Spotlight: Team Ico Speedruns

This month, we're featuring a community of speedrunners who focus on games from developer Team Ico.

By Alice Pow

Filed Under: spotlight

In the Team ICO Speedruns community, runners of Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, and The Last Guardian come together to hang out, compete, and most importantly, have fun. For this month’s spotlight, we’ll take a look at each of the games this community loves and the ways the community has used these games as a pretext to come together and create something wonderful. There’s no way we can cover everything, but hopefully, this will serve as a nice peek at what’s going on in the Team ICO Speedruns community.

Shadow of the Colossus (SotC) (2005, 2018)

If there’s one Team ICO game you know about, it’s probably Shadow of the Colossus. The game has repeatedly been cited as one of the best video games of all time, putting players in control of a young man named Wander and his horse, Agro, on a quest to revivify the recently-sacrificed Mono. The 16 titular colossi make up a series of unique boss battles.

The 2018 HD remake of SotC brought a lot of new runners to the Team ICO Speedruns Discord, but Gooperman is one runner who has been part of the community since before then.

“I was inspired by GDQ to find a game to speedrun and since Shadow of the Colossus was one of my favorite games at the time, it only made sense to check out the run and community,” he said.

A lot of the game’s major discoveries were made early on by Japanese runners. One runner, Shirapon, had some particularly impressive Individual Level(IL) runs.

Even when the community was much smaller than it has become, it was always a welcoming and positive vibe. Gooperman said, “I think the vibe has been kind of grandfathered down since even before I joined.”

As the pre-established community tore into the HD remake, trying old strategies and discovering new ones, more runners entered the server. Three of those runners were TikTak, Azama, and FoxyZilla.

“I remember the server was simpler in structure and less active. The people in it were definitely very friendly and helpful…” TikTak said. He quickly took an interest in encouraging the community to become the best possible version of itself.

“It was definitely very enjoyable to be part of it and I just wanted to push things further. To spread my own enthusiasm for it in a way. Without the community aspect pushing the game speedrun-wise would be less enjoyable to me. In fact, I don’t think I would still run the game without it,” he said.

As time went on, the speedrun continued to develop in little ways. For example, Argus, the 15th colossus, was once a major reset point, but FoxyZilla said, “after some encouragement from an IL runner, we got used to a slower IL strat that does the hand sigil first which is way more reliable.”

At the same time, a lot of the run has remained mostly unchanged. “It’s kind of crazy how much is still viable from the OG version of the game overall,” FoxyZilla said.

As SotC has appeared at marathons like GDQ and ESA, influxes of new runners have joined the community, but like so many other speedrun communities, one of the biggest influxes occurred because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Incep_Sean joined the community Discord at the start of 2020. He said, “[I] didn't really interact at first. And basically one day when I was streaming some practice, Hammerklav...got in my chat and started helping me with the training. He also shared my Twitch link on the discord and introduced me to everyone.”

At the time of publishing this spotlight, Incep_Sean holds first place for Any% across all difficulties, HTA - Boss Rush, New Game+ - Any% - IMG, New Game+ - All Glints - IMG, and 100%. Even so, he struggled with parts of the game early on.

About Argus, Incep_Sean said, “we exploit the physics of the game and manage to use the momentum of the colossus to get an upward launch from its leg to its head. Getting that launch requires doing two jumps on the leg with pretty precise timing, and I used to mess that timing up all the time.”

It was help from the community that helped him nail down the placement and timing for that colossus as well as other bits of gameplay.

While the run experienced minute changes here and there, TikTak said, “The optimization of it improved by a lot though. Sean did a lot to achieve that.”

“Everyone shared and helped as much as they could,” Incep_Sean said.

RubieHart was already playing SotC on repeat with a friend when she finally decided to start speedrunning.

“I'm actually a professional actor in my normal life. And yeah, when the pandemic started, and suddenly I didn't have rehearsals, I played Shadow of the Colossus so much that my roommates were like, Oh, you should consider speedrunning it. And when we compared my time without knowing any of the speedrun strats to the chart, I was ninth in the world.” she said, but despite her experience and skill, she wasn’t sure she would be able to pull off all of the game’s tricks.

“I was like, there's no way I can learn that. So when a bunch of people in the community were so open and welcoming, going, ‘Hey, we have these beginner guides. And if you have any questions, let us know.’ A bunch of people like Foxy and Sean and TicTak and a bunch of the others were super helpful. And when I finally hit my first trick, I'm pretty sure that I just screamed at the top of my lungs with excitement,” she said.

Another runner who joined in early 2020, Stockie, said, “The community was super welcoming, and very, very nice. And people joined in and helped me with that stuff. And they just kind of it got the ball rolling, and now I'm here. It was my first speedrun game ever.”

