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Interviews / Bisqwit / GEE2005

Interview of Bisqwit for September 2005 issue of GEE

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This interview was answered by Bisqwit for a German gaming magazine called GEE in July 2005. The interviewer is Moses Grohé. It was conducted by e-mail.
Links and formatting were added afterwards.

How was the genre of "Tool-Assisted-Speedruns" born?
Do you know who did the first "Tool-Assisted-Speedrun" ever?

According to my knowledge, the term "Tool-Assisted Speedrun" has been born in the Doom speedrunning communities.

When applied to Doom, a regular Speedrun is simply an as-fast-as-possible completion of Doom with real human skills and a lot of training.
A tool-assisted speedrun of Doom is made with an altered version of Doom that allows arbitrary segmentation of the movie (so that short segments of the movie can be done over and over until it's as wanted, not just complete levels), and to slow do the game engine so that it's easier to play. When the movie is played back, it looks as if it was played in a single session in real time.

Applying the term "tool-assisted speedrun" to emulator-made movies is a very recent movement. Previously, most people called them timeattacks. Some people still do.

The term timeattack means a time trial ― an attempt to complete the game as fast as possible. Using the term to denote tool-assisted emulator movies was introduced to western world upon Morimoto's famous Super Mario Bros 3 movie in November 2003.
While Morimoto's movie was the igniter for the western world to start making tool-assisted emulator movies using the feature called "re-recording", Morimoto's movie wasn't the first of its kind. According to my knowledge, another Japanese person called Tokushin made also a Super Mario Bros 3 movie in 2001, and yet another Japanese person called Yy made a tool-assisted Super Mario Bros movie in 2000. Both movies are available on my website.
Although thus the exact origin of tool-assisted speedruns (emulator or not) is not known, it's clear that it was Morimoto's movie in November 2003 that made the phenomenon world-wide famous.

Can you please describe the process of making a "Tool-Assisted-Speedrun" in every detail.
- What is the trickiest part?
- What talent is needed?
- How long does it take?

It all depends on the amount of effort one wants to put into it.

There are various levels of detail that may or may not apply to the individual process.

Simpliest, the making of the speedrun is just playing through the game, until the game is completed.

Next detail level lies in the undoing of mistakes.
Mistakes such as taking damage accidentally, or backtracking, or jumping a little too late. The player must re-record (load a savestate to return to an earlier point of the playing process) whenever he makes a mistake, and try again. Regular speedrunners do it by starting the whole thing over.

The more experienced the movie maker, the more mistakes he can spot in his own movie (and in movies made by others). Note that an experienced player might not be able to spot things that are relevant in speedrunning.

The next detail level is to consider techniques and strategies.
It is the process of analyzing different ways of playing and devising methods that result in fastest progress in the game.
Analyzing things like which items to collect, which enemies to kill, how many experience points are needed, whether jumping is faster than running, and so on. Ofter, compromises have to be made, because something that is fast in one situation might be slower in another situation.

Part of this process involves analyzing the game. Because tool-assisted speedruns are often made at very slow speeds, utilizing a "frame advance" feature (which is analogous to the "single step slow-motion" in VCRs), the player can make very precise analysis of the game and devise techniques that are simply impossible to notice/use in realtime playing.
Often, the analysis reveals game flaws, "glitches", that can be used to skip large parts of the game.
Note that these glitches have nothing to do with cheating codes used with devices like Pro Action Replay. Cheating codes modify the game. Glitches are something that is already inherent in the game, only to be discovered and then abused.

The most extreme way of acquiring information is disassembling the game to analyze its program code. It requires expertise in programming, and may not yield anything useful after all.

Creating a 10 minute long tool-assisted speedrun for a platform game might take anything from 2 hours to 6 months, depending on the devotion of the movie maker(s) and of course, of the complexity of the game. As for complexity, often, the looks can be deceiving...

Making of tool-assisted speedruns requires entirely different skills than just playing those games. In normal playing, one needs to have good memory, quick reactions and good coordination skills in general.

In making of tool-assisted speedruns, one doesn't need to have quick reactions or good coordination skills, but instead, one needs to have an analytical eye on the game: how different actions compare in speed, what are common pitfalls, what kind of programming errors to expect in the game, what actions are not necessary for the game completion, etc, and an envisioning mind to look for non-obvious paths.
Much of this skill is only learned by actually doing it.

In realtime playing, players often do excess movements to make the playing easier (such as destroying enemies that might hit them), but in tool-assisted playing, the player can take risks that are too risky for realtime playing. Literally, the player may bet his life on that he wins a lottery. Because if the game doesn't co-operate, he can always re-record. He can even influence the luck. Influencing the luck is impossible without knowing the future, but in tool-assisted speedruns, luck is frequently influenced.

