207: Zen and the Art of Speedrunning

Zen and the Art of Speedrunning

How long do you have to play a game until you feel like you've sufficiently mastered it? If your answer can be measured in hours or days, chances are you're not a speedrunner. Danielle Riendeau investigates the obsessive world of competitive speedrunning.

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Egads! I'd never have the patience to do that. Hell, I hardly have the patience to finish most games nowadays as it is, let alone to go back and beat it 10,000 more times.

I wonder if it's better to spend your time repeatedly speedrunning Battletoads or sampling WoW's regular gameplay... The two sound rather similar.

These gamers have helped me so much in multiplayer. Watching the speed demos helps give insight on how a game engine works and neat tricks that excel a game.

I've completed Left 4 Dead maps in under a minute due to the videos. Of course naysayers call this an exploit, but speedrunning is a different game altogether from versus and campaign mode.

See, this is where I think it gets a little bit too much. I play a game to have fun and relax, this just smacks of...well, obsession. Besides, apart being able to show off about it and impress few people in the real world, isn't it all for nought?

Vanguard_Ex:
See, this is where I think it gets a little bit too much. I play a game to have fun and relax, this just smacks of...well, obsession. Besides, apart being able to show off about it and impress few people in the real world, isn't it all for nought?

I think for some of them it is more like, pushing your personal boundaries and curiosity how the game works and how to bend and break the rules of said game or its engine; The HL2 speedrun springs to my mind here;
For those who haven't seen it:: The guys are abusing the Havok-Physics Engine to fly around and hurl themselves around the maps; Quite interesting from a Gamer and a Developers purpose;

Also such power gamers are vital for balancing multiplayer games. Be it finding exploits or game imbalances.

You know, I've always wanted to beat the segmented record for Wind Waker, I just need to find the time.

I remember watching speed runs at Fanime '08 of Metroid Zero Mission, Super Mario 64 and Super Smash Bros. for the N64. They were amazing! I wished that I could do something like that and I probably could with Mike Tyson's Punch Out but I don't have the time what with spending time with my wife, going to work, hanging out with friends, and going to the occasional convention but not being able to sit at the console long enough because game rooms always have a time limit on what you play.

I remember I was in shock after watching beat the entirety of Half-Life in a little over half an hour. Props to the speed runners, there's ridiculous skill there.

n00bie51:
I remember I was in shock after watching beat the entirety of Half-Life in a little over half an hour. Props to the speed runners, there's ridiculous skill there.

Doesn't that involve using exploits to jump over barriers in certain areas?

It's certainly a different way to play games: memorizing patterns and getting your timing exactly right to ace the game in as little time as possible.

I encountered the Speed Demos Archive website a bit before Youtube became so huge. Two of the more mindboggling ones were Fallout 1 and Morrowind each done in ~10 minutes. TSA's work with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was very good as well (~5 hours at the time, and very skillful.)

Now I spend more time vegging out to commentated professional Starcraft.

Some people think speedrunning is just obsession, but as somebody who is part of a group of people trying to break world records, it's just another level to the game. Finishing a game (especially older games, like on the NES) is rarely easy, but just because you've made it to the end of the last level doesn't mean you've experienced the entire game. Speed runs, point runs, and other goals add a new challenge to the game, considerably extending the lifetime of the game.

It doesn't even have to be as mundane as time and points. Try playing Arkanoid with the controller upside-down, or like us, while lying upside-down. Not only is it terribly disorienting, the blood-rush to the head makes it that much harder to concentrate.

The only game I've tried to speedrun is Ape Escape. I didn't have a working memory card at the time so every time I played the game I had to start from the beginning. I played it excessively and was eventually able to beat the game in 1.5 hours or so.

I think the fastest I've ever beaten a game was Mega Man 3 at an hour and fifteen minutes.

Now I understand why it took guys Three years to beat Half Life 2 in under an hour.

I can understand being drawn to challenge, but speedrunning is the oppisite of how I play games. I like to explore every corner, complete every side quest, talk to everyone, etc.

