Q: Hello and thank you for joining us for this interview! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Retrotato: First of all, thanks for having me! My name is Retrotato and I’ve been speedrunning since April 2016, mainly focusing on speedruns of the Pokémon main series and doing a little bit [of other games] on the side as well. I’ve also done a lot of bingos of different Pokémon generations throughout the years and I’m involved in the creation of Pokémon Platinum, HeartGold/SoulSilver, and Sword/Shield bingos.
Q: Tell us about your history with speedrunning. How did you get into Pokémon speedruns?
Retrotato: So, prior to 2016, I actually didn’t know anything about the concept of speedrunning. My first experience came from looking through the Twitch directory out of boredom one day, when I saw Pokémon Crystal, one of my favourite games, being pretty active. I went to check it out – there was a small stream by someone called WasabiKnight doing a Pokémon Crystal Any% Glitchless speedrun. I got really fascinated by it and really curious about the concept of speedrunning and of completing the game as fast as possible, since that was completely new to me, and started talking to the runner in his chat. He was really friendly and more than happy to answer all my curious and noobish questions. And it was that evening that I got absolutely hooked on the world of speedrunning and immediately started looking further into it, and it quickly became just an obsession for me, really.
Q: So, you saw a Pokémon speedrun and just went from there?
Retrotato: Yeah, pretty much. I checked out WasabiKnight first, he was streaming consistently every evening, and I expanded the horizon by checking out other runners as well, went to speedrun.com to see what the whole gimmick was about. I don’t remember exactly when this was, but it didn’t take long for me to get curious to try and do this myself.
Q: Why Pokémon? What are the aspects of Pokémon speedrunning that you find exciting and particularly enjoy?
Retrotato: I can’t start talking about this without mentioning the feeling of nostalgia, of course. That’s probably one of the main feelings that many speedrunners have when they start speedrunning a game, because Pokémon means a lot to me. Ever since I started playing Pokémon Silver when I was about 6 or 7 years old, I have not let go, and it has been really comforting for me during rough times of my life. It was something I could turn to whatever mood I was in, if I was bored, or sad, or just wanted to distract myself. I have an especially strong attachment to the older games, but everybody knows that you can’t always keep playing the old games over and over again and continuously find things to do – it’s gonna become repetitive at some point. I wanted to see if I could step it up a notch, make it a bit more challenging. As a kid I would often start up a new game and trade over a new specific, odd main that I would use to beat the game with and then train that main until it reached the maximum level of 100.
Later in the years I also explored the world of something called the Nuzlocke Challenge. For those who are not familiar with it, let me explain. When the internet became more accessible, common and more open for information, I also got introduced to a new challenge called the Nuzlocke Challenge in Pokémon. This is something that became a phenomenon especially on YouTube, with letsplayers doing it and all. It’s a regular Pokémon playthrough with a specific set of rules. It’s really pretty much up to you what rules you set, but the common ones are the following three: 1) you can only catch one thing in each area, 2) you have to nickname all the Pokémon you catch to create a stronger bond with them, and 3) if a Pokémon faints, it’s considered dead and you can’t use it anymore. That gave a bit of a challenge to playing Pokémon for some time and also ended up being my introduction to the world of livestreaming around 2012. Back in the day I was doing YouTube videos myself and decided I would make playing Pokémon more exciting by doing these Nuzlocke Challenges, and the people watching were also pretty intrigued.
Pokémon speedruns opened up a new world to me. This was a way of me playing the old games with a new challenge in mind, with a difference that it was something you could continue to grind, do, and develop in, and continue to learn something new with. All the different games and generations have different strategies, mechanics, and features you have to adapt to, so even though they’re in the same franchise, so to speak, it can feel like completely different games. Any% or Glitchless runs, they never seize to amaze me, because whenever a new game releases for the main series, it’s always great to get together as a community to play the new games and figure out how to optimise them for the speedrun.
All in all, just being able to play my favourite childhood games, or my favourite games in general is pretty great to me. As well as being able to talk about the games to a community that is as passionate about them as I am and meeting all kinds of different people you can call your friends, all sorts of talented people who astonish you with the level of skill they have and the knowledge they possess about the games that you never knew before. It’s an amazing community to be a part of.
