Shmup Spotlight: Volume I

Student of STG

Written By Juju Kenobi

Edited by Mark MSX

 

 

Hi! I’m Juju Kenobi, a 25 years old French engineer and video game addict :p

Before Shmups

I started playing when I was little. Back when I was six, my family (parents, sister, and I) had a SEGA Megadrive . We had only one video game cart containing 6 games: Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, Revenge of Shinobi, a soccer game, an F1 game, and Jewel, a puzzle game. When Pokémon came out, my parents bought us a Gameboy Pocket and one game: Pokémon Blue. My parents were quite strict about gaming, so we could not play a lot … at least not in front of them. But when we were left home alone, my sister and I would play the whole afternoon on the Megadrive.

On one hand, I had really good results at school without having to do much work. This allowed me to play on my Gameboy Pocket while pretending to do my homework. For almost 10 years, my video game experience mainly consisted in playing Pokemon Blue (5000+ hours), Streets of Rage (did a 1LC single player on hardest difficulty), and Revenge of the Shinobi. Saying that I know these games very well would be a huge understatement.

When I turned 16, one of my friends had a Sony PSP and told me it was a great console with many solid games. I then asked my parents for one and got a PSP as a Christmas present. My first games were Star Wars Battlefront and Final Fantasy Tactics. I accumulated 1000 hours between the two. I played a little bit of FIFA and achieved 100% completion on GTA Vice City Stories and FF Crisis Core.  I then discovered Monster Hunter Freedom Unit during my last year of college. This is the game that really started my addiction, I think. I was playing this game 5 to 6 hours a day, every day, even in the morning. In less than a year, I played more than 2000 hours of MHFU. Still though, my results in school were very good and I was quite secretive about my gaming habits. When I look back on that time, I was focusing a lot on gameplay optimization. I was speedrunning MHFU missions, beating the best times I could find on the internet (I had never even heard of speed running at this point). Even while playing Pokémon , I was always thinking about taking the best trajectories and reducing the number of inputs.

When I was 18, a friend of mine invited me and another friend and told us, “I signed us up for a Magic Draft tournament in the afternoon, I’m gonna teach you how to play”. This is the day I fell in love with card games in general. From that day, I started playing card games online (a lot cheaper than irl Magic, and there is a sense of progression similar to RPG when you start collecting cards/items). I played a lot in Urban Rivals and was reaching top 100 every week. I then switched to Eredan (reached top 10), Might and Magic (among the first 100 to pass 1500 elo, reached the top 10  after a 35 match win-streak), and Hearthstone. In Hearthstone, I reached top 4 in the wild format at some point. So, yeah, I have thousands of hours spent in playing TCGO (trading card games online), but I never really tried to go to the competitive scene. I was quite happy with my results but going to tournaments and such meant going out of my comfort zone and a lot of investment and effort that I was not ready to do, which is funny considering the number of hours I spent playing these games.

I went back to Pokémon when I was 21, buying myself a 3DS and Pokémon Y. At that time I learned about competitive Pokémon and learned everything about IV, EV, and the metagame (Smogon and VGC). I reached top 100 on Pokémon Showdown (1700+ elo, OU format) and played more than 1500 hours on Pokémon Y (breeding competitive Pokémon takes a lot of time, but you can do it while watching TV shows, and I was binge watching a lot of them during this period).  I played Pokémon Sapphire Alpha when it came out (700+ hours), but once again, I never really tried the competitive scene. I have several explanations for this. First, like I said, going outside of my comfort zone was not something I liked during this period of my life. The other is that, at that time, I was hiding my passion for gaming. My parents always taught us that gaming was bad and only a distraction and I was always seen as a good student and quite good at sport too. I was not ready to tell people that I was some kind of nonsocial freak that spend all of his free time gaming.

In another way, I feel lucky for having a really good memory and being quite good at math and physics; I got straight A’s throughout school without having to do homework.

Then I got my first job in March 2017. This is the moment when I started to be very methodical with my free time. I got the feeling that my free time became much more precious and that, without proper organization, I would be wasting it. I always had several passions that were competing with each other, so this is how I started:

I wake up at 6:20 in the morning.

I go to work at 6:45 and get there at 7:10. I then work until 17:00 and got back home at 18:00 (traffic jams). Then I do a physical activity for 1 hour (running 10 km or working out, alternating each days). I was preparing the Toulouse Marathon (42km race) at that time. After that, it was time to eat. When I was done with everything (eating, shower, house chores, etc), it was around 20:00. Then I practiced the piano for 1 hour. At 21:00, I played video games (Pokémon and Hearthstone) for 2 hours and then watched a movie or TV show for 1 hour, from 23:00 to 0:00.

