"Speedrunners" are beating epic games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in just over 20 minutes.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an epic game; it takes hours to explore dungeons, travel through time and fight giant monsters. Released in 1998, it's the first Legend of Zelda game to breach the third dimension, and it was meant to take players hours or days to complete on their Nintendo 64.
Or, you could beat the whole thing in 21 minutes and 45 seconds.
This is known as a speedrun. Talented players use their skills, days of practice and known glitches to get the fastest possible time in games that were never intended for quick play. This isn't about appreciating the game for the story or the graphics, but about exploiting development holes for players to burn through.
In the past, there wasn't a way to prove the glitches weren't just something added by the players to get a faster time. But thanks to services like uStream and Twitch.TV, speedruns are broadcast for thousands to enjoy and scrutinise.
"Back in the beginning, nobody streamed speed runs ever. It's so entertaining to see what steps people take and how they get to their goal," says Cosmo Wright, who started SpeedRunsLive, a site that features gamers livestreaming their attempts at faster times.
Wright, 23, says he first got interested in speedrunning by playing GoldenEye on his Nintendo 64. That game featured multiplayer modes that could only be unlocked with fast times in the single player campaign. Wright says he'd unlock the achievement, then go back for an even better time. A few years later, he was drawn in to watching speedruns of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Wright says games from the Nintendo 64 era are great for speedrunning because the early days of 3D level design were fraught with glitches that savvy players could exploit. In speedrunning circles, it's known as finding a "sequence break" - a glitch that allows them to reach the end of the game without completing previous objectives.
Examples of this exist in Super Mario 64, where by executing a certain backwards jump, a player can break the game and access areas that would normally require a certain number of stars to unlock. There are speedruns where players completed Super Mario 64 without collecting any stars, though it's done with special software that allows them to exploit these glitches to the fullest. While the tools are frowned on by traditional speedrunners, it's a good example of what breaks in the game can lead to.
Even more examples of sequence breaking are available in Ocarina of Time. The biggest exploit was uncovered earlier this year; it allows Link to enter the final level of the game shortly after beating its first boss, meaning a speedrunner can beat Ocarina of Time in a little more than 20 minutes. (The whole video of this run can be found here)
Ocarina of Time is the speedrunner gateway drug for many because there are a number of paths, and runners would make up different challenges based on the menu of glitches available. Wright says that in 2009, he and some friends created an IRC bot that would spit out random objectives for speedrunners, and they would race for the best times. Eventually this became so popular that "our method of storing times in a text file became too difficult, so I said 'we probably should get a website up for this.'"
SpeedRunsLive is now a gathering place for speedrunners to watch others, compare times and set up races. It couldn't be successful without the streaming technologies behind it; until the rise of services like uStream, players had no way to really watch each other. Twitch has made it even easier, with its easily embeddable stream and chat. While there is still some technology players must purchase to stream, such as tv tuner cards, Twitch has made it easier for communities to form around these websites, and for superstar speedrunners to emerge.
Michael Sigler, better known as Siglemic, is one of the most well-known speedrunners on TwitchTV. His runs attract thousands of viewers, and it's enough success for him to support himself entirely on the ad revenue he earns from TwitchTV. He holds the world record for his 120-star run on Super Mario 64, at 1:44:52. Despite holding the record, he plans to continue on the same game.
"I feel like I can still shave another minute off my time," says Sigler, who has been working on Super Mario 64 for more than two years. He broadcasts his daily training on his Twitch channel and keeps a running dialog with his fanatic viewers, who have turned his skills into several memes.
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