Across YouTube, Twitch, and other video streaming and social media sites, one community continues to churn out the most impressive feats of intellect and endurance: video game speedrunners. No matter if it’s an old Nintendo game or a recent AAA title, video game speedruns and the community of players, streamers, and viewers that make up this online fandom are consistently scoring impressive world-record times. But what exactly does this entail? What are video game speedruns? How did they get started? Let’s explain.
What Are Video Game Speedruns?
Video game speedruns are quite the remarkable feat. By definition, a speedrun is when a player attempts to complete a game as quickly as possible. This is often accomplished through the use or the exploitation of glitches and other game mechanics that progress your character further or faster than usual. The act of speedrunning requires a deep, complex understanding of not only the game, but also its mechanics and design. Speedrunners also need to possess the ability to carry precise actions and movements — often in a fraction of a second.
To accomplish their record-breaking video game speedruns, gamers must spend hours upon hours learning the ins and outs of the title. Beyond this, there’s also a profound amount of practice and perfection that goes into the equation. Speedrunners must master a library of unique strategies and techniques — even if they only shave off mere seconds (or even fractions of a second) from their play times. Some are also aided by a set of tools to boost their performance, including state-of-the-art emulators and other software that speeds up load times or provides other useful info.
Of course, speedrunning is about more than just the act itself. It also involves a tight-knit online community of fellow speedrunners, streamers, and viewers who share a love for the art of speedrunning. These communities share support and strategies alike. There are a number of different types of video game speedruns — including any%, 100%, low%, and glitchless. Each type involves an entirely different set of skills and strategies, not to mention software and support. Let’s elaborate more on each of these four main types below.
Four Main Types of Video Game Speedruns
Video game speedruns are easy to understand, but they can take years of hard work and dedication to master. This is especially true in light of the four main pillars of the speedrunning community: Any%, 100%, Low%, and Glitchless. Each of these four comes with its own set of rules, its own set of restrictions, and its own set of strategies. However, how does each one work? What are the main skills required to master each type? What are the most important rules for each one of these four main types of video game speedruns? Let’s find out.
The objective of an any% speedrun is to complete the video game as fast as you can without any restrictions or rules on what is or isn’t allowed. This concept is right in the name. The word “any” clues us in on the fact that these particular speedrunners can complete the game by any means necessary: glitches, exploits, skips, anything. If it helps you achieve the fastest completion time, then it’s fair play. That’s easier said than done, of course. You’ve probably heard the expression “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” That’s never been more true than with any% speedruns.
You see, these speedruns require a profoundly deep understanding of the game’s mechanics and design — of not only the game as the designers intended it but also the mistakes they accidentally made and the glitches that resulted from them. Beyond this, any% speedrunners also need to know how to carry out extremely precise movements and inputs. This can require hour upon hour of practice — which, as we know, always makes perfect. Some even go as far as to examine the game’s code in order to find the perfect any% speedrunning strategies.
It helps to think of a 100% speedrun as the opposite of an any% speedrun. Whereas the previous speedrun type can be done with any percent completion, this particular type requires 100% completion of the game — no exceptions. The goal is to finish the game in its entirety. That means all collectible items, side quests, bonus objectives, and more. After all, it’s not called a 99% or a 99.9% speedrun: It’s 100%. No way around it. You have to fully complete the game, and you have to complete it fast.
To accomplish a 100% speedrun, gamers need to combine speed and efficiency with thoroughness and completeness. If you don’t collect every item or complete every objective, you’re going to blow the entire operation. Doubling back to a location you’ve already been to will not help you beat the game as quickly as possible. For this reason, it could be argued that 100% speedruns require an even deeper understanding of the game’s mechanics and design than any% speedruns. Those speedrunners can ignore all the bonus missions, side quests, and special collectibles. These speedrunners can’t.
You know how golf is a game of low scores, not high ones? Low% speedruns are kind of like that. The objective is to complete the game with the lowest possible percentage of items or upgrades. You still have to beat the game, of course. However, you have to do it while avoiding special items or in-game upgrades that would make beating the game easier. This added difficulty makes low% speedruns one of the most challenging types. No skills trees, no item upgrades, no power-ups, no boosts, none of it whatsoever.
An argument could be made that all speedrun types are difficult, of course, but low% speedruns really are quite tough. Imagine trying to beat a game equipped only with the weapons or items you get in the tutorial. It’s not an easy task. This subset of video game speedruns requires the runner to trust their skills and knowledge of the game’s mechanics to make it through without the help of powerful upgrades or items. These speedrunners may need to use creative strategies or take risks to overcome challenges that would normally require specific items or upgrades to complete.
