Overview and History
It's uncertain where the popular hobby of speedrunning games originated from, but ever since the very beginning of gaming there have been players who will take their game to the next level, playing competitively as you would for any sport at a professional level. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, this simply meant getting your initials tied to the scoreboard
of the newest hit arcade game. A few years on, and games were being designed on consoles - to be beaten, rather than simply to suck your wallet dry. Many of these games didn't possess the traditional high score systems of arcade machines and thus competitive players had to look at new ways to test themselves at their favorite game, or to decide which player was better than which. It was only a matter of time before gamers began to play games for speed, in so called 'speedruns'.
The idea of a speedrun is generally to finish a game (or portion of it) as quickly as possible. Generally this is done on an original console with a regular controller and without using anything to alter the game (i.e. using cheating devices like Game Genie
and Action Replay, tilting the cartridge/touching the disc drive or system while the game is being played). Otherwise pretty much everything is fair game, including glitches
and sequence breaking
. Some sites dedicated to speedrunning have placed restrictions on certain glitches or timesavers in the past, such as if the player goes out of the game's level boundaries to save time, or if the player abuses the saving/death system in a game in order to effectively warp closer to their next destination, however today a lot of these timesavers are allowed but are placed in different speedrun categories.
Types of Speedruns
There are several different types of speedruns a player can commit themselves to. The conditions of each category can vary depending on the game, and you can have additional categories depending on certain modes a game may have. Some basic categories for game speedruns are listed below.
- 100% Run: A speedrun of a game from start to finish, doing everything which adds to the game's percentage (sometimes shown on the game select screen) or collecting all items which the game keeps track of. In the event that the game does not provide the player with a percentage total, it is generally up to a player's best judgment to decide whether or not an item should count towards the 100% total. For example, picking up all ammunition in a shooter game would not be a requirement for a 100% speedrun.
- any% Run: A speedrun from the start of the game to the finish, with the simple aim of achieving the best time possible. The timing for this run usually begins as soon as the player gains control of the game, and ends as soon as they strike the final blow on the last boss or lose control again. The player may decide which items they collect during the speedrun, if any.
- low% Run: A speedrun of a game, usually one which keeps track of the percentage total, which aims to beat the game as fast as possible while keeping the percentage total as low as possible. Runs of this manner often involve certain difficult tricks and sequence breaking to skip sections or items of the game, and usually end up slower than any% speedruns. Super Mario 64 is a good example of this type of speedrun, where some people aim at completing the game with the lowest number of stars possible.
- Individual Level Run: Sometimes referred to as an IL for short, Individual Level speedruns are much shorter and easier to complete than full game speedruns, and thus it's common for more people to attempt them since they don't need to spend as much time practicing the run. There are also any% and 100% varieties of the Individual Level run, depending on the game which is played.
- Challenge Run: While these playthroughs of games are often tough challenges in their own right, they are sometimes combined with the challenge of running the game for speed. Challenges a player may partake in during their run may include the Mega Man ' Buster-only' run, the Zelda 'Three-Hearts' run, and the Resident Evil 4 'Knife-only' run. Challenge runs vary greatly depending on what game is being played.
- Segmented Run: Segmented Runs are categories which can be combined with any of those above, which refer to the game being played in a number of segments or sittings. While a single-segment (SS) speedrun aims to complete a game in a single sitting, segmented runs split the game up. There is a higher standard for times in segmented runs than single-segment speedruns and mistakes are less acceptable since the runner does not have to play for as large a stretch of time and can redo failed segments of a run much more easily.
Games Encouraging Speedruns
Many games today encourage players to play the game as fast as they can in a Speedrun or 'Time Attack' mode. Quite possibly the first game to encourage players to finish the game in as fast a time as possible was Metroid
for the NES, which rewarded the player if they finished the game in under three hours by showing an alternate ending where Samus
takes off her suit to show herself in a swimming costume.
There are also a large number of games, particularly on Microsoft's Xbox Live
service, which provide player leaderboards for the completion of certain challenges within the game or completing the game and/or its individual levels. While games may usually have a small portion of their fanbase dedicated to speedrunning the game, online leaderboards provide the encouragement for more players to complete speedruns because of the added benefit of having your name tagged to a top time on a list viewable by all other players.
Tool-Assisted Speedruns (often abbreviated as TAS) are runs which are performed in order to show the fastest time possible if human error was not a factor of the run. They are usually performed by using an emulated copy of a game and exploit functions of the emulator such as game slowdown, frame advance (used to advance a game frame-by-frame) and savestates (used to jump back to a save at any point in the game if a mistake is made) in order to achieve speedrun times which are impossible to do on a regular console. They exploit large glitches, often ones which can only be performed within a window of a few frames of play, in order to go as fast as possible.
While TAS creators usually cite that their productions are for entertainment purposes only and are not used to showcase skill as regular speedruns do, they have built up a nasty reputation among some gamers for 'cheating' and not playing the game properly. That said, Tool-Assisted Speedruns are still a very important asset to regular speedrunners, as they often showcase a wide variety of tricks and glitches which would have been extremely tough for players to discover on a regular console.
Game Speedrunning Organisations
While it's quite common to see gamers talk about speedruns of their favourite games in forums, there are a few organisations on the internet dedicated to keeping track of speedrun records.
- Twin Galaxies is a website created by Walter Day in 1981 as a database for all videogame records. It features both highscores as well as speedrun records for games, all of which are verified before posting.
- Speed Demos Archive is a website which was originally created to host videos of Quake speedruns that is now dedicated to keeping high quality speedrun videos for all games, all of which are downloadable and viewable by anyone. Each speedrun video is verified by several of the site's members to ensure no cheating is used during a run. The site also has an active forum where users can discuss new speedruns by compiling tricks, strategies and route planning before someone attempts a new run.
- TASVideos is a website that, as the name suggest, features tool-assisted speedruns for hundreds of games. The website could be considered a tool assisted focused equivalent of Speed Demos Archive. It also has an active forum where users can discuss tool assisted techniques, games, and questions concerning emulators used for speedruns.