Q: In the years of you speedrunning Pokémon, what are your personal highlights?
Retrotato: There are so many highlights to choose from, I would say. From a speedrunning perspective, getting my first world record was a really special memory for me. It was in Platinum Any%. My approach to speedrunning is that I want to have fun and I don’t want to grind to the point where it makes the game unbearable to me, so I try to balance it the best I can. And for Platinum Any% I felt like it was a run where the world record was within reach for me and that it was something I was capable of at the time, so I grinded for as long as I could and ended up actually getting it, which that was pretty nice.
Probably my first really nice memory of the time I’ve been speedrunning Pokémon. And there is also the Candyfloss route for Pokémon Sword/Shield. It may not be as major of a thing if you consider speedrunning as a whole because it’s not the fastest route you can do for Any% in the run, but it made so many people happy and also [inspired them] to run the category. Whenever I’ve been reading them saying how much they enjoyed it and how much easier this route is compared to the other Any% route that is not faster but might be less bearable because it’s harder or a lot more stressful for some people… It’s just something that’s really nice to read when you’ve put so much work into it. Like I mentioned earlier, you get to meet a lot of people you get to call friends, and this is also really nice: when you’ve known them for many years and you might not be living in the same country, and then you just end up being in the same place and finally get to meet up, it’s a really nice experience. I have met so many people over the years that I have great memories with and really appreciate to this day calling them my friends. The community feeling as a whole.
Q: Now, let’s talk about Pokémon bingos specifically. Could you tell us about your experience with bingos?
Retrotato: My first experience with Pokémon bingos is actually pretty similar to a lot of Pokémon bingo players. It was by watching a guy called Keizaron do a Pokémon Crystal bingo. He’s pretty known for doing them and I would say he’s been an introduction to Pokémon bingos and Pokémon speedrunning in general to a lot of people. When I was watching him doing it many years ago, I also got pretty curious to try it out myself. I’ve been trying to do it with a lot of different friends throughout the years and it was always a fun experience for me. Later this also later led me to try out Pokémon Emerald bingos.
Crystal and Emerald were the only bingos accessible at Bingosync at that moment as far as I remember. Later with the help of a few friends I developed bingos for Pokémon Platinum, HeartGold/SoulSilver, and Sword/Shield.
I’ve also participated in a few Bingothons by now and this inspired me to do more bingos and get better at them, because getting to do these for a good cause while also getting to play with friends is, of course, always a great feeling. That is also one of the reasons I like to stream. If I can just make somebody happy and entertain some people for whatever reason, it’s always a good day for me. I get the same feeling from participating in marathons, including Bingothon. Doing bingos at Bingothon is a fun experience – when you’re reading chat and run into random elements during the bingo, the chat reacts to these and you react with them, and we’re generally having a good time while doing something for a good cause.
Q: What are the specifics for Pokémon bingos, considering how RNG- and manip-heavy these games are?
Retrotato: I can mostly speak for randomised Pokémon bingos here since they are on a completely different difficulty level, which makes them preferred for most people.
If you’re doing a regular, vanilla-based game of Pokémon bingo, you know where things are and how to go along with the process of completing your objectives. This is also probably the only instance where manipulation can really be used. When it comes to randomised Pokémon bingos, manipulation is usually not possible as it requires a lot of research and trial-and-error processing.
When you’re playing, there’s also a lot of adapting since, like you mentioned, there’s a lot of RNG involved. You’re always going into something completely new and unexpected. This gives you the feeling of doing something fresh, something that challenges your mind, so when you’re playing with your friends, it’s often a game of who can adapt better to it, and of course, who can get the better luck. And when you’re in a race, you need to have a good idea of how much time you want to dedicate to the different objectives and to the “luck grind”: for instance, your bingo card might tell you to catch an Eevee, and if you see that your opponent has already got one, it becomes a situation of where you need to decide if this is something you’re going to grind for. You can go back and see if you can get an Eevee encounter, which may be like a 10% chance. It might take you several minutes to catch it, so it can end up taking much longer for you than for your opponent. In those kinds of moments you need to determine if this is something worth committing to when you’re doing a race.