From any% to low%, glitches are an essential part of completing a speedrun in record time. What would a speedrunner do if they couldn’t use glitches, though? This is the basic concept behind a glitchless speedrun. In a glitchless speedrun, the player still needs to beat the game as quickly as possible. However, they aren’t allowed to exploit any glitches or bugs in the game’s code. This means that the player must rely solely on their own skill and knowledge of the game’s mechanics to complete it quickly.
Undoubtedly, this can be an extremely challenging task. Using glitches and exploits are intrinsic to the very nature of video game speedruns. Without them, players have to rely solely on their knowledge of the game’s mechanics as they were meant to be played. Plus, they need the know-how to execute complex maneuvers and strategies with precision and consistency. This often involves practicing specific segments of the game repeatedly to perfect their timing and execution. As such, glitchless speedruns are a real showcase for a particular player’s mastery of a game.
5 Must-Know Facts About Video Game Speedruns
- Video game speedruns are just as popular for the community they provide as for the skills they demonstrate. This sense of community has been integral to the popularity of speedruns since the very beginning of the concept. With the advent of the internet and the popularity of streaming, speedrunning has only continued to grow in popularity.
- The goal of a video game speedrun is to finish the game as fast as humanly possible. This can be done through a variety of methods, including glitches, exploits, or add-ons to the video game’s programming. As such, being a successful speedrunner demands a knowledge of the game and its faults alike.
- There are a number of different speedrun types out there on the internet. Each unique type is defined by a different set of rules and restrictions. The most popular types include any%, 100%, low%, and glitchless speedruns. Each unique speedrun type has different guidelines about whether glitches are allowed or not, whether the runner can use cheat codes, or whether the runner can take advantage of other external tools.
- Video game speedruns are highly competitive. Speedrunners the world over are in constant competition with one another. Everyone is trying to set new records and earn new achievements at the fastest speeds. Speedrunning events and competitions happen annually around the world, with audiences tuning in both online and in-person.
- Speedruns are done all in good fun. They don’t always have to be done in hopes of a world record. They can be plenty fun and just as rewarding in their own right. In fact, many speedrunners are just hobbyists. Some simply enjoy trying to beat their own records and learn their own tricks without going for a new record.
When Did Video Game Speedruns Begin?
The history of video game speedruns can be traced back as far as the early days of video games themselves. High score boards displayed on arcade screens practically invented the concept of a speedrun. However, speedrunning didn’t truly grow into the community it’s known and loved as today until the late 1990s and early 2000s. Things really began to take off with the discovery of a secret level in the arcade game Pac-Man in the early ‘80s. A group of gamers — the Pac-Man Kill Screeners, as they called themselves — found a special glitch on level 256: it simply couldn’t be completed.
Because level 256 couldn’t be beaten, the Pac-Man Kill Screeners considered it the unofficial end of the game. With this discovery, the group began to compete with one another to see who could reach the level the fastest. This effectively laid the foundation for the very concept of video game speedruns. As the years went on and video games became more complicated, video game speedruns continued to grow more popular. Then, the internet happened. Now, speedrunners could create a community to share tips and tricks.
One of the earliest and most influential of these foundational speedrun communities was the Quake done Quick (QdQ) team. Formed in 1997 in an effort to finish the first-person shooter Quake as fast as they could, QdQ went on to accomplish similar goals for Doom, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life, and more. The trick, though? QdQ recorded and uploaded their speedruns. The group’s speedrun videos were immensely popular. This helped speedrunning spread even further and wider than ever before via the magic of the internet.
21st Century Video Game Speedruns
The 21st century saw the introduction of emulators and read-only memory files (i.e. ROMs) to the speedrun community. These new tools allowed speedrunners to play older games on their computers without the need for the older consoles themselves. This development caused speedrunning to surge to new levels of popularity. Then, in 2003, Speed Demos Archive (or SDA) was founded. A website for speedrun leaderboards and forums, SDA soon became the biggest hub in the video game speedrun community.
Best of all, SDA allowed speedrunners to host events and raise money for charity through speedrunning championships and live streams. This is a foundational element of speedrunning not yet mentioned: live streamed championships and tournaments that are used by the speedrunning community to give back to those in need. Over the years, tens of millions of dollars have been raised for various charitable organizations benefitting women’s rights, the LGBTQ+ community, victims of natural disasters, and more.
As video games, video game emulators, live streaming, and computing have grown more advanced throughout the 2000s, speedrunning has only grown more impressive. The community continues to evolve at a rapid pace, especially with the popularization of Twitch. All in all, video game speedruns have come a long way from Pac-Man. Today, no title is off limits. Games as enormous as Skyrim or as whimsical as Cuphead have turned into competitive speedruns. Many Nintendo games are also foundational to the world of video game speedruns, especially Mario and Zelda titles.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com.