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Tool-assisted game movies
When human skills are just not enough

Submission #4535: DaJaWi's GBA Manic Miner in 13:15.73

Console: Game Boy Advance
Game name: Manic Miner
Game version: Europe
ROM filename: Manic Miner (Europe) (En,Fr,De,Es,It).gba
Branch:
Emulator: BizHawk 1.9.0
Movie length: 13:15.73
FrameCount: 47527
Re-record count: 7331
Author's real name: David Wigram
Author's nickname: DaJaWi
Submitter: DaJaWi
Submitted at: 2015-01-03 19:45:52
Text last edited at: 2015-01-14 17:47:13
Text last edited by: sheela901
Download: Download (6164 bytes)
Status: published
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(Link to video)


What is Manic Miner?

Manic Miner is a game made originally in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum where you control a miner named Willy as he travels through a sequence of weird levels while avoiding bizarre enemies such as flamingos, basketballs, toilets, and mutated telephones. In each level the player must collect a set of items and then reach the exit before either running out of air, being killed by any of the many obstacles, or being driven insane by the repetitive music.

It's very difficult.

Why run the GBA version?

Honestly I don't care much for the 'updated' graphics, but even if there were accurate ZX Spectrum emulators available, this faithful port controls identically and has features which make it the best choice for a speedrun. The main bonus is the existence of an 'Enhanced Game' mode, which contains all of the original 20 levels interspersed with 10 new levels, and while some of the additions are uninspired, others demonstrate some interesting routing tricks. The GBA version also contains a wall-hopping trick which isn't universal across all ports (and which saves a grand total of 0 frames in this entire run, but whatever.)

Goals

The goals of this run are simple:
  • Reach the credits in fastest time
  • Fool the viewer into thinking the game is easy

Suggested Screenshot: 45609


General Comments

The game accepts input only once every three frames, so when I refer to a frame from now on I really mean each input window of three frames. Although that gives a fair bit of leeway for every movement, the game regularly requires input perfect tricks, some even in a normal playthrough.

Movement:

Willy's controls are very rigid. His horizontal speed when moving is constant. He has two options when jumping: He can jump straight up (reaching a height of 20 pixels) or sideways in the direction he is facing (which again reaches a height of 20 pixels and travels horizontally 36 pixels) and he cannot be moved in the air. Turning around takes a frame but you can jump vertically on the same frame that you turn around, meaning this change of direction can be done for free if you needed to jump vertically anyway.

If Willy is still in the air after travelling the full 36 frames when jumping horizontally then he will lose all horizontal speed and drop straight down, so it's often best to plan routes that minimise any falling since this loses horizontal movement time. More interesting things happen if Willy hits a wall while jumping. If he hits his head on a ceiling then he will lose all horizontal movement and drop straight down, which can be abused to land earlier than you would otherwise on some occasions. If Willy hits a wall while jumping horizontally then he will lose horizontal movement (obviously) but will still take the same vertical movement he would have. Stranger is that if this vertical movement takes him out of the way of the wall (by either moving above or below it) then his horizontal movement will start again.

Depending on Willy's x-position, his standing sprite will be in a different stage of his movement animation. Some of these images are wider than others, and his hitbox depends on his exact size. Since his sprite does not change when jumping vertically, this means that some jumps over enemies or between spikes can be made only at certain x-positions when his sprite is at its thinnest.

The main limiting factor in routing the levels is that Willy will die if he falls 40 pixels or more, and the levels are often sneakily designed in a way that the 'obvious' route would require you to fall too far, so an alternative route must be taken. The other limiting factors are of course the enemies (which I'll dscuss on a case by case basis in the level comments below) and the two special surface types:

Fading platforms:

While standing on these platforms they will slowly fade. After 8 frames with Willy on top of them (either in one go or on different occasions combined) they will disappear completely. Many levels require carefully leaving enough of these platforms to use later, and some more interesting tricks are done a couple of times in the run by making sure Willy falls through them at exactly the right timing for various reasons.

Conveyors:

As you would expect, standing on a conveyor carries you in the direction it is moving. While being carried by a conveyor your only alternate movement option is to jump horizontally in the same direction, but there are more options available on the frame you land on it (before you have started being carried):

If you are facing the same direction as the conveyor when you land on it (using a right-moving conveyor as an example) then your only options are still to jump right or be carried right, but if you land on the conveyor while facing the other direction (in this case left) then you can jump left or vertically (jumping vertically forces you to turn to face right though), or you can also walk left against it, but this lasts only while you are holding left and as soon as you let go you will be carried rightwards.

A weird side effect of all this is that it is impossible to jump vertically off a conveyor on any frame other than the first you land on it, and even then you can only do it if you were facing the opposite direction it was moving.

Understanding all this is helpful when planning the level routes, but if necessary trial and error can be used as a substitute :P


Level Comments

The only thing to say about the intro is that despite how it looks, I do select the 'Enhanced Game' mode: it can be quickly selected by pressing right and A on the same frame, and the menu doesn't even update to reflect the change.

