While at the Southeast Game Exchange two weeks ago, we sat in on a stimulating panel called “Introduction to Speedrunning” conducted by world record speedrunners (pictured left to right); LackAttack24, Zoasty, Skybilz, and Authorblues.
It was aptly named as it was just that. A 45-minute session chock full of great information and dialogue (& speedrun showcases) for the aspiring speedrunner. In fact, it was so good that we decided to share a transcript of what the experts had to say.
We hope you’ll find this as informative and inspiring as we did.
Authorblues: It’s a strange creature. It’s sort of a competitive, cooperative event that happens to be both a community and a completely single player [experience].
Is finding a glitch, cheating?
Authorblues: I think a lot of people who are outside the speedrun community, there’s sort of a pervasive mentality about glitches are cheating.
For a lot of us I think the general, accepted mentality is that if it exists in the game, it’s part of the game. If you can do it in the game, it’s part of the game. And, so it’s less about . . .people joke around that speedrunners must really hate games because they want to play less of them. But, the thing is that it’s just really exciting to see ways you can go around the way the developer intended.
How do you find glitches?
Authorblues: You find glitches by having a knowledge of how games work. For instance, I know this game (Super Mario World) well enough to know that when I land on Yoshi, Mario’s wide position, how high he is on screen, snaps to where Yoshi is, but Yoshi’s exposition, how far he is left to right, snaps to Mario. So, I can combine those 2 ideas to pull myself into the wall, by pulling Yoshi into me. (This trick allowed him to showcase the stage completely out of bounds).
Useful Terms to Know.
Authorblues: It means something along the lines of like a door you thought would take you one place but [due to] some sequence of actions or glitches, it takes you somewhere else entirely.
Authorblues: It’s basically going through a boundary the developer intended to stop you.
Skybilz: Any glitch in the game that can be performed that takes you directly into the credits.
Authorblues: [For example] In Super Mario World the fastest category is under a minute long because in the 1st stage you can do a very elaborate set-up in order to just instantly start the credits.
LackAttack24: This means you beat the game without any restrictions. Whatever you can do to get to the winning goal.
No Star World
LackAttack24: You can’t use the star world.
LackAttack24: You must beat all of the castles before you beat the game.
LackAttack24: You go through walls, but it’s only in one direction.
Dupe a block
LackAttack24: You can create blocks that don’t exist, that will have items in them that aren’t supposed to be there.
Commentary on the different categories for speedruns.
LackAttack 24: Each game can have separate categories which define the way you play the game or any requirements. Like Super Mario World doesn’t use a percentage which is great. There’s 96 exits in the game so 96 ways you can beat all the levels. So, they categorize them by number of exits or a restriction called No Star World (defined above). There’s [also] All Castles (see definition above).
Authorblues: Or, even descriptions that add in further things like No Cape or Small Mario Only, or things like that. The thing is, that if you just treat a game as get to the winning position, a lot of times that can be fairly boring. But, by adding small restrictions, you find a lot of different ways to play the game. When you change what the goal is, [. . .] the route of the game changes enough that each and every level becomes sort of its own individual thing and it really creates almost a 2nd game entirely because you might’ve learned to play it one way but all of that won’t help you when you come around the 2nd time.
Tools for Practicing the Game.
LackAttack24: The SD2SNES is a flash card which you can put any number of games on a SD card and then you have one cart that holds as many games as you want. We do things with ROM hacks and Randomizers [. . .] that also can be played on the original console. That gives the best feel for speedrunning. Emulators can have lag or inconsistencies.
Authorblues: As speedrunning has become more and more developed, and more people in the community know what they’re doing, people have put their powers to good use in order to help us have the tools necessary to learn these games. One of the things that’s become more popular in recent history, now that more & more people are acquiring flash cartridges, is making modified ROMs of the game that offer you tools for practicing the game.
So, for instance [on Super Mario World], I have free reign over the movement on the map, I have a timer that shows me my best times in the stage, I can hit buttons to change what Yoshi and Power Ups I have, and even when I’m in the stages, for instance, I can warp around the stage and practice different things. If I want to move forward in a stage, I can hit a button that takes me to a different part of the stage. If something goes wrong, I can reset back to a last point. These tools just make it more efficient to practice.