Vanguard_Ex:
See, this is where I think it gets a little bit too much. I play a game to have fun and relax, this just smacks of...well, obsession. Besides, apart being able to show off about it and impress few people in the real world, isn't it all for nought?

yes

also, great but dense book.

Ull_the_shaggy_one:
I can understand being drawn to challenge, but speedrunning is the oppisite of how I play games. I like to explore every corner, complete every side quest, talk to everyone, etc.

Me too. Still, it's always interesting to see people plow through a game like that. I've also seen speedruns of Half-Life 1- bunnyhopping, exploiting level-geometry glitches, all sorts of things. It's amazing.

I do enjoy watching the odd speedrun from time to time, but for me personally, I couldn't do it. I play games to unwind and relax, and while I do enjoy a challenge, I wouldn't take it to that extent. I have other hobbies for pursuing technical perfection.

For me, the time at which a game is spreedrun would be inversely proportional to how much fun I had.

Internet Kraken:

n00bie51:
I remember I was in shock after watching beat the entirety of Half-Life in a little over half an hour. Props to the speed runners, there's ridiculous skill there.

Doesn't that involve using exploits to jump over barriers in certain areas?

As far as I can tell, no; Hl1 can be beat without too much cheating, they do use bunny hopping and they do skip certain fights were necessary; The HL2 is exploiting, as is the Baldur's Gate ones (1 && 2)

Vanguard_Ex:
See, this is where I think it gets a little bit too much. I play a game to have fun and relax, this just smacks of...well, obsession. Besides, apart being able to show off about it and impress few people in the real world, isn't it all for nought?

Well, what do you usually get for completing a game? I recently finished Fallout 3 and didn't get any fame, money or love. In fact, I'm quite sure I had to pay for it!

Gaming is just something you do the way you like, (well, as long as you're not online, lolololol) and as long as care the level of obsession isn't an actual obsession you can do it any way you like.

I wanted to do a Body Harvest speedrun, (better than GTA, suckas!) and thought I'd have a chance since the current winner had some memory troubles with his game and had to save in a level (you can usually play the levels in it without saving, and it takes a buttload of time to do so) but, not only do I not have the time, but I also not have any device to save the videos, so what's the point, really.

The Rogue Wolf:

Ull_the_shaggy_one:
I can understand being drawn to challenge, but speedrunning is the oppisite of how I play games. I like to explore every corner, complete every side quest, talk to everyone, etc.

Me too. Still, it's always interesting to see people plow through a game like that. I've also seen speedruns of Half-Life 1- bunnyhopping, exploiting level-geometry glitches, all sorts of things. It's amazing.

But don't you see? In order to find the fastest possible route through the game you HAVE to have explored every corner. One of the misunderstandings is that these people simply rush through the game as fast as possible, and then try to get faster and faster. Not so.

It's fascinating to get in on the ground floor - as a new game is released and people start talking about running it. You all play through the game and enjoy it. Then you can put it down if you like. Or, you can start looking at optimising, finding tricks, really exploring the game. Personally, I don't make the runs. I don't have the sort of patience that drives me to make a perfect run.

But I love finding the tricks. Maybe it's just a single battle, maybe it's 5 minutes worth of gameplay, whatever it is. You find the method, you reveal it, and someone takes that and adds it to their run. It is a collaboration. There are few who will put it all together, but there are many who will casually run through their favourite part of a game.

I love the speedrunning community and I never understood how people could look at the result and simply think "What a waste of time".

I've tried speedrunning on a couple of occassions, but never on a whole game. I find it fun to do with single challenges however, to see how fast you can complete a level or task and then try to break the record. It doesn't have to be a world record for you to feel like you ahve accomplished something, it can be all about the personal challenge. That was what I did to lengthen games like Shadow of the Colossus or Mirror's Edge (talk about speedrunning, ha! (sorry...)