Flunky Punkie Munkie (Enhanced): This first level is new for the Enhanced Game mode. It immediately demonstrates the most useful trick in the run, which is that items on platforms <20 pixels above your head can be collected just by jumping from below. I collect the items in the bottom left and top right that way, saving a bunch of time.

Central Cavern (Original): Level 1 of the original ZX Spectrum game, and therefore probably the one with the highest death count. It already has a couple of 'frame' perfect jumps, but other than that there's nothing particularly complex.

The Cold Room (O): The first level with a number of possible routes. The advantage to the one I've taken is that you can get ahead of the penguin at the top, which gives you enough time to collect all the remaining items and sneak into the exit before the second penguin turns around. Before I realised you could sneak into the exit this way, I used a completely different route for this level which involved falling into the exit from above.

The Catacombs (E): I leave the perfect amount left of the first fading platform so that when I land on it towards the end of the level I fall at exactly the right time and end up as close to the enemy as possible. As an aside, the jumps over the enemy at the top are both very precise, and the one on the way back is even required in a real-time run of the game. Already you can see how tricky the game is.

The Menagerie (O): Nothing particularly novel here. Note that I use the 'turning around for free when jumping vertically' trick in the top left to save one input frame (3 real frames).

Abandoned Uranium Workings (O): The first level where it is really important to pick a route that minimises the time spent falling. Also, how sneaky is that barrel in the background in the bottom left? Very easy to mistake that for the exit.

Mummy Daddy (E): One of the uninspired new levels. Only one route, unavoidable waiting, no interesting tricks... Next!

Eugene's Lair (O): This level has an interesting gimmick where the enemy bouncing up and down in the centre (Eugene?) will abandon his pattern and drop to block the exit as soon as you have collected all the items. This means that to get to the finish before he blocks it, you really have to leave the item (toilet paper, in this case) at the bottom until last.

After quite some time spent routing this level I realised that falling through the fading platform at the beginning allows you to collect one of the later items early, which makes the rest of the level simple. At the end I mess around a bit while waiting for Eugene to get high enough so that I can creep into the finish before he blocks it.

Processing Plant (O): Pretty simple. Collecting the items on the middle from the left is quicker than doing it from the right because of better enemy cycles.

Nightmare Before Last Night (E): A surprisingly complex level. I wait for a moment on the top fading block before jumping over the kangaroo so that when returning at the end I fall down just before the kangaroo gets me. One frame later and I would die, either the first time or the second. The order in which I get the items on the right is to minimise the time waiting for the kangaroo at the bottom. Note that I jump onto the fading platform in the bottom right which leaves enough remaining to reuse to climb back up. If you fall onto them then they will fade completely and you are left stranded.

The Vat (O): I tried many ways of getting through the mass of fading platforms on the right of this level. The quickest way down through them is using the diagonal step method that I use at the beginning, but obviously some deviation is required to get the items. Every one of the routes I tried takes the same total time though, because you always have to wait to jump over the kangaroo to get into the finish. I eventually settled on this route because it looks more interesting, and it shows just how close you can get to doing it faster. If only there were enough room to jump over the kangaroo horizontally rather than vertically when it corners you in the bottom right corner...

Miner Willy Meets The Kong Beast (O): Barrels to avoid? Ape like creature at the top? Must be a Space Invaders reference.

There's a switch in the top left which must be pressed to gain access to the right hand side. The only other thing that really needs explaining is that I turn around before jumping onto the conveyor at the very beginning so that I am able to jump vertically off it again. The switch in the top right would kill the 'Kong Beast', but I can ignore that since I don't care about score. I guess a '100%' run of this game would hit that switch and otherwise be identical?

Helium House On The Highlands (E): There's a bit of waiting around for the enemies at points in this level, and all in all it's pretty straightforward. The jump into the exit off the last set of fading blocks is a neat little time-saver that I'm really pleased to have found.

Wacky Amoebatrons (O): The first of two 'amoebatron' levels. While these both have only one route, optimising the jumps and timings involved was surprisingly tricky. The most interesting thing to note here is that jumping vertically to avoid the green... thing at the top middle is better than jumping over it, because you still have to wait for the vertically moving green enemy and this way you can do a single jump over both of them.

The Endorian Forest (O): A lot of the jumps on this level are very precise, but other than that it's fairly simple. I was sure that there must be a quicker order to collect the items on the right hand side but this way ended up being the fastest.

Metropolis Bingo (E): At the beginning of this level I use the 'wall hop' trick to get up to the first item. It's only possible when you jump at the correct angle to a block just below the top of a wall, and even then only on some walls. It also doesn't save any time here, in fact it's one frame slower, but I have to wait on the right hand side of the level anyway and I wanted to show it off.

The right hand side of the level is one of the most unsatisfying parts of this run for me. It looks clunkily slow, and has a large amount of waiting (which I've disguised as best as I could!) but there really seems to be no faster way to do it.

Attack Of The Mutant Telephones (O): Self-explanatory. I'm so glad you can just about make it over that final purple telephone.

