Beck Abney, a gamer, sat in his room in the summer of 2017 playing Mario Kart 64. What occurred next has been dubbed “one of the greatest gaming achievements ever.”
Many people questioned that it could even be done.
He was attempting one of the most difficult bugs in gaming: the Weathertenko, a technique that, if executed properly, can complete a full lap of the level Choco Mountain in a matter of seconds. It takes incredible talent to execute it once, but Abney intended to do it three times in a succession, a feat never previously accomplished in recorded history.
And he wanted to do it as soon as possible.
He’d been trying unsuccessfully since August, broadcasting for hours nearly every day to his 27,000 Twitch fans. October has arrived. The number of times he attempted anything had risen into the thousands. He didn’t make history until his 26,461st try.
His accomplishment stunned the world of speedrunning. “You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do, I don’t have to listen to you no longer, I just want to play on my Nintendo, I just want to hit the Weathertenko,” one song went on to say.
Playing video games as quickly as possible is known as speedrunning. You can speedrun any game, whether it’s the whole game or simply parts of it.
Some world records, such as Abney’s, are very brief, lasting just a few seconds. Others may last for hours.
They’re analyzed, debated, and pored over on the internet by a vibrant community of individuals who, like myself, like seeing games stretched and twisted to their extremes.
I became interested in speedrunning after seeing it on YouTube. History has been written by greats such as Herodotus and Yuval Noah Hirari in the physical world.
Summoning Salt is a technique used in speedrunning. He is a YouTuber whose carefully researched video-essays document the history of speedrunning across various games. His name comes from a mispronunciation of the contents of a 30-year-old can of Heinz Spaghetti Hoops.
For the first time, seeing his description of the events at Choco Mountain was like entering into another universe. Despite the fact that I was aware of its existence, I had never showed any interest in speedrunning.
Now I was being exposed to a whole new style of gaming, in which video games were no longer something to play, but rather constructions that could be taken down and rebuilt on the go, all in the sake of speed.
Bennett Foddy, a game creator, was watching a speedrun of his game, Getting Over It With Bennet Foddy, on Twitch one day. You play as a naked Greek guy sitting in a metal cauldron, swinging a big hammer to move about.
As he stood there watching, he started to consider the connection between speedrunners and game designers, observing that they were in many respects polar opposites.
He described how a game designer carefully carves a magnificent sculpture out of wood. “First, it had to be chiseled out of a raw block. After that, gently smooth down any rough edges. Assuring that it works from every angle.
“The speedrunner takes that sculpture and examines it thoroughly from top to bottom, from every angle, in order to fully comprehend it. They are grateful for the time and effort that went into the design.
All of the positive and negative aspects. Then, having fully comprehended it, they break it over their knee.”
The online leaderboard speedrun.com, a massive library with 891,452 contributors at the time of writing, is the most popular location to submit speedruns. Speedruns are organized into categories on it.
Some of them are simple to understand. The most popular are the “100% ” category, in which you must complete the game in its entirety, and the “Any percent ” category, in which you may complete as much or as little as you like.
However, classifications soon become ridiculous, and speedrunning blossoms like a pixelated flower beyond them. For example, there is a run in the game “Mike Tysons Punch-Out!!” where you play blindfolded, relying on muscle memory and a rote knowledge of the game principles.
In Super Mario Odyssey, there is a run where you must expose the Italian plumber’s nipples as quickly as possible by collecting enough in-game money to purchase a pair of swimming trunks.
It’s “Nipple percent,” to be exact.
You’re not restricted to pre-existing categories; any speedrunner may create their own mountain to scale. Recently, Australian comedian and speedrunner Tom Walker created the “Gervais percent” run in Grand Theft Auto IV, in which the objective is to get to a TV in the game that is playing Ricky Gervais’ motion-captured stand-up act.
For me, speedrunning is a showcase of the internet’s finest side, a pleasant respite from an often depressing environment. Individuals set the greatest world records, but they are kept together by the glue of community.
“For every trick you see in a speedrun, there is a person behind the discovery,” says YouTuber Lowest Percent. Years of discovery are often required to complete a route.”
Optimisation takes years and goes through many hands before it is accomplished. Taken together, they’ve created a vehicle that, in its pursuit of perfection, often accomplishes the impossible.
Thanks to Joe Koning at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.