Zoasty: The game saver is [also] useful if somebody doesn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a flash card. (It’s $25). It’s slower, loads slower, a little buggier, but. . . [still useful].
How the experts got their start.
Zoasty: What got me into speedrunning was playing Super Metroid. I liked it so much. It was such a flashy run. But, what kept me speedruning was the community and competition. I would not have lasted 5 years playing the same game if it hadn’t been for the competition and comradery of the community.
Authorblues: People find speedrunning a lot of different ways. At least these days, the place most people find speedruning is through the GDQ on Twitch. This seems to be a big entry point for a lot of people.
For me in particular, in August of 2013, it was the summer that Siglemic was doing a big push for a world record in Super Mario 64 and it was a huge deal at the time. A lot of people who weren’t even into speedrunning were watching it because it was a really exciting game, the world record was held by someone in Japan and he was trying to bring it home to America. It was super exciting. For every day in August he was doing 12 hours of attempts. And, I think that a lot of people credit that for being their entrance into speedrunning. A lot of people got their start right after that, saying, you know I can do this. I can pick a game and work this hard on it. And, that was a big deal, for me at least.
I started with competitive games myself. I came from team fortress to competitive. And, you eventually decide you’re tired of dealing with people and it would be a lot better if you could just compete against yourself all the time. That’s really nice and a lot of fun.
Skybilz: So, what got me into speedrunning is I actually learned how to play video games at the age of 3. My mom taught me how to play the Mario series, my dad taught me the Castlevania and Zelda series. And, it was just never very difficult for me. I watched GDQ on Twitch for the 1st time back in 2012. I saw some of the tricks that people were pulling off and I was like, wait I can do some of this, maybe not all of it, but some of it. I started to use that as a template and then I started to do runs of my own. At the time, I was playing WOW in a competitive field. And, if any of you have ever played that before you know that it’s very tiring. So, I decided to go into retro speedrunning instead.
LackAttack24: I started speedrunning in April of 2013. The first run that I ever watched was Ocarina of Time speedrun at GDQ 2013. And, I had no clue what it was. I was just on YouTube and like, just searched Zelda for some reason. I don’t even know why I was doing it. But, I found this and it had a ton of views and I was like, 20 minutes, that seems kind of ridiculous. So, I watched the run and they’re doing all of these clips and wrong warps and thought this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. Retro gaming is really where my heart is. In this hobby. And, so I kept going further down the rabbit hole and there were, there was a Legend of Zelda race at SGDQ 2012, maybe, or something like that, but it was before that run, before the Ocarina of Time run and these guys were playing it and I was watching and I was like, I can definitely do this. I want to try it. And, so, from there I learned how to stream. I started picking up the game.
Community and the mindset of competing with the best of the best.
LackAttack 24: I had friends back then [when I first started] and still today who kind of helped me along so, the community aspect of it is really like . . I feel like if you speedrun by yourself and you’re just trying to get a time, it’s not very fun. The fun is really celebrating with your friends and being like, “oh, man, I was so close that time.” “Maybe next time,” you know? Kind of the encouragement factor too as well as the competition. It’s really cool to compete with the other people that are the best of the game.
Authorblues: The community tends to be, despite the fact we’re going against one another, at times, there’s a rich community of people that really want to work together. I often describe speedrunning to people as an effort to make the game faster, not yourself faster. We celebrate improving the time. [For example], If someone were to take the world record from LackAttack24 in Zelda 1, it would be less about “oh, I don’t have it anymore” and more excitement that the game has been improved further and there’s more motivation to work harder and new things have been discovered and new things have been done.
Zoasty: You see regularly see people that are in competition with each other, in each other’s streams, when they’re going for records, rooting them on, excited, congratulating them, like “did you get it?”
Authorblues: I think it’s an alien idea to a lot of viewers, a lot of people tune into Twitch streams and says,” Oh, such and such took your world record, what are you going to do?” I say, I’m going to shake their hand. I’m excited . . .
Skybilz: Well, it becomes exciting when you do so well in a game, and you pull somebody out of retirement from the game, and they’re like, “wait, you’re running this?” “I gotta start running this again.” It’s really exciting. It kind of rekindles the community.
