Friday, January 17, 2014

Insane Speed Runs

I spent most of last week watching Awesome Games Done Quick 2014. I've spent a good chunk of this week going back and watching games I missed the first time around due to sleep or not knowing about the event soon enough. There were lots of really cool things going on and someone on Reddit was nice enough to compile a list of all the runs along with Twitch links directly to each thing.

This is the first time I've ever really heard of the concept of speed running the way these guys do it. One could argue that the Path of Exile races are a kind of speed running, and that's what I thought would be going on here. People playing the same games I play, but having practiced so much they'd just be way faster than I would be. Like how Helmann knows what weapon types to pick up, and how he tracks his inventory faster than I can, and how he can move his mouse fast enough, and how he knows the hotkeys and the talent tree. There's tons of ways he's faster than me, but we're both still playing the same game. These speed run guys were rarely playing the same games I'd be playing. They certainly do shave time off by being precise and knowing exactly what to do but they would also abuse game bugs to do ridiculous things. Glitching through walls to skip entire zones. Getting infinite money by selling null objects. Abusing the precise location of event triggers to skip them or do them out of order or any manner of other ridiculous things.

It was really awesome to see the way they completely destroyed Secret of Mana, for example. Normally in that game you level up all these different types of weapons and are constantly switching as a new weapon becomes your most powerful. In this run they only used two weapons: sword and spear. They leveled sword to 2 and spear to 1. Then they'd start charging an attack and use a second character to swap between the two weapons to bug the game. You'd end up with a level 1 spear equipped while charging a level 2 attack and the game didn't know how to handle it so it would just super charge your attack. This let them hit for max damage with a single low level weapon attack. They played the game with two people but they still used all three controllers. They just had one guy run two characters at the same time to use this glitch! Later on they skipped most of a dungeon and several boss fights by saving the game, quitting, starting a new game entirely, and then soft resetting to load the first game. Because they'd landed next to the save point with Flammie the save was glitched and they were able to instead zone into the start of the game (because that's where they were when they soft reset). This made their characters become invisible which somehow meant they could walk through walls. They also made infinite money with a different glitch.

A ton of work goes into doing one of these runs because of all these glitches and things. You need to have people finding the glitches. Then you need to have people who figure out how to use the glitches to build and optimal path through the game. And then you need someone who can actually mechanically pull it all off. In many cases the glitches involved hitting a button in the exact right spot on the exact right frame and if you didn't do it right the first time it probably wasn't worth doing.

It got me to thinking about if I could realistically try to speed run some sort of game. My typical games didn't seem like they'd fit in very well but they did run a few RPGs in this event. (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Paper Mario, Pokemon Soul Silver, Fire Emblem on the GBA...) Fire Emblem was the only game I saw that got cut off due to time though so I don't know how well it fits. People were often talking negatively about 'RNG' in games and a game like Fire Emblem with permanent death and random crits has a ton of it going on. The Pokemon guy had to catch Mewtwo with something like a 4% chance per ball thrown so there was a lot of variability in the length of his game too, but he got lucky and caught him on the second fight.

At any rate, that's something to think about for another today... This post is about some of the cool things I saw during this event. (That happened to raise more than a million dollars for their charity... That seems like a really insane number!)

First up, I promised a link to blindfolded Punch-Out...

I recommend going into the link I posted above and going to watch both punch-out sections (they're one after the other) but I couldn't find an easy way to embed the Twitch stream here so I hunted down a YouTube video of the first one.

One of the things I really liked was the SNES F-Zero run they had. The guy who was running it was talking about the game and all these jumps to skip parts of the race and optimal locations to use the nitro boosts and how he was pumping the gas on specific turns to optimize his speed and stuff. At one point he was talking about a specific double jump that hardly saves any time and is super risky. He mentioned how he only knows of two people who have ever done it to his knowledge. He tried it on his race and pulled it off in 2 of 4 tries but died the other two times. What I found really amusing about that discussion is I know of two people who could do that double jump more than 20 years ago. F-Zero was one of the first games my brother and I had on the SNES and we spent a lot of time trying to jump over sections of the track. We also used to do all the other things the guy was talking about, though we were more focused on getting a top lap time by using all 4 boosts in one lap than on a full speed run of any kind. But I suspect if the internet had been a thing when we were 13 that we may well have become F-Zero speed racers.

For a bunch of the games they actually got the game developers into a Skype call to talk about the game and to the guys running the game. I found it really interesting to hear the developers when they saw the ridiculous things people were doing. One of them was for The Mask where apparently using an attack on a previous level slightly increased the range of a future attack which let the runner skip an entire level by touching a trigger on the other side of a wall. The developer was flabbergasted. I thought it was really cool that they were able to get developers from 20 year old games on, and ones from current games like Borderlands 2.

They also had some pretty sweet prizes donated from big companies. Blizzard gave them a really cool limited edition StarCraft 2 statue to raffle off. Nintendo and Microsoft gave consoles with games being played in the run. Definitely cool.

Some of the runs they ran as races where they'd get two people to play side by side and see who would win. Apparently one of the two websites putting on this event is focused on races? The coolest one was probably Super Metroid where they had 4 people playing at the same time. One guy died and had to drop out but the other three were incredibly close the whole way through. That's another game where they made a creative use of game mechanics in order to do things out of order, but they all play it so often and with the same people that they all did everything in the same out of order. The one currently believed to be fastest!

One guy played Mario 64 with only one hand. The N64 controller is almost designed to be used that way, I guess? He beat the game in a little over 22 minutes thanks to glitching through a door and being awesome.

I haven't played a Grand Theft Auto game since the very first one, but they ran Vice City and it looked interesting. I may look into getting one of the newer ones if I see it going cheap at some point.

They do a section they call 'Awful Games Done Quickly' and one of the game was ET! I liked ET back when I was a kid. I sure didn't know that the random seed was generated based on when you started the game and the very first frame is very fast so if you hold down the button when you turn the power on you can win very quickly. Like, you can legitimately beat the game in 53 seconds.

One of the prizes in that section was a modded Atari 2600 where someone put in component cable outputs so you can use it on modern televisions. Makes me want to check out how that happened... I also need to figure out how they were streaming from a console and from a handheld...

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