Saving milliseconds and wasting hours: a survey of tool-assisted speedrunning

Philip Potter

Playlists: 'emf16' videos starting here / audio / related events

How fast is it possible to complete a game like Super Mario World, if you could control every frame of input to ensure a perfect run? Tool-assisted speedruns are recorded frame-by-frame using emulators which allow slow-motion gameplay, going back and undoing mistakes, and even using bots to search through many possible combinations of inputs. By removing human limitations, these speedruns get closer and closer to the theoretically perfect play.

This talk presents highlights from the last 15 years: frame-perfect movements, exploiting bugs and oversights, and manipulating randomness to get miraculously good fortune. There will be videos of speed runs, including both popular and obscure games, and even a game completed in less than 0.3 seconds of gameplay time.

There are many techniques which are used in making a speedrun. Sometimes people will disassemble the game's code to understand how it works, in order to find new ways of beating it. Sometimes people will find and exploit bugs, allowing them to move through walls, go faster than normally possible, or skip whole sections of the game. In extreme cases, bugs allow players to execute arbitrary code, allowing them to take complete control of the console.

In short, this talk is about taking games to their very limits.