Sunday marks the start of Summer Games Done Quick 2016, an annual event where runners of all kinds of different games come together to raise money for charity by doing what they do best: beat games at breakneck speed.
Runners have perfected glitches, special routes, mechanics and series of inputs, all in the name of running through an entire game faster than anyone else. It used to be a niche community, relegated to forum posts and BBS boards. With the advent of the biannual Games Done Quick events, though, speedrunning has become much more prominent within games culture, with many games even including speedrunning modes that clock your times.
So to honor this tradition and the spirit of running for charity, let’s run through some favorite speedruns that show the best games to beat as fast as you can.
It’s hard to talk speedrunning without mentioning this classic. Metroid-style games are often ripe for speedrunning, as you have many different methods of getting from the beginning to the end thanks to the games’ ambiguous critical path. Super Metroid has become a hallmark of the Games Done Quick marathons, with the top donation incentive every year being a vote on whether to save or kill the animals at the end (killing them is immoral, but saves precious seconds on the run). The above Any% race (where four runners rush to complete the game at any percent of completion) highlights the different kinds of tricks runners employ, while also showcasing the popularity of the series among speedrunners.
One of the most seminal Mario games, Super Mario World has a huge variety of categories that speedrunners compete in. It’s also a really easy game to get into speedrunning, especially if you were a World fan when you were younger. This particular run is a spin on the 96 Exit run, where the runner has to get every Dragon Coin, every Moon, and go through every exit door in the game. Still, the runner manages an incredible 96-minute runtime, without using any glitches. This is a “purist” run that’s a joy to watch if you grew up anywhere near a Super Nintendo.
While many classic speedruns focus on similarly “classic” games, it’s always fun to see modern games run, and Half-Life 2 has some incredible tricks that allow for a great Any% run. This specific run highlights another aspect of speedrunning: perfecting minor ways to trick the game, or glitch in certain areas, like hopping up a wall using a barrel, abusing the back-hop to fly across the map, deleting saves to gain health and using a monitor to launch yourself up the entire length of the citadel. It’s good to know that even in the modern era and with the Source engine, you can still find glitches and exploits to get through the adventures of Gordon Freeman that much faster.
Note: Actual run starts around the 13-minute mark
Sure, there are plenty of mind-bending, crazy antics that TASBot has been getting into at recent Games Done Quick events. I chose this one, however, because it showcases just exactly the how and why of TAS runs, and what they bring to the speedrunning community. TAS stands for “tool-assisted speedrun”—essentially recording a series of inputs, frame-by-frame, in order to create a pixel-perfect run. It’s less execution-based than typical speedrunning, but it adds an element of perfection that’s interesting in its own right. TAS runners can program and replay exploits, so they can use risky tricks that normal runners don’t attempt or can’t execute consistently, creating runs that are beautiful in their flawless execution. Watch the above video to see just what that looks like (and how it’s done), and then check out this segment to see just how far current TAS runners are taking games and their limits.
This is one of the longer runs on this list, clocking in at close to four hours and change. For a game the size of Kingdom Hearts 2, though, that’s incredible. (I don’t think I could get out of that ridiculously long intro in four hours.) At runs this length, it’s still incredible to see the amount of thought put into each action, as the runner (and the couch) is thinking about how events now will affect battles an hour or two later, or how saving minor frames in each battle adds up to entire hours saved over the course of the game. It’s as much about concentration and endurance, and it’s crazy to see how runners of massive games like Kingdom Hearts 2 continue to optimize and perfect the minutiae of their actions.
A lot of games are hard enough to beat by yourself, let alone speedrun. For some reason, some speedrunners are taking it a step further, choosing to co-op run games by having two people handle one controller. There’s plenty of incredible co-op speedruns, but this Octodad run from last year’s Summer GDQ is notable for the game it was performed on. Known for sticky controls that lead to hilarious hijinks, seeing two players move deftly through Octodad’s haphazard levels is something else.
A game solely about mobility and parkour seems ripe for speedrunning, and Mirror’s Edge doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the fastest completion times. Clocking in at 39 minutes, this run shows both modern games being glitched, and some incredible insights into game programming and level design. Part of running a game is getting inside the game developers’ heads, understanding just how the code base works and finding exploits within it. Here, it’s about knowing where the game’s walls can be broken and unbroken in order to parkour the literal level geometry. Very interesting for anyone who enjoyed this 2008 gem or its recent reboot.
Like the co-op runs, there are several runners who do blindfolded runs of their favorite games as a way to add even more challenge. In this particular exhibition, the game of choice is the boxing game that stumped many who could still see the punches coming. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! gets run totally blind by a runner who understands the game in-and-out, and hearing his insights on aural cues and memorization of patterns is insightful. It’s telling of how runners often approach these games, as puzzles with solutions through a series of flawless executions. Plus, it’s a guy blindfolded getting all the way to Mike Tyson. I can see the screen and I’m still stuck on King Hippo.
It feels a little cheap to put Mario on here twice, but the prevalence of the platforming plumber in speedrunning is hard to ignore. The 120-Star run is excellent to watch, as it’s a run that’s been honed and refined enough, while still having plenty of risky skips and back-up strats (alternate routes runners employ when best-laid plans fall through) to make for an exciting exhibition. This race highlights that, as four high-level runners square off in the Nintendo 64 classic to compete for the best time, and it comes down to seconds at many points. Races often bring out the best (or at least the most entertaining) in runners, and serves to highlight just how interesting this game continues to be, years later.
No other run has been broken open and revised as many times as Ocarina of Time, a game that continues to deliver new exploits and world-record runs to this day. The above run is not the current world-record time, but it might be one of the most famous recordings of Ocarina’s Any% run. It showcases Cosmo, who was the premier runner of Ocarina for a long time, in the early days of Games Done Quick. Running through the intro portion, Cosmo walks the audience through the history of Ocarina speedrunning, and the different exploits and new routes the community discovered. It gives you an idea of just how much iteration and experimentation runners go through, while also highlighting just how far a single game has come and can go. If you’ve never seen a speedrun before, this is the one that sums up the entire culture in one neat, 20-minute run, as Cosmo executes a glitch and speeds through the game using both high-level mechanical skill and a comprehensive understanding of Ocarina’s inner workings.
Eric Van Allen is a Texas-based writer. You can follow his e-sports and games rumblings @seamoosi on Twitter.