Basically, when you’re playing, you also want to set yourself up as strong as possible as fast as possible. You want to get yourself a strong Pokémon with little weaknesses and with as much coverage as possible, because you can run into a fight where you’re completely walled because maybe your type is weak to what your opponent has, or you don’t have a move that is effective against your opponent, letting them knock you out over and over again and making you stuck there while they squeeze through the fight and take the lead. The faster you can get something that can get you through fights faster, the better chance you have to pull ahead. This is why you will usually see this as the first objective to runners. And even though it’s not on the cards, it’s an essential thing for a run or race.
Q: What about making bingo cards? What is the process there? What are the challenges?
Retrotato: Again, this is probably something where it matters a lot whether you’re doing a regular vanilla game or a randomised one. We of course want to set realistic objectives when creating a board, but for me personally, it’s also important to set fun objectives.
Naturally, when making these boards one has to involve one of the main gimmicks of the game. With Pokémon, obviously, the whole concept is to catch things, but catching something regular is pretty niche, so we want to step it up a notch. Let’s say catching 5 Pokémon doesn’t sound that exciting, so to spice it up we would make it “catch 5 Bug type Pokémon” instead. Another instance is where you want to evolve a Pokémon, which is also pretty simple, so you spice it up by evolving a cross-generation Pokémon. The thing here is that there’re Pokémon with evolutions that got introduced in later generations. We have Eevee, for example, being a Gen. I Pokémon, which has evolutions in Gen. II and IV. So, you can go catch an Eevee and then evolve it into Leafeon from Gen. IV. By doing that we make the simple evolution objective a bit more exciting.
Of course, with having different games, we also want to have objectives that would be unique to the game. With Sword/Shield, for example, with randomisation not being available when we were making the cards, we tried to focus more on the games’ new features, aiming at objectives involving raid battles, Rotom Rallies, curry cooking, uniforms, different side quests, etc.
When it comes to randomisers, we should also keep in mind that they shouldn’t become too big of a challenge to scare away the player. With the newer games, for example, we have to remember that there are many more Pokémon available, so we can’t make an objective saying, “catch this specific Pokémon”, because that would end up being a 1 in almost 500 chance in Generation IV. This problem is resolved by adding a few more similar Pokémon to the objective. And that’s what I also consider a fun part of it – to do the research to see what Pokémon you can find that have something in common with each other. An example here would be Heracross, Aipom, and Pineco. They’re all an objective on HeartGold/SoulSilver bingo boards, and what they three have in common is that they all are rare encounters from shaking trees in Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal and HeartGold/SoulSilver.
Q: What is the hardest bingo card you’ve ever got when doing a run?
Retrotato: Excluding the ones we’ve gotten during testing where we found objectives that were literally impossible to do due to them not being optimised, the one that springs to mind is the one I actually had against Crrool at Bingothon Summer 2020 in HeartGold/SoulSilver.
With this being during a marathon, we wanted to make sure we had a good estimate, and we had already prepared ourselves for a good time by keeping below it by doing some test runs beforehand. From what I recall, the marathon was already running behind schedule, and I had important plans I had to attend as soon as our run was scheduled to finish, so it was really important for me to be on time.
Before we started, Crrool and I had the card revealed to us, and we could already tell from the beginning that it would be really tough to get through this board, but being the competitive, stubborn Pokémon speedrunners we are, we decided to take up the challenge. It wasn’t really because all of the objectives were really hard to get, it was more the combos we needed to get a bingo.
Unfortunately, with the marathon being behind schedule, I had to leave 2 hours in (with our estimate being 2 hours and 30 minutes). With a normal board, we would probably have been kept below 2 hours, but unfortunately, I had to throw in the towel and leave to attend the plans I was about to run late for.
Q: What’s the most fun bingo card you’ve ever done?