God, speed runners are insane in my eyes. I couldn't try speed running through super Mario world more than 12 times through before saying balls to that and watching TV. Its just a matter of patience. I just don't have it :P

I've been following the Speedrunning community for some time now, despite the fact I've never actually tried to speed run a game, ever since I first saw that amazing video Quake Done Quick, way back in 1998? 1999? I can't recall the exact date, but I was simply gobsmacked by the way the runners had taken the game, which I had played for quite a while, and had dissected into its base components (the irony being, of course, when Quake done Quicker and Quake Done Quick With a Vengeance obliterated the previous run).

After that, I'd periodically check up on Speedrunning sites (above all Speed Demos Archive) and although it's rare, on occasion I still get that amazing sensation of utter awe, of seeing something I'd previously thought to be impossible, not only happening before my very eyes but usually followed by something other mind-blowing stunt. The classic examples are games like Contra III or Super Metroid (which I heartily recommend watching to anyone who's ever seen this game and that you can find at http://speeddemosarchive.com/SuperMetroid.html ), where the level of precision, skill and just plain awesomeness reaches ridiculous levels.

Even games that don't reach this level of amazing can still be a joy to watch, specially when you see tricks you've never seen before, or when the player manages to get the timing just right, or even when the sheer dumb luck (as in one famous Castlevania: Symphony of the Night run) that sometimes occur. It's a very satisfying experience.

Fugue:
But don't you see? In order to find the fastest possible route through the game you HAVE to have explored every corner. One of the misunderstandings is that these people simply rush through the game as fast as possible, and then try to get faster and faster. Not so.

ReverseEngineered:
Some people think speedrunning is just obsession, but as somebody who is part of a group of people trying to break world records, it's just another level to the game. Finishing a game (especially older games, like on the NES) is rarely easy, but just because you've made it to the end of the last level doesn't mean you've experienced the entire game. Speed runs, point runs, and other goals add a new challenge to the game, considerably extending the lifetime of the game.

I love the speedrunning community and I never understood how people could look at the result and simply think "What a waste of time".

These two quotes right here are very much part of what I think of when I watch speedruns, and when I contemplate attempting them on older games like Mario or Metroid. I am nowhere near the level of people who appear on the Speed Demos Archives, but I've seen much of their work and I've marveled at what they do. It has also helped me play some games better as I can pick up on tricks they've shown or it inspired me to go back and replay some of the games and see if I can't do any better than I usually do.

Case in point, I recently watched someone speed-run Actraiser, and I had never thought to just blindly run through the whole level dodging and killing only as necessary to reach the boss, and then pwn it with my Shooting Star spell. That's pretty ingenius, mainly because I didn't think of it, but that they pulled it off so well and so fast just blew me away.

I love exploring games and finding all kinds of stuff, and it helps me on replays because once I've seen and found some of the things, I don't NEED to go back and find all of the, or I can find them faster because I've found them once. My fiancee took almost 2 days to finish Metroid Prime 3 on her first try, and the last time I watched her play it she made it in around 4 hours or so, because she knew where everything was, knew the boss strategies, and she in general kicked butt. I don't think she's hit the Speed-run level, but I haven't seen any speed runs of the game yet.

It's an awesome scene in the gaming community which doesn't get enough love. For me, personally, I enjoy watching speed-runs of older games much more because those are games I have fonder memories of at this point. I also am more readilly willing to go back to say.. Zelda 3 and beat it faster, than I would want to Mario Galaxy or a recent PS2 release.

Thanks for paying some attention to this emerging art form! I've been involved in Speed Demos Archive since the 'just Quake' days but I'm happy to see such a large variety of games get pasted as they so thoroughly deserve. It has never failed to amaze me how some runners will pick Final Fantasy XII or StarCraft or Duke Nukem 3D and still work tirelessly to chop off those seconds, even in the face of massive cutscenes or difficulty.

Internet Kraken:

n00bie51:
I remember I was in shock after watching beat the entirety of Half-Life in a little over half an hour. Props to the speed runners, there's ridiculous skill there.