Although the game has a lot of history and attention with most modern developments being minor adjustments, it has seen some more dramatic changes. In March 2020, a game-breaking glitch was discovered by Japanese runners Eguchi, Upsil, and odawara. The “Item Menu Glitch” used DLC items to trick the game into clearing multiple Colossi at the same time.

In a Reddit post from the time, TikTak wrote, “For the first in this games speedrunning history runners are now able to skip colossus fights.”

In April, Eguchi posted a guide to IMG, then Incep_Sean and TikTak worked together developing and routing the New Game+ - All Glints - IMG category. Incep_Sean said, “We spent like an afternoon...trying to find a way to get a collectible in Argus's arena without using the help of Argus...and it was super fun.”

Later in 2020, Rubie discovered a route change that allowed runners to avoid a forested area of difficult terrain by going around it. That discovery is nicknamed “Rubie Route.”

In July at SGDQ 2021, TikTak performed a run of SotC - Any% Hard with RubieHart and FoxyZilla providing English commentary. Meanwhile, Stockie provided commentary for the Spanish restream. We mentioned TikTak’s run in our roundup of Highlights from the first few days of SGDQ 2021.

While Shadow of the Colossus has long had the largest following of any Team ICO game, the other games are just as important to the story of this community.


Ico (2001)

For a while, the Ico portion of the Team ICO Speedruns community was not very active.

The leaderboard had only two categories: 60hz and 50hz. Most releases of the game fall into the 60hz category while the PS2 PAL release has the option of 50hz which allows for some unique gameplay and glitches.

Runner Beuchiism was submitting runs in the 50hz category here and there but the record for 60hz had been set back in 2015 by Karekuza with only a few failed attempts by other runners to take the spot.

In April 2020, after achieving the “Castle Guide Trophy” by completing the game in under two hours, SanchoPanda hopped into the Team ICO Speedruns Discord looking for tips on improving his time even further.

The first reply came from FoxyZilla, who said, “Hey @SanchoPanda! Admittedly most of this server is SotC related nowdays, but if you have any questions, feel free to hit us up as some of us at least know the Ico details for running and can try to help!”

Plenty of community members were happy to see Ico get more attention. TikTak said, basically SanchoPando was the one who kick-started it all.”

As he learned the run himself, SanchoPanda decided to make a tutorial series for Ico and those videos have become a major boon for the community. In combination with other attempts to boost Ico’s popularity, the 60hz leaderboard went from six runners who had been inactive for between two and 12 years, to 12 runners by the end of July that year.

“Basically everyone started improving, new people joined, new people got better at it until it was like even rivaling the active community of shadow for Colossus in some aspects,” TikTak said.

Still, for a long time, Karekusa’s first-place run stood strong with SanchoPanda stuck below in second-place. He wasn’t sure he would ever beat that time.

In August 2020, Beuchi performed a run of Ico - Any% - 50hz with SanchoPanda providing commentary. “It was wonderful outside of the nerves for doing it! The beginning of my run could've gone a lot better if I hadn't been stubborn, but my commentator Sancho did an amazing job coming up with things to say, thankfully the rest of the run went almost perfectly,” Beuchi said.

The marathon was one of Sancho’s favorite memories with the community. “Beuchi is a great, not just a great speedrunner, but she has a great laugh and a great chill attitude,” he said. “That's always going to be a very special moment for me because I look up to Beuchi a lot. She's held the world record for the 50hz for forever and anytime anybody else tries to run it, they're just like, ‘wow, this is too hard.’ I don't know how she does it.”

Eventually, Sancho took a break from Ico to work on learning the other Team ICO games. During that break, other runners started to close in on Sancho’s second-place time. He said, “So at that point, I started to really buckle down to try and improve not even to get the record, but just to stay in second place.”

On May 25, 2021, Sancho beat Karekusa’s record by 40 seconds.

“I think part of the reason we as a community were able to take the world record was because literally, people were finding two to four second time saves and just tiny little places, or places where they could get Yorda's AI to be more predictable. Things like that,” Sancho said.

As the Ico branch of the community grew, other members of the Team ICO Speedrun community have branched into trying the game.

According to Beuchi, “Ico specifically was very underpopulated ‘til the beginning of 2020, I think the pandemic and the SGDQ run made a lot of people be interested in running the game, and slowly the 3 game communities grew a lot more and started blending together into the big team that it is now. SanchoPanda helped a lot on the Ico side with lots of guides and finding new strats for the runs.”

SableDragonRook, who primarily runs The Last Guardian, started running Ico just a few months ago. She said, “People are willing to literally schedule time out of their day at the drop of a hat to help you learn the things you need to know in a TICO game. I'm that way with TLG, and others are like that for Ico and SotC.”