Which games are best suited for "Tool-Assisted-Speedruns"?

The more ways the game has to accomplish the same result (and the less obvious it is to find the best ways), the better it is for speedrunning.

Most often, this means platform games which have many degrees of freedom.

The more different ways of movement and more weapons the player has at his disposal, the bigger is the contrast between an inexperienced and experienced speedrunner at the game. And thus, the better the movie. Sometimes, games that are also very hard for regular players are also well-suited for speedruns.

Of course, there is also the aspect of entertainment. A game that is very difficult to play might not always be interesting to watch. It is another topic.

What is the driving force while making a run?
What is the driving force to start making a run?

It depends on the person.
I can guess a few different motivations.

Can you imagine those movies in a different context than the internet? (I'd like to see them as visuals in dance-clubs, that would be cool. Have you ever heard of someone using them for that or any other purpose?)

I did a quick poll on the forums on this subject and I got the following answers:

Which one is the best run you've ever seen?
(Why? What makes a run stand out?)
Are you interested in "normal" speedruns? Do you like them?

Among tool-assisted and regular non-tool-assisted speedruns, there are too many good movies for me to pick a single favourite.

The "List the best movies" link at the nesvideos website covers most of my favourites of tool-assisted movies, but I also have greatly enjoyed regular speedruns/timeattacks of games such as Tetris Grand Master, Half-Life and Zelda Ocarina of Time.

In both categories, I like creative ways of playing the game. Playing the game in a way nobody has expected. The courage and inspiration to act beyond conventional. Elaborate glitches are very enjoyable ― it was exciting for me to make a Mega Man speedrun and I'm still thrilled to look at it, even though I know of numerous ways to improve it (which, I am in process of doing).

Which one should be done?

There are many great console games that are still missing a tool-assisted speedruns, because they need a great deal of planning to make. Easiest, shortest and most famous games are already played. But many can improved (hint).

Do you still enjoy videogames like the average casual gamer?

Within the few past years I have enjoyed several old RPGs that focus on story and characters ― Chrono Trigger for an example.

But for other type of videogames, unfortunately over ten years of my programming hobby have made me less fascinated of following premade paths and repeating chores like videogames often offer.

I don't think making of timeattacks has changed that aspect in any way, but the same might be different for most of the other movie makers.

What makes a videogame a good or even great videogame for you?

Not playing many videogames, this question is difficult to answer. Personally, I like games that give me inspiration of creating something new.

What is the best compliment you ever got for running the nesvideos-website?

I have received many encouraging feedback letters via e-mail, but the most rewarding moments have been when, after me telling someone that his movie could be improved by a whole minute (which sounds incredible), he comes back and submits a version that has been improved by two minutes. At those moments, I really feel good. Rejecting submissions is always difficult because some authors might take it as a personal let-down, but when the author takes it honestly and actually outperforms my points of complaint, it's very rewarding, because both parties feel like succeeding in something.

What was the worst affront?

Worst affronts have always been indirect ― people talking behind my back spreading misinformation. In the beginning it was very difficult because people felt that we are cheating here and dishonoring normal players. Nowadays, most people recognize the entertainment value of these movies and accept it as another, distinct category of speedrunning.

It's actually mostly a matter of representation. The audience tends to follow the views of the representer, if the subject is new to them.

Please give me some personal information. Real Name, age, city you live in.

Joel Yliluoma, 27, Kerava, Finland. (I guess the age might come as a surprise to some.)

Please tell me the one thing you ever wanted to read about "Tool-Assisted-Speedruns" in a magazine.

There are many fascinating things that could be told about the movies we make, even though less than 10% of the movies are truly fascinating.

Things such as new record times, and the strategies that were used to achieve those results. There is ten times more into every movie than gets written anywhere at our site. Many things that only the authors know. While those things may not be interesting to the general public, they might be to a part of the readers ― just as these movies in general are.

Since speedruns are also made for most modern games (such as Half-Life 2), such a column could be an interesting idea for some videogame mazagine.

Tool-assisted speedruns are unfortunately somewhat limited ― they are only made for some emulated systems (NES, SNES, GBA etc as at our site) and to some customized games (Quake, Doom, etc) whose source code is freely available.
Thus, tool-assisted speedruns exist only for older games. Considering how videogame magazines generally concentrate on new games, such a specialized recurring column would probably not be possible in any popular magazine.



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Interviews/Bisqwit/GEE2005 last edited by Kyman on 2010-07-19 17:20:09
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