A speedrun is a play-through, or a recording thereof, of a whole video game or a selected part of it (such as a single level), performed with the intention of completing it as fast as possible. While all speedruns aim for quick completion, some speedruns are characterized by additional goals or limitations that players subject themselves to, such as collecting all key items, playing blindfolded, or attempting to achieve goals that are particularly not a desirable goal for a video game's community. Players speedrun mainly to challenge themselves, to entertain, to compete with themselves and others, and to attain mastery over a games systems in a way that would not be possible in an ordinary playthrough. Players performing speedruns, called speedrunners, often record their attempts. These recordings are used to entertain others, to verify the completion time, to certify that all rules were followed, and to spot ways to further improve the completion time.[Note 1]
To achieve a high level of play, speedrunners often have to reason about the game differently from the way that ordinary players might. Speedruns follow gameplay routes that are planned out carefully and often involve disarranging the intended sequence of events or skipping entire parts of it. Other speedruns exploit programming mistakes, or glitches, that a skillful player can exploit to their advantage. Tool-assisted speedrunning is a type of speedrunning in which various computer tools are used to obtain performances which would be near-impossible for a human player, and are not held in competition with speedruns done by human players in real time, known as real-time attacks (RTA).
Some games are considered to be particularly suited to speedrunning and have online communities dedicated to them, which can provide an active platform for discussing, publishing, and improving speedruns. Speedruns can be viewed on a variety of platforms, including live streams where players can carry out and share their attempts in real-time. Although speedrunning was originally not a widespread phenomenon, it has since grown to involve several active websites and an increasingly expansive assortment of speedrun videos that are freely and widely circulated on the Internet.
Finding the optimal path through a game is referred to as routing. While routing, it may become apparent that some of the goals in the game do not need to be achieved for completion. Such elements include items that the player needs to possess in order to continue to a next stage or even entire parts of the gameplay that may convey a part of the game's plot or a subplot. Skipping a part of the game in such a fashion that it can be described as disjointed with the game's intended/common sequence of events is referred to as sequence breaking. A particularly effective form of sequence breaking is a "credits warp", a name for a sequence break which can teleport the player to the game's ending credits, examples of which can be found in Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
The term sequence break was first used in 2003 in reference to the Nintendo GameCube game Metroid Prime.[Note 2] The original thread was called "Ice Beam + Gravity Suit before Thardus using Triple Jump". Thardus, a fictional creature in the Metroid series, was designed to be a mandatory boss before the Gravity Suit and Ice Beam could be obtained, hence the novelty of bypassing the boss while still obtaining the items. Since its initial discovery, sequence breaking has become an integral part of speedrunning and has been applied to many other games. A specific way to do sequence breaking in a specific game is usually called a skip, and well-known skips are known in their communities under names that easily identify it.
Glitches are often[Note 3] used in order to achieve sequence breaks, as well as for other purposes, such as achieving otherwise impossible speed, damage output, or skipping cutscenes. An example of a glitched sequence break can be found in the "16 Star" run of Super Mario 64. In this game, Mario normally needs to collect at least 70 of the 120 power stars before he is allowed to challenge Bowser, the final boss, but glitches make it possible to access the final level with only 16 stars; with the right kind of movement, it is possible to pass through the boundary of a wall by pushing into it while holding onto MIPS, an NPC rabbit, then exploit a glitch known as "backwards long-jumping" to bypass the endless staircase behind the 70 star door. Since then, similar tricks have been found to complete the game without collecting any stars.
Glitches and sequence breaks were historically not allowed within speedruns, such as in Twin Galaxies, but more recently they have fallen into common use, with runs without glitches either being performed in separate "glitchless" categories. Some glitches, however, are still not allowed even in glitched categories. For example, it is generally the case that runs must be performed on official hardware (rather than emulators) and not use external cheats or tools. In addition to glitches and sequence breaks, other, more minor methods of time-saving are also used in speedruns, such as choosing the optimal hardware and language to run the game with.
