The Speedrunning Phenomenon in Video Games
I remember the day when I first heard about speedruning from a friend a few years ago who had been doing speedruns for a while. I never really go into it because I was more interested in playing modern games and enjoying the graphics and cinematic greatness of the modern consoles. With that said, I’m an old school gamer and at least 5 of my top 10 favorite games are retro games.
Before I heard about speed running, I felt that most of those classic titles that I used to love when I was younger had no reason to be picked up again. I was always looking for new games to beat because I felt that revisiting old games would bring nothing but nostalgia, and that is a great feeling to have, but I would usually only found it worth having with fighting games.
The thing about fighting games is that you don’t play them for the ending or because of boss fights or stage secrets, you play them to compete against someone else and thanks to the internet and places like Fightcade, you can revive amazing games like Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo by playing against people from all over the world.
How my speedrunning journey began
So, I had heard about speedrunning, but I didn’t really pick up any interest in this scene until one day I stumbled upon a speedrun of one of my favorite old school games ever made. A game that was so hard, it was probably never finished by 99% of the people that owned it. That game was Shadow of the beast for the Sega Genesis.
There are many versions of Shadow of the Beast and I noticed that the speedruns that were available had been made for the Japanese version. This version is far from easy, but it can be beaten without so much effort. The US version lacks the ability to punch at fast speeds and this forced the player to be way more accurate when hitting enemies and bosses, but to make matters worse, the US version suffered from an accidental “turbo charge” when it was ported from 50hz to 60hz. It also lacked an extra healing potion at the castle stage.
I watched the Japanese run and I was reminded of the challenge of beating this game, but speedrunning is a completely different challenge. You need to learn how to beat a game as fast as possible and Shadow of the beast was a challenge I had to take, but I started by beating the Japanese version records to see if I would then feel encouraged to set a record for the US version. The current Shadow of the Beast speedruns and records I have set are all available at speedrun.com. Then After beating that record I managed to set a record for the (U) version too. Any challengers to that record are most welcome.
The run that changed my perception on games
Ok, so at first I decided to take up the challenge of beating the records that had been set for the Japanese version. At first, I was a little overwhelmed as I wasn’t even able to beat the game close to the record time that had been set. This is a game that requires fast reflexes even when it’s way slower than the US version, which is the only version I played. I knew at this point that I had to study the current runs and see what I could improve, but I also needed to practice the game by beating it consistently without worrying about the time.
The funny thing is that something clicked in my head and I was experiencing a complete rebirth of retro gaming without knowing it. I was playing a game that I used to play in the early 90’s and I was enjoying it in a way that felt like I was playing it for the very first time. The simple fact that I was on a quest to prove it to myself that I could beat a speedrun record was an incredible incentive. This was ecnouragement enough to take on the US version.
My speedrun for the Shadow of the Beast (U) World Record:
The gamer stereotype
Some people would say that speedrunning is a waste of time, but the truth is that any activity that we do for personal gratification is about having fun and not really a wast of time if you enjoy it. Nothing is a waste of time if you enjoy it and the truth is that after all is said and done, we are not alive to work all day or to try to befriend the entire world. We are alive to enjoy all kinds of experiences and speedrunning had opened a whole new world of fun and challenges for me.
I run my own business, I play guitar and have been in several heavy metal bands, I exercise, I have a girlfriend that I live with, I have my own car, I do not live in my parents basement, I have friends and family that I interact with and so on. The point is that I do not fit the label that is given to video game players, but I love video games and I enjoy the challenge of a speedrun. You don’t need to spend all day practicing runs to become a speedrunner. An hour or two a day every other day will do.
The truth is that you can always make time for things that make you happy and entertain you as a personal quest or challenge. The idea that speedrunners are all people with no lives is far from true, but let’s not even get started with what “having a life” means, because some people out there think that “having a life” is getting drunk with their friends every weekend at the local bar, so let’s avoid that debate for now and focus on the topic.
Remember that you don’t have to spend all day practicing to beat speedruns. I remember I spent only about one hour each night practicing to beat the first record I ever beat (shadow of the beast J) and after about a week I was ready to start recording some attempts.
Then one day it finally happened and I did my first world record on Shadow of the beast any% 18HP. That is all it took to get me hooked, it didn’t matter that only 3 other guys had created speedruns for the game, I was anxiously waiting to have free time each night to pursue the next challenge and beat the Japanese version at the standard 12HP difficulty and then the US version which has no settings at all, just one relentless and merciless setting. Now I’m working on the 6HP for the Japanese version which is the hardest mode for that version.
Speedrunning brings new life to any game
It’s incredible to think that something like speedrunning can bring back so much life to any game. I’m not going to deny that new game releases of my favorite series are always going to grab my attention, but speedrunning is my favorite gaming activity. New games are great, but too many idle moments and cinematics really take away from the flow of speedrunning. For example, I honestly care more for the new release of Shadow of the Beast because of the bonus original Amiga game being included.
I think trophies and achievements in the modern consoles are a great way to give games longevity too, but there is something about speedrunning that really takes things to a whole new level. In the spirit of this website being all about games that involved fighting, speedrunning is a fight with your ability to persevere and to finish a task that most people would find too difficult to even attempt.
The different types of speedruns
This is probably the most popular to get started with because the idea is to beat the game as fast as possible. No need to collect items or get the highest score, just get through the game as fast as possible. Any % is definitely a very challenging type of run because some of the records that have been set are ridiculously fast and optimized.
These runs are the hardest because you have to collect all of the secrets in a game in order to be able to get through it. This makes the speed run harder because it will usually take a much longer time to beat the entire game and get all the secrets. Some runs can last hours and a single mistake can mean the end of a run.
This is a rare type of run because many games don’t really allow for this particular challenge. It’s about going as fast as possible with as little help from health, secrets, and weapons as possible. The rules for this type of run depend on the game.
The Tool Assisted turns are runs that use software to help the player play through the game by performing all kinds of moves or tricks that would be impossible in regular gameplay. A large number of players do not consider TAS runs to be valid.
Researchers and runners
There are two kinds of speedrunners. You have those who become obsessed with finding new ways to get through certain games and then you have those who watch runs that have already discovered most of the possible ways to shorten the length of a run and simply look for a way to beat it by doing everything just a little bit better. Both contribute to the scene in ways that are equally important.
Most popular games to speedrun
While the database of games that are being included in the speedrun culture is quite vast, there are some games that have become more popular than others for this purpose. Some old school games that can easily be identified as popular extremely common.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night and Super Mario 64 are two of the most popular games to speedrun because of the level of optimization that has been achieved. It’s also easier for people to study speedruns and look for ways to beat them than to have to find out all of the tricks and glitches that help improve the time of the speedrun. This video shows the world record for Super Mario for Any % at 6 minutes and 44 seconds.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night is also a very popular speed run and this video shows the second place world record holder. First place can be seen in this Twitch video.
Super Meat Boy is a perfect example of a great game indie game that has become quite popular in the speedrun community because of the smooth and rewarding platforming style it offers. This is the current world record by Vorpal at 17 minutes and 43 seconds. Watch it, it’s truly worth it if you want to get hyped up about speedruns.
This Super Mario 64 speedrun at just 1:40.2 is the current world record holder:
Most popular speedrun websites:
There is no way to deny the power of speedruns and how they bring so much life back to older games that most people would consider obsolete at this point. The community continues to grow at a very fast pace and there is no doubt that we are going to be seeing a lot more from the speed running phenomenon.
Are you up for the challenge?