Speed Running and Summer Games Done Quick 2021 – Primer

I’d like to take some time here to talk about something a little different today…But don’t worry, the Qualbert team will be back to review the latest games very, very soon.

If you are like me, you have a tendency to love a lot of different things relating to this pastime/hobby/way-of-life that we call gaming.

We all get a kick from the experience of sitting in front of your TV or PC and firing up a game to spend hours in the shoes of a hero exploring some far-off fantastical land, kicking a goal to with the Championship for your team or even just getting the rush of adrenaline from solving that puzzle that has been bugging you for hours.

There is a reason that gaming is now the largest and most profitable arm of the entertainment industry and it isn’t just due to Covid-19 locking many people around the world out of theatres. Even before the virus the advent of high powered devices that fit in our pockets has made gaming accessible to almost everybody. Developers have adapted and nowadays there is a game for literally everybody. Sport, first-person-shooters, puzzle games, RPGs, visual novels…yes even Candy Crush.

But, sometimes you don’t quite feel like playing a game…

Maybe you just finished that 100 hour RPG and need to let the pain of a sad ending wash over you.

Maybe you hit a road-block and just need to take your mind of that puzzle, level or boss fight.

Maybe you just don’t have anything to play right this minute.

Fortunately, due to the importance of gaming to the lives of so many people, and with the sheer abundance of content producers, there are many things available that you can do to still be doing something related to gaming without actually having a controller in your hand.

You could take a few minutes to read a review of the latest release on your favourite website (hopefully that is why you are here). If you are musically inclined, perhaps you might simply go for a walk and listen to a classic game soundtrack or two (we’ll have some articles on this topic in the near future). Or perhaps you will join the masses on Twitch and YouTube and watch other people playing a game.

I’m sure all of us have dabbled with watching gaming streamers here or there. But today I’m here to tell you about a specific subset of streamers. Indeed, a whole section of the gaming world that you may not be aware of… Speed Runners.

What is a Speed Runner?

Quite simply, a speed runner is trying to finish a game as quickly as possible.

75+ Gotta Go Fast Memes Are About Sonic The Hedgehog - GEEKS ON COFFEE

We all want to be the best at something right? Well these speed runners often spend literally thousands of hours playing the same game over and over again to shave off just a few seconds from their personal best and claim that record.

We aren’t just talking about racing games here either (though these are obviously speed run as well). Games considered the ‘most popular’ or ‘best’ games usually have a strong community – examples being Super Mario 64, Super Metroid, various games in the Zelda series and Portal 1 and 2.

There are also a batch of indie games that are extremely popular in speed running, sometimes even developed with speed running in mind – examples in this group include Super Meat Boy, Celeste, VVVVVV and Undertale.

Are there rules to speed running?

Well, maybe…it depends on the game that the speed runner is playing. Indeed, within the speed running community of any one particular game there might be multiple different rule-sets and different ‘leader boards’ of times for each type of game. Taking the example of Super Mario 64, there are the following main categories that can be run:

  • Best time 70 stars = 46 minutes and 59 seconds
  • Best 100% time (120 stars) = 1 hour, 38 minutes and 21 seconds
  • Best ‘any%’ time (0 stars) = 6 minutes and 31 seconds

The first type listed here, and the main type of speed run for most games, is the quickest run through a game without any significant glitches being used. An execution-based run using level planning and pure skill (and prayers to RNGesus) to simply beat the game as quickly as possible.

100% times typically require completing all of the elements of the game. In the case of Mario 64, collecting all 120 stars will meet the 100% requirement. Some games such as Donkey Kong Country 3 on the SNES use an internal method to calculate completion of the game which reads as ‘103%’ when all tasks are done. In that case, getting the ‘103%’ would be required.

Often an ‘any%’ name signifies an ‘anything goes’ variant of speed running. Major game-breaking glitches can be used to knock literally hours off of a standard run. In the Mario 64 example above, you can see that the standard 47 minute time is literally smashed down to only 6 and a half minutes!

Interested in watching some videos of speed runs?
Well you can simply go to speedrun.com where there are vast amounts of videos you can watch.

Want to know what happens when a game is run literally as fast as possible? Faster than human hands are capable of even playing the game?