Although most speedruns assume normal human play of a game, tool-assisted speedruns (abbreviated TAS) allow authors to use outside tools to aid their playing. For example, utilizing the save state function of an emulator to go back in time and revise mistakes (known as re-recording), playing in slow motion, or using software to read variables directly from the game's memory, giving the player information not normally available to them. The result is that human limitations, such as skill and reflex, are no longer a barrier in the creation of a run; tool-assisted runs have (sometimes significantly) lower completion times than their unassisted equivalents.
- Any%, or fastest completion, refers to completing the game as quickly as possible, and often involves sequence breaking.
- 100%, or full completion, requires the player to complete the game to its fullest. This often includes collecting all key items or upgrades, finding all secret features, or anything else that may be deemed important. Specific requirements for a 100% speedrun are different depending on the game. Some games, such as Super Metroid, have a percentage counter and therefore have an easy definition for 100%, while others do not, and instead the game's community decides what the definition for 100% should be. Any% and 100% are the most common categories for speedrunning.
- Low%, or minimalist completion, requires the player to complete the game by obtaining the fewest key items or upgrades possible. If the fastest way to complete the game already involves the player picking up the fewest key items or upgrades, a low% category may not exist for that game's speedruns. As with 100% runs, low% speedruns have requirements that vary between games. For example, in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, this means no power-ups or Yoshi.
- Glitchless, typically a subcategory of one of the above categories. Glitchless runs, as the name implies, are absent of glitches, but may still allow exploits that don't break the game.
In addition, there can be game-specific categories that change what the goal of the run is and what restrictions are applied. Some runs restrict things aside from completion or glitches, such as Super Mario Odyssey's "Minimum Captures" run. Such runs are also sometimes called "challenge" runs. In addition to these, games can have categories devoted to goals other than completing the game, a large sect of which being "meme" speedruns, which are dedicated to absurd or otherwise pointless tasks, such as Mii Maker's "Matt%" and Super Mario Odyssey's "Nipple%".
A randomizer is a type of game mod that has been used in speedrunning, wherein software is used to shuffle the locations of elements (such as items) to provide an additional challenge. Popular games used for randomizer runs have included The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid, while a notable mod combines both games—with special doorways transitioning the player between them, and items from both games scattered within their respective environments.
Historically, speedruns have been performed by members of online communities pertaining to video games in general. When the activity became popular enough to accede to subculture, the first sites dedicated to speedrunning started appearing—usually specializing in just one or a few games. Some of these sites have sustained activity for a long time, sometimes even up to today, providing coverage of its members' achievements and serving as a platform for related discussions.
December 1993 saw the release of id Software's Doom, which allowed players to record demo files of their playthrough. The feature was first picked up by Christina "Strunoph" Norman in January 1994 when she launched the LMP Hall of Fame website.
This site was, however, quickly followed up by the DOOM Honorific Titles (also known as the "DHT"), launched in May 1994 by Frank Stajano, which introduced the first serious competition between players. This site, designed around a notion of earning titles by successfully recording a particular type of demo on one of the predetermined maps in the "IWADs", would create the basis for all Doom demo sites that would follow. These so-called "exams" became very popular as the player had to earn each title by submitting a demo of the feat to one of the site's judges to justify his application. Doom II: Hell on Earth was released in October 1994, and the DHT conformed to the new additions as well as the new Doom version releases. At the height of its popularity, the DHT had many different categories and playing styles. For example, playing with only the in-game fists and pistol, while killing all monsters on a map, became known as "Tyson" mode, named after the heavyweight boxer and former champion Mike Tyson. "Pacifist mode" was playing without intentionally harming any monsters. Each category had "easy", "medium", and "hard" difficulty maps for players to get randomly chosen for. As an authentication method to prevent players from submitting demos made by other people, it was required that they performed a distinct "dance" during their demo (often at the very beginning). With such varied categories, the DHT was appealing to a diverse group of players. However, the DHT had trouble retaining a permanent Internet location. This, combined with the constantly changing rules and the diminished importance of most of the titles, caused public interest to wane as the years went by.