Then my day was over; rinse and repeat.

During the weekend, I took some time to see my friends and family, but during the week, my schedule was fixed like a clock.

 

Diving into Shmups

During my engineering school days, I was quite fond of anime/video game music (I learned a lot of Kyle Landry’s pieces on the piano for example) and discovered Touhou music while looking for music on YouTube. And I fell in love with it. For years, I listened to a lot of arrangements and medley without really knowing a thing about Touhou. And then, I stumbled upon a video on YT from “the Anime Guy” trying Touhou on Lunatic. I didn’t find the video very interesting as he didn’t know how to play and the game looked extremely difficult. But he talked about a friend of his who gave him the inspiration to do that video: Eric Van Wilderman. I checked EVW channel, and then I found a guy playing and clearing Touhou on normal difficulty, having fun while being very entertaining. To this day I still watch EVW videos, even though I don’t play the same games, I still find it very entertaining.

I was hyped to test these games and I downloaded Touhou Imperishable Night and Subterranean Animism. And then, on the 28th of May 2017, I launched Imperishable Night on my computer…

Hearing the music I loved on the game it belonged too felt more real and intense than ever.  Then I started playing the game itself, and I loved it. The gameplay was fun and interesting and it was challenging. I struggled quite a lot on normal difficulty, so I tried easy mode and cleared on my first or second try. Then I went back to Normal mode. It took me 3 weeks to get my first 1CC. But the feeling of accomplishment was great. I was hooked. I was not a huge fan of SA at first as it required to switch to English keyboard and I found the early game quite strange so I decided to try the “oldschool” Touhou games. I was inspired by Eric Van Wilderman videos clearing EoSD and PCB.

And then I tried EoSD, and I suffered, a lot …

The game was more brutal than IN, the stages way more dangerous, you had less bombs and lives to work with. Stage 4 destroyed me every time, so I resorted to what I think is one of my most defining trait as a shmupper (I will talk about that later), I decided to watch a tutorial/replay. And then, I found the video that changed a big part of my gaming life ^^ : “Minogame’s let’s play Touhou 6”.

I always thought that Touhou was some obscure game that nobody was playing. I was not even sure that I could find a tutorial. And then I saw a guy who could play Lunatic, without using bombs, and casually talking about the game on top of that. What surprised me too was how fast he was pressing the keys (you could hear the sound) during intense dodging sections; his APM was on another level compared to mine at the time. I thought to myself: this man is a badass, if I could be half as good as he is, I would be happy. Then I proceeded to binge watch all Mino’s “let’s play” series.

It was my first time hearing about the Touhou community too. In some of his videos, Mino was mentioning other players talking about the DRC. I even caught some of his live stream LNN (Lunatic No-miss No-bomb) attempts and discovered that there were many people following his progress while I was lurking on his stream.

I finally cleared EoSD on Normal difficulty and took a big decision in my gaming life. I remembered that I had played many competitive games (card games, Pokémon) without trying out real competitions and tournaments, even though I had the knowledge for it. Maybe because I was scared, maybe it was not my thing, but I wanted to be able to accomplish something I was proud of. Video games were my passion and I wanted to be good at them. With shmups, I found a genre where you compete with yourself, which is challenging and fun at the same time. Playing shmups you are not forced to see toxic behavior in competitive communities. I decided to become good at shmups, and I started to get serious ….

(Cue the montage.)

At first, I was playing Touhou 30 min to 1 hour a day. Then I started to play Perfect Cherry Blossom. It was Minogame’s favorite game in the series so in my mind, it was a good game. I wanted to see what would happen if I started playing Touhou 2 hours a day, every single day. Could I ever clear hard mode? I played a little bit in Lunatic difficulty but, at the time, I was convinced Lunatic was absolutely impossible for me. My goal was, maybe one day, be able to clear one Touhou game in Lunatic difficulty! And then I started working on hard mode, watching Mino’s video on a regular basis, using stage practice as much as I could. For 2 months I trained and didn’t do a single run, and then I did the math in my head and I was like, “Hey, if I play like I play during practice and use my resources mindfully, it should be a clear.” And then I did some runs and proceeded to clear hard mode with 4 extends left on the first day.  I was just sticking to my plan and doing what I practiced. Everything went so smoothly I was shocked.

