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Greater Rifts are just like Pokemon…

by - 6 years ago

The headline probably got you wondering, how can Diablo 3 relate to Pokemon in any way? Specifically Greater Rifts, you don’t catch monsters, you don’t face gym leaders, and you certainly don’t breed for IVs. Yeah, Diablo 3 is nothing like casual Pokemon play, or even competitive battling.  In Greater Rifts you enter a random map with random enemies, and random occurrences of the god-tier conduit pylon, so you have to try again and again until you get the right map. Of course, just getting a correct randomly generated map is not enough, you need incredible skill to actually finish in time and make it to the leaderboards.

So how does that relate to Pokemon?

Plain and simple, speedrunning. There are people that try to finish Pokemon games from start to finish as fast as they can, and they have leaderboards too. But isn’t the comparison gasping at straws? You could compare anything that you do against time and has leaderboards right? By that logic any speedrun or time attack challenge would be akin to a Greater Rift.

Wrong! There’s one key factor that sets things like Greater Rifts, Pokemon Speed Runs, and other things apart is the high randomness factor. A Conduit Pylon will save significant time for your run, if you get to a hard enough level the Conduit Pylon will be required to actually clear the rift in the allotted time. But there are many games, specially platformers, where the randomness factor is minimal or even non-existent. Go check out a Super Mario Bros speedrun and tell me where’s your conduit pylon there? Where are the random layouts? Where are the random enemies?

In a game like Mario you have to keep going until you screw up, but in Diablo 3 you basically have to grind away, play, play, and play some more until the right conditions for a successful run are met. Luck is one of the most important variables on getting a good clearing time.

This has actually been a cause of concern, as people who have more time to play are much more likely to get on top of the leaderboards. If you know anything about Pokemon Speed Running, you can relate. But if you don’t, don’t worry. I’m bringing an expert on the matter, and after you know how things work on their side, you’ll realize how much worse they have it.

Please welcome my dear friend Gunnermaniac 3, The Pokemon Yellow Speedrun World Record Holder.

DR23: Hey Gunner, glad to have you. How are you doing today?

GM3: I’m doing great! I absolutely love streaming and speedrunning, and so I’m ecstatic you’ve taken an interest in finding out more about what I’m doing.

DR23: So, Tell us more about what you do. Your schedule, what do you need for a successful speed-run, and how much do you have to reset?

GM3: Well, I stream full-time (over 40 hours per week) on a fairly strict schedule. That time is all put into resets to get the start I’m looking for. There will be entire days where I don’t make it past the first few minutes of the game. It’s incredibly frustrating, but getting the rare excellent run is extremely rewarded and exhilarating.

DR23: You are the record holder for Pokemon Yellow, a game that is considered one of the most time-intensive games to get a good run on. How long did you have to grind Yellow RNG in order to get the world record?

GM3: Well it took me 12,531 attempts to get the current world record time in Yellow (1:56) which I worked out to be about 2,500 hours. It took me about a year and a half to grind that much time, and it was extremely grueling at times.

DR23: That’s insane, and many of those hours repeating the first 8 minutes of the game over and over. I guess you had to find and catch the right Pokemon so you could start your run, considering the encounters were somewhat random and the Pokemon Stats had a random factor aswell, it isn’t suprising that it took you so much time. Speaking about encounters, I remember hating going through caves in the Pokemon games, many memories of Zubat infested darkness, how do random encounters affect Pokemon Speedrunning?

GM3: Luckily there’s an item called repel that you can use to stop encounters, but you can’t buy this item until a certain point in the game, early game encounters are a huge part of getting a good time. Each encounter takes about 10.5 seconds, which is extremely significant considering how volatile they seem. From Route 1 to Viridian Forest to Mount Moon, getting an acceptably low encounter rate is massively important to a good run. For instance, the difference between a nearly optimal mount moon and the worst one I’ve ever had is over 3 minutes. That’s a staggering difference for a speed runner.

DR23: What about insta-kills? Are there parts on the games where unlucky RNG can flat out end your run?

GM3: Oh goodness there are so many of these it’s hard to answer! The Pokemon I solo the game with, Nidoking, is pretty frail defensively, and the critical rate in generation 1 is roughly 2-3x higher than other gens, so there’s TONS of places to die randomly. Outside of playing risky, Misty, Surge, Koga, Blaine, Giovanni, Lorelei, Lance, and the final rival all have a really decent chance to kill you on one of the first turns. Item and money management is extremely strict, and in addition to some other factors, this means that revives are not an option. This makes for one of the most exciting and SCARY late games in any speed run I’ve seen. I highly suggest you check out my Pokemon speed runs, and others!