Doesn't that involve using exploits to jump over barriers in certain areas?

They often do avoid certain things in speedrunning. I know that in Metroid Prime, speedrunners use a glitch to avoid the boss Thardus, and they simply complete the game without the spider ball. As said in the article they often look at certain paths and take notes on how to avoid certain things to save time, which is becoming a lot easier now with the more common usage of worlds that you can fully explore.

I have heard of this before but it was interesting to hear what the speedrunners themselves have had to say on this subject. I understand that it would take a lot of patience to do that entirely. I can barely finish some games in weeks, even if I've completed it before, yet these people can do it in a matter of hours. That does take serious devotion, and the patience of saints to do.

It's all about the Flow.

That near medidative state where thoughts rarely happen upon your consicous mind. You are simply going instinctively through the motions of the game, on a whole other level.

I don't sek to make any kind of speedrun, but i get that feeling usually from bullet hell shmups and, curiously, the original Ninja Gaiden on the NES.

That game just seems built for speedruns. It urges you forward with the music, the fluid controls and well placed level and enemy designs.

Fugue:

The Rogue Wolf:

Ull_the_shaggy_one:
I can understand being drawn to challenge, but speedrunning is the oppisite of how I play games. I like to explore every corner, complete every side quest, talk to everyone, etc.

Me too. Still, it's always interesting to see people plow through a game like that. I've also seen speedruns of Half-Life 1- bunnyhopping, exploiting level-geometry glitches, all sorts of things. It's amazing.

But don't you see? In order to find the fastest possible route through the game you HAVE to have explored every corner. One of the misunderstandings is that these people simply rush through the game as fast as possible, and then try to get faster and faster. Not so.

Thank you, fugue, you typed the words out of my fingers. Think of the people who speed-run RPGs such as Diablo or Fall Out; in order to learn how to beat the game in the fastest amount of time possible, they had to have invested a crapload of time exploring the world, figuring out the fastest routes, figuring out the percentages of when a certain boss is killed would drop X type of weapon, develop the skills to play well in general, etc. For each segment of a speed run on Diablo 2 probably involved hours of repeated playtime over and over again. It's awesome.

An exception to this would be the first guy to beat GTA IV. He skipped all the cutscenes, used taxis to get to his destinations, and tried to finish the game as fast as he could; he was killing a bunch of people and driving people to places but he didn't know why as he minimized spoilers as best as he could. However, that was just so he could have the title of being the first person to beat GTA IV, not to be the one who beat it in the shortest amount of time possible; I'm assuming others have now already completed the game in a shorter period of time and are working even now to beat the game quicker.

Vanguard_Ex:
See, this is where I think it gets a little bit too much. I play a game to have fun and relax, this just smacks of...well, obsession. Besides, apart being able to show off about it and impress few people in the real world, isn't it all for nought?

I agree with that to a certain extent, but you could also see it as getting the most out of a game. These speedruns inspired me to play Far Cry 2 a second time over but taking a completely different approach, hence I got more out of it and it saved me blowing more money on others.

I guess it depends one what game you speedrun. If it's a shooting game, then I'd say it's ok as every shooter is about perfection and skill. But genres perhaps not.

Ull_the_shaggy_one:
I can understand being drawn to challenge, but speedrunning is the oppisite of how I play games. I like to explore every corner, complete every side quest, talk to everyone, etc.

May I suggest Louischou's channel?

http://www.youtube.com/user/louischou

He doesn't speedrun, but completes games 100% and is very good.

I love sitting and watching Speed Runs, because these gamers think of tricks you'd never think of doing, and you'd always learn something new. Plus, especially on old NES games, it's nice to see the endings for those games that, try as you might, you could never quite beat yourself.

I think the thing I miss most about being on XBL is looking at the completely insane runs people had posted for Mirror's Edge and FLOW. It's a blast trying to speedrun that game. That's why I've never gotten why people don't like it. It has so much replay value!

 

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