And this cross-pollination between games has led to some interesting discoveries. While Sable was playing Ico casually for the very first time, she stumbled onto a new strategy. She still doesn’t fully understand it, but Sancho said, “She found a different route for doing one of the skips where you leave Yorda in another room. In her version, you get back faster so she is less likely to be grabbed by a shadow since there's a timer that decides when she gets grabbed...Sable did this during her casual first playthrough of the game. And I was like, WHOA... I think we can use that!

RubieHart has also begun learning Ico as well as The Last Guardian. She said, “not only are they games I frickin love, but I already am friends with so many of the speedrunners of the games, and it's like, why wouldn't I just tap into the wealth of knowledge.”


The Last Guardian (TLG) (2016)

The most recent Team ICO game, The Last Guardian, has the smallest following of the three titles.

Sable, who now holds first place in Any% as well as two categories she developed called All Barrels and Platinum%, had not realized the community existed at first. “I was even running TLG at marathons before I became a participant; mostly I slid into the server because I wanted to see if any other guides existed that I didn't know about. Hung out quietly for quite a while and then realized that everyone is really nice, and the rest is history,” she said.

When she first joined the Discord, The Last Guardian channel was mostly inactive, but despite that people were still encouraging. She said, “People's enthusiasm works across games; SotC runners who know very little about TLG will still have big party energy when a TLG runner PBs. So it was that attitude that made me feel more comfortable like I wasn't just this weirdo hanging out by myself playing TLG and nobody cared. People cared. And they were excited to see TLG become more popular.”

Sable did a lot of early routing and developed a lot of basic tech for the run. “Quick chain climbs, rope runs, and alternate white tower skip all came from me,” she said. After her performance at Frame Fatale 2020, a new influx of TLG players joined the community.

Usurpering joined in May 2020 and has been working hard on developing her own skill at the game as well as working with Sable to make speedrunning the game more appealing for potential newcomers.

The leaderboard was recently revamped with IL categories and other adjustments. Usupering is also working on gathering data about different challenge points in the run so the community can gain a better understanding of what makes it go well and what causes it to fail.

“Because of the nature of the game, very much still is NOT set in stone for TLG. It's a game about guiding an AI to do very specific things as quickly as possible for 3+ hours. It's always going to be SUPER variable. That's what makes it fun” SableDragonRook said.

In January 2021, Sable finished development on her first TLG Theory TAS which stitches together clips of different runs to create a hypothetically possible run.

And when Sable finally claimed the World Record in April 2021, everyone was really excited. “TikTak and Usurpering spent SO many hours putting together a comparison video of my WR vs. the former WR, which they streamed live while both of them were wearing insane super formal suits.”

With just a taste of the games the Team ICO Speedruns community runs, there is still more to learn about this fascinating community!


Category Extensions

At the end of 2020, the Team ICO Games Category Extensions page was approved, bringing together some unique categories for all three games.

“It shows the intention to have fun with this game.” Azama said, “...And we decided to really invest in this place...it shows all the richness of that community.”

The community worked hard to get the page approved. Sable said, “doing so has MASSIVELY ballooned participation because now we have these things like relays that encourage each game to co-mingle.”

“We're really trying to make Team ICO Speedruns as accessible as possible for anyone who wants to join,” Usurpering said. For example, a lot of new runners had asked about an “Intended Strategy Only” run so that was added to the new page At one marathon, runners Stockie and Jaikhay hosted an hour-long block going in-depth about SotC: Any% Variations - Death% which is an 18-second run on the new page.

But the run at the heart of the Category Extensions page is the Tricofecta.


Tricofecta

In a Tricofecta, a runner plays through all three Team ICO games in one long sitting. The format was first pulled off in the middle of 2020 by Foxyzilla. “It was in the middle of the pandemic...so it was like I need something to do during my day,” he said.

Initially, Foxy underestimated the work necessary to accomplish the run. He said, “it was like, I'll learn these all in a week and I work a 40-hour-per-week job. And I proceeded to not do any of that.” But even after that defeat, he kept at it. “I set out and did it somehow for some reason.”

His successful Tricofecta did not go totally as planned with his dog getting sick midway through the run, forcing him to step away for a short stretch of time. Nonetheless, the run was submitted, cementing the format with a time of 10h 54m 55s. The next Tricofecta runner was SanchoPanda who took a break from Ico for several months to learn SotC and TLG.

SotC was his biggest obstacle, Sancho said, “There's so much to exploit with each individual Colossus. the speedruns, they maybe only do one or two of the colossi the way they were actually intended. And every other one of them is shortcuts and skips and flinging and stuff like that.” He submitted his Tricofecta in December 2020 with a time of 7h 43m 25s.