In November 1994, the definitive installment Doom speedrunning scene, in the form of the COMPET-N website, was launched. Its creator, Simon Widlake, intended the site to be a record scoreboard for a variety of Doom-related achievements, but unlike its predecessors, they were all based on the idea of fast completion, thus making it the first actual speedrunning site. Players were challenged to run through Doom's levels as fast as humanly possible in order to attain a spot on the constantly updated COMPET-N scoreboards, leading to demo material gradually amounting to hundreds of hours of recorded gameplay.
Like the DOOM Honorific Titles, this site experienced multiple location changes over time; it was hosted on the Simtel servers for a while, before Istvan Pataki took over as maintainer and moved the site to a now defunct FTP server of the Technical University of Budapest. From there on, since early 1998, it had been administered by Adam Hegyi, who was maintaining the site, but left around 2007 without notice. In 2012, COMPET-N player Zvonimir 'fx' Bužanić took over maintaining the site and created a new database for WAD-s and PWAD-s. As of July 2020, COMPET-N contained a total of 9602 demos (on both official and custom maps), over 32 days of gameplay.
In 2009, SpeedRunsLive was created by Narcissa 'Cosmo' Wright and Daniel 'Jiano' Hart as a way for speedrunners to showcase speedrunning races in real time with a set goal consisting of various possible categories. Each game has a dedicated leaderboard that shows who is the top speedrunner for the game.
Speed Demos Archive
Following the success of the Doom speedrunning community, people began recording demos of Quake playthroughs when it was released in June 1996 and sharing them via Simtel. There were two distinct kinds of demos: those in which the player killed all monsters and found all secrets on the map (called "100% demos") and those in which the player ignored these goals in order to finish the level as fast as possible (called "runs"). All levels were, at that time, recorded solely on the "Nightmare" difficulty level, the highest in the game.
In April 1997, Nolan "Radix" Pflug created the Nightmare Speed Demos website to keep track of the fastest demos. In June of that same year, the first Quake done Quick speedrun was published. Quake done quick, unlike conventional demos, featured a full playthrough of the game, consisting of the best runs by any member of the site of each level . The speedrun completed the game on Nightmare difficulty in 0:19:49. The run was "recammed", i.e. reconstructed so that it could be also viewed from a third-person perspective, which gained it its machinima status. It received widespread attention from gaming magazines, being distributed as part of the free CDs that they came with. This popularized speedrunning for a much larger audience than before and attracted many newcomers. Interest increased in other categories of speedrun. Thus, in August 1997, Muad'Dib's Quake Page came to be, run by Gunnar "Muad'Dib" Andre Mo and specializing in "Easy" difficulty runs. One month after that, the Quake done Quick movie was superseded by a new movie Quake done Quicker on September 14, 1997, which shortened the game's fastest playthrough to 0:16:35.
In April 1998, Pflug and Mo merged their pages, thus creating the Speed Demos Archive, a community for Quake speedrunning that also acts as repository for demos, maps, statistics, and software pertaining to the practice. Since its release, many quirks have been discovered in Quake's physics that can be exploited for speedrunning. Despite its age, Quake has steadily remained popular with its players. Quake done Quick with a Vengeance was released on September 13, 2000, which featured a complete run through Quake in 0:12:23. Primarily tricks that had not been used in both its predecessors allowed for this improvement, as the run's manual states that it "[makes] use of every known trick, including unrestricted bunny-hopping, to represent the state-of-the-art in Nightmare running". In December 2011, a new run was produced and called Quake done Quickest. The improvements that were made resulted in a time of 0:11:29 for the entire game, an improvement of 54 seconds over Quake done Quick with a Vengeance.
Metroid 2002 (Metroid series)
Released in August 1986, Metroid was one of the earliest games to introduce special rewards for fast completion times. As is the case for the rest of the games in the series, highly nonlinear gameplay makes it possible for runners to search extensively for different routes towards the end of the game. In particular, the ability to perform sequence breaking has been researched thoroughly, leading to the discovery of ways to complete the games while obtaining only a small percentage of items. Prior to the inception of Metroid speedrunning, there were special websites which documented these so-called "low-percentage" completion possibilities.
