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Going Really Really Fast: A Speed-Running Primer, Part 1

Some games are inherently competitive. A fairly obvious statement. Anybody can look at Counter-Strike or Dota 2 and know that they are looking at a game meant for battle. Most glaringly because there is two teams, only one of which will emerge victorious, the very definition of competition.

Other games are not inherently competitive. Two-for-two on really hard-hitting truths, I know. Try to hold yourself together, though, until I bring this one home.

It’s hard to make something competitive that isn’t meant to be, but you can do it. (Leave it to the tryhards to wreck everything for you filthy casuals and make you look like Helen Keller trying to play cricket.) But how do you be better than someone at something that we don’t play against each other? Simple: we race!

Some people were meant to go fast.
Some people were meant to go fast.

Running 100 meters in a straight line isn’t a competition on its own. Yet nobody denies the validity of track. You can turn nearly anything into a race and you can always make a race a contest. So even though Super Mario 64 doesn’t have a player-vs.-player with which to compare your mastery of the game against your friends, one can be invented. We create a set of rules, like running a hundred meters in a straight direction or collecting 120 stars then defeating Bowser, and see who can do it faster. BOOM! Suddenly we got ourselves something worth playing.

First things first, we go back, way back, all the way back to ancient times. It’s 1986, and Nintendo releases one of my favourite games of all time: Metroid. A game that would, in combination with Castlevania, not only define the genre but literally name it. The first ever Metroidvania game was a huge success the world over. Its combination of platforming gameplay and RPG-like character advancement all within an open and explorable world would enthrall fans for generations, and as much as I could dote about its merits, it’s the ending that interests us most.

The original NES game is also one of the first ever games to have multiple endings. The possible outcomes were given based on how long it took someone to finish the game. Considering the nature of the game it was very easy to get the worst ending, and with some practice not impossible to get the best either. The advanced platforming elements of the game allowed for some interesting options and eventually would lead to some game-breaking sequence breaks. The game had built-in incentive for people to go fast, but it would take another big invention to truly bring about the advent of speed running.

Yeh Samus is a girl, spoilers!
Samus is a girl; spoilers!

The Internet was one of the biggest changes for video games since the home console. At first it allowed people to talk to each other about games. Sharing strategies and discoveries and eventually the ability to share videos of their achievements would hit message boards around the world.

Enter Doom in 1993, one of the most iconic first-person shooters ever. One of the most unique features of Doom was that it had a built in way to record a person’s playthrough as a small file, a file that could be sent to others around the World via the Wide Web to be admired by all.

In turn, enter LMP Hall of Fame and its successor DOOM Honorific Titles. Both were message boards with lists of different possible achievements or challenges someone could try to complete. All runs were recorded using the built-in functionality and sent to judges on the website who would confirm a runner’s completion of the challenge and grant them the appropriate title. Slowly, though, interest in earning these titles would wane and shift towards completing the game as fast as possible with various different restrictions. Finally, a dedicated website was established for the new craze at COMPET-N and speed running was born.

And, appropriately, as quickly as we started we are done for this week. Next week we talk about the growth and mainstream recognition of the practice and the games that are truly worth running.

Tyler Morse is a Contributing Editor for aybonline.com.

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