Immediately, I wanted to see if I could do something in Lunatic, but got destroyed in stage 3. So I trained on stage 3. After I felt confident enough to clear stage 3 without losing more than 2 lives, I tried stage 4. I needed some training there too. But after 2 weeks, when I was done with stage 3 and 4, I was shocked to discover that the strategies that I learned to clear hard mode were still working really well for stage 5 and 6. That’s why I tried to do some runs. After doing the math in my head, I realized the Lunatic clear was possible … and it was. Only two weeks after my hard mode clear, I got my first Touhou Lunatic clear; still a great memory.

During this period, I discovered a little bit about the Touhou community. I looked and found some forums online. They were not used a lot but the players posting on them seemed amazing and had a level way beyond what I could expect. After my first Lunatic clear, I thought that it was time to try and contact that community. I signed up for a French forum. On the side, I started playing MoF and after one month of work, I got a Lunatic clear of it too as well as a cheese 1CC of LoLK. I decided to sign up for another Touhou French forum which seemed to be more active, then somebody talked to me about another Discord server that belonged to a French player, telling me that this is where the most active French Touhou players gather. He invited me to watch his stream if I could. His name was Gastari. He was the owner of the discord server “Shoot the Baguette” (great name btw :3). This is where my shmup addiction started for real ^^.

Gastari was playing UFO at the time, attempting to get an LNB (Lunatic No Bomb 1CC) on it. At the same time, Minogame just got his UFO LNNN. As they were the two players I was watching the most (the only players I was watching in fact ^^), I decided to start playing UFO and try to get a Lunatic clear on it. I went in prepared; people warned me that it was the most difficult Touhou Lunatic 1CC to get. In my mind, I thought that if I could clear it, then clearing all Touhou main games in Lunatic mode would be possible. It was a huge goal of mine, I was starting to think that it should be doable one day.

So I worked hard, during December 2017, for the first 2 weeks, I did stage practice and tried to unlock all the stages (I didn’t know about practice tools back then), and then I started doing runs. For the first time playing shmups, I hit a wall. I did a whole week of runs and could not clear. It was unprecedented. Usually, when I practiced for a good period of time and felt confident about my performance during practice, the clear came quite fast, but not this time. So I tried harder. I started to play 6-8 hours a day during the Christmas holidays and then, on the 30th of December, after several tragic failures, I got my clear.

I still think this is one of my most important clears ever. I was improving fast and for the first time I hit a wall and thought, maybe this is where I stop? I didn’t though, I got through by sheer perseverance.

At this point, I was determined to get all the Lunatic 1CC. I discovered the existence of practice tools and tried SA. For two weeks, I only used the practice patch and got my clear on the first day of runs. By using the practice patch, I felt that I learnt the game way better than usual. That’s why I chose SA as my first LNB later. I then proceeded in my quest and by the end of February I cleared EoSD, TD, DDC, PoFV and HSiFS.

 

Discovering CAVE games

I forgot to mention something really important. When I was introduced to the discord server “Shoot the Baguette”, I met a French player going by the name of Chaos. I would often see him on Gastari’s stream talking about “other shmups”. Stuff like Cave games and Blue revolver, trying to convince Gastari to play them.

I didn’t pay much attention at the time, but one day, I saw him streaming some Touhou (IN) and then he played Blue Revolver and was trying to get a high score on it. I found the game really cool; the explanations about the scoring system were interesting.  The game looked really hard, but in a different way than Touhou games — less bullets, but way faster and more brutal.

Chaos asked me if I was interested in playing other shmups, rather than just Touhou. Of course I was. Back then, I knew nothing about the genre, I played Touhou for about 4-5 months, but I was really curious. Chaos told me that, if I was really into bullet hell, I should check CAVE games, especially Deathsmiles, Mushihimesama, Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu,  and Crimson Clover, as they are available on Steam.

*Editor’s note: Deathsmiles and DDP DFK are missing slowdown on Steam, the 360 ports are more accurate. Mushihimesama is great on Steam though.*

With this list of games, I proceeded to watch some YouTube videos. I was really surprised. It was quite different from Touhou. Deathsmiles is the first horizontal Shmup I ever saw, it looked really cool, especially the Canyon level. I was surprised that enemies could come from all the directions. I watched CCWI and I did not understand a thing. Way too much was going on the screen, explosions everywhere and I thought: Nope, not for me (which I find funny now, because it doesn’t bother me at all^^). Then I found a video of Mushihimesama Futari and I was hooked. It looked so beautiful, and the soundtrack was great. Chaos told me that Futari was not available on Steam, but maybe I could try Mushihimesama.

So by the end of January 2018, I was eager to try out Mushihimesama, but I told myself I should complete my Touhou Lunatic quest first. That’s why I kinda rushed my last clears.

