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  Home | Features | The Need for Speed: Hylian Pursuit

There aren't many Zelda fans who consider completing a Zelda game as fast as they can for any purpose, whether it is for recognition, accomplishment or sheer boredom. I'm sure at some point; several fans have considered just how fast they really could complete this or that task. Some of the mini-games sparked this fast-growing form of competition, like the Marathon Man race in Ocarina of Time and the Heart Container Race in A Link to the Past. Many consider this to be a means to "ruining" the experience. Yet, there are a few out there who see fit to complete Zelda games, as well as other games, as fast as possible.

By definition, a "speed run" is a video of a game completed in the fastest time possible when no built-in "time" mode exists. Games like racers or fighting games have modes known as "Time Attack" or "Time Trial", and thus the game was built for getting fast times already and do not fall under the category of a "speed run". There are some games in the gray area, the most popular being Metroid, in which a game has a built-in timer, but the game does not have a standard time mode. These games also fall under the category of a "speed run".

You must show no fear to your enemies. Be swift and efficient.

The most common question or remark I personally see or am told about speed running is, "That's great, but I don't care because this game should be played slowly and thoroughly to be enjoyed!" Well, I've always sort of laughed at this because it shows the ignorance of some people. You see, if you even knew the basics of speed running, you'd understand for that statement to be true, a speed runner would have to produce a run without following much of the basic steps to create a decent run. Simplified; the only way this stereotype is true is if a speed runner does a run on a new game they've never played before, in which that's a stupid and inefficient way to produce a speed run.


Most speed runners chose a game they know extremely well and enjoy. That means they played the game through normally, explored it, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I cite myself - I never did a speed run of A Link to the Past in the decade after it came out and a decade after I owned it! I didn't do one until 2003! I think ten years of playing a video game goes beyond the statute of limitations of "you need to play it to solely enjoy it". No, the truth is we, as normal gamers, too, play it for the enjoyment and wonder of a first time play through like the rest of the fans.

Some battles are amazing.


The difference is, at least for me, a game only has so much replay value. This is one of the reasons I engage in speed running at all. When I've played a Zelda game to death, like Ocarina of Time, it seems that I want to play it less and less, and when I see it in my drawer, I usually get this immediate reaction of "boring" as I skim past it for another title. Sort of like a movie you've seen way too many times. This is not how I want my relationship with this game to end. So, I figured out a way to "make it exciting" again. Let's see if I can self-impose new challenges.


This is usually how most competitive gaming in single-player games is born - the ambition to do challenges in order to add replay value to a title. It's just with the advent of personal capture devices and better processing power and increased memory capacity, fans now have the ability to record their feats on their computers with relative ease, or capture them on a disk/tape medium and have another person transfer it to digital format for us all to enjoy. Yet, people will still question the motives of many speed runners. I can see why.


For starters, it's not like you can really "compete" in real time with somebody, like in multiplayer games. There's instant gratification and a sense of "belonging" when you compete in a game like Halo or Mario Kart. You feel connected; you get instant feedback and experience. Compare this to speed running, where it can take weeks, months, or even years for you to have a "challenger". Try waiting on XBOX live for more than five minutes searching for a friend to compete against. It's like comparing snail-mail dialogue to AIM chats. They don't even come close to the same experience.


That's one of the issues people bring up. The other is the consequences of such a run. What recognition do you get? In reality, most of us don't get much recognition outside of our little circles. Speed Demos Archive, Twin Galaxies and CyberScore do their best to get our achievements out there, but in reality, the average gamer does not notice "us" - the creators. They notice the video. For example, many of the popular speed runs are now on Google Video or YouTube, or have aired on G4 TV. Most of these include no credit to the gamer, but some do. Even with some credit - most people talk about the run itself, not the gamer. They talk in generalities about the gamer who did it.


If you're seeking fame and fortune, speed running is not for you. I point to myself and Radix. We've been in EGM, on G4 TV and in MTV. Yet even with all that "exposure", beyond the speed running realm, we're not that well known. I know some of you are probably like "shut up TSA, stop trying to act like you're humble and stuff". Honestly, in the Zelda community, beyond major sites - people do not know me, let alone that I do speed runs. If you go beyond your small "realm" and into the larger internet community - none of us are anywhere close to "popular" or "well known". There's only one gamer I can think of with such far-reaching impact - Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendell.


But he does competitive multiplayer gaming on some of the most mainstream games like Halo and Half-Life. None of us, not even if somebody held every single speed run record, would ever achieve anything close to that. In the end, we do it for the enjoyment, the challenge, and personal satisfaction. Still, this isn't the entire story of speed running. There's a bit more.