Retrotato: I would say I have a lot of fun memories from doing Pokémon bingos. One of those that comes to mind I did a few years ago with a friend. I think it was our first Pokémon Emerald bingo, and my friend ended up getting a legit shiny Pokémon, which, for those who are not aware, is like 1 in 8,100 chance of getting. And we would just go on about it for the rest of the bingo. I think it’s an unwritten rule in Pokémon bingos for some people that if they find a legit shiny, they’ve just automatically won the whole bingo race. Another one that springs to mind is also a Pokémon Emerald bingo. I should give some context for this one. For Pokémon Crystal and Pokémon Emerald there have been specific ROMs made called “speedchoice”, which have a lot of new features that are quality-of-life things, where you don’t have to mash buttons to get through the text, you can just hold the button to do it automatically. The speedchoice for Pokémon Emerald was still in development, and we found this glitch or bug where you could use a fishing rod called the Old Rod that’s normally supposed to make you encounter weaker Pokémon, which you use in the beginning of the game. But it had this glitch the Old Rod would reel up Pokémon that were level 40 instead of like level 10. So, we would use this glitch to catch a high-level Pokémon and then just sweep through most of the game.
Another really good memory I have of doing Pokémon bingos also comes from Pokémon Emerald, but this was during Bingothon 2019, where I was playing against PulseEffects and Crrool. I think it was pretty close between me and Crrool, to the point where I only needed a baby Pokémon, and I couldn’t find one for the life of me! And I think I just went into this state of mind where I was on the edge of insanity trying to win and for entertainment purposes I just started shouting and crying something like, “Where are my babies!? I need to find my babies!”. I think it was a fun experience, it made people laugh. After that run we had HeartGold/SoulSilver, and people even carried the meme over to that run. I actually ended up not finding these baby Pokémon.
Q: What Pokémon games do you consider the most and the least suitable for a bingo, and why?
Retrotato: This is probably different for everybody, with a lot of different factors to consider. If you have the time and tolerance, then I would say I enjoy Pokémon Platinum bingos the most. I think the game has a great map and some really good mechanics that make everything exciting and suitable for a good time in a bingo race, or a regular run for that matter.
Some would also consider Pokémon Crystal to be the most suitable, as it’s the most active, optimised, and probably the simplest bingo to do and get into. The game has a dedicated “speedchoice” ROM that is optimised to go faster and adds a lot of quality-of-life improvements to the game. Crystal also only has 251 Pokémon involved and a lot less items. So alongside having this speedchoice ROM to give you some options for instant text and also for skipping boring parts of the story, this is probably the more bearable Pokémon bingo to do, I’d say. It really comes down to the person, what you’re into. If you have the time and tolerance, then I personally like Platinum more, but if you prefer something simpler, or are just getting into bingos, then Crystal is more for you.
When it comes to the least suitable, we’re probably moving onto Generation V territory. The randomiser tool that works with Generations I-V does have the option to have instant text, but in Generation V this can often break the game. You therefore have to play the game at regular speed, which feels unnatural when doing Pokémon bingos, in my opinion. And Generation V, of course, has a lot of Pokémon involved, like 650 Pokémon available, so with the randomiser on top of it, it becomes about very specific objectives that can also get too tedious for my liking having that in addition to playing the game at a regular speed.
Q: What is your favourite Pokémon bingo type and why?
Retrotato: I can’t really speak on behalf of blackout bingos, as I think I haven’t done any of those for Pokémon. I’m a simple guy and I have only done vanilla bingos of having to complete 1-3 bingos. With the later generations also being more of a challenge and generally being longer, it also takes more time to complete, so me and my friends would often see ourselves settle with 1-3 bingo races.
Q: Speedrunning bingos are gaining popularity. As someone who does bingo runs and regular speedruns, how do you think doing bingos could benefit regular speedrunning? What is the appeal of bingos for you?
Retrotato: Bingos to me are a fun change of pace while still playing the game you might be practicing for. I already mentioned that: a few years ago, I was grinding for a good time in Pokémon Platinum Any%, and I quickly realised that bingos actually helped me getting better at the game in terms of execution. In a laid-back setting of bingo races of the game, it was easier to just get used to playing the game and get better at the movement, which ultimately helped me improve my execution, and probably had a good part in me eventually getting the world record for it, since that’s a game where execution matters a lot for the speedrun, when you’re doing manipulation for the first half an hour of the game or so.