The first game to be exceedingly popular with the speedrunning audience was Super Metroid, released in 1994, which proved to lend itself to fast completion purposes very well. It featured a physics system that allowed for a wide array of skills for mobility, like "wall jumping" or the "Shinespark", allowing players to skip over large areas of the game, or play through the game in different manners based on how well they can perform these tricks in contextual situations. Additionally, it had the same nonlinear gameplay as its predecessors. Due to the way the game was laid out, several different run types or tiers that incorporate different completion percentages have been performed,[Note 4] including any%, 100%, low%, and reverse boss order (RBO), in which the player beats the game's bosses in the opposite order from which they were meant to be played.
As the Internet became more available to the general public, groups of players started collaborating on message boards to discuss these tricks with one another in what became a speedrunning community.
The first Metroid community that was created for the purpose of fast completion was Metroid Prime Discoveries, created and led by Jean-Sebastien "Zell" Dubois. Rather than being a site that focused on speedrunning, it was dedicated to documenting the possibilities of sequence breaking in the game Metroid Prime. When the interest arose to begin the documentation of other games in the series, however, the new site Metroid 2002 was created by Nathan "nate" Jahnke in August 2003. Initially, the only site focused on documenting the two Metroid games released in 2002—Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion—but after merging with another site Metroid Online, it became "the one resource for Metroid Prime sequence breaking info." Ever since, it has been the central repository for everything related to speedrunning the Metroid series.
It was also in November 2003 that Metroid speedrunner Nolan Pflug released his 100% run of Metroid Prime, in which he finished the entire game in 1 hour, 37 minutes.[Note 5] It gained widespread attention, notably on Slashdot. The first segment of his run was being downloaded over five thousand times a day at the peak of its popularity. The Metroid 2002 IRC channel was flooded with people who had heard about the run and wanted to know more about it, fast dwarfing the original population, and its message board saw its member count double in size the month following the run's release. As a result of the popularity of this run, Metroid 2002 merged with Speed Demos Archive, to meet the growing bandwidth consumption, the latter at the time providing nearly limitless server capacity for their runs on the Internet Archive.
TASVideos (tool-assisted speedruns)
It was in early 1999 that the term "tool-assisted speedrun" was first coined, during the early days of Doom speedrunning, although they were also called "built demos", in accordance with the "demo" terminology. Players first started recording these special demos when Andy "Aurican" Kempling released a modified version of the Doom source code that made it possible to record demos in slow motion and in several sessions. In June 1999, the first site made for the purpose of sharing these demos, called "Tools-Assisted Speedruns", was opened by Esko Koskimaa, Peo Sjoblom, and Yonatan Donner.[Note 6]
Like other such communities, the maintainers of the site stressed that their demos were for entertainment purposes rather than skill competitions, although the attempt to have the fastest time possible with tools itself became a competition as well. The site became a success, usually updating several times a week with demos recorded by its maintainers and submitted by its readers. The site was active until August 10, 2001, when it was converted to an archive. The popularity of Doom tool-assisted speedrunning has dwindled since then.
In mid-2003, an anonymous speedrunner using the nickname Morimoto (もりもと) released a video in which he played through Super Mario Bros. 3 with an unprecedented level of skill; he beat the entire game in just over 11 minutes without making a single mistake and managed to accumulate 99 1-ups throughout levels during which he had to wait. In addition, he put himself in dangerous situations over and over, only to escape them without sustaining any damage. Although it was widely believed that the video was made by an extremely skilled player, it was actually the first tool-assisted speedrun made with a special emulator to generate widespread interest.[Note 7] When Morimoto detailed the making of the run on his website, many felt deceived and turned to criticizing the video's "illegitimacy". The knowledge that the video was constructed through tedious and careful selective replaying also raised some questions about the authenticity of video game replays; after all, if it is practically impossible to tell the videos of both kinds apart, one cannot possibly know whether a run was made with or without the use of a special emulator. It was even feared that this fact would cause the downfall of competitive speedrunning. Neither the Speed Demos Archive nor Metroid 2002 have ever published runs that were known to be made with a special emulator. Nolan Pflug, the former webmaster of Speed Demos Archive, has been quoted as saying, "My basic thought is 'don't like them, haven't made them, don't watch them,'" when asked for his opinion on the subject.