 

Mushihimesama Magic

Getting all the Lunatic 1CC was a huge relief and for the first time since I started to get serious with shmups, I thought that I could release the pressure a little bit. So when I started playing Mushihimesama, I was very curious. I didn’t have any particular expectations or goals in mind. I tried playing some original mode and after several credits, I got my first 1CC. Chaos explained to me the difference between the difficulties and we talked a little bit about Ultra. It looked really hard but I was thinking that maybe it was just like Touhou, it looks really hard when you don’t know much about the game, but it becomes easier if you try it. Chaos insisted on the fact that Ultra was way harder to clear than any Touhou Lunatic 1CC. At that time, he was trying to beat/improve on of his SDOJ score on the 360. He made a bet: if he couldn’t beat it in a certain period of time, he would offer me a game on steam. He lost the bet for almost nothing, just a tiny mistake on what should have been THE run. True to his words, he offered me DDP Daifukkatsu.

I kinda felt bad that I had nothing on the line. As I was learning more and more about CAVE games, Chaos talked to me about Stunfest (I didn’t even know it was a thing in January 2018) and convinced me to go. So I made a bet I was convinced to lose at the time: after clearing Original mode, I said “if I can’t clear Ultra mode before Stunfest, I will buy you a steam game.” For me, it was more a way to thank him for teaching me so much about shmups.

But I started to work on Ultra mode. In my mind I was just thinking something like “if I reach stage 5 in a run, or maybe even reach Aki, this would be great”. I kinda knew Aki would destroy me. I did a few tries in practice mode and couldn’t even make a dent on the last pattern. Even though I watched Jaimers and Bananamatic’s videos of No-miss Aki, when I was facing this pattern for the first time, my brain would tell me No, just no. So yeah, I decided to learn Ultra and I was thinking that someday, when I get really good, I might beat Aki so learning the rest of the game is still worth it.

I selected a series of replays, 1CC clear and such, and started learning. This is something strange I noticed in the Touhou community and shmup community in general. When I was struggling on a part or a boss, I would immediately go watch a replay and learn from more experienced player the best way to do it. Every time, I started playing a new Touhou game, I watched Minogame’s “let’s play” about the game. I always went in “prepared”. But the rest of the community, I feel, gives a lot of importance to self-discovery. Even on shmups forum, sometimes you can see people talking about “monkeying” strats. In my case, I always try to gather as much replays as I can and learn as much as I can through the experience of other, better players. It’s way faster for me.

In the end, the fact that I am very new to the genre will always be something that bothers me. I always learn about games through the influence of way more experienced players. When I started, Minogame was already playing Touhou for at least 7 years and knew all the games in the series very well. It’s the same for Chaos who has been playing shmups for more than 10 years and already played so many games. I always feel like I need to catch up, that I am lagging behind. That’s why I don’t really like to “waste” time self-experimenting.

I routed every stage of Mushihimesama and start practicing on an intensive pace. I was convinced I would lose the bet, but I still wanted to impress Chaos and the other people in the discord server, so I worked hard. I played 4-5 hours a day, every day. I was trying to maintain my schedule that I was talking about earlier, but the truth is that I stopped watching series and I played the piano a lot less. From 19:30 to 0:00, I was playing Mushihimesama. During my lunch break at work, I would watch replays over and over.

After 3 weeks of playing, I got into stage 5 for the first time with a single credit. I thought to myself, reaching Aki is definitely doable with some time, maybe I should start learning the fight. And then, hell began…

Aki’s fight is dumb. If you are focused and know what to do very precisely, the first half of the fight is not very dangerous. You need to use one bomb because there is a pattern that walls you almost every time (you can take more risk to speedkill the first cycle if you really need to save that bomb). And then there is the last pattern…

The fact that you have to go through the whole fight just to practice that pattern quickly became very annoying. You can’t even speed that up with bombs because Aki is immune to them. The usual strategy to beat Aki when I started to learn the game was to abuse the scrolling of the screen to “lock” the cloud that spawn bullets on the side and then create a window where you can shotgun Aki. In order to do that, you need to suicide to lock the cloud. It requires precise timing with your bomb and suicide, and you need to have at least 3 extends entering the final pattern (2 now because that strat was improved recently). I decided to learn this method because at first it looked consistent and the dodging strat looked like a joke, something absolutely impossible that only super players pull off.

After almost 2 weeks of trying in practice mode (still playing 4h+ a day), I was not able to do it consistently at all. Only once did  I managed to kill Aki with 4 extends (not even 3) and very rarely could I kill him with all five extends. Even though I watched replays over and over I could not do it properly. At this point, I was thinking the dodging strat  is the only way. So I read Jaimers video description on his “Aki no-miss” video many times. I tried to mimic what he does but the truth is, when I was facing the pattern, my brain just stopped. I couldn’t read shit, the pattern was coming down too fast ….

