Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.
There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.
There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example).
What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.
Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.
For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.
After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark.
For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.
With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing.
Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.
Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.
The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.
While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.
As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).
Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.
Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.
Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.
After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.
An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.
There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air.
Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."
No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.
I Wanna Be The Guy
It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.
So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.
A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.
This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.
The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.
Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.
Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.
Super Meat Boy
When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.
Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.
Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.
The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.
The default field of vision in Quake—yes, Quake, the groundbreaking Id Software shooter from 1996—was 90 degrees, an angle nowhere near the roughly 180-degree field of view that Wikipedia says normal humans possess. It also proved rather limiting in multiplayer conflicts, in which being able to see the people who are trying to kill you is an important part of preventing said killing. The Fisheye Quake mod went a long way toward rectifying that problem, but it suffered from issues of its own in the form of some pretty severe screen distortion.
It's a problem that's taken nearly 20 years to solve, but now, in the new millennium, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a modified version of Fisheye Quake called Blinky. Its goal isn't actually to bring better situational awareness to Quake, however, but rather to demonstrate a "proof of concept to put peripheral vision into games," without requiring VR goggles.
Blinky employs the Panini projection, "a mathematical rule for constructing perspective images with very wide fields of view"—read more about it here—to recreate a much wider field of vision in games while maintaining a reasonably natural appearance. "To use non-standard projections like Panini, Blinky first snaps multiple pictures around you to form a Globe of pixels," creator Shaun Lebron explained. "Then it projects all those pixels to the screen using a Lens. You can enable a Rubix grid if you wish to visualize the mapping."
Blinky is implemented in the Quake demo linked on the Github page, and it actually works quite well: There are a number of projections to play with, but the default setting betrayed only a slight distortion at certain viewing angles that very quickly became effectively imperceptible.
"I hope to apply this to modern graphics using frame buffers for environment-capturing and pixel shaders for projection. It would be interesting to see its impact on performance," Lebron wrote. "If this modern method is performant enough, I think Panini/Stereographic could easily become a standard for gamers demanding wide-angle video. But if it is not performant enough for live applications, I think it could still prove useful in post-processed videos using something like WolfCam. For example, spectators could benefit from wide-angle viewings of previously recorded competitive matches or even artistic montages."
Dec 29, 2014
No, that's not a lie - one Pekka V n nen, a Finnish modder, has managed to get the original Quake running on an oscilloscope.
What's an oscilloscope? This:
"An oscilloscope is an electrical testing device used to measure the frequency of an electrical signal over time, and display waveform signals in a graph."
What's Quake? This:
"Quake is a game in which players must find their way through various maze-like, medieval environments while battling a variety of monsters using a wide array of weapons."
You'd be right to wonder just how the hell all of this works, or what it looks like. Luckily for you, you can read about V n nen's trials and tribulations right here, and check it out in video form on this very page:
At the risk of editorialising somewhat: that is so, so cool.
Oct 9, 2014
Sep 21, 2014
There are a number of ongoing efforts to mod older games into newer engines. Black Mesa, for instance, rebuilt much of the original Half-Life in the Source Engine, and the modders behind Skywind are painstakingly crafting Morrowind in Skyrim's Creation Engine. With Doom Reborn, modders have been working diligently to recreate Doom and Doom II in Doom 3's idTech4 engine. They recently released a pre-beta version, so I thought it was a good time to see how the first FPS I ever played looked with a facelift.
Memmories... like a goon-filled poison piiiiit...
Doom II represented a number of firsts for me. It was the first FPS game I ever played (I played Doom II before I played the original Doom). It was the first game I needed to create a boot disk for, just so I could run it on whatever toaster I was using as a PC back then. It was the first multiplayer game I ever played, and I recall an evening spent talking to my friend Mark on the phone, then taking the line from the phone and plugging it into my modem, then dialing up Mark, not getting a response from his modem, then replugging the line into the phone to call him again to troubleshoot (we eventually got it working, had a complete blast, then plugged our lines back into the phones so we could talk about it afterwards).
The Marine needs no colored keys for these doors.
It may seem a bit dubious to rebuild a classic FPS -- the classic FPS -- in an engine that doesn't look particularly pretty these days (I think Source has aged much better than idTech4, probably because Source has been continually refined over the years), but I'm impressed at how comfortable and familiar the mod feels. The levels are immediately recognizable as the layouts are identical: I enter Doom II, immediately turn around, run around the corner to the right, and collect the chainsaw without even thinking about it, even though it's probably been fifteen years since I've actually done that.
Back in the day, we liked our buttons big. Really big.
In fact, while running and gunning through the rebuilt levels, I found all sorts of ancient muscle-memories kicking in. I'd stop and stare at a wall, or hesitate in front of an alcove, or gaze across a bridge, knowing there was something to be done but not quite remembering exactly what. I think it's a pretty good indicator that the levels have been rebuilt faithfully if, even in a different game engine, long-dormant triggers are still firing in my brain.
Huh. I am strangely compelled to stand in this alcove. But WHY?
As for the gameplay itself, I expected it to feel slow and sluggish when compared with the original. And it definitely is a bit slower: guns seem to take too long to reload, enemies seem to take a while to react. After a couple levels, though, it starts feeling more natural, more slick, more in keeping with the breakneck pace and corridor-gliding action of the original game. It's not as fast or smooth as it was back then, no, but on the other hand, neither am I.
No AI misfires here. They seem quite aware of me.
