A speedrun is a playthrough of a video game, or section of a video game, with the goal of completing it as fast as possible. Speedruns often follow planned routes, which may incorporate sequence breaking, and might exploit glitches that allow sections to be skipped or completed more quickly than intended. Tool-assisted speedruns (TAS) are a subset of speedruns that may use emulation software or other software to slow the game down or edit 2 different speedruns together to create a controlled sequence of inputs with greater precision than a non-TAS run. Videos and livestreams of speedruns are shared via the internet on popular media sites such as YouTube and Twitch.
Speedrunners at Summer Games Done Quick in 2019.
Many online communities are formed with a shared interest in speedrunning a particular game, and their leaderboard rankings are the primary competitive metric for speedrunning. Races between two or more speedrunners are also popular as a form of competition. Speedruns are sometimes showcased at marathon events—gaming conventions that often feature multiple people performing speedruns in a variety of games. Games Done Quick is a semiannual speedrun marathon that, as of January 2022, has raised over $37 million for charity organizations since its inception in 2010.
Routing is considered a fundamental process in speedrunning. Routing is the act of developing an optimal sequence of actions and stages in a video game. A route may involve skipping one or more important items or sections. Skipping a part of a video game that is normally required for progression is referred to as sequence breaking, a term first used in reference to the 2002 action-adventure game Metroid Prime. Video game glitches may be used to achieve sequence breaks, or may be used for other purposes, such as skipping cutscenes and increasing the player's speed or damage output. Some people, called glitch-hunters, choose to focus on finding glitches that will be useful to speedrunners. In some games, arbitrary code execution exploits may be possible, allowing players to write their own code into the game's memory. Several speedruns use a "credits warp," a category of glitch that causes the game's credits sequence to play, which may require arbitrary code execution. The use of glitches and sequence breaks in speedruns was historically not allowed, per the rules of Twin Galaxies' early leaderboards. When speedrunning moved away from Twin Galaxies towards independent online leaderboards, their use became increasingly common.
Categorization and ranking
Speedruns are divided into various categories that impose additional limitations on a runner. It is common for category restrictions to require a certain amount of content to be completed in the game. Each video game may have its own speedrun categories, but some categories are popular irrespective of game. The most common are:
Any%, which requires no additional completion requirement, nor any additional limitation.
100%, which requires full completion of a game. This may entail obtaining all items or may use some other metric.
Low%, the opposite of 100%, which requires the player to beat the game while completing the minimum amount possible.
Glitchless, which restricts the player from performing any glitches during the speedrun.
Speedrunners compete in these categories by ranking times on online leaderboards. According to Wired, the definitive website for speedrun leaderboards is Speedrun.com. As of July 2021, the site hosts leaderboards for over 20,000 video games. Runners usually record footage of their speedruns for accurate timing and verification, and may include a timer in their videos. They often use timers that keep track of splits—the time between the start of the run and the completion of some section or objective. Verification is usually done by leaderboard moderators who review submissions and determine the validity of individual speedruns.
Main article: Tool-assisted speedrun
A tool-assisted speedrun (TAS) is a speedrun that uses emulation software and tools to create a "theoretically perfect playthrough". According to TASVideos, common examples of tools include advancing the game frame-by-frame to play the game more precisely, retrying parts of the run using savestates, and hex editing. These tools are designed to remove restrictions imposed by human reflexes and allow for optimal gameplay. The run is recorded as a series of controller inputs intended to be fed back to the game in sequence. Although generally recorded on an emulator, TASes can be played back on original console hardware by sending inputs into the console's controller ports. To differentiate them from tool-assisted speedruns, unassisted speedruns are sometimes referred to as real-time attack (RTA) speedruns. Due to the lack of a human playing the game in real time, TASes are not made in direct competition with RTA speedruns.
Two speedrunners playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at Mang'Azur 2013.
According to many speedrunners, community is an important aspect of the hobby. Matt Merkle, director of operations at Games Done Quick, says that speedrunners "value the cooperation the community encourages," and many speedrunners have said that their mental health has improved because of their involvement in the community. Erica Lenti, writing for Wired, says that a sense of community is vital to speedrunning because it motivates players and aids in the development of routes and tricks used in speedruns.
The speedrunning community is divided into many sub-communities focused on speedrunning specific games. These sub-communities can form their own independent leaderboards and communicate about their games using Discord. Many communities have used the centralized leaderboard hosting site Speedrun.com since its founding in 2014.