At this point, I really thought that was it, this is how far I can get with my current level. I was working so hard on the game and yet I couldn’t do anything. And then something incredible happened!

After several tragic failures during EoSD LNN attempts, Minogame decided to take a break from Touhou and tried Mushihimesama Ultra mode. From the beginning, he started training on Aki, saying that if he wants to clear, learning the rest of the game was secondary because first he needed to know how to beat Aki. This was kind of funny because he approached the game in the opposite direction compared to what I did.

Just like me, he first thought that the dodging method was beyond what a normal human being could do and that the suicide strat was the way to go. Just like me, he struggled with the inconsistency of that strat, the bullets don’t kill you at the right time, a stray bullet catches you, the fact that you mess up once and it’s over….

But the simple fact that the person I admire the most in the Touhou community decided to work on the same game I was working on for almost 2 months already, my motivation returned; I decided to do my best.

While learning to play bullet hell games, I realized that the capacity of reading bullet trajectories, proper and precise positioning and mastering your movement, comes with experience and years of practice. This is something I could not get, at least not as fast as I wanted. But if there was something I was good at, it was “routing”. I knew I could learn well and a lot. So knowing this was my best weapon, this is what I did. I took a piece of paper, played a YouTube video of a Japanese player using the dodge strat at 0.25 speed and I drew. Pausing the video frame by frame, I decided to draw the final pattern of Aki and memorize all the bullets I needed to pass by. I trusted Jaimers’ words saying that the pattern is static and decided this would be my final struggle.

And then, I did attempts on the final pattern, trying to go one bullet further every time, getting used to the movements of the pattern. Little by little, even though I made many mistakes, I realized that every time I did the right thing, I was going a little bit further, every five or ten or twenty attempts, I went one or two bullets further into the pattern. Eventually, I was able to dodge one cycle of the pattern for the first time, lasting almost 10 seconds into the pattern. Very soon after, I was able to get my first 2-miss clear of Aki.

Saying I was excited at this moment would be quite the understatement. What seemed to be absolutely impossible and hopeless was suddenly not that far away. I went to Mino’s stream the same evening and shared my experience. “The dodging strat works,” I said, “you can learn it and this is how I did it.” I shared my drawing of the final pattern on Mino’s discord server and tried to explain things as best as I could. At first Mino was not able to do it right away, but he said he would consider it and try things on his own. The next day, while I was still struggling to do the strategy and was able to pull off a 3-miss once every 30 attempts, I was shocked to see that Mino had already learned to dodge the pattern and he was able to pull-off a 1-miss on stream and did a no-miss off stream a few minutes after going offline.

I was happy for Mino, but a little bit discouraged. What was taking me so much effort to learn and to do was easily done right in front of me. And then Mino decided to learn the rest of the game. This was nice because I could give him some advice. I even shared a replay of me reaching stage 5 so he could try some of my routes. But, in less than a week, he was already better than me after two months and more than 250h+ of playing. This was really discouraging for me.

That’s why, I don’t think people should pay much attention to the number of hours people need to get good at one game. The experience and level you have before starting to learn the game is a huge factor in how fast you will learn. It’s the same for musical instruments. Pieces that would take me more than 2 months to learn and put together on the piano during my first year now only take me half a day to learn. I will be coming to that point later when I will talk about DOJ.

Very quickly, Mino was able to get his Ultra 1CC. It’s really funny because it was at the same time that I was starting to be able to reach Aki during runs. And this is where despair began for me. I learned that self-control is something that you learn with experience too.I’ m quite nervous when I’m playing with something at stake. Every time I would reach Aki’s final pattern, I would screw up horribly, my hands were shaking, I was shivering and after every failure, I felt horrible about myself. And then, on April 30, I had the best attempt I ever had, coming with 2 extends on the final pattern. Aki was almost dead, not even one centimeter of life left and still 2 extends and then I fucked up. This run is probably the run I hate the most in my whole shmup carrier. I will probably always remember it. At this point, my hands were hurting a lot, I had tendonitis from playing too much probably; I felt like giving up.

 

Stunfest

Then Stunfest came up! My first Stunfest! I was able to meet Chaos and Gastari in person. I was able to see many STG players I held in very high regard like Jaimers and Icarus. There were the amazing superplays. Seeing runs live is such an incredible experience. There is so much tension. Unlike replays, you don’t know if the player will be able to clear, you shiver at every dangerous dodge he makes.

