Frustration Nation

Frustration Nation
Zen and the Art of Speedrunning

Danielle Riendeau | 23 Jun 2009 12:01
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They pick games that they love - or games that they feel will challenge them - and then hit the books, plotting routes, researching the tricks of past records and playing through trial runs until their strategies begin to take shape. But while there's a studious quality to their training, they're certainly not alone in their endeavors.

There's a healthy amount of team spirit in the larger speedrunning communities, like Speed Demos Archive, Mario Kart 64 Player's Page and High Speed Halo. "I'd say there's a lot more collaboration than competition. We're just too nice!" says Mike Uyama, a site administrator at SDA and avid runner himself. "Having said that, runs are improved on a regular basis, but it's usually months or years until a run is improved. Competition exists, but it's not direct head-to-head competition, so you don't feel it as much as with a fighting game or a first-person shooter."

New records are a cause for celebration - and often come with sincere acknowledgments to the previous champion. Perhaps it's why most runners don't actually turn pro, despite their obvious skill. "I know a couple of runners also play fighting games or first person shooters on a competitive level, but I don't know anyone who has gone pro," says Uyama.

"One of the big differences between speedrunning and other forms of competitive gaming is that speedrunning is mostly memorization, patience and execution, whereas competitive gaming also requires you to read your opponent," Uyama continues. In other words, the only real enemy in this world is time.

Each game requires a different approach, and it's certainly true that titles from different generations have very distinct design philosophies that require wildly different tactics to master. Most runners have their own unique methodologies, but from what I gathered, there's really only one secret ingredient to speedrunning success: superhuman levels of patience.

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"Often you have to memorize everything if you want the speedrun to be very good. And then you have to calculate which risks you should take and which you should not," says Andersson. "I would like to say that I am not a superhuman, but I do have a lot of patience. Sometimes it is tiresome to [keep] playing a game over and over again. But overall I love what I am doing ... I love finding a new strategy and breaking barriers. I love seeing myself getting better and better."

Pablo Bert is the man behind that incredible Battletoads run that led me down this particular rabbit hole in the first place. "Battletoads is a very difficult game, I won't lie," he says. "It drove me nuts as a child, just like everybody else. However, it isn't as hard as people think. All one needs to master it is a world of patience. Once you learn all of the patterns and traps, it's just a matter of putting it all together."

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