Next up to the challenge was TikTak. Even though Sancho’s run had a better time for Ico, TikTak was able to take first place because SotC is longer and more complicated overall. His run in May 2021 had a time of 7h 05m 01s.

“The interesting thing about the Tricofecta is, you know, nobody is going to be really great at all three games, just because of the amount of time it takes to go into them,” Sancho said, “And so everyone's got their area of expertise. Unfortunately, mine is already the shortest one. So that means if I'm not faster at the others, I'm going to lag way behind if it were an actual race, but I think I had a lot of fun.”

Of the three games, TikTak struggled most with TLG. He ended up getting help from Usurpering. “I was like, could you just help me please somehow I beg you. And she actually took the time - we sat down for like eight or nine hours and she kind of walked me through the game talking about all the details and I recorded it and that was also when I got the speedrun trophy finally after ages,” he said.

Sancho, on the other hand, thought TLG was easier to learn than SotC. He said, “They're very similar, except instead of guiding a girl around, you're guiding a giant bird-dog. But the puzzles, the storytelling, it's all very similar.”

Those are the only Tricofectas submitted to date, but several other runners in the community are currently prepping for their own shots at the format sometime soon and it has been a major motivator for runners to try one another’s games.

“One of my primary motivators for learning Ico was to be able to complete a Tricofecta,” Sable said.

The less terrifying version of the Tricofectais the Relay Race.


Relay Races

“The appeal is that you have "the best" person (or people) from each game handing off to the next "best person" for the next game, as opposed to a Tricofecta where you have one person doing (most likely) two games fairly okay and their main game really well,” said Sable.

In theory, this allows for more competitive timing, but as it stands the Relay Races have been reserved for marathons and events like Really Really Long a Thon where the runners are less focused on the competitive angle.

FoxyZilla said the whole Category Extensions page has a lot of runs that are far less competitive and exist primarily to encourage the community to have fun.


Youtube and Twitch

The Team ICO Speedruns community also collectively manages a Youtube and Twitch channel with different members having access and taking turns with different responsibilities.

On the channels, they host content like IL run reviews, “Big Races,” and the Team ICO Speedrun Awards.

The IL Run Reviews look at runs by runners old and new as a learning opportunity for everyone.

“Big Races” are a staple of the Team Ico Speedrun Community. As many as 8 community members will race one another all at once. While racing has been part of the community for a while, it was TikTak and Azama who brought some more structure to the planning and execution of these events.

“We have them every few months. Sometimes more often combined with external events, other times fewer to not make people lose interest,” TikTak said.

The biggest of the Big Races was the “Intended Strat Race” which had 8 runners.

The first annual Team ICO Speedrun Awards was hosted at the end of 2020 and when Azama first shared the link for community members to nominate and vote for winners, he said, “This year was long and exhausting for most of us, but also full of discoveries, great efforts and priceless funny moments.”

The results of the vote were streamed and the whole community came together to enjoy it and have fun.


Community

“From last year to now the community has grown a ton and it's been super-nice,” said Beuchi, “The whole community is just super welcoming and nice.”

Over and over again, members talked about the Team ICO Speedruns community as a positive and welcoming space.

“Everyone has been super chill, super-nice, really active, really inclusive,” said Stockie, “Now that I'm also part of the moderation team, we've been taking steps to add some more inclusivity stuff. For example, the pronoun roles was something that we did very recently.”

RubieHart said the community has been extremely welcoming. “I've had to deal with a lot of toxic gaming communities as a femme-presenting genderfluid person...But the moment that I sent in my speedrun, everyone was so welcoming and inclusive and sweet. And now we've all become really good friends.”

The Team ICO Speedrun community has also been an integral sanctuary for members dealing with the stresses of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Azama said, “Basically, this community was an amazing balance for the emotional side of a lot of persons, I think. And basically, if a speedrun and gaming, in general, can show more and more of that positivity and inclusivity that's good.”

“I've heard multiple people say that part of the reason they're still sane, after what has all been going on with quarantining through COVID is that this discord community...has been their family,” said Sancho.

The community also makes a point of being accessible to new runners.

“I can't tout accessibility enough,” said Sable, “I've participated (or wanted to) in a ton of communities where you enter their discord and there are no guides, no resources, you ask someone how to do something and they're like ‘watch the WR.’ TICOS is teeming with really complete guides, videos, resources, people who are willing to sit down with you and help you learn things, and a bunch of stuff that makes learning any of the three games VERY simple. People are constantly making new things, refining the guides and info for newcomers, etc.”

Thank you to everyone from the Team ICO Speedruns community who took the time to share their experiences for this spotlight.

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