Then maybe ‘Tool Assisted Speedruns’, or TAS for short, are what you are after.

Using emulators and software that captures inputs on a frame-by-frame basis, TAS runners are able to break a game down into chunks as short as 1/60th of a second to complete input commands into a game. TAS runners are also able to do things that would be otherwise impossible for human hands, such as pressing ‘left’ and ‘right’ on a controller at the same time. TAS runs are insane and can also be hilarious to watch.

Check out TASVideos / Front Page

But what if a speed running community gets almost ‘bored’ of the usual game. Knowing where literally every single item is and playing the best path through the game over and over again must be tiring eventually right?

Well, fear not – because Randomizers are here (and you can even play them yourself).

Randomizers are, as you probably suspect from the name, a method of randomization of items within a game. They can be very difficult to construct because ‘logic’ is required to ensure that whilst all items are placed ‘randomly’ there is still the ability to collect what you need to actually progress through the game.

In Super Metroid, for example, the morph ball is always going to be found in the first handful of items as further progression through the game without it is impossible.

Games with a ‘Metroidvania’ or Zelda style progression system are generally the best for randomizers as the pathway through the game itself will change every time. There is even an insane variant known as SMZ3 – or Super Metroid and Link to the Past Crossover Randomizer. Here there are four portals between specific places on the map in the two games, and the items from both games are randomly shuffled around both titles…craziness

For more information around SMZ3 specifically, you can go to Super Metroid and A Link to the Past Randomizer

Obviously there is a massive speed running community out there, all across the globe. Furthermore, even in the early days of YouTube and streaming, many of these runners were able to eke out a life and earn income by streaming their adventures on Twitch.

Making money from speed running? Yes.

So how can this community actually give back to the world?

Well, about 10 years ago (January 2010) a small group of runners in the US decided to set up an event to raise money for charity. Various speed runners would run their games live in a ‘marathon’ format (back to back) over multiple days without a break. Watchers were able to donate to the chosen charity through Twitch – this Annual event became known as ‘Games Done Quick‘.

The first event was relatively small and run over 3 days, but was able to raise  $10,532 (USD) for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. In 2011 the event was pushed to 5 days, and this time a total of $52,520 (USD) was again raised for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

Awesome Games Done Quick‘ as it is now known (or AGDQ for short) has continued to run every year in January over 7 or 8 days. By 2020 the event was so huge a massive $3,164,002 over the 8 days of the event alone!

Due to the success of the event by just its 2nd year, a second event was started in 2011 and has become known as ‘Summer Games Done Quick‘. This event happens in either July or August each year, with donations from ‘SGDQ’ going to Doctors Without Borders.

The wide reach of gaming has allowed the Games Done Quick team to rack up a whopping 31 million dollars (US) for the two charities since January 2010.

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Great work boys, that’s a big donation!

Usually the events are completed live in a function centre, and if you live in the US (or want to travel there) you can attend yourself. Obviously with COVID impacting everyone, the event has changed to an online event with each streamer presenting from their own home – though one could argue this is in fact better as more international streamers can get involved.

The time is upon us again for Summer Games Done Quick. The event will be happening from July 4th to July 11th this year. In 2021 we will get a massive 146 games, run back to back to back, over the 8 days of the event.

It isn’t just the classics here either. Yes we have the usual suspects in Super Metroid, Mario 64, and at least 3 different Zelda games. But you can also find things here that you probably haven’t ever heard of before – what is ‘Manifold Garden‘ and can I eat a ‘Jelly Drift‘??

Pokemon Emerald‘…never heard of it. Must be some niche kiddie game.

Highlights for me at each event include the ‘races’ where multiple runners will play simultaneously for victory and bragging rights. This year some of the races include Mega Man X (SNES), Castlevania 1 (NES), Resident Evil 7 (PC), and Pokemon Black/White (DS).

I’ll definitely be tuning in for the Super Metroid race on the final day – always the most hotly contested part of the event. Other games I’m looking forward to seeing include Outer Wilds, Dead Space, Shadow of the Colossus and the finale game – Kingdom Hearts 2.

You can watch the 2021 SGDQ stream live at GamesDoneQuick – Twitch

Or get more information about the event, including the full game schedule at https://gamesdonequick.com/

Gotta go fast!