

URR: for 2016 we’re obviously all-gameplay now, and I’m aiming tentatively for three versions. 0.8 is still a few months away from release, but is immense in scope and ambition and marks the beginning of URR’s transformation from a world builder into an actual game; 0.9 will then be faster and will handle things like travel and currency, as well as improving and optimizing a few things from 0.8’s release. 0.10 will then begin to develop the game’s central riddle, by first reworking how history generates, and then working on all the cultural forms I want to be disseminated in the game – paintings, books, sculptures, etc. Full info can be found here.

Academic: 2016’s academic work basically has two major priorities: to put all my efforts into my postdoctoral work and ensure that goes as well as possible, and that I contribute the most possible to the overall program of research; and to focus upon writing The Unpredictability of Gameplay, and aim for having at least 80% of it written by the time I’m writing this entry next year. And presumably do a bit of conference-speaking here and there, but much less than this year – maybe only three or four conferences across the year, though I’ll certainly hope to attend 2016’s IRDC, wherever it ends up (Paris?!). I’ll be at DiGRA/FDG and CGSA (which a fellow attendee very kindly offered me a sofa for), but probably not GDC/Gamescom again for now. Might be at this fascinating-looking conference too, and maybe the NA IRDC as well. I’m also probably aiming for five papers, maybe three/four single-authored and one/two co-authored, several of which are already half-written, and two of which are also on roguelikes (more will be posted on these as and when).

Gaming: 2016’s objective is two more world records: I want to get the record in the other Danmaku Unlimited 2 game mode (“Burst”), which shouldn’t take too long (same game, different scoring system), and then aim at Blue Wish Resurrection. The recording of the previous BWR record appears to have been lost, but the previous record was 46,149,100, and my current best is 33,523,400, so there’s a little way to go, but I’m very confident about this one. If by some strange state of affairs I get both earlier in the year than expected, I’ll probably then pursue the WR on REVOLVER360 (which I don’t anticipate taking that long), then moving onto Warning Forever, Patriot Dark, or Cho Ren Sha 68k. My hope is to get at least half a dozen WRs before I reach an age where I can’t compete at that level any longer.

Writing: This is not my highest priority, but I hope to continue writing pieces now and then for various publications. I’d like to have something published in Polygon and RockPaperShotgun, and contribute to other publications when (as before) they have a particular topic or issue which seems especially appropriate. Having seen the great success of several other people in this field, I see the level of effort it requires, and with my commitments to games academic/game design/competitive gaming, I can’t really devote myself to games writing all that strongly (although naturally if some major site said “Hey Mark, we’d like you to write a monthly column for us”, I obviously wouldn’t turn it down). I still want to get a few pieces published, but it’s never going to be a priority to focus on compared to everything else.

Final Thoughts

This has been a mixed year. The first six months were excellent, but then things drifted off as summer approached. In July, August and September my output was probably down to around 50% of what I normally aim for, and perhaps even less. The combination of living on my own, never really seeing many people, living away from anything remotely important happening, and making a very unwise change to my diet, all just really sent me into a bit of a rut (the first of these has never been a problem, and indeed some of my most productive work has been in an entirely one-person housing environment). However, now, I am still living on my own, but I have a partner, I’m back in a city with friends, I’m working on interesting/important work, eating much better, and since I moved back to York (start of October) I can honestly say I haven’t had a single day where I went to bed and felt I hadn’t done a lot with the previous 24 hours. However, due to these middle months I didn’t meet my expectations for 2015, even if the year finished very strong, but I’m very confident about 2016. The first priority is to get 0.8 finished and released, and then we’ll go from there. See you all next week for the first URRpdate of 2016!

