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Dark Souls speedrunners came up with a hilarious way to beat bosses: turn their brains off

Dark Souls - Ornstein & Smough boss fight cutscene
(Image credit: Bandai Namco, FromSoftware)

There comes a point in Dark Souls—after fighting the same boss over and over and losing for a fifth time right as I'm about to strike at that final sliver of a boss's health—that I get frustrated enough to put the controller down and just step away. Now, two of the worst bosses in Dark Souls finally understand my pain. The notorious duo Ornstein and Smough have gotten so fed up with being wailed on by their own worst nightmares, Dark Souls speedrunners, that they too have gone AFK.

That's how I like to imagine it, anyway. What's really happened is that Souls speedrunners have finally pulled off a ridiculous glitch that pauses a boss's AI and they've used it to tame those tag team jerks that I never want to fight again.

Check out this video of Dark Souls speedrunner Kahmul taking down Ornstein and Smough, the tricky double boss fight in the original Dark Souls, in about 20 seconds.

If you're thinking "it looks like nothing is happening here," yes, you're exactly right. When Kahmul enters the fog gate, Ornstein and Smough do nothing. That gives Kahmul time to run over and bash them with his giant dragon tooth hammer without resistance.

I have no illusions that I'll ever practice enough to pull off this trick. I'm probably better off just learning to handle the fight the way it's meant to be done. I've asked Kahmul to explain how this ridiculous glitch works, though. You know, just in case.

"Enemy AI starting delayed is something we have noticed throughout the years already but we did not understand how it happened," Kahmul explains. Previously, speedrunners would occasionally trigger this effect by accident. Neat as it was, even seemingly helpful accidents are disruptive to a meticulously planned speedrun. Recently though, they began attempting to pull this off on purpose.

By keeping his character technically in this inactive state, it's as if Kahmul is stealthing past the game itself.

Despite being famed jerks, Ornstein and Smough were not the original targets for this trick. Souls speedrunners were actually attempting to pin down Gwyndolin, a boss whose ability to teleport around the room is a hassle to predict and plan for in a speedrun. Turning off Gwyndolin's AI seemed like a fitting solution, so Kahmul and another glitch hunter AndrovT began working out how to make it happen.

"So, it turns out that actions that involve switching gear set the player character to an inactive state for 3-4 frames depending on the action," Kahmul says. That's why Kahmul appears to be incessantly switching weapons as he runs towards Ornstein and Smough in his video above. He's perfectly timing those weapon switches to coincide with the rate (about every 5 seconds or 151 frames, he explains) at which the game checks to see whether it should activate the bosses' AI. 

Dark Souls - Ornstein & Smough boss fight cutscene

(Image credit: Bandai Namco, FromSoftware)

"So if we perfectly execute certain weapon switching actions starting from a load screen, we can skip every single cycle and keep bosses and enemies permanently locked in place," he explains. Kahmul isn't just swapping any weapons he chooses, it's a particular setup with a bow and rapier designed by AndrovT for reliably pulling off this glitch.

By keeping his character technically in this inactive state, it's as if Kahmul is stealthing past the game itself. If the game code doesn't recognize he's there, it won't turn on the bosses' AI to fight him. That's also why, when Kahmul stops his weapon swapping trick and begins to attack Ornstein, both bosses begin reacting to his presence. He's dropped his stealth act to attack them directly.

Despite how much satisfaction I get seeing Ornstein and Smough caught totally unaware, AndrovT explains that this trick may not wind up being popular for speedrunners. The AFK glitch is mutually exclusive with another favored trick in the Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition. Given a choice between the two, they've found that the impressive AFK glitch doesn't actually save that much time. It could wind up being useful in Dark Souls: Remastered, but speedrunners don't have quite as many tools for dissecting and investigating the remaster, so designing a reliable setup for that game is currently nearly impossible, AndrovT says.

It's still early days for the AFK glitch though, AndrovT adds. There may yet be more uses for it that the Souls speedrunners have yet to figure out. Naturally, they're already on the grind to AFK everything else in the game. Just to prove that they can.

Lauren Morton

Lauren loves long books and even longer RPGs. She got a game design degree and then, stupidly, refused to leave the midwest. She plays indie games you haven't heard of and will never pass on a story about players breaking games or playing them wrong.