TASVideos

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

Tasing Guide / TAS Art

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Statement

"Art is created when an artist creates a beautiful object, or produces a stimulating experience that is considered by his audience to have artistic merit." A Working Definition of Art (2009)

"Whether or not a form of creative endeavor can be considered one of "the arts" can be contentious due to the cultural values attached in Western culture to the term "art", which can imply that it is a field elevated above popular culture." Wikipedia

TAS is considered an art form by its audience and its creators. TASVideos is the home for that craft and is supposed to be a TAS school, considering the level TASing was developed up to. TAS masters developed ways to keep the art true, and to teach people how to create TAS of the highest standard. That means not just teaching how to hold a brush in your hands, or how to draw strokes. That means teaching all possible aspects that can potentially make your work piece better. Which implies teaching the global TASing approach, and applying it to as many work aspects as possible. One could ignore any of them, or all of them, but that would gradually reduce the value of his work, since those aspects were found out by the masters through the years of hard work.

Tools

Use the best tools available, in order to understand the basics easier, with no need to dive into technical details that can easily distract the beginner. Tools are being developed, as the masters figure out what disadvantages the old tools have, what they prevent them from doing easier, how they can be improved technically. TAS masters always try to exploit the existing tools to their maximum, they constantly come up with new methods, which become blueprints of future tools improvements.

The most up-to-date tool for now is TASEditor, that is built into the NES emulator FCEUX 2.2.0. It affords the best abstracting out of technical routine, which allows to focus on gameplay rather than on tool handling. One still needs to get used to it, but it's much easier than with any older toolset.

On the other hand, pick the easiest game you can recall for early practice, the one that you know very well, or can learn easily. The most popular choice has been Super Mario Bros. for years, because it's simple enough to play, and complicated enough to feature common game mechanics all TASers must study.

Once you advance, you may wish adding Lua scripting to your toolset, because it provides an additional level of automation and abstraction. That language is also rather simple to learn, just look at others' scripts and try to change them, study the official tutorials and ask for help, this way you will be able to create your own scripts soon.

Time

Modern society believes time rushes too fast, which causes people to think out their behaviour less, dissipate energy in imprecise directions, not getting maximum out of any. Thinking they have no time to dive into aspects, people throw away chances to reach the heart of any occurrence, and, therefore, to work with it successfully. The result of such "work", if it is produced at all, is extremely far from ideal.

So learn this principle by heart: you have no excuse to hurry. Doing your best contradicts with haste, to begin with. If you pick some hobby, you need to enjoy the process itself, because aiming for result is only good in performing your duties. If you keep thinking about the result, you subconsciously try to achieve it faster. Which is good when you're really limited in time, say, at work. But if your time isn't actually limited, you better learn enjoying the process itself, which would allow you to pull maximum out of every aspect, and redo what's already done with no regret.

Improving

Do not ever spare the current piece of work you have. Do not think it was too hard to achieve already to try improving it further. Once you discover a new trick and have studied how to apply it, redo the whole thing from scratch, because this way you can always bump into new improvements in unexpected places as well. The more you redo a segment, the better it becomes, because you gradually get more and more used to it, and abstract from your old perception of it.

This surely doesn't mean you need to remove old achievements. On the contrary, keep them as backup branches, compare every new approach to them, in as many segments as possible. Encoding them to AVI can simplify navigation through them deeply. Just record useful heads-up display you use right into the video dump, and watch it in VirtualDub then. Compare framecounts, lagcounts, RAM contents between old results and your current progression.

Precision

The more you know about the game, the better you handle it. Figure out its RAM contents, its mechanics, its tricks. Try finding all known information on it and study it in the first place.

For testings you can try doing a preliminary run, to get the feeling of the game, to discover its basics yourself. But remember, TASing is not playing with savestates, a testrun isn't either. Apply as much optimization as you can straight away. Try going over all possibilities of object/background collisions. That means not just test how they collide at different pixels, but also at different subpixels within those pixel borders. This is not just to make your run marginally optimal (single-frame shaving is the last phase), but to discover potential glitches, caused by broken collisions or other checks.

Gameplay situations

The game flow is not homogeneous. You have enemy waves and safe spots, which are developed by game designers to subdivide the whole task (beat the game) into many local goals. But since your time is unlimited, and you track the RAM contents of the game, you are free to apply your own arbitrary subdivision that would let to ponder more aspects.

Within every isolated situation you shall set the game on pause and figure out all elements of the given situation (enemies appearance, placement, behavior; obstacles; items; your own route, equipment, speed). The smaller time segment you choose, the easier it is to collect all necessary information. But it must not be too short either, to still allow you to estimate the further developments.

