The Story of the AVGN Trials of JSR

The Setting
Flashback a bit to May of 2018. Let me put you in my head for a little bit, so you’ll know exactly where I was at that time. 2018 had been a year of reaping the rewards of what was, for myself, an epic 2017. In December 2017, I got 3rd place in the “A Link to the Past Randomizer” tournament. January 2018: two runs at AGDQ. I helped to admin the 2018 Zelda 1 Any% No up+a tournament, and that took months and a lot out of me, but it was a total success! In April 2018: The first-ever Sub-30 in Zelda 1, Sub-80 in Zelda 2, and Sub-90 in ALTTP. I had also had numerous PBs in my speedgames, and was nearing partner eligibility on Twitch.

As the summer LTTPR tournament neared, I found myself in a bit of a lull. There was some drama in that community that I got dragged into, and I found myself extremely burned out on the Randomizer. I didn’t want to practice, I didn’t even want to play the game. Going into the tournament, I had a bye from that 2017 tournament, and ended going 0-and-2 and was knocked out immediately. And, to be honest, it was more of a relief than a hindrance.

That being said, I suddenly felt empty. I wanted a new speedrun, a new challenge. I didn’t want to run Z1, Z2, or LTTP anymore. I wanted to expand my horizons, and challenge myself. However, I had no idea how.

The Dream
I’ve always been a HUGE fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd. Ever since I saw the “Roger Rabbit” episode on a billboard on MySpace back in 2006, I’ve seen every episode nearly the day it came out. His approach and sense of humor really struck a nerve with me. I saw something in James Rolfe that I always saw in myself, but amplified. It was comedic gold, and I related to it so hard. So of course, throughout the years, I’ve followed Cinemassacre and the Nerd’s exploits, always excited when a new episode would come out. But, as the years went by, I found myself having trouble watching them when they came out, especially once I started streaming and making content myself, which leads us to how this all got started.

In May 2018, I saw the “Earthbound” episode, and it was so different. So… good. Damned good. Earthbound is easily one of my favorite games, as I had it as a child and played it to death. I still know almost everything about that game like the back of my hand, and it struck something inside of me. Why not learn Earthbound? I had friends that ran it already, like Skateman222, one of my biggest influences on Twitch, and BrashVolksdragon, who had just got his sub-4 not long before this. I started having daydreams and thoughts about learning Earthbound.

And then, one evening, I woke up from a dream that I still remember vividly. I learned Earthbound. And, after I got a really good time, James Rolfe told me, “Nice job JSR. Now, try some of these other games I’ve reviewed!” So then I grabbed my Virtual Boy and started speedrunning one of those games! And I was having a blast! And then I looked down… and I had the white shirt on, and I started saying “Ass!” over and over again!

I woke up, reached for my phone, and wrote a message to one of my oldest mods on Twitch and friend, OnlyLevelOneLive, in the dead of the night, and then went right back to sleep.

A few days later, and I had my list together. This was the original list of games in the “AVGN Project” which eventually became “The AVGN Trials of JSR”:

136 games in one year. Seemed feasible, if not difficult. What could go wrong?

Original logo for the Trials, which was never used

The Trials Begin… However…
I made the announcement during my 2-year stream anniversary, June 9th, 2018. And the trials began the very next day. For the first game, I learned it right there on stream, with Cantaloupeme in voice chat. It was a challenge to be sure, but after a few days, I pulled through.

As the first dozen or so games went down, the Dirty Harry episode dropped on YouTube and I added it to the list. As I played the games, it came up in chat: “Why aren’t you doing *** game?” or “Did you know the AVGN did *** game with Pat the NES Punk?” and “How come you’re not doing a game from *** episode?” The goal stayed clear though: I had to do 140 games in a year, so I was in it to win it.

Two things happened in September: the Big 20 #9 list dropped, which had an enticing lineup including a few games that were in the Trials… and the “Drake of the 99 Dragons” episode dropped. At this point, the list was up to the high 140’s and climbing, and it was clear the Nerd was making new episodes still…

I made the difficult decision to remove the time restraint on the Trials at this point, and to start randomizing the next game after I finished one. By then, I had already ran 31 of the original 139 games, and was well ahead of pace to finish in a year… but it was clear that I wasn’t happy with the direction it was going:
-I was finishing games too quickly, unhappy with my progress in them.
-I was reluctant to add the games that people were informing me were indeed AVGN-reviewed games.
-It was clear that new AVGN episodes would release in the future.
-Making the list random would make it so I couldn’t anticipate a game coming up (as I did with Rocky and Independence Day).

Fast-forward to December 2020, and the Bartman episode came out. Bartman was game #200, and I made the decision to cap the Trials there. While I may in the future learn more of the AVGN games (perhaps a Trials Round 2, seeing as how there are a lot of games I did not choose), for now, this is a nice, clearly-cut roster, with all of the classic episodes represented, and a bunch of the new ones.

My thoughts at game #100 (ish)
Here we are. I now have a website for folks to track this project. What are my thoughts on this endeavor?

The biggest thing that comes to my mind is how much this has improved and enriched my life as a speedrunner. The challenge of learning games quickly has really forced me to view games differently. I’ve noticed that my overall skill and ability to learn has improved dramatically. Also, I’ve had the amazing experience of having a reason to step out of my comfort zone, and learn games that I probably wouldn’t have learned any other way.

My biggest takeaway is that, as a speedrunner, there is nothing greater to influence and push you than yourself. And for me, the biggest inspiration to succeed and achieve is having a goal. And knowing that I am honoring the AVGN, a character that helped me to get through some of the darker days of my youth thanks to the laughs and enjoyment I got from his work, is even sweeter.

What will I do when I finish? I’m not sure. I can definitely see myself coming back to a lot of these games. Some are games I’d like to improve times in, simply because I know I can, or that my initial Trials PB wasn’t to my satisfaction. Others, I just really enjoyed the speedrun, and would love to see what I can do with the game if I just absorb myself into it for a while.

I can’t say for sure, but I’m truly excited to see where this goes, not only to game #200, but beyond!

-James (JSR)
February 21, 2021