Return Of The Alien Kong Beast (O): As on the previous Kong level there's a switch in the top left that needs to be pressed to access the right hand side. This time however, I can press the other switch without losing any time, so you get to watch him fall to his doom. Now I can't label this a pacifist run.

Eugene's Other Lair (E): This is the first time we see 'flag-tailed scorpions' and they are horrible. Their huge tails mean that they are very difficult to jump over, and sometimes you can't jump over them at all. Fortunately on this level that only means I have to wait a lot at the start.

The fading platform that I jump off to reach the finish I have to avoid breaking completely earlier in the run.

Ore Refinery (O): Do you remember the days when ladders were nothing more than a sequence of platforms you had to jump up? The route used here is best for enemy timings.

Skylab Landing Bay (O): One of the most horrible levels in real-time, but is made to look really simple tool-assisted. Moving on...

Tokyo Uh Oh (E): This is one of the times where the maximum fall height is really limiting, otherwise it would be possible to take the middle route and drop to the bottom.

The Bank (O): Funny story: when first routing this level I somehow failed to notice the ladder on the right hand side. The routing was actually really complicated, with many possible options and difficult jumps to avoid the enemies, and it involved collecting the item in the top right from underneath before going back to the left to get up to the exit.

Of course, having noticed the ladder the optimal route was pretty obvious.

The Sixteenth Cavern (O): The original 16th level, but which is now the 24th level. I guess changing the name was too much effort.

This is where the flag-tailed scorpions are really annoying. The jumps I do around the one in the top right may seem like a waste of time, but you cannot jump vertically over it without hitting its tail, so this is actually the quickest way to get the key. On the steps at the top middle I drop down once to avoid overshooting with my jump later.

Jester Under The Bed (E): There are many possible routes through this level, but since you have to take the path from the top left to middle right at some point, clambering up the column of fading platforms at the beginning is the quickest option.

The Warehouse (O): This level was fun, because I kept thinking I'd done it perfectly, and then I'd find a new, faster route. The haphazard-looking movements I make near the beginning are to allow me to jump over the yellow enemy as early as possible without hitting the obstacles above. Another neat thing about this route is the vertical jump I do when standing next to the grey enemy later, which is only possible because Willy's sprite is at it's thinnest.

Amoebatrons Revenge (O): Again, many of the jump timings were more complicated than you might expect, but otherwise this is pretty simple.

Clockwork Satsuma (E): The last of the levels new for 'Enhanced Mode', and one that seems particularly dull. I guess the jumps in the bottom right corner are tricky, but the rest is really uninteresting. Note that I hit my head when jumping to collect the final item which allows me to fall a little earlier.

Solar Power Generator (O): This level has a gimmick where your air drains faster than normal when the energy beams hit you, but in a TAS it's never at risk of running out anyway so that's no danger. Because of the item in the top left that you can only get by falling from the exit, this level will require two cycles around to get everything, and the only routing considerations are which cycle to collect the item in the bottom right, and the same for the item in the top right. Whichever option you choose there is a lot of unavoidable waiting, but it ends up being fastest to collect them the first and second cycle round respectively, and so normally that would be that... if it wasn't for the aforementioned gimmick.

At the end of every level you have to wait for your remaining air to be converted into score. Usually there's nothing you can do about that, but on this level there is a way you can have less air remaining without wasting any time (and therefore it's quicker to convert to score), just by getting hit by the energy beams. I'm so glad I realised this was possible, because it means that all the unavoidable waiting can be put to use, and also because while humans are incredible and you can imagine that a particularly dedicated (or lucky) person might be able to get close to TAS times on the other levels, here is a level where tool-assistance is absolutely required for fully optimising the time.

Your air still drains faster at the end of the level than the beams drain it, so it's not worth taking longer to complete the level just to get hit by them, but because there were many waiting periods it's actually possible to drain almost all of the air just by waiting in the beams on some occasions and making well-timed jumps on others. Easier said than done though, and this level probably took longer to TAS than most of the other levels combined.

The Final Barrier (O): The last level, and a fairly simple one. Leaving two keys for the second time around is quicker because it involves less waiting for the weird gold enemy. After that we ride the conveyor to the exit and the game is over!


Final Comments

The appeal of TASing for me is mainly about nostalgia, and while this may not be the most technically interesting run, it was incredibly enjoyable to make, and very cathartic considering I remember failing miserably at this game when I first played it on the ZX Spectrum.

While I worked on this video independently and so have no specific acknowledgements, I would still like to thank everyone in the TASvideos community for being so welcoming. Also I guess I should thank/blame my dad for subjecting me to this game when I was young.

And hopefully now, with any luck, I'll never hear In the hall of the mountain king ever again.


turska: Judging.
turska: Good job on your first submission. Nice to see this game demolished, but the slow pace and repetitive levels don't make for an entertaining movie.

Audience response is mixed. Accepting for publication into Vault.

Since Enhanced Game is a superset of Original Game, there's no reason to have more than one branch for this game. As such, I've set the branch name to blank.

sheela901: I'll encode this.


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