Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The ancient art of doing shit quickly

I love speed runs and I always have.  They channel the vicarious joys of watching someone else playing a game and making it look like an art form.  They are also a fantastic cure for the casual insomnia brought on by terrible diet, endless hours of TF2, and general bad life planning.  I find the gentle drone of Wind Waker being played in the background makes the perfect white noise for falling asleep to, Link’s unceremonious shouting included. 

Sleeping disorders aside, the world of speed running has, relatively recently, found a new place in the internet media hyperbubble; streaming.  Universally beloved CosmoWright, Zelda speed runner extraordinaire has even been surfacing on the twitch.tv front page amongst the relentless outpour of LoL and DOTA crowd-pleasers.  There is a unique sense of narrative about great live speed runs, as each segment unfolds into a flurry of tension, uncertainty and anticipation over whether our heroic player will beat his personal records or push the boundaries of a new world standard.  They’re not all this good, but it has come to my attention that nor is 99% of real sport.

Sometimes they can remind us of horrors from our childhoods.

Occasionally when the subject of speed running is discussed it is met with the following rhetoric:

“All they do is break the game, that isn’t how it’s meant to be played”

It’s a fair comment, and mind-bending glitch fests like the latest OoT world record by ZFG do conspicuously lack the soul and flavour of the game’s rich world, as the typhoon of negative comments on the video seems to more or less be trying to suggest.  But that’s not what speed runs are for.  

A deleted scene from Ocarina of Time

The thing that I have found most enlightening about watching runs is the way in which we see game engines being bent over backwards to uncover, explain and exploit every last mechanism in the underlying code.  It’s almost like seeing through the eyes of the developers as they piece together the skeleton which supports all the stuff which a lay man takes for granted.  Programmers cut corners to make games run faster and take up less space, and there is no one to whom this is more apparent than the people who have taken up the noble and often unrewarding sport of speed running.    

So, for those who are interested in watching some good games being played truly well, here is a good place to start.

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