It was funny because during this Stunfest, I didn’t know much of the “shmup crew”, so I was talking with Chaos most of the time (who knew most French players). I also watched people on the arcade machine. It was quite intimidating. Everybody was so good, I saw Pestro beasting God mode on Futari, Erppo destroying every Dodonpachi game, Blackisto reaching Hibachi live while the whole shmup crew was watching the run. On my part, I never played with an arcade stick and never played any of the games that were there  so my performances were laughable. I kinda feel like I was the random dude saying he was playing Touhou and was not that bad at Mushihimesama while playing like garbage ^^. But after watching Fufufu’s runs and talking with Blackisto and Feedbacker about the Dodonpachi series, it was clear in my mind that I wanted to play Dodonpachi Daioujou.

When I went back home after the Stunfest, I knew 2 things: I loved shmup a lot and it was time finish the job with the games I was working on because I wanted to play DOJ with nothing else on my mind.

I went back to Touhou and decided to get my first LNB. I grinded hard but I did it well and without a surprise, the LNB came very fast. SA is really a game that rewards memorization so I knew I was going into the right direction. Then I went back to defeat the beast, my arch nemesis. After more than 50 runs that failed on Aki, I finally beat him! On the 5th of July 2018, I raised my arms in the air and cried a little while saying: “It’s over!”

 

The DOJ Experience

On the 6th of July 2018, Juju Kenobi became a free man. Aki’s curse had been lifted. It was time for DOJ to come into the scene. I signed up for the French forum “shmup.com” and contacted Feedbacker and Blackisto on Discord. I wanted to be very methodical with my approach to the game.

DOJ looked so great to me that I wanted to do great things with it (and I still want to). I decided from the beginning that I would learn scoring. Because, as Chaos often pointed it to me, most CAVE games are designed with the scoring system in mind, so if you play without scoring, you can have fun but you will miss a lot about what the developers wanted to offer.

I didn’t want to learn the game 2 times. If I learned survival routes, I would have to learn the game again from scratch for scoring.

*Editor’s Note: This is true … damn Dodonpachi X-D*

Also, trying to forget the routes that you practiced so much is not always easy. So it was scoring or nothing for me.

I asked Blackisto about shmupmame, as I saw him using it on his stream. I wanted to know how to use save states properly. I didn’t want to have the “Aki experience” just to practice a small part. Lastly, I decided to play Black Label because it seemed more fun according to Prometheus’s posts on shmup.com and Feedbacker was playing this version so I hoped he could answer my questions. Then I took several famous replays: WY 3.58bil, LYX 3.2bil, both Pazzy WL annotated replays, Fufufu WR on WL, Prometheus special demonstration and ViloetHatPurple 1.6bil. My idea was to learn the best strats if possible, but when I couldn’t understand or do it (because I’m not good enough), I could try other strats.

First I watched Pazzy’s replay and read the annotations several times to learn as much as I could about the scoring system. When I still had some questions, I would ask Feedbacker. I still feel a little bit bad about that because I often asked him questions when the answer was in Pazzy’s annotations, but I didn’t notice. For example, I asked him if it was normal that when you grab a bee during hyper mode, it doesn’t fill your hyper gauge at all, only to see the answer in Pazzy’s annotation two hours later :p

Learning chaining was hard. Probably my craziest month playing shmups. It was a low activity period at my job (July 2018), so I watched a lot of replays and I took notes, many notes, many pages handwritten, trying to find every little visual cues that I could use for chaining. Hearing Blackisto talk about DDP chaining, I was convinced it was the way to go. Pazzy said the same in his annotation so I went there. During that month of July 2018, I went full shmup. At least 6+ hours a day, every single day, learning and trying to put together routes I learned during my lunch break.

Stage 1 was really hard for me. I was really unfamiliar with chaining and all DOJ mechanics. I still remember struggling a lot, trying to understand why I couldn’t replicate what I was seeing on the replays, trying to understand every single hit I was losing. Why couldn’t I get the hypers at the same time. But in the end, it was worth it.

After 1 week, stage 1 was over and I started to learn at a very good pace. Everything started to make more and more sense. I began to understand all the strange little things that didn’t make sense at first on the replays. I decided to learn one whole stage each week. Stage 4 was hard so I only learned the first half, with hypers and most of the stage for later. I actually learned stage 5 very quickly because I was eager to finish learning the first loop.

