Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 was my first exposure to the speedrunning community. I saw the hashtag trending on Twitter and wondered what all the fuss was about. Twitch? Streaming? Glitches? Kill The Animals? It was all a bit disturbing and alien. One night I decided to blindly tune in to the livestream, I can’t remember why but a game I was familiar with must have been trending. It’s quite a plunge sometimes to look into something you don’t understand, but I opened the stream and almost instantly I got it. A group of gamers in a room together doing what they do best, playing! I could hear that warm love for gaming in the commentary, I could see it in the intense gameplay, and I could feel it as the room got hyped for a good run. These are people who are only there because they play so much, and truly respect videogames to the point of dedicating their lives to them.
Speedrunning has a different mindset to competitive gaming, it’s more of a personal journey. Taking the fastest route possible through a game involves learning a game inside-out, executing the fastest possible movement, and often using unintended glitches to skip major areas. Furthermore is the community aspect; it’s not just runners who contribute to the speedrun of a game. Most notable with big games like Ocarina of Time or Yoshi’s Island, there are large communities digging inside each game every day finding ways to implement new routes, glitches and movement tech to improve a run. The beauty in getting a world record time is the video must be uploaded somewhere, and the whole community can see it. When a game is in the spotlight it’s not uncommon to see world records beaten multiple times as people do runs of it every day and bring out the best in each other.
In the last year I’ve watched speedruns from various marathons like SGDQ 2014, AGDQ 2015 and on Youtube whenever I can. I’ve truly become fascinated with the skill and spectacle, it’s like a racing game with 50 minute laps. There is a stupid amount to remember and execute, and every run has its unique key strategies and hard parts. There are risky glitches or shortcuts that only work 10% of the time, which pose some hard questions to the runner. Do you go for those strats when you’re on a good run? Do you sacrifice world record pace? Do you have a backup strat? Despite many games being decades old and optimised to the brim, there is still a dynamic aspect to every speedrun where the runner has to react on the fly. The nature of how intense and perfect some of these inputs have to be means there will never be a perfect run. Just outstanding ones.
So can an average gamer recreate this feeling without dedicating 12 hours a day to a single game? I think yes, and I’ve been experimenting with both Tropical Freeze and Metroid Zero Mission. My times are nowhere near world record pace, and there’s some glitches and tricks I can’t do, but it’s still a very cool feeling to be on “a run” and compete with your personal best time. Doing a playthrough of Tropical Freeze for me usually means a few deaths. Depending on where, you lose Cranky or Dixie and suddenly you need a new strategy through the level. Suddenly you don’t have enough height to take a secret exit. Now you’re starting the next level with a different Kong. It’s a really intense experience just knowing you can beat your personal best time, and doing your best to keep a run going. Of course you actually need to care about your performance for this to be a fun thing, which is one reason why it’s not for everyone.
A common concern is whether attempting a speedrun (or watching speedruns) can ruin a game you love. Watching something you hold dear get absolutely destroyed in a new way can be traumatising, just ask Sonic fans. In my experience so far this hasn’t happened, in fact I’ve only seen benefits from learning more about my games. In Zero Mission for example I know all the best places to refill missiles quickly, and all the important times to do so. Watching Ocarina of Time speedruns has taught me a lot about how the game is programmed. Watching Siglemic playing Mario 64 is one of the coolest displays of skill I’ve ever seen, and shows just how creative you can be with platforming in that game. I will say there are some BAD speedrun games, like long RPGs and games with too many random elements, but even those are good for a laugh sometimes.
I had to write this piece because getting immersed in speedrunning has been the most positive change in my life the past year, and the community truly is full of wonderful people. On top of their awesome gaming efforts, the Games Done Quick marathons have grown to raise over $1 million for charities at each event. A massive statement about the positive impact gaming can have. While wrapping this up I’ll have to throw a shout out to The Final Split, a bunch of cool guys who do a great job every week updating everyone on the speedrunning world. For upcoming marathons, there’s RPG Limit Break next month, and Summer Games Done Quick 2015 in August. I also have to highlight this 4-way Super Metroid race, which is still one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. This race was the moment when I realised the potential of playing games quick, it still blows my mind. Super Metroid is possibly the most highly optimised speedgame in the world, and these players display exactly why.
If anyone has any personal speedrunning stories I’d love to hear them in the comments. I’m going to continue enjoying Tropical Freeze and see how many other 2D platformers stack up, just to get a different experience with them.