Score Rush World Record

A week ago I managed to get the world record in the superb XBLA danmaku game “Score Rush” by Xona Games. The previous record was set several years ago by a Japanese player (for those who don’t know, Japanese players in shmups are equivalent to Korean players in Starcraft, European players in FPS games, or US players in fighting games) and whilst the record was immensely high, I was convinced it was beatable. The game has six difficulties, each of which unlocks after you beat the previous difficulty. At the time he was the only person to ever beat the fifth difficulty, “Insane”, with a score of 1,070,612,083. I became the second person to beat this difficulty after several months of serious pursuit of the record, but with a lower score. After several more completions of Insane but unable to beat this score (for his completion was extremely optimal), I decided it might be easier to become the only person to ever beat the highest difficulty, rather than beating this second-highest difficulty with an even more optimal score. So after a few more months I have now become the only person on the planet to ever beat “Godlike” difficulty, doing so with a score of 1,272,316,741. Technically Score Rush can be a multiplayer game, but nobody has ever beaten Godlike with four players playing simultaneously, let alone with one. I recorded the video, which can be watched below; the rest of this entry is going to an analysis of the record, the design of some of the bosses/minibosses in the game, and some ideas for what record I’m intending to pursue next.

PLAY IT AT 1080P!

The rules are extremely simple. Being closer to enemies does more damage; more damage means a quicker kill, and a quicker kill means more points. Only the tiny number of pixels in the centre of the player’s ship can be hit, the rest is just to make it clearer on screen where it actually is. You have three lives, and three “bombs”, which clear the entire screen. If you collect a lot of powerups you can acquire “smart bombs”, which clear a small number of bullets around the player; when the screen shakes, upon killing a boss or a large enemy, you have a brief moment (approx 1 second) of invincibility. So, without further ado:

The Second Boss (2:20 in video)

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The second boss of the game is the first real challenge. Its initial pattern is not too challenging, but as you do more damage to it the boss gains what I call a bullet spam attack – it unleashes a burst of untargeted bullets. In early playing of the game I thought this attack had a double fixed timing – I thought it would always do the attack at a certain point in the fight, and it would always conclude at a certain point in the fight. The trigger for starting and finishing this difficult phase were both, I thought, fixed. The bullets also come from two parts of the boss, making it especially challenging to keep in one’s head the trajectories for two different bursts of bullets with an identical colour.

Init

However, the more I played it became apparent that the AI of this boss, although simple, could be exploited so that it would do this attack at a point where it was as easy as possible to dodge, maximizing my chance of survival. I discovered that after a certain amount of damage has been done to the boss, the boss “flashes” white for a split second. Once you do a little more damage it will then do the bullet spam, and finish this attack once a certain amount of extra damage has been done. Once the attack has concluded there is then a very small damage lull (perhaps 2-5%?) until it then does the attack again. The boss moves back and forth across the top of the arena, so I realized that after the flash and after doing a little more damage, I could wait until the boss was on the far right of the screen and position myself on the far left of the screen before triggering the attack. This meant the two bursts of bullets would be travelling in roughly the same direction when they reached me…

B2

… which makes them far easier to avoid by keeping to the edge. Those fired from the left of the boss will be moving slightly “down” whilst those from the right will be moving slightly more “left”, but they will basically be rushing towards you from the same general direction. My survival rate on this boss climbed from around fifty or sixty percent to the high nineties, and a death to this phase became a rare occurrence. In turn, due to how weapon power works in the game, avoiding an early death meant that my ship would be stronger for the remainder of the game, and that (obviously) I had an extra life to throw away in the challenging later parts of the game. It also become clear that bosses moved onto new phases from the damage done like in other shmups, even if a health bar wasn’t obvious, and this information could be used to my advantage.

The Nightmare Attack (10:00 in video)

I reached a point where I was rarely dying in the first half of the game (although, ironically, my only death in the world record was actually very early in the run and as you’ll see in the video, I almost restarted because of it!), but one particular phase on one particular boss was killing me over half the time, crippling my world records attempts. This is because when you die your weapon strength is severely reduced, and you are no longer able to use “smart bombs” until you regain full weapon strength, and the section after this boss (which is discussed below) is borderline impossible on the higher difficulties without the ability to use smart bombs, not to mention the aid of the full-strength main weapon for your ship. This boss, Boss D, has three attack phases. The first is shown below – it is challenging, but with some attention to the pattern isn’t too difficult to dodge:

Init

Its second phase is oddly trivial and doesn’t need to be discussed here, but the third phase is a nightmare. It is easily as difficult as any attack of the final boss or the penultimate boss, and although the boss does not do this attack until it is very low on health, it is immensely challenging to survive for long enough until the boss explodes and clears the screen of bullets. Here is a screenshot of the attack:

Init

This attack is highly difficult for several reasons. Firstly due to the sheer volume of bullets, but primarily due to the problems the red bullets cause. Unless they are being fired from the other side of the screen they are sufficiently close together than they almost form a wall, and this blocks off major parts of the screen at once. At the same time, they form “lines”, cutting off the space you have to evade them. I also actually found that very rarely my eyes would for a split-second confuse the red of the bullets and the red of my ship – it would only be for a few frames of the game, but when I was near to those red bullets anyway, it would be enough, and I’ll die from a momentarily lapse in focus from the volume of similar-looking-red-things on screen.

I therefore decided it would normally be acceptable to use a single “bomb” on this phase – show in the bottom-right-hand side of the screen – which clears the screen of bullets. However, as time went by, I found that a similar tactic to the second boss, i.e. waiting until the boss is on one side of the screen, triggering its final phase, and then moving up and down across the other side of the screen, made this attack doable, and in the record video I do not die to this phase nor actually need to use a bomb, though it remains immensely challenging.

The Other Nightmare (11:45 in video)

Even if you survive that nightmare phase, a second nightmare waits immediately after. This is a huge selection of powerful non-boss enemies, some of whom have screen-filling bullet patterns. There are two types of enemy, and it’s worth explaining how these both function before going any further. The first I call the “green B2”, for its resemblance to the stealth bomber of the same name. These fire a cloud of green bullets, and when on low health, fire out blue lines of bullets south-west and south-east of their position (though these later blue bullets are generally pretty irrelevant).

B1

The second enemy I haven’t come up with a name for, but these are much rarer blue enemies. I’d say about half of their total number appear at this point in the game. They have two attacks – they fire blue bullets straight down, and also a small chunk of orange bullets towards the player. They have significantly more health than the B2s (twice as much?) and, when they die, I think the screen shakes for less time, thereby giving you less invincibility, but I haven’t been able to confirm this suspicion. They are therefore basically a version of the green B2 which is “worse for the player” – they have a similarly powerful attack, but they have twice the health, and yield less invincibility.

B1

Between the previous boss and Boss C (the boss before the penultimate boss, as the alphabet “counts down” in Score Rush) a horde of these enemies appear. I have never counted how many, but it is a very large number. The screen becomes filled with bullets no matter how quickly you can murder them, and this is where the screenshake became so important.

Init

In bullet hells there is something known as “U Streaming” – this means moving around the bottom of the screen in the shake of the letter “U”, as this is a highly effective way to dodge particularly thick patterns of bullet. You move along the bottom of the screen as slowly as you can for the aimed bullets to pass by you, then you dash up the side of the screen. This causes the enemies on the other side of the screen, firing aimed bullets, to shift their aim upwards – this will then yield a small but crucial gap in the bottom corner of the screen “underneath” the curve of the U that you can dash through and do the same pattern again in the other direction. It’s hard to describe, but I do it very often in the video. In this part of the game, I had to combine U streaming and using the invincibility each time an enemy was destroyed to have any real chance of survival (and the CPU slowdown from the insane mass of bullets helped a lot). You’ll see me moving back and forth on the screen and cutting across masses of bullets each time I kill an enemy which I know will give me temporary invincibility. The U streaming isn’t perfect, but it’s the only way through. Although I know from talking to the developers the invincibility was only added during screen-shake in order to avoid annoying deaths – “the screen was shaking so I couldn’t see what I was doing!” it is actually essential to the higher difficulties. Although a tool-assisted playthrough of the game could, I do not believe a human could complete the highest difficulty/difficulties without using this screenshake, and this area is the first one where the density of bullets is simply too high to survive without every tool at your disposal. There is also another rationale called “the infinity loop” or “infinity streaming” where you move in the pattern of an infinity symbol laid horizontally across the screen, but this is less useful in Score Rush than other bullet hell games.