I remember deciding to learn the 1-3 midboss for several reasons. First it looked cool. Second, I wanted to be able to full chain every stage because it sounded cooler :p. In order to do that, I went “full Aki learning” once again, trying to find the best visual cues for every input I had to make. I think I did a pretty good job at learning it while not being 100% consistent yet :3

And then I did some runs and learned a bit about the truth of scoring runs. A run where everything goes as you practiced almost never happens. Honestly, clearing the first loop at this point was not my goal and didn’t seemed to be difficult at all. I learned the first loop really well but executing everything during runs without losing your focus, keeping every detail in mind and having to think how to recover from every tiny mistake, is something really different from survival runs.

It was obvious for me that I needed more consistency and confidence. But I wanted to take a break from DOJ and went back to Touhou. I often use Touhou to clear my mind. Unless you are scoring in Touhou, learning can only get you so far. If you want to be really good, unlike CAVE games where there is always more to learn, in Touhou, you just need to “git gud”. There are some patterns in Touhou that are just a pure test of your dodging skills, testing how fast you can analyze the situation and make the right decision without messing up your movements. To get better at these kind of patterns, you just need to grind them out. You don’t need to learn, so I find it relaxing to play like this.

I got my LoLK LNB just in time for the DRC, I was really happy about that. Then I decided to go back to DOJ full time. First, I improved my consistency in the first loop, especially in 1-4 and 1-5. Then I finally had a good run: I messed up my chaining in the first stages and died on 1-4 railguns, but I did my first 1-5 full chain in a run. I decided it was time to learn the second loop.

Learning the second loop was way more intuitive. I was familiar with chaining and knew the stages quite well already, knowing every little enemy that spawn and everything. It felt a lot more like learning survival strats with some sections were you need to be careful about your chaining.

For me, it felt a lot like Mushi Ultra, where your every movement is important. Where you need to be very careful because of the instability of the bullet patterns. So it felt just right for me. I learned the 2nd loop way faster than the first. Maybe because I was really excited to meet Hibachi for the first time. I remember reaching the 2-4 boss while I was learning and creating my save states on a Friday evening.

That Saturday, I had nothing planned, I sat down in front of my computer at 9:00 AM.

At 1:00 AM on Sunday morning, I got up after learning the full 2-5 in one day and getting my first 1-miss Hibachi. And then the grinding began.

I quickly understood that everything was doable, even in the second loop. With the exception of the 2-4 railguns, I could learn every section of the game and became quite consistent at it. This is why I think DOJ is a fair game in general, most of the mistakes you make are your own fault. Sure, some sections are extremely hard and the stages can be really intense, testing your endurance and composure, but most of the time, it comes down to you, it’s rarely the game’s fault.

And I think this is the greatness about Dodonpachi Daioujou, even when you think you know everything about the game, if you die even once, it probably means there is still something you need to learn.

Save state practice was really a benediction. I have a hard time seeing myself diving deep into a game without it now.

I could practice the last pattern of stage 1-4 boss again and again after losing an almost perfect scoring run on it. Trying to understand why I was messing up some links in 1-5 that I never missed before, stuff like that.

Another thing is to realize that some sections are really hard, even though, in all the great replays you find on Youtube, everyone seems to dodge them easily. I don’t think people realize how many runs I lost on the stage 1-4 boss, how many times I got destroyed by the 1-5 boss, how many times I messed up my chaining during 1-5. This is something I find kind of funny. We see only the successful runs on Youtube. Hachi’s opener (after 2-5 boss) is really dangerous yet everybody seems to dodge it effortlessly ^^.

The funny thing is that I remember that I grinded the hell out of 2-5, trying many strategies and adjustments on the first midboss, trying to understand what kind of magic Fufufu and WY were using.

Realizing that even though the 2nd midboss has a static pattern rotated according to your position at a certain time, you could still screw up.

In the end, this was the stage I saw the least during runs ^^.

Even with all the hours of practice, though, I couldn’t put it together as well as I wanted during runs. This is something I noticed too. Experienced players have a way easier time transitioning from practice to real runs. They are able to maintain a high level of focus for a way longer period of time. When I watched Minogame, this is what really impressed me the most, same thing when I read Prom’s comment, saying that he only did 25 runs of DOJ to get his PB.

Me, I needed hundreds and hundreds of runs. Even though I spent most of my time practicing, I would always screw up during runs, losing to my nerves or having a second of inattention.