When you are TASing a game, you come up with approximate subdivision automatically. You just keep rerecording and rewinding some segments over and over, while others can be passed with little to no effort. Different tools allow to put subdivision marks differently. Normally people keep 2 savestates: to start recording a segment from, and to store the result for it. TASEditor features Markers to stick your free navigation to.

Such gameplay situations appear to be actual puzzles you need to solve constantly during TASing. They are pretty unique, no one intentionally invented them for you to TAS, they were designed to be played through in real time by a casual gamer. Regular play puzzles turn into quite different ones once you apply TASing approach to them. You have more time, more resources, more room for experiments, more precision than game designers could think of. And such basis needs to justify its existence: you must make the best use of every advantage.

Novelty

This is why TASes are interesting to watch. Regular players know the games and expect something before actually seeing a TAS. Your task is to fool their expectations in a good way: surprise the viewers.

This uses to come by itself as long as you apply TAS methods, but still try inventing stuff. Diving into gameplay puzzles and testing all routes for each segments you can or can not think of (abstraction and redoing), you will always see your efforts rewarded: the game will do what you didn't expect, presenting you new tricks and solutions. New discoveries inspire new effort, which leads to newer discoveries, that's the production cycle.

Perfection

Absolute perfection can not be achieved. Also, if you keep endlessly improving your run, you might end up never actually completing it. That possibility is even higher if you have problems with motivation. However, if you seriously want to advance in TASing, getting to new skill and approach levels, here's the principle.

Keep faithfully improving your own work up to the point when you can't anymore... and further! It's not optimal enough if you can't think of where or how it can be improved, it is optimal enough if you can not improve it even if you try. With all your knowledge.

Free motivation boost is when you're a few frames away from some huge time saver, and only an event you can't control is on your way, like a frame rule. Go back and squeeze those few frames out of the prior gameplay! It is possible, we've done it. And when that's not the case, and weeks of work aren't giving you a rewarding result time-wise, just think of a real high-level TASing that only a few actually attempt: that very state of mind when you remove the limits from your power and work at full throttle is supreme bliss.

Style

This seems to be the most ignored aspect, yet it's one of the most important ones. The target impression of a TAS is that it's some superhuman playing. Which means not only no faults, unexpected action precision, but also the overall fashion. And being such a huge aspect, it's very hard to satisfy, which is the reason of ignorance.

There are obvious movement tricks, like twitching (repeated simple actions of high rate), music dancing or various interaction between characters or obstacles. Once you get a time portion to wait through, that can't be sped up, but still allows to move, you shall try different types of the above examples. Frame advancing can give you a good room to exploit game mechanics for entertaining purposes, just don't let yourself miss the forest for the trees - your run is supposed to be watched at regular speed in the first place, so it must be pleasant for a regular viewer. There are some ways to improve potential enjoyment.

First of all, try making fun of normal actions distinguishable by an untrained eye. Also, don't use plain twitching unless it can be combined with some unobvious movements (combine different movements, vary the rate, abuse movement interrupts, consider possible sound effects). A tricky skill is to keep all movements organic. This includes not just a well-styled combination of all the features. One shall play around with the internal game flow. Follow the pace of surrounding events, interrupt it. Try to vanish the visual borders between actions optimized for speed and those added for entertainment. The run must look like you do necessary speedy tricks as a part of the global dancing around, not like you just fill waiting segments with random garbage.

Love

This one stands in the bottom, but it ideally is a foundation to start all of the above. If you don't admit love to the game, to the process, to the viewers, you can't produce a masterpiece, you end up with just an unfinished product. While the result must be potentially considered a model: for viewers to enjoy the showcase, for TASers to attain to the level.

Once you get an idea to start TASing something, at first try beating it in real time. If you're new to that game, blind-run it, or watch someone blind-run it, if you're bad at casual play. This way you will get the spirit of it, discover its features and hardships, get the idea the game designers were putting into it that the regular players are facing. This allows you to discern the feeling the regular player would get watching your run, to play with it, to trick it, to surprise the viewer.

That approach leads to the most subtle aspect of TASing art: a soul. A true artist always puts a soul in his work, and it can be felt by the viewer, and ideally inspire the viewer to become a master too. But don't let yourself be carried away by pathos of that word. Don't try to imitate "the soul" in any way. Just feel free and open-minded during your work, put in as much effort as you can afford, improve all the speed you can, consult to TAS masters, rewatch your work at normal speed, rewatch the existing masterpieces and compare - and the TAS soul will be put in your resulting run magically by itself.

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TasingGuide/TASArt last edited by feos on 2020-05-05 19:15:54
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