You may have seen the gameplay video which shows the enemy AI, in some cases, completely absent, but in this pre-beta a lot of that seems to have been fixed. I didn't really encounter any brain-dead enemies. Sure, most of them weren't exactly brilliant, but no one just stood there helplessly watching while I killed them. And, nicely, one of the most entertaining bits of the original Doom games is still there: enemies accidentally hitting each other and then fighting each other to the death while you watch. I don't know if that happened in Doom 3 (probably) or if the modders had to code it themselves, but who cares? Monsters killing each other means I can save a little ammo here and there.
You two let me know when you've sorted this out.
The mod is still in progress, so not all the levels from the original games are present, though I was happy to find the secret Doom II Wolfenstein level in there. What can I say, it's fun killing monsters in front of Hitler portraits for some reason.
Sorry to break up your shotgun shell organizing party.
I'm sure this mod isn't for everybody, but I think that can be said for any mod of this nature. People who love Doom from the old days will probably still prefer to play the original games. That's how I felt about Black Mesa: while I enjoyed it and was impressed at all the work involved, it never quite clicked for me. When I want a nostalgia trip, I'd prefer full-fare. Doom Reborn is still worth checking out, though, and I enjoyed it (more than I actually enjoyed Doom 3, even).
All these years later, that's still a good indication of a button you shouldn't press.
Installation: What's the best kind of installation? Self-installation! Just download the pre-beta (what is a pre-beta, anyway, if not an alpha?). When prompted, just point it at your Doom 3 folder. Piece of cake.
Sep 17, 2014
Nothing warms my cold cynical heart like the creativity of the Doom modding community. We saw Donkey Kong Country recreated in the engine earlier this week, but now cast your eyes across this work-in-progress attempt to adapt DayZ's core gameplay into a 20-year old engine. DoomZ is the work of a modder disenchanted with the limitations of DayZ in its current, Enfusion-powered iteration. While Zdoom obviously has limitations of its own, it looks like the mod is making steady progress.
The mod currently boasts a day and night cycle, a rather charming UI (see the image above), wildlife, fires and cooking, water, weapons, food, limb damage and much, much more. The goal is to make the game as close to the DayZ gameplay model as possible, though given the engine's limitations there won't be vehicles. Creator Robert Prest writes that the mod could move over to GZdoom, allowing for more flexibility in map design.
As for the video below, Prest provides pretty good commentary on what the project is now and where it's headed. Alpha 11 can be downloaded right now. Cheers to Kotaku for the heads up.
Sometimes, the only way to attract attention to dire warnings about weaknesses in a particular system is to exploit them in a way that can't be ignored. That's what drove Michael Jordon of Context Information Security to make Doom run on a Canon Pixma printer; not because it's cool (although it clearly is) but to demonstrate the inherent insecurities in Canon's wireless printers.
The colors in the brief gameplay video posted by YouTube user SteveHOCP are wonky (and the music has obviously been added after the fact), but there's no question about it: This is Doom, id Software's greatest creation, running on a printer. It's a remarkable demonstration of how far technology has come over the past two decades, but the actual point was to demonstrate something else entirely: The web interface on Pixma wireless printers doesn't require user authentication in order to connect, which doesn't seem all that particularly terrible until you start looking at the firmware update process.
"While you can trigger a firmware update you can also change the web proxy settings and the DNS server. If you can change these then you can redirect where the printer goes to check for a new firmware," Jordon wrote. "So what protection does Canon use to prevent a malicious person from providing a malicious firmware? In a nutshell - nothing, there is no signing (the correct way to do it) but it does have very weak encryption."
Things get awfully technical at that point but the condensed version is that a determined individual could create a custom firmware and update a printer to make it do pretty much anything within the capabilities of the hardware. "For demonstration purposes I decided to get Doom running on the printer," he wrote. "It was not straightforward due to it needing all the operating system dependences to be implemented in Arm without access to a debugger, or even multiplication or division." But it was doable.
"If you can run Doom on a printer, you can do a lot more nasty things," Jordon told the Guardian. "In a corporate environment, it would be a good place to be. Who suspects printers?"
Canon said in a statement that it intends to issue a fix "as quickly as is feasible."
People are still doing insane stuff with the Doom engine, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than with this Donkey Kong mod. The GZDoom mod turns Doom into a whimsical side scrolling platformer, which is obviously quite a change from its origins as a brutal first-person shooter. To give it a go you ll need GZDoom, a download of the mod as well as one of original Doom engine .WADs.
Unless you're intimate with the Doom engine and its modding community, the video below will probably be a bit confusing: how (and I suppose more importantly, why) does one turn a first-person shooter into a sidescrolling platformer? Um, I have no idea, but there's an eerie pleasure in watching a version of Donkey Kong played out with the occasional appearance of old Doom assets. The instructions for installing the mod are over here in the video description.
In other Doom mod news, this is quite impressive.
After nearly five years spent developing social and mobile games with his studio Loot Drop, John Romero has let slip that he's working on a fully-fledged shooter. Speaking on the Super Joystiq Podcast, Romero said that he's working on "several" games at the moment, with one of them to release under the Romero Games handle, rather than Loot Drop.
"I'm working on several games at once right now," Romero said. "But had mentioned earlier that I'm working with a concept artist, and so I've got some cool imagery for the main character.
"I haven't made a shooter since 2000. So I'm basically starting to work on another one," he said.
Founded in 2010 with partner Brenda Romero, Loot Drop has developed mobile and social titles for publishers including Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Zynga. Given the new Romero Games name though, it's likely the duo will want to keep the shooter project separate from their current business.
John Romero co-founded id Software and was a co-creator of Doom. He left id Software shortly after the studio shipped Quake, going on to develop the critically condemned Daikatana. Many of the games he helped develop have endured: Wolfenstein: The New Order released to acclaim earlier this year, while a Doom reboot is expected to release in 2015.