TASVideos

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

Guidelines

TASing Guide

Table of contents [expand all] [collapse all]

Creation of a tool-assisted superplay movie is a complex work. And the standard is very high, so one needs to consider various means to make the movie appealing to the audience (viewers, TASers, judges). This page was designed for a TASer not to forget any of the common applications developed by the community to meet the TAS standards.

Planning

Select your game well

Though the game choice is not critical (unless you pick something unplayable), we wish you make a movie that is interesting to watch. Because TASing gives you special powers, and you are expected to use them well. So choose a game that has a TAS potential in it, which basically means it is both technically interesting and entertaining. Note that popularity and difficulty do not necessarily present a good game choice. Qualities of a game good for a TAS:

  • Fast pace. Fast and varied character movement, intense boss fights.
  • Noticeable complexity. It gives a room for deep optimization, and the result is different enough from unassisted play.
  • Distributed variety and action. The less repetitiveness and boring segments, the better.
  • Moderate length. An 8-hour storybook TAS is unlikely to be appreciated by the wide audience.
  • Good emulation. Some games have glitches due to incorrect emulation, that are not present in the original games.

Select your goals well

Choose goals that will make the run entertaining. For most games, a “fastest at any cost” mentality is best (short of using passwords, saves, or cheats). For fighting games, autoscrollers, and scoring games, it is usually better to show off as many combos and tricks as possible, instead of going for fastest time.

You are permitted to trade off speed for entertainment, if you want to. Make it so that the speed loss is not obvious to the viewer. Use this with caution.

Examples of other goals that have been popular are pacifist, no damage, all items (usually called 100%), no warps, or runs with a slower character. Not using a specific bug which lets you end the game very quickly can make for an interesting movie, which shows more of the game. The point is that whatever goals you choose, it should look impressive.

Always stay within your goals. For example, if you say that you will obtain all items, obtain all items. Goals must be clear and objective; they must not be vague.

Do not impose artificial restrictions on the run. Such as “No usage of this particular weapon”, “Both high score and fast time” (how should we compare that run to a future one?), or “No jumping except where necessary”. It is possible to set auxiliary goals, such as “as high a score as possible without wasting time”, but, as stated, it must not interfere with the primary goal of fastest completion.

Where a game has multiple difficulty levels, it is preferred to play on the hardest difficulty level (for more interesting gameplay) unless the only difference between difficulty levels is enemy/boss hit points, in which case the easiest difficulty levels are preferred in the interest of speed. If the difference in difficulty is inapplicable for your run, for example, you trigger the end game sequence right from the start, then selecting the hardest mode is unnecessary.

Please note that we do not accept an indefinite number of variants for any given game. Any more than 3 for a game is very uncommon. Most games have only one movie, simply going as fast as possible with any means. A handful of games also have a movie which shows more of the game, such as no warps, or 100% items, or without a glitch that takes you straight to the end.

Here is a complete list of officially supported goals: Movie Class Guidelines

Tiers

We have 3 tiers a movie can be accepted to. If the audience likes the movie ("Yes" votes outweigh "No" and "Meh", positive reaction in forum posts), it is accepted for Moons or Stars.

If the movie is found boring, it can be accepted for Vault, but only if it does not contain speed/entertainment tradeoffs of any kind (no damage, pacifist), and is a plain time record. Only 2 types of goals are acceptable for Vault: fastest completion time (any%), and full-completion (such as 100% or best ending). If you are not sure the game would be well received, don't include time sacrifices. You can also post WIPs on Forums to collect the feedback and determine the audience tastes.

Do possible research

The first thing you should check for is if other users on our Forum have made or tried a TAS of the game you want to TAS. Search this Wiki as well, since someone could have made a submission on that game (or even a complete run). If you know or suspect that the game you are TASing has an engine similar to another game that has already had a TAS submitted, check it out to see if particular tricks or glitches used in it are applicable to your game as well.

Always view and examine existing runs you can find (assisted or non-assisted) before and while doing yours. Diligently compare your run to the current best run. If you are aiming for speed, you are required to beat existing speed records, otherwise your movie will be rejected. See Movie Rules.

Search Internet for any info that can help you: playthroughs, guides, maps, tricks, bugs, memory addresses. Ask about it on relevant forums (still search first). Do not forget that the tips you find in Internet are aimed for players who play on a real console. When you are making a tool-assisted movie, you can often do things the best players do not do because it is too risky. Always consider new routes. Some routes might not work without extreme luck or skill. Do not follow walkthroughs blindly.

Recommended external links:

Test the game

It is recommended to play through the game at least once to see how it works. Then you are advised to make a test TAS. Its purpose is to gain information that would be applicable when making the final run. For example you can stick to some obvious solutions at first, and then start improving over them from scratch. Still try finding the first frame to act, this can discover new tricks and improve the understanding.

Test TAS also helps to check the general route you are choosing. Try different basic options out to see what will not work in the first place. Here is a concrete guide on route planning, in case you have a lot of possible routes.

