I don’t think I’m totally alone with my original thoughts on speed runs. A few years back I thought of them as people missing the point of playing the games – they were just blazing through as fast as possible. My perspective on speed running has completely changed though – those original thoughts were just plain wrong. And my shift in thought is entirely due to Ray (of Achievement Hunter fame) continually talking up one runner in particular – Caleb Hart. I, on a whim, checked out his race of Mega Man X1 from AGDQ (Awesome Games Done Quick) last year with Zewing. I was 100% blown away. It wasn’t someone just racing through the game – it was a clinic on precision and skill to blitz through the game. I’ve since watched a number of runners, streams, and archived runs on YouTube – including a bunch from this year’s AGDQ, which is going on right now.
I look at speed runs now as more like an academic study of a particular game. The goal – ultimately a World Record time – is essentially your thesis, the lens you’re looking at the game through. The runners study the most basic elements of the games – frames and pixels – and break them down to help attain that WR. For example, Caleb is well known for a trick in Mega Man X called “Iceless.” It requires nailing a perfect wall dash jump, off of one specific pixel, and then grabbing a ledge thanks to again, one pixel. The precision required is unreal – I spent about 15 minutes trying one day to get it. And now Caleb is able to hit it, consistently, in the middle of a run. It’s incredibly common to hear runners talk about frame-perfect and pixel perfect jumps. The Mexican Runner, a runner who specializes in Battletoads, in his run from last year’s AGDQ explains the mechanic for dash-jumping in Battletoads. It’s an NES game that runs at 60fps, and in order to dash and carry that momentum into a jump, it requires frame perfect input – and watching his runs makes you realize just what level of skill these players are playing at.
One last game that I think perfectly exemplifies speed running (MMX is a great one too) is the SNES classic, Super Metroid. It’s a game that has been run countless times, but even as recently as last summer had new tactics discovered. Go watch the videos on YouTube – Zoast’s run at SGDQ (Summer Games Done Quick) 2013, the four-way race at AGDQ 2014 and Zoast and Ivan’s runs from SGDQ last year – and you’ll quickly get a good feel for just how much that game’s mechanics have evolved and become more understood. The runs themselves are always impressive, but the best parts of these runs are the couch commentators – the other runners, not currently playing that help breakdown the crazy tactics required to play that fast. The Super Metroid runs all have Golden on the couch, Battletoads has PJ, and Caleb handles both duties with his runs generally. These runners understand that with these events, the audience is way larger than usual, thanks to the added aspect that both GDQ’s are also charity drives. This year’s AGDQ is raising money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation – and has raised well over $500K already.
If you’ve never thought about watching speed runs, this is the very best time to start – there are incredible runs online from the AGDQ already. They vary in games too – from well known classics like Super Mario Bros. 3, to hidden gems like Kid Chameleon. Regardless of which game you decide to start on, you’ll find a runner that’s supremely knowledgeable about their game, and shows off that skill with incredible precision.