Speedruns: Gaming against Time

Games 10/24/2016

Those who are no longer challenged by even the highest level of difficulty of their favorite game are ready for a speedrun. A speedrun is a play through of a video game with the intention of completing it as quickly as possible and breaking all previous record times. This demands skill, competence and nerve—casual gamers usually fail miserably. The biggest challenge of speedruns isn’t simply completing the game, but beating all the high scores set by other players of the community.

It’s Always Possible to be Faster and Better

Simply playing the game without problems isn’t enough for a speedrun. To play a game as fast as possible the player must have fully mastered all mechanics of the game and know it inside out—every step must be planned, every enemy position anticipated. The player must also know all possible glitches and bugs, as they can help the player to beat high scores. For these reasons, a few normal playthroughs are usually required before even considering a speed run.

Speedruns can also be viewed as a type of optimization process: the aim is to always find a better, faster path and to explore the full potential of the game. Speedruns allow players to measure their skill against each other—who knows the game best, who can play it with their eyes closed, who knows all the hidden secrets? To compare each other’s skills, most players record their speedruns and post them on the internet. There are also many communities, either for one game specifically, or communities that try to master speedruns of many different games.

The First Speedruns: Challenge for Hardcore Fans

Shooter Doom, released in 1993, allowed players to record demo files while playing. This enabled them to swap files and compare them. Numerous gamer communities emerged online, in which gamers gave each other tasks to complete in Doom. The prizes were titles in the gamer community and the feeling of having mastered a challenge that would overwhelm other gamers.

Game developers noticed this competition between gamers and increasingly included time limits in each level that the player had to beat in their games. Developers like 3D Realms introduced this in their 1996 release of the 3D shooter Duke Nukem. The Metroid series rewards fast players with different credits. The Super Mario series and the RPG classic The Legend of Zelda also developed into popular speedrun games. Console games posed a difficulty for speedrunners, as recording and sharing was not possible. The development of emulators meant console games could be played on computers, which led to the development of tool assisted speedruns. Emulators allow you to play games in slow motion, which makes entering a control impetus at the right time easier. Speedruns are not always marked as tool assisted, but the use of a tool can often be detected if watched closely. Many speedrunners consider the use of these kinds of simplifying tools a disqualifying criteria for a real speedrun.

Nowadays speedruns exist in all genres and on all platforms. Some games even reward players for finishing quickly. The RPG classic Final Fantasy IX awards players who reach the last dungeon within 12 hours (the average play through requires 35 to 40 hours) with one of the strongest weapons. Many games also give achievements or trophies as rewards if players complete games quickly.

Speedruns with Different Rules

The time needed to finish is the most important criteria for all speedruns, but there are a number of other variations.

  • Any%: The aim here is simply to finish as quickly as possible, without having to win against every boss, visit every section or collect every possible item.

  • 100%: In contrast to Any% this category requires players to complete all quests and collect all items—basically complete all challenges the game offers. For most games this means all minibosses must also be beaten, each collectible collected and side quests completed. The average player may need around 100 hours for this. A speedrunner tries to reduce this to ten hours.

  • Low%: While in Any% the amount of things the player completes is irrelevant, Low% requires players to do only what is absolutely essential. This includes as few updates and level-ups as possible, which increases the level of difficulty massively.

  • No death: Normally the game over screen is not a problem for gamers—the game simply restarts where it last saved. A no death speedrun on the other hand means the player can’t die even once.

  • Pacifist run: A pacifist run means the player needs to ignore all enemies and complete the game without killing any of them. This is only possible for games where beating enemies isn’t the main aim. For other games the player can simply concentrate on only beating the bosses.

Finally it is also possible to exclude the possibility of glitches and bugs. This varies depending on category and is often listed in addition. Cheats are usually unwanted.

The Most Impressive Speedruns

  • Super Mario World speedruns: Nintendo’s platform games are particularly popular for speedruns. With the help of a glitch in Super Mario for the good old SNES it is possible to jump straight from the first level to the credits. More impressive however is the speedrun by PangaeaPanga (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj-Mf0ZVoGs), who completed the game in only 23:14, despite wearing a blindfold.

  • Zelda speedrun: The RPG classic The Legend of Zelda is known for its extensive story, large world and numerous battles. This makes it all the more impressive to play a game from this series in only 18 minutes. The speedrunner Cosmo managed to play the N64 title Ocarina of Time in only 18:07 minutes. Although this is only possible with glitches and short cuts, this is still an impressive time. You can watch the OoT speedrun here.

  • Pokémon speedruns: Those who spent a considerable amount of their childhood trying to fill their pokedex will be able to honor speedrunner Shenanagan’s accomplishment. He managed to catch all 151 Pokémon in Pokémon blue in only 1:58 hours. To do this, he brings the game and programming code to its knees, often reducing the screen to pixels. As a viewer, you are often left with the feeling that not all is going to plan, but in the end he has his 151 pokemon.

  • Dark Souls no Death speedrun: The souls series is known for reducing even the most experienced gamers to tears. If they see how speedrunner Initerun1 plays Dark Souls, without even dying once their despair is complete. On top of that, he plays the game in only 1:12 hours—a speedrun in a class of its own.

Among many users, speedrunning counts as a veritable e-sport and receives the corresponding attention. If you want to witness speedrunning live, the streaming platform Twitch offers a huge selection of streams from different categories. Well-known speedrunners to watch include Cosmo, Cowen Hames and Siglemic.