TASing

Optimization

Keeping an open mind

If you interpret TASing just as routine work, you will not achieve the best. TASing is successful if you feel some excitement about what you are going to TAS, which means you come up with ideas, unobvious and interesting solutions, have fun testing them out. TASing in general is a process of solving gameplay puzzles, so you must think outside the box.

You also need to train your eye on spotting potential improvements in whatever you see. Read submission texts carefully (prefer detailed ones), follow forum threads, because there people describe how exactly they work, how the games work, what aspects one must consider. This is also widely described in this Wiki, the links are provided in proper places.

Many useful details can be found if you pick someone else's TAS and try matching its time yourself from scratch. You will notice the places where he is ahead, work out how it was achieved, replicate techniques, and (hopefully) even improve the existing record.

To free your mind, try getting rid of routine, use the best tools you can find, because they afford abstraction, when you can automate some actions or calculations, loosing mental resources for thinking over gameplay, route, tricks - for inventing ideas.

Read more how to work inventively and effectively.

Safeguards

Always make backups of your movie as you make it. Label backups to avoid confusion.

It is recommended to place a backup copy on the internet (User files, Microstorage, DropBox) or on a portable disk such as a floppy or USB drive. Computer crashes are not unheard of. SVN hostings such as http://code.google.com are very useful too.

Periodically verify that your movie plays back correctly. Desyncs may occur, depending on the game and emulator.

Resource management

Every game provides certain resources to use: lives, hitpoints, items, weapons. You shall consider using them to speed up the run (this sometimes does not count, if you make an artistic choice to avoid such time savers as a goal).

If taking damage can save time (damage boosts, invincibility periods, passing an obstacle or an enemy), you must find all places where it can be used, spend all your hitpoints before the place where you can refill them and test different options to spend them, one can save more time than the other.

If a player's death throws him back within some segment, it can be used to get there quicker. On the opposite, if death respawns you at the same place, you can sacrifice lives as long as you have them.

Different items and weapons can give you important advantages: killing enemies faster, moving faster. Plan your use of them, spend as much as you can between refill points.

Fighting lag

Lag is a huge factor in TASing. You shall examine the places where it appears and try different ways to minimize it. Sometimes you can randomly tweak your actions to affect lag picture, or cause less objects to appear on the screen, minimizing their calculations by the game.

Read more about lag reduction.

Luck manipulation

Some behavior in a game can be programmed so that it fires randomly. Enemies actions, item drops, critical hits, etc. But the game can not generate true randomness, it just uses some resource that provides enough entropy by the developer's opinion. Game's pseudo-random behavior can be tied to different things, called (pseudo-)random number generators.

It's up to developer to choose the entropy resource, that can not be foreseen by a regular player. Frame numbers, objects positions, CPU cycles, input - any of these can be used as RNGs. It can require much effort to reverse engineer a game to figure out what it uses and what it outputs. That means, you can still try trial and error method (see below), but examining the game code, while giving more powers, requires deeper knowledge.

Read this guide on luck manipulation, and it's advanced subpage.

RPGs and luck-based games

RPGs deserve a huge amount of testing and route-planning and often are or become repetitive, so it's usually not recommended for beginners. However, if the game mechanics (specifically the random number generator, often called RNG) work to your favor, and you know how to plan quick routes that have a reasonable chance to succeed, you would do well to try.

Test runs should be based entirely on route and strategy. All long dialogs in a test run should be cleared using the emulator's autofire buttons. Try to work out the game mechanics so you know whether delaying button presses changes whether attacks are critical hits, or misses, or such. Try changing previous button presses if attacks don't change because sometimes the results of attacks are determined further back.

If the RNG hates you (e.g. nothing changes no matter what you do), give up. Not all games are created equal.

Once you have worked out the game mechanics, carefully construct the route through the run. The strategy is often going to change, depending on the circumstances. Try not to be too committal, although that might work sometimes. You may have to create backups and branch the movie to test two different strategies. The important thing is that you know why such strategy can work.

Try to shoot for uncommon or better, but not rare, probabilities. Assuming delaying button presses changes attack results, 1/10 is huge for a TAS. 1/20 is not far off. Generally, the lower the probability, the greater the justification. If you obsess over 1/100, it should be very worthwhile. Probabilities worse than 1/300 shouldn't even be considered, unless you know what you are doing.

Do not overdo an attempt to pull off a strategy. If it seems impossible or unreasonably improbable after testing, alter your strategy and move on if possible.

Optimization effort

Not everything can be improved. But no one knows in advance what can. So the time you spend on a certain section is up to you. Usually as you watch a run, you can get some ideas that have improvement potential. Always try them out as they come, if something works out, it may entail new ideas as you apply the current ones.

The more you redo a section, the better it becomes. But at first you have no interest in redoing something. If you notice a mistake in what's already done, dare to go back and fix it. If it involves redoing of the further actions, redo them, and you will likely find mistakes unnoticeable on the first glance. This happens because every time you redo a section, you become more familiar with how it works, abstract of the old impression of it, or have found new aspects farther in the run that are still applicable to the earlier sections.