See also: Games Done Quick and European Speedrunner Assembly
Speedrunning marathons, a form of gaming convention, feature a series of speedruns by multiple speedrunners. While many marathons are held worldwide, the largest event is Games Done Quick, a semiannual marathon held in the United States. The largest marathon in Europe is the European Speedrunner Assembly, held in Sweden. Both events broadcast the speedruns on Twitch and raise money for various charity organizations. The speedruns at marathons are set apart from normal speedruns in that they are done in one attempt (retrying the run is not allowed) and often have accompanying commentary. Many people consider marathons to be important to runners and spectators in the speedrunning community. Peter Marsh, writing for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, says that the Games Done Quick events provide an inclusive space for women and the LGBTQ community in contrast to the related cultures of gaming and Twitch streaming. Alex Miller of Wired says the events have played an important role in connecting people and supporting international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Races between two or more speedrunners are a popular competition format. They require players to be adept at recovering from setbacks during a speedrun because they can not start over. Occasionally, races are featured at marathons; a 4-person Super Metroid race is a popular recurring event at Games Done Quick marathons. The Global Speedrun Association (GSA) have organized head-to-head tournaments for multiple games, including Celeste, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Odyssey. In 2019, GSA organized an in-person speedrun race event called PACE. Their efforts have drawn criticism from some speedrunners who believe that they "undermine the community spirit," citing cash prizes as incentives to avoid collaboration with other speedrunners and ignore games without prize money. Video game randomizers—ROM hacks that randomly shuffle item locations and other in-game content—are popular for speedrun races as well. Tournaments and other events have been organized for randomizer races, and they have been featured at speedrun marathons.
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Speedrunning has been generally an intrinsic part of video games since early games, similar to chasing of high scores. However, broad interest in speedrunning came about with the wider availability of the Internet around 1993 that gave the means for players to be able to share their speedruns with online communities. Sites dedicated to speedrunning, including game-specific sites, began to appear at the same time and helped to create the subculture around speedrunning. These sites not were only used for sharing runs, but also to collaborate and share tips to improve times, leading to collaborative efforts to continuously improve speedrunning records on certain games.
The earliest widely distributed speedruns were restricted to games that included an in-game timer, such as Dragster, Activision Grand Prix, Excitebike, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and Super Mario Kart. One of the earliest recorded methods of distribution was via Activision's 1981 newsletter, Activisions, where speedrunners would photograph the time on their screen and submit them to the publication. Such publications would typically put speedruns into a section that also contained high score or simple completion attempts. This would continue in later publications, including Nintendo Power's NES Achievers section, later renamed Power Player's Challenge.
Due to updates being restricted to the publication's interval, records could stand for months before any successful challenge could be widely known. Furthermore, photographing a CRT television incorrectly could result in times being lost or misread, and there were no means of community verification. Information on how these runs were achieved were only rarely disclosed. Finally, proof of these runs can be lost by the publisher, which happened with Todd Rogers' disputed 5.51 second run of Dragster.
Doom and Quake demos, early Internet communities
Although speedruns were being done before the 1990s, the development of a community around speedrunning is widely considered to have originated with the 1993 computer game Doom. The game included a feature that allowed players to record and play back gameplay using files called demos. Demos were lightweight files that could be shared more easily than video files on Internet bulletin board systems at the time. In January 1994, University of Waterloo student Christina Norman created a File Transfer Protocol server dedicated to compiling demos, named the LMP Hall of Fame (after the .lmp file extension used by Doom demos). The LMP Hall of Fame inspired the creation of the Doom Honorific Titles by Frank Stajano, a catalogue of titles that a player could obtain by beating certain challenges in the game. The Doom speedrunning community was born in November 1994, when Simon Widlake created COMPET-N, a website hosting leaderboards dedicated to ranking completion times of Doom's single-player levels.
A "grenade jump" is used in Quake in order to jump over a large lava pit.
In 1996, id Software released Quake as a successor to the Doom series. Like its predecessor, Quake had a demo recording feature and was a target for speedrunners. In April 1997, Nolan "Radix" Pflug created Nightmare Speed Demos (NSD), a website for tracking Quake speedruns. In June 1997, Pflug released a full-game speedrun demo of Quake called Quake done Quick. This demo introduced speedrunning to a broader audience. Quake speedruns were notable for their breadth of movement techniques, including "bunny hopping," a method of gaining speed also present in future shooting games like Counter-Strike and Team Fortress. In April 1998, NSD merged with another demos website to create Speed Demos Archive.
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.
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. 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)
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 1] 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.