Speed running evolves depending on the community and game you are involved with. It usually starts off as a solo project, in which you use all your knowledge and experience to pull off a cool and fast run. However, as you draw more attention and talk with others, you begin to see you don't know everything, and others have secret tricks you didn't know. This sometimes leads to animosity, but often it results in strong partnerships formed and a community rallies behind a game to produce a great run. Eventually, you have many people working on a run. And a "great" run takes lots of work nowadays.


You have to research the game to know absolutely everything about it. Some of you think I try to memorize all this Zelda info "just to know it" and "rub it in your face". Wrong. I need to know this stuff because it is a basic requisite of doing a speed run decently. You have to know what must be done, what the exact routes to get to your goal are and what exactly you will need to get there. But wait, there's still more!



The next big step is compiling all this data, and then combing over it meticulously looking for loopholes much like a lawyer on high profile murder case. You look for things you can skip. You try to reach Point C from Point A without ever going to or through Point B. You have to think "outside the box" literally - trying to exploit what these professional, expert game designers missed. You have to try to find bugs, glitches, and oversights - anything to skip the goals you've listed out. Now once you have all that done, you've completed half the battle.


The major part, which is usually the "fun" part (for those of you who watch these things, not for the creators), is actually pulling all of this off in real-time. This usually requires several hours of basic practice to get the routes and difficult tricks memorized in your head, and then trying to string it all together into a coherent run. Now, you should know there are two forms of speed runs - single-segment and segmented. Single-segment strives for the fastest completion of a game in a single sitting, whereas segmented means you can play the game for a bit, save, and then return to play later. This latter option also allows people to redo segments as many times as possible to get a better looking run.


There also is another form of a speed run, known as a Tool-Assisted Speed run, or TAS for short. These runs utilize options and hardware features not present in the original, official versions of a game or subsequent re-releases. Such runs are usually done on emulators, utilizing a slower frame rate, save-states to redo the game as many times in very small segments, and other aids. These types of runs are not meant to demonstrate "skill" in the sense of ability, but rather a "skill" in the sense of mastering the fastest possible way to complete a game, theoretically, even if it exceeds the limitations of a human being's ability.


I won't get into the debate over the two - it is about as heated as the single versus multiple timeline debate. Still, it should be noted a lot of work and effort goes into distinguishing the two from each other to prevent "deception", which happened in the past by accident with the most famous TAS of all, the Super Mario Bros 3 completed in around eleven minutes by Morimoto. A TAS is a good resource to use for speed runners as well, so they do serve a purpose besides being "entertaining".


The final step of a speed run once you have it recorded is getting it online for others to view or recognize. The most popular place is Speed Demos Archive, run by Radix. You can find various videos of numerous games there. Submitting usually involves sending a run on VHS to his accomplice, Nate, who converts it into a compressed video for viewing, submitting a DVD or CD with your run on it either compressed or not, or submitting a run online either compressed or not. The standard there is to use DivX, a nice little codec that renders videos decently at low bit rates.


This is the best site to see a run, but there are two other entities that validate such feats. Twin Galaxies is the bigger of the two, and has been around for ages. Currently, though, the policy of Twin Galaxies is to not show off videos, and many of the submitters (although not all) are very secretive of their contents, which is generally frowned upon by the competitive community (theory is if you're so good, why not let others try to beat you fairly - and if they solely beat you by stealing your tricks and routes, the community will know that and frown upon such cheapness).


The last place, which I think honestly is nothing more than an online version of Nintendo Power's old "Arena", is CyberScore - which tracks times and scores of various games. They require "proof" like any of the other sites, but it is not required to make that proof public. Additionally, unlike SDA or TG, they accept other forms of proof than video, like photos - something that is extremely frowned upon because of how easy it is to alter images today by the average Joe.


That's pretty much speed running 101 right there. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what it takes to get a speed run from a game to your monitor, and the philosophy behind why and how some runs are produced. Perhaps some of you may consider attempting one in the near future, or perhaps now you may wish to check some out for their entertainment or informational value. Regardless, perhaps now some people who talk trash about speed runners, or talk out their asses when they think they know who we are or why we do them will have a little bit more respect for just how much hard work and passion that goes into these things. Any old Joe can make a fan site, not just anyone can beat a game faster than anyone else in the world.

- Mike "TSA" Damiani is the Senior Editor and Owner of The Hylia

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Want to see if you have what it takes? Head over to Speed Demos Archive to prove it.