However, if you do not feel any potential at all, there is no sense in endless overdoing, because this way you can never finish. Even highly optimized runs can still have non-applied improvements, if the author considers it is not worth a new attempt, while it can still meet publication standard.

Basic traits to pay attention to:

  • Avoid bumping the character on a wall that he is jumping over.
  • Avoid stopping unnecessarily.
  • See if jumping into a shaft (that you need to go down) is faster than just sliding off the edge.
  • When faced with an enemy, try to go around or through it, or kill it, without stopping.
  • See if performing some action changes the way a boss or enemy behaves (if this is a micro rather than a macro effect, this is known as "luck manipulation")
More can be found on that page.

Fashion

Be quick

Do not wait for anything if you can help it. If there is an enemy in the way, find a way to kill it, or go around or through it, without stopping. Minimize lag caused by large numbers of sprites and/or CPU-intensive calculations by killing enemies (although sometimes it is better not to).

If it is faster to take damage (for example, by running into an enemy instead of going around it or trying to kill it), take damage. As a stylistic consideration, you may choose to take no damage whenever taking damage saves time, in order to make the run look better. In either case, be consistent in always taking damage to save time or taking no damage. Do not take damage if you can avoid it without wasting time (see “Be interesting” below).

It is the same issue concerning using death to save time.

Create art even when waiting.

A TASer is an author. Do not do the obvious and always stand still when forced to wait; jump around, do special moves, dance to the music, or do something to make the delay less boring. Keep the actions in moderation, however; doing a lot of random and meaningless actions looks stupid and is worse than standing still. Do not overuse actions.

This applies also to auto-scrolling levels where you can entertain the audience instead of just staying at the front of the screen. See the Super Mario 3 video for a perfect example.

Do something unexpected.

This section is not an invitation to do something stupid. It is an invitation to do things beyond the conventional.

Be different. Take faster routes or shortcuts that no one takes, whether undesirable or impossible in real play. If you think of a route that seems blocked but would speed up your play significantly, find out how to go through, over or under it. If you want some radical shortcut or strategy to happen, find out how to make it happen.

If something that relies on chance usually does not happen, make it happen. The game is only as random as you are. For example, you can win lotteries, deliver critical hits, and make bosses behave how you want them to behave. Take care, as the game is flexible only to a certain extent. See Luck Manipulation for how to do this.

Be interesting.

If you have the choice, try to do things in a more impressive way than the easy way. If enemies are hard to kill, kill them. If an object is hard to miss, miss it. If you can avoid taking damage without wasting time, do so. However, avoid repeating the same stunts too much.

In games that have a user-controllable camera that does not affect the actual playing, try to control the camera so that it provides the most interesting or beautiful angles at all time instead of going with default settings.

Be accurate.

Be accurate in everything. Do not miss your target and do not use more shots than necessary, since that is seen to be sloppy. Do not overkill a boss with a visible health bar if you can avoid it without wasting time; do only enough damage to kill it.

Push actions to the limit. If you can destroy a target as soon or as late as possible without losing time, do so. If you can make your jumps as short as possible without losing time, do so. Do not have slow reactions; act as soon as possible.

Be determined.

Be sure that every movement you do has a meaningful purpose. If you have to backtrack to fix your mistakes (forgetting an item or something like that), undo the whole wandering. Fix mistakes when you can with reasonable effort. Do not leave them in; it will cause problems later.

Do not sleep. You are supposed to be the master of the game, not the slave of the game. Aim for the impossible. Think outside the box and do not give up if your ideas do not work right away. Just because you cannot get something to work right away does not mean that it is not possible.

TAS records always appear unbeatable before you try to beat them. So try to beat them.

Enter a nice name

Unless you are desperate for frame optimizations, give a proper name in name entry screens. Then again, there is no reason to wait for a name entry screen before you do that. Sneak it in anywhere you can.

Keep it watchable

Avoid doing things that will make it hard to watch the movie. Things like letting warning sounds keep running all the time. People are not going to be entertained if they are busy looking for the mute button.

Similarly, even if a certain move may be the fastest one, hearing the same sound effect all the time can quickly become annoying. Especially if said move is used to move faster than just walking. Find ways to shorten repetitive parts.

Camera position and angles

Avoid quickly wobbling the camera or playing field around, producing seizure inducing video. Have the camera focus on the action, allowing the viewer to see as much relevant material as possible. Keep the zoom level far enough that everything that needs to be seen is seen, but not so far that the action is incomprehensible.

If exploiting the camera can allow the player to pass through walls or similar bugs, do so. However, do not turn the game's video into a kaleidoscope, the novelty wears off quickly. A game may have less lag if the camera focuses on less material, but no one wants to watch a video of pure black, balance the performance gains with watchability.

Feedback

You may seek feedback by posting in the TASVideos forums. When posting at the forum, check if there is a previous topic on the game — it is recommended to use search. There is nothing wrong with bumping old topics as long as you have something useful to say. Remember to copy the link to the movie.
See also:


Combined RSS Feed
Guidelines last edited by Nach on 2013-07-29 19:20:12
Page info and history | Latest diff | List referrers | View Source