DR23: But despite all the randomness, Pokemon does require a great amount of planning, and skill, execution can also make or break a run. Can you tell us more about saving turn frames, item management, and some of the other details that make Pokemon Speedrunning have a very high skill-cap aswell?

GM3: Oh wow, we’re really getting into the heart of speed running here! There are a HUGE number of extremely small time saves that add up to a massive amount if you keep up with them all optimally. Some of the most important time saves, tricks, and optimizations include:
1. Keeping exactly 20 items in your bag (the limit) to avoid getting Gym Leader TMs. Gym leaders love to talk your ear off about their favorite move, but having too many items to carry it shuts them up nicely

2. Move order. Switching moves you use most often to the top slot saves a lot of time.

3. One character names. This means nicknaming your Nidoking something like “B”. This saves something like 30 seconds in text throughout the run!

4. Switching items you use a lot like bike to the top of your menu, and ones you only use once like HM01(cut) to the bottom.

5. Perfect movement. It might seem easy to control your movement and biking, and compared to other games it surely is. However, the nature of gen 1 speed runs punishes ANY mistake with a time loss, so absolute perfection is necessary. If I move on to 5 unoptimal tiles in a 2 hour run, I would consider that extremely bad.

6. Carefully planning your money for the run. You buy absolutely everything you need in the entire rest of the run in 1 place (Celadon department store), and the money you get/the items you need vary each run due to your Nidoking’s stats mostly. This means you have to carefully plan what you can afford to buy and the optimal way to go about getting it on the fly. And that’s what makes or breaks a true high level Pokemon speedrunner: Adaptation.

7. Don’t make ANY mistakes. I know I said this, but gen 1 is extremely unforgiving. Use the wrong X-item? That’s run over. Use the incorrect move once in the early game? You may have to take an extra Pokemon Center (15 seconds) or lose tons of time to a status move. That’s why I love Pokemon Speedruns. There’s huge punishment for not playing optimally, so the runs feel really clean and complete when they happen.

DR23: Thanks Gunner, you’ve been super helpful! Hopefully people will now understand that Greater Rifts aren’t the only thing were RNG can be key to getting competitive world class times.

GM3: No problem, I was happy to help!


Well, that was….something. Farming Conduit Pylons doesn’t seem that bad now, does it?. Sure it sucks to lose 15 minutes just because the damned Pylon didn’t spawn when you needed it, but as we just learned, some people have it worse.

But does that mean that we have to accept the RNG-Factor in this competitive outlet? Despite all the parallels, there’s a very big difference between Pokemon and Greater Rifts. Pokemon Games were never meant to be time attacked, they weren’t designed for it. Pokemon Speedrunners accept the insane RNG because there’s no way around it, it’s the huge challenge that comes from playing the game differently. This isn’t the case with Greater Rifts, they were introduced to Diablo mainly to have the leaderboards, to have players rush against time. To put it plainly, we expect better.

Unlike Pokemon, Diablo can change. Playing Greater Rifts against time is playing them right and they should be designed to provide an even playing field. I was initially very excited about 2.1, but everything fell apart when I realized that leet-skills wouldn’t be enough to take me to the top. I don’t have 2500 hours to run rifts over and over just to get the right spawn, and if I had that kind of time I might just spending running Pokemon instead.

That’s it for today, but stay tuned to BlizzPro for my follow-up article on what can be done to diminish the RNG-factor in Greater Rifts.

And if Pokemon Speedrunning interested you, be sure to check out Gunner’s Twitch Channel!

Cya soon!





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Dannie Ray

Reaper of Souls Player and Theorycrafter, former WoW Raider, Finally got my Heroes invitation! On my spare time I might, or might not be working towards a Masters on Computer Science.

2 responses to “Greater Rifts are just like Pokemon…”

  1. Stephen Stewart says:

    As someone who has watched a lot of Pokemon speed runs (primarily Werster and some of MBM’s stuff at GDQs) as well as having played quite a bit of 2.1, I find this to be a pretty cool parallel to draw. Certainly not one that I would have made and while it’s not a perfect one-to-one, there are definitely similar elements.

    I’m curious to see where you build on this idea from here. I’d say both require great execution for saving time with Pokemon certainly taking the crown for RNG. But like you said, each was built with different activities in mind.

    • Dannie Ray says:

      RNG is unavoidable in the pokemanz, D3 devs could actually tweak things to severely reduce the impact that RNG has over Greater Rift times. I understand the appeal of randomization in a game as repetitive a Diablo, but I think they are overdoing it.

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