That’s why, in the end, I decided to extend my length of the sections I was training on. At first, I mostly practiced on particular sections rather than full stages. Eventually,  I decided to put my whole 2nd loop together and see what I could do. Honestly, at my level, I think it helped a lot. Getting used to intense gameplay for a longer period of time was really a good thing. Maybe this is just for me…

*Editor’s note: It’s not, I struggle with the same thing in DDP second loop as well … damn Dodonpachi.*

During the first two weeks of March 2019, I played a lot. I started my days with 2-5 practice, doing a full chain at least once, then by doing runs starting from 2-1 with all my extends until I got a clear and I could start doing full runs. I was playing at least 6 hours every day after work. I remember one or two day were I needed more than 2 hours to get the full 2-5 chain. Some days I couldn’t get the “practice clear” (starting from 2-1), but this was really important to boost up my confidence and maintain composure during runs. This is one of the reasons why I stopped streaming, because I still think I am not ready for that (confidence wise), and I feel less free in the way I want to practice.

With this kind of training, my consistency improved quite a lot, especially in the 2nd loop. And then, on March the 8th and 9th, during the weekend, I played more than 20 hours. I had 3 runs that reached Hibachi, one of them with 3 extends left … and I failed horribly.

That was bad, but I already went there with Aki, and it was not the same. With Aki, you had to play well and be really confident and strong. With DOJ Hibachi, it’s more like a coin flip. It can go really well or really bad. During practice, I did many 1-miss Hibachi and even a No-miss once. Still though, I can screw up and die 4 or 5 times too. What you want is to improve your consistency on the first patterns and understand how to manage your hypers for the washing machine. There is a lot of “dodge and pray” as well.

That’s why I kept going and finally on Wednesday, I was able to at last see Exy killing the pilot of the ship.

When Hibachi exploded, I screamed “Fuck yeah!!!!!!” (my neighbor probably heard that one) and I sat back in my chair. It was such a huge sense of relief. I just sat there with a big smile on my face. During the whole evening, I was really excited, and many times I repeated to myself “I did it, I did it.”

I already watched my run a dozen of times and can’t believe how lucky I got on some sections. There are a lot of “bullshit” dodges. I went through a wall on the 2-4 railguns, I definitely should have died at the very end of 2-5, and at the beginning too ^^.

You have to keep in mind that I was playing a lot. Even when I was streaming 2 hours, I already had done save state practice for 2 hours before starting the stream. Sometimes, I was playing so bad on stream that I keep on playing after the stream. Sometimes, I was not getting much sleep but I don’t feel any regret about it. Maybe it was Mushihimesama that taught me about this, maybe it was my UFO clear, but now, I don’t feel ashamed at all about playing video games. It is my passion, like I love sports and music too. I work hard for it even though I am not that good or talented.

*Editor’s note: I beg to differ.*

And I can be proud of that.

For 8 months, I played shmup and only shmup, for at least four hours a day (sometimes way more) every single day. I’m pretty sure there are less than 5 days during that period of time during which I didn’t play.

In the end, when I said that I played 800 hours in eight months, I wanted to show people that I worked hard but I didn’t want to freak them out. The truth is that I played more than 1,200 hours of DOJ in 7 months (because I only played Touhou for almost a full month too), but I still think that a more experienced player would do what I did in less than 200 hours. This is why the number of hours is not what really matters.

–Juju Kenobi

 

Afterword by Mark MSX

In case you haven’t seen me mention this elsewhere, I am a huge fan of Full Extent of the Jam, the guide/story that Prometheus wrote back in 2010. I can’t remember how many times I have read through it, but certainly more than at least 10 times. Without a doubt, it was a huge source of inspiration for me to get into the shmup scene. Listen to my Prometheus episode if you don’t believe me 😉

Since that time, I have wanted to help bring more material like that to the shmup scene, but coming up with the platform for this style of content was kind of a mind block. Then, after hearing about Juju Kenobi’s recent DOJ clear, the idea struck me. I wanted to hear Juju’s story, I was sure other people wanted to hear his story as well. Now, with the existence of my website and r/ShmupSTG, I also had a way to help him share his story.

A lot of what Juju has written about really hit home for me. I definitely related to his personal experiences of how he got into shmups. The part about feeling disappointed when he witnessed other players succeed at a game more much quickly than himself, despite all his grinding, is certainly a feeling I am familiar with. Also, I think the methodology of how Juju approached learning the genre and DOJ in particular is extremely sound and a viewpoint I agree with.

I’m also really glad Juju decided to include the beginning section of the article about his personal background and experiences before getting into shmups. I don’t think I could have asked for a better story for a first volume in the series and I definitely encourage you all to consider writing about your shmup experiences in a similar manner. Keep an eye out because there is more in the works 😀

Thanks again to Juju Kenobi for writing about his experiences and thank you all for reading!

Sincerely,

–Mark MSX

 

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