Authorblues: And, the community goes a lot deeper than just the runners. There’s a lot of people behind the scenes that make it possible. There’s administrative work to be done, there’s people who run the leaderboards, organize marathons, there’s glitch hunters, people who basically spend all of their time looking at games and trying to find new ways to break them.
Speedrunning is synonymous with Games Done Quick.
Authorblues: It’s hard to talk about speedrunning without talking about philanthropic things because speedrunning has become so synonymous, especially outside the community, with the GDQ (Games Done Quick) marathons. Which accomplishes so much. They do such a great job with it. We’re all very fortunate to have been able to be a part of that. As much as we enjoy giving back at those events, they give back to us as well.
Making speedrunning more visible. There’s no way this panel would be happening at the SEGE if speedrunning hadn’t have become more visible. Speedrunning has been around for 15-20 years. We’ve got people in the community who’ve been running for 15 years.
Zoasty: Or, more. . .
The History of Speedrunning.
Authorblues: [. . .] You can probably point to Doom and Quake as the entrance point to speedrunning with recording demos and they had a game timer built in.
But, you can look at the history of some games on websites like SDA for instance. [. . .] They have stats from back in the 90’s where people used to record their runs on VHS tapes and mail them into Speed Demos Archive in order to get them verified.
If you’re interested in the history of speedrunning, one thing I would recommend is a YouTube channel a friend of ours from the community has started, [who is] producing history videos. His YouTube channel is Summoning Salt. He’s been doing the history of specific games.
How do you pick a game to speedrun?
Authorblues: A lot of people getting into speedruning ask, “well what game should I learn?” “Give me a game that’s easy for me to pick up and get started with.” The answer is always pick a game you don’t mind playing for the next year. Because the thing is that a game can be fun, but it stops being fun when you’ve played it for the 15th time that day and it stops being fun when you’ve played it 30 days in a row that month. And, it stops being fun when you play it 6 months in a row. Eventually things wear out if you don’t have a real passion for it.
So, in general there are obviously some games that are easier to learn than others. There’s obscure Famicom games where you die at any point and where the run is just over and you can’t complete anything. [. . .] But, in general the answer is something that you have a passion for. Because if you have the motivation, it’s really easy to pick up and go. I picked Super Mario World because I played that through it a billion times as a kid. It was just an obvious answer for me because, even in college, every 6 months I’d just play through it again, just for fun. So, it was just the right choice for me to get started with speedrunning. And, I think everyone else [on panel] has the same answer. They’ve picked a game that they’ve had a ton of fun with as a kid.
Skybilz: Also, to go along with that is make sure you enjoy stage 1 a lot and make sure you love the music. You don’t want to be listening to that same thing over and over and not enjoy it.
Digital downloads/ constant download patches.
NW asks: Speedruns seem to do really well with older games. With newer games are you concerned that at some point, with digital downloads, constant download patches, that speedruns are going to become more and more difficult to do?
Authorblues: Well that’s already a problem that we have to deal with, with modern games, especially games that get patched. Or, you buy a game on the Switch and you find some cool trick that you can do in the game, the devs patch it out the next week. What do you do about that? I mean that’s a constant problem that people deal with.
People have gotten a little better about it for instance, for Steam games, you often install an older version of it. Sometimes the speedrun community will stay stuck in their ways for better or worse and say, “we’re just going to play on this old version.” “This is the version we brought on.” They distribute it and say, “when you buy the game, we’ll give you the install for the older patch of it.”
We obviously, as retro console gamers, get a nice benefit of that. But, often people forget that that actually isn’t something you don’t have to deal with in retro games. For instance, a Link to the Past, just as a reference, a lot of the glitches that we’re capable of doing in that speedrun are only possible on the 1.0 cartridge of the Japanese version. They actually released patched versions of the game, later, both in the U.S. and Japan. You can actually look on the back of a cartridge and it has stamped a number on it and after the number it’ll have a letter and the letter indicates what revision of the cartridge it is.
So, if you find a cartridge with just a number stamped on it, it’s 1.0. But if you find the letter A, then it’s the first revision, 1.1. B is 1.2. So, a lot of times, even for console games, you have to make sure, or if you’re buying a cartridge of it, you’re buying the right version of it. So, we still have to deal with that.
Is it possible there’s just nothing more to be accomplished in a game?