The Circles (14:00 in video)

After surviving boss C, we move onto a really interesting enemy, which I shall call the red circles (fascinating name, I know). These fire a circle of bullets aimed at your position. The circle originates on points around their diameter but they are all aimed at a single point, which is where the player is. This results in an interesting bullet pattern which varies depending on how close to the red circle the player is, as shown in the diagram below:

Firing

If the player is positioned below the arrow when this enemy fires, its bullets will follow this pattern. The closer they get to their target they will clump up, then become akin to a line, and then open out again the further they get from the player’s original location before despawning once they move off screen. I think this is an interesting pattern, and one I haven’t seen in many other games – the bullets from an enemy don’t generally “change” their orientation to one another mid-flight, though a few shmups do use bullets which spawn bullets of their own (Blue Wish Resurrection, another game I intend to pursue the record in, does this). Once you get past Boss C, a number of these spawn on both sides of the top of the screen, along with a special enemy in the centre that fires out lines of bullets which are aimed towards you, but only track slowly. In my view this is one of the most interesting combined patterns in the game, though it is hard to fully understand it in screenshot form:

B2

This area encourages you to think about the bullets coming at you differently to much of the rest of the game. Much like some of the bosses who fire “clumps” of bullets which effectively take up a portion of the screen rather than a single, point this area feels like the bullets are abstracted into two parts – the lines from the central enemy, and the closing/line/expanding groups of bullets from the circles. You can see some of the clumps from the red circles around this screenshot – some are clumped, some have formed into lines, whilst others have expanded after missing their initial target. You’ll also note that I try to stay around the middle of the screen in this part in order to encourage the red circle bullets to clump up early – a line is much easier to dodge than a circular cloud, and one can mentally consider it to be “one object” with rather more ease in this hectic part of the game. This phase requires moving back and forth within the lines transcribed by the central enemy (the large red circle in the middle/left of this screenshot) and avoiding the thick groups of bullets created by the smaller red circles, and then cutting back across the streams when the circles are reduced to lines.

The Penultimate Boss (15:25 in video)

If you survive the red circles, you make it to Boss B, the penultimate boss of the game. This boss is highly challenging – its first phase is difficult, its second phase is difficult, its third phase (happily) is a cakewalk, but the fourth phase is akin to the bullet spam attack on the first boss, except… vastly more difficult. The phase here I want to talk about is primarily the first phase, for it is by far the most interesting pattern. In this phase the boss fires two main types of bullet – the blue “rhombus” chunks of bullets in the picture below, and also turrets which fire two lines of yellow bullets with a slight gap between them.

B2

After a few moments this creates an interesting pattern, visible at the bottom-right of that screenshot – the blue chunks are vertical lines of bullet whilst the yellow, even though they are fired as lines directly at the player, are each fired at a slight angle relate to the player, causing them to “rotate” on their axis the lower those lines of bullets get down the screen, resulting in them eventually turning into horizontal lines. This is reinforced because the sheer volume of bullets means that an optimal strategy for this boss is continually moving back and forth in order to get the bullets to spread out a little more; however, this constant movement results in far more horizontal lines of yellow bullets than moving slowly from side to side would otherwise create. The interaction of these blue and yellow bullets is somewhat tricky to describe, but I think watching the video presents it well – you can see them combining to block off certain areas or produce challenging lines (and sometimes right-angles and chevrons) that move across the screen, even though the bullets that make those up are fired separately. This first phase of this boss really uses the screen in an interesting way by producing two types of bullet pattern, one of which is changed based on the player’s movement, and requiring a slightly different form of movement to other bosses as temporarily “line” structures appear and disappear on the screen as you fight the boss.

Lastbomb

This, meanwhile, is a screenshot of the final phase of this boss, which is the other contender for the hardest attack in the game. I normally survive this phase without losing a life or bomb, though in this instance I used a bomb – I did have an escape route from the situation where I chose to bomb, but with two lives and three bombs left at this point, this was by far the best run I’d ever had, and I didn’t see any point in taking an unnecessary risk at this point.

