Prioritizing Entertainment in Speedrunning

When games don't provide what speedrunners are looking for, sometimes it's up to the community to step up to make the changes for themselves.

By Cam "Meta" Enright

Filed Under: advice

Runners typically need to work with the cards that are dealt to them by the developers when speedrunning — whether that’s due to the lack of a developer/speedrunning community relationship, the developer having an anti-speedrunning perspective, or anything else that could result in a situation where the community decides to intervene.

In recent years, it’s become more prevalent for communities to take matters into their own hands to create tools or rulesets that work around some of the negative aspects to their chosen speedgame in favor of a more entertaining run. Today, let’s take a dive into some of the tools and decisions made in various communities to foster a more fun speedrunning environment.

Race Files

Race files are perhaps the most common compromise when it comes to balancing entertainment and purity in speedruns. “Race file” is a blanket term used to describe when speedrunners start their speedrun from a section not immediately at the start of the game, whether through a save file or some other means.

This is done in Portal to skip the minute-long vault section, Super Mario Sunshine to skip the nearly 6 minute starting cutscene, Dead Space to skip the 5-minute train ride, and other games with very similar scenarios. Typically, race files are used to skip these beginning sections because they’re either boring or are completely void of gameplay for a long period of time.

Cutting out Cutscenes

Titanfall 2 is a great speedgame with around an hour of high octane Source engine movement… and around 24 minutes of cutscenes. Certainly not the worst offender of cutscene-to-gameplay ratios, but not ideal when it comes to a game as fast-paced as Titanfall 2.

A few years ago, the Any% & All Helmets categories were split into the subcategories Standard & No Cutscenes. The No Cutscenes mod allowed for pre-made saves to be loaded at select points so that you could play each gameplay segment in between cutscenes, removing the majority of the downtime.

From 2018 to 2021 Titanfall 2 progressed quite a bit as a speedgame, developing new strategies like Andy Shot or Elmo Clip. Unfortunately, because the pre-made saves for No Cutscenes were made prior to these discoveries, they ended up being left out completely from the category. This left No Cutscenes in a strange state where it was skipping all the downtime, but also a good chunk of the new tricks.

In July 2021, the community decided that a solution called the BT Cutscene Bypass would be voted on to merge the ideas of No Cutscenes into Any% in a new way. The beginning of the run contains an infamous cutscene hilariously dubbed “The 18 Hour Cutscene” due to a line of dialogue that takes place during the scene. The 18 Hour Cutscene lasts for roughly 3.5 minutes and includes 19 seconds of gameplay via an autoscroller, the most egregious cutscene in the run — right near the beginning. The idea was to skip just this one cutscene as it was the most disliked one, but also inject the time right back into Livesplit as if you had never skipped it at all. This meant all the runs that don’t use it remained just as competitive. Titanfall 2 moderator Bryonato was the one to kick off the vote for this decision, and this is what they had to say about the process:

"We were facing a few issues with the state of our leaderboards. Any% was our main category, but most high level runners didn’t want to grind it due to the long opening cutscene, so the majority of competitive times were happening over on No Cutscenes. Normally this would be fine, but No Cutscenes is also a PC exclusive category, and we accept runs from multiple platforms on the same board, so console players were out of luck here. So in order to encourage people to run Any% again, have our leaderboards be more representative of the actual state of the game, and ensure the longevity of our speedgame’s lifecycle, we had a vote on the BT Cutscene Bypass."

"Mechanically, the BT Cutscene Bypass does more or less what we do in No Cutscenes. But this time, we have a script integrated into LiveSplit itself, that detects when the cutscene starts and then it skips the cutscene but it also injects all of the time that we would have skipped back into the timer. Think of it like skipping past an ad read in a YouTube video. The video is still the same length, but you’ve saved yourself time by not watching a part of it. So ultimately at the end of the day, yeah, it's arbitrary but like, so is the majority of speedrunning. It comes down to the balance of purity and runner convenience."

Modifying Mechanics

Outlast 2 also suffered from a lot of cutscenes on release. Although, perhaps an even worse offense to speedrunning, Outlast 2 introduced a new mechanic in which skipping any game checkpoint leads to the player dying instantaneously. This is what Outlast 2 leaderboard moderator AlexisDR had to say about Checkpoint Killing:

"I knew the run would get alot more interesting, because we already knew about some big skips that could be done but weren't possible because you would die/get softlocked. There were skips known to be theoretically possible like a few weeks after the game released but they weren't possible to do due to the checkpoint killing mechanic."

This mechanic was such a problem that even casual players found themselves dying from seemingly nowhere. It was left this way for nearly 4 years because no one could figure out a way around it.

Eventually, Alexis reached out to Speedrun Tool Developer Kuno Demetries who also recently developed the Flashless Epilepsy Mod for A Plague Tale: Innocence.

Alexis asked Kuno to help them out with a mod that would disable this checkpoint killing mechanic for a new sub-category called No CPK. The No CPK Mod aims to create a category similar to what Any% actually should have been. This is what Kuno had to say about how the mod was created:

"The mod changes the original if statement, responsible for checking if the current checkpoint is the one sequential to the previous one, and returns it to always true - preventing the game from killing the player and restoring the original checkpoint save function from Outlast 1."
-Kuno Demetries

Removing RNG

Bioshock Infinite has a piece of gear called the Hill Runner’s Hat, which gives you a speed boost if your shield gets broken. This fairly significant speed boost is great because it saves roughly 16 minutes of game time over the course of a whole run. But there is one issue: the Hill Runners Hat has a 2% chance to drop. This requires speedrunners to load the checkpoint over and over, attempting to get it before proceeding with their speedrun. This issue is discussed in more detail in the video “The Bioshock Infinite Problem” made by Jarko, who helped me write this article. Jarko was the leading force in the move to allow a mod dubbed simply “HRH mod” on the leaderboards. The HRH mod removes all RNG from the HRH drop, forcing it to spawn 100% of the time. Here’s what Jarko had to say about it:

"BSI was a tough one when I started glitch hunting the game about 5 years ago. Any% was almost 50% cutscene across a roughly 1 hour 50 minute run. At its peak activity, the category had maybe 4 active runners - and that low number is mostly because of HRH. I'm sure you get the jist of the item but 1/52 odds 30 minutes into the run was soul crushing to reset through. It was rough, though the occasional first try HRH was certainly a thrill. The game is probably in a much better place because of the efforts I had made to make a modified main category."

Why are we here?

In the end, I think the majority of us are in speedrunning because we want to have fun. Despite speedrunning being competitive in nature, I believe for a lot of people it serves primarily as an entertaining hobby.

So in that case, why not add some edge cases to prioritize entertainment? Personally, I’ll advocate for entertainment and accessibility any day.

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