Zoasty: There’s this thing that was found just a month or two ago. It uses a technique called Moonwalking. It’s available at the main menu. And, nobody ever used it. But, somehow, somebody figured out that if you do a certain series of inputs and moonwalk backwards, you fall backwards, it un-captures your fall speed. So, normally it would take you like 6 or 7 seconds to fall, and now it’s like 2 or 3.
So, things are constantly being found.
Authorblues: There is a sub-community of an already niche sub-community [that] doesn’t even care about speedruns, they just want to find fun ways to break the game. And, it just so happens every now and then those ideas will make sense for a speedrun. So, those things are constantly being found and integrated into runs.
What if I want to speedrun a Legend of Zelda game?
Authorblues: A lot of speedruns become sort of more or less rote memorization. You memorize how to go through the game, but, the Legend of Zelda game has a lot of randomness to it and a lot of little special details to it, which makes this probably one of the few speedruns that’s, to put it lightly, it’s a thinking man’s game. You really have to spend a lot of effort to kind of learn the individual intricacies of this game in order to be able to speedrun it effectively. It’s a very different creature than a lot of speedruns.
LackAttack24: Like Authorblues said, you have to have a pretty intricate knowledge of this game. [For example], I know that this enemy [in Legend of Zelda] will drop berries randomly, it’s actually 1 out of 10 that you get a berry.
A lot of people learning this game struggle with how to finish a room fast, but really the thing to learn in this game is how enemies move and how you can use that to avoid damage all the time.
There’s a lot of strategies I’ve helped develop and I’ve taken from other people. And, we had to build that knowledge on top of each other to do these runs.
Something that was found in this game is that you can actually determine what drops there are based on what enemies you kill. So, certain enemies will drop certain items. You can also force drops from an enemy, so if you kill 10 enemies in a row and kill the 10th one with a bomb, you can get a bomb from that enemy no matter what enemy it is. And, so that trick alone really helped the speedrun to come along.
Part of the speedrun is your health builds up after you get the Triforce. If you’ve taken more damage, you lose more time. That’s another thing you have to do (in Zelda) is health management. Getting a fairy (for instance) saves me 2.6 seconds.
Authorblues: When people talk about Legend of Zelda and keeping track of the kill counter and things like that. People are like, “Well, how hard can it be to count to 10?” But, you’re keeping track of not only 4 different drop tables for each different type of enemy, but you’re also keeping track of what the last drop was that [you] saw so [you] know where in that drop table [you are]. What’s the likelihood of getting the drop off of any particular enemy and then [asking yourself], “how long has it been since I got hit?”
If the 10th enemy has the bomb, that reference, getting bombs off enemies, that only counts if you don’t take any hits. Every time you take a hit, the counter goes back down to zero. The whole time that he’s (LackAttack24) playing this, he’s thinking about how do I deal with this room, how do I deal with this boss, and at the same time he constantly has to keep track of all of his counters.
Can anyone really become a speedrunner?
Authorblues: A lot of people look at speedrunners . . . We’ve all been playing our respective games for so long and it’s easy to get intimidated by it. It’s like, “wow, that’s really impressive.” “You can do that, congrats.” But, one thing to keep in mind is that none of us are naturally gifted in video games. This is the byproduct of a lot of effort. A lot of time went into it.
[. . .] You can do this. You can go home and pick a game that you really like and play it a lot.
You don’t have to get into the community. You don’t have to feel intimidated by other people who are running the game. You can just do it on your own and try to beat the game. And, then next time, try to beat the game just a little bit faster. And, now you’re a speedrunner. That’s all it takes. And if you found that 2nd time fun, maybe you’ll go for it a 3rd time. And, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll find another game. But, speedrunning, there’s really nothing to it. We’re literally just playing video games. It so happens that some of us wanted to go a little faster, so we learned tricks.
[end of transcript]
We hope that if you’re considering trying your hand at speedrunning, that this will inspire you to give it a try! Who knows? Maybe we’ll be watching you at a future GDQ.
A big thank you to SEGE and sponsor, The Video Game Cavern, for providing this informative panel. And, thank you to the speedrunners for sharing their knowledge and time with all of us in attendance.
(GDQ logo pic source: gamesdonequick.com)