Thus, in late 2003, the first public website that served tool-assisted speedrun videos from multiple authors, TASVideos (then known as NESVideos), was created. It was originally created by Joel "Bisqwit" Yliluoma for the purpose of showcasing, sharing, and discussing speedruns made with special emulators—at first, the site only held videos of Nintendo Entertainment System games, in part due to the fact that the only emulator suitable for this specialist purpose was, at that time, the Famtasia NES emulator. Besides just serving the speedrun recordings in the emulator's original format (which, much like Doom and Quake demos, required both the emulator and the game in order to be played back), the site also held video files, making the recordings more accessible. As of March 2016, it holds over 3,000 complete speedruns.
In March 2014, speedrun.com was launched by speedrunner Pac. On the website, speedrunners can customize speedrunning leaderboards for video games and submit video proof of their runs. The website also features forums, statistics, guide pages, streams, and resources for new runners. As of November 2020, the site has over 600,000 registered users and over 1,750,000 submitted runs in over 20,000 games.
A speedrun marathon is a web-stream of multiple games being speedran in succession. This often takes the form of a fan convention where runners get together to speedrun video games to raise money for charity, but may also be a purely online event. The most popular speedrun marathons are the semiannual Games Done Quick marathon in the United States. Before the marathons, discussions take place on a forum, and runners submit their game choices. An online schedule is created that will show who is speedrunning, when they are speedrunning, and what game they are speedrunning. Their runs are streamed live at Twitch, and runners often provide commentary throughout the run to give viewers a better understanding of what is going on. Runners who are speedrunning often practice their game in a practice room at the event before their scheduled run as a warm up, or they practice at home beforehand. A speedrun marathon called Summer Games Done Quick 2019 has raised $3,032,114.62 for Doctors Without Borders.
Speedrunning tournaments have been a staple of the community for many years. Speedrun.com for instance has community tournament listings posted on their forums, their sitewide tournament being Speedrun Weekly: a tournament where each week the site votes on what game and category to race. SpeedRunsLive also has held some competitions in the past such as their sites Race Seasons 1 and 2 and they are currently gearing up for their 14th Mystery Tournament. GSA also has daily listings of tournaments either organized by them or listing other community's tournament listings. Most, if not all, tournaments are broadcast on the site's Twitch channels; the runners either compete in person or stream the game from their residencies with a timer. Rankings were launched in 2019 which combine player results across multiple games.
- List of video games notable for speedrunning
- Time attack – a mode in which a player attempts to finish a portion of a game as fast as possible
- Although many speedruns are released as video recordings, which are often preferred due to being more universal, some communities use a game's native demo recordings (such as the DEM format in by Quake) since these are much more compact and easier to share with others. Such recordings require specific software to view, usually a version of the original game. Some communities release speedruns in both formats so that they become accessible to a larger audience.
- Metroid 2002, a major Metroid speedrunning website, has retained back-ups of these topics that can be found at http://www.metroid2002.com/home.php. See section "Metroid 2002 (Metroid series)" for more information on Metroid 2002.
- Some sequence breaks are not considered glitches, due to the method(s) used to achieve them being within the bounds of what is considered "glitchless", as the boundary between what is and is not a glitch is not always well defined.
- This speedrun has since been replaced with an improved version, and as such, its original host, Speed Demos Archive, no longer makes mention of it. The original announcement, however, may still be found using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine at https://web.archive.org/web/20031202174746/http://planetquake.com/sda/mp/.
- Doom tool-assisted speedrunning is sometimes referred to as "tools-assisted speedrunning", after the first site used to share these demos. A news post after the creation of this site, however, read "Indeed, I was wrong and the site should be called 'Tool-Assisted Speedruns' rather than 'Tools-Assisted Speedruns'. I'm not going to redo the logo though."
- There is evidence that several tool-assisted speedrun videos had been made before then, including a few others by Morimoto himself, but the Super Mario Bros. 3 video was the first to become popular with a general audience.
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