Killing The Final Boss (19:20 in video)

Fial

The final boss is pretty tough and two things of note. Firstly, it is the only boss that actually moves in any real way. Other bosses technically drift slightly from left to right, but this boss moves a lot around the map. At first I thought it was random movement, but upon close investigation, I discovered its pattern is not random, though I think it is designed to appear random in the hope that keeping track of the bullets and avoiding its patterns won’t leave the player with enough time to notice it always moves the same way. It follows the same pattern each time – after spawning on the middle left of the screen, it then moves in the following sequence: middle left, top right, middle, top left, middle, top right, middle left, middle right, top left, middle, top right, middle right, top, middle, top left, top, top right, top, and then back to the middle. If you have not defeated it by the end of this sequence (on the higher difficulties there is no way you can kill it fast enough), the boss will then just remain in the middle of the screen and slowly drift up and down between the central thirty percent of the visible area.

Init

Discovering that this sequence was fixed proved to be a huge advantage. Many of the bosses attacks are made significantly more challenging by the fact it moves so rapidly around the screen; very difficult patterns of bullets can be created if the boss decides to move during particular attacks. Many of the bosses bullet patterns, when combined with its movement, can produce lines of attacks that are tricky to dodge and can easily push the player into a corner if you don’t know which way the boss is going to move. Memorizing the early parts of this pattern allowed me to always position myself in such a way that the next move the boss made would have a low chance of causing too much difficulty – if I knew the boss would dart to the right next, I would position myself on the middle of the left side of the screen so that I couldn’t end up stuck in a corner.

Lastbomb

As you fight the boss it changes its attack patterns several times, but one I’ve always rather liked is the pattern shown in the screenshot above. It fires chevrons of light blue bullets with a few small streams of yellow bullets. What makes this interesting, however, is that your dodging of one burst of yellow bullets affects what the next stream of yellow bullets look likes. This phase actively encourages you towards making smaller, more precise dodges, because the yellow bullets are aimed. If you’re making huge dodges, the next wave of yellow bullets will be fired over a wide distance because they are aimed towards the player’s location when they fire. Some bosses therefore encourage wild dodges and lots of movements around the screen, whilst other bosses like this one encourage smaller and more precise dodging. I appreciate the difference, and it’s quite interesting when one first figures out that you need to deliberately dodge one wave of yellow bullets carefully, so that the next wave of yellow bullets is as easy to dodge as possible. In this case I reached the final boss with two lives and a bomb left, by far the strongest I’ve ever got there on this difficulty, and completed it without losing a life or needing to use a bomb (though had I used the bomb “aggressively”, i.e. to deal extra damage, I could have stacked up a couple million extra points).

Conclusion and Future Records

So there you go – I’m now a danmaku world champion. I don’t anticipate this beating beaten in a long time, if ever. The previous WR has stood for over a year, and despite the very significant sales of the game, I feel confident nobody else is going to trump it any time soon. I’ve been the only person putting up scores recently, and whilst I’m hoping this post will achieve some popularity, I’m confident in that record sticking, especially considering how bloody difficult that highest difficulty is to complete. The reason I put so much time into it is, partly, what I discussed in my past entry about playing poker. Twice now I’ve been within a heartbeat of reaching “the big time” in a game – first competitive Counterstrike when I was younger, and then poker in my early 20s. Although in neither case I “gave up” because the game itself was too hard, I have felt as if my days of high-level gaming competition were over. I needed to get this to prove to myself that’s not the case. I was tempted to quit a few times, but it had become some kind of psychological requirement for me to actually get this record.

Now I’ve got one, I’ve decided I’m going to pursue some other bullet hell world records. I think “Danmaku Unlimited 2” and “Blue Wish Resurrection” are both very viable possibilities, and potentially “Cho Ren Sha 68k”, though I think that one will be the most challenging of the bunch. Competitive multiplayer gaming doesn’t really interest any more but competitive singleplayer gaming really does, and since speedrunning isn’t really my thing, it’s going to have to be high scores. So: I’m going to be taking a break from bullet hells for a little while to relax, code URR and get some more academic papers published, but once I’m done with the break and back to playing, watch this space, my friends – for the only thing better than being a danmaku world champion, is being a multiple danmaku world champion.