You might also get to explore parts of a game you might not have had the chance to explore before – in this case I can mention the instance where I was working on the bingo board for Sword/Shield, that actually was the beginning of probably my biggest routing project in my Pokémon speedrunning adventure. This is about the Candyfloss route I mentioned earlier. There’s a town with an in-game trade for the Grass type Pokémon Cottonee, nicknamed Candyfloss. When I was making the board, I made it an objective to do this trade, conveniently also using it to beat the next gym leader of this town that was a Water type gym leader. When doing this I got more fascinated by this Pokémon trade and figured out that Candyfloss has set stats. This means that its stats will always be the same, which normally is always random, because Sword/Shield cannot be manipulated in terms of the Pokémon you’re catching, making you adapt throughout the run depending on your stats.
With Candyfloss, however, having pretty much the same stats made for easy routing when I was learning and practicing the game. At the time I was doing Pokémon Shield and the route that was considered the fastest route of the game back then, which involved a lot of adapting and hard numbers and calculations. So, it made me turn to routing Candyfloss as a little side project, since with set stats it should have been relatively easy. I didn’t actually expect this Pokémon to be able to compete with the fastest Any% route, but to my and most people’s surprise, it got really close, making up for some of it by being a lot safer option and helping finish more runs with a better time on average without being too reset-heavy. So, whenever I talk about the history of Candyfloss and how it all started, I always say that it started by me making a bingo board for Pokémon Sword/Shield for, I think, Bingothon 2020. This in-game trade for a little Cottonee in this little town ended up being a nice change of pace for me and a nice side project and involved into one of the biggest routing projects I’ve ever done that has a lot of meaning to me to this day.
I therefore see bingos having a big appeal in terms of practicing a game you might want to improve in without feeling the tense or the pressure of doing the actual run, but instead getting to practice while doing something fresh and something that isn’t as comprehensive as a speedrun.
Q: Any bingo- and speedrunning-related projects you and/or the Pokémon community are currently working on? What should we be looking forward to?
Retrotato: In terms of speedrunning, we’re constantly working on something new and exploring new things, so Pokémon speedrunning is always evolving, I’d say. New strats are being tested out all the time by this huge community that we have. In terms of bingos, I personally am not doing anything myself at the moment, but I am aware of others working on some exciting projects, including Generations VI, VII, and VIII, with randomisers and capturing tools being way more available for the relevant consoles, and new quality-of-life mechanics also being developed for these games and the systems. That’s something worth looking out for.
Q: Any words for those who’d like to pick up bingos, but don’t know where to start? Same for those who’d like to start speedrunning Pokémon?
Retrotato: Get in touch with the community and don’t hesitate to ask questions. That’s how I started out, after all. I had almost no knowledge of either speedrunning or bingos, but I went ahead and asked some curious questions, and went on to do some research on my own. The speedrunning community, yeah, even the gaming community as a whole, is full of nice and awesome people who are more than willing to lend out a helping hand. I always say that there are no stupid questions. Don’t get intimidated if something seems hard and don’t set yourself up with high expectations of becoming a top player in the span of almost no time because practice is important. You need patience and tolerance. You shouldn’t trust RNG and you need to remember that you have no control when the game gives you the bad kind of RNG. To me, everything is practice and everything is a learning experience with the right attitude.
Q: Thank you for the interview!
And that was Beyond the Board! We hope you enjoyed it as much as us! Do make sure to give Retrotato a follow on Twitch and Twitter for more Pokémon bingo content! And as stated at the beginning, do remember that we also have many matches of the Super Mario Sunshine 1v1 Lockout Bingo League Season 2 happening both on our own channel as well as SunshineCommunity, and February 11th will see the start of the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Bingo Bash on our channel, so do stay tuned for that!
Thanks all, and see you on the next Beyond the Board!