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A tool-assisted speedrun or tool-assisted superplay (TAS) is generally defined as speedrunning a game in an emulator with the goal of creating a theoretically perfect playthrough. As the name implies, a TAS is not performed by an actual human being, but rather by a program or a piece of software that delivers frame-perfect optimized controller input to complete the game in the fastest way possible. The script that delivers these inputs is provided by the TAS author, who would use their knowledge of the game's mechanics and various tools built into the emulator to optimize a speedrun until no more improvements can be identified.
Tools used to this end include using savestates and branches, slow-down and going frame-by-frame, creating macros and scripts to perform automated actions, and so on. At the extreme end of this endeavor, means such as disassembly and brute-forcing can be used.
The idea is not to make gameplay easier for players, but rather to produce a playthrough at a level of gameplay impractical for a human player. As such, rather than being a branch of e-sports focused on practical achievements, tool-assisted speedrunning concerns itself with research into the theoretical limits of the games and their respective competition categories, and producing content with an emphasis on entertainment value — such as by including tricks and stunts that would otherwise be prohibitively difficult to incorporate.
The term was coined during the early days of Doom speedrunning, during which the first of these runs were made (although they were sometimes also referred to as "built demos"). When Andy "Aurican" Kempling released a modified version of the Doom source code that made it possible to record demos in slow motion and in several sessions, it was possible for the first players to start recording tool-assisted demos. A couple of months afterwards, in June 1999, Esko Koskimaa, Peo Sjoblom and Joonatan Donner opened the first site to share these demos, "Tools-Assisted Speedruns".
Like many other tool-assisted speedrun communities, the maintainers of the site stressed the fact that their demos were for entertainment purposes rather than skill competitions, although the attempt to attain the fastest time possible with tools itself became a competition as well.The site became a success, updating usually several times a week with demos recorded by its maintainers and submitted by its readers. After a short while, when version 2.03 of Lee Killough's Marine's Best Friend Doom source port was released (based on the Boom source port), it became even easier for people to record these demos, adding the functionality of re-recording without having to replay the demo until it reached the point where the player wanted to continue.
The site was active until August 10, 2001, when Jonathan Donner posted a news message stating that their site would be an archive from now on, and pointing towards The Doomed Speed Demos Archive, a site mainly for non-assisted speedruns, of which the author agreed to take over the posting of tool-assisted speedruns. Although popularity dwindled since then, built demos have still been submitted as late as November 2005, and are usually made with PrBoom.
In 2003, a video of a Japanese player named Morimoto completing the NES game Super Mario Bros. 3 in 11 minutes and performing stunts started floating around the Internet.The video proved to be controversial, as not many people knew about tool-assisted speedruns at the time, especially for the NES. As the video was not clearly labelled as such, many people felt they had been cheated when they found out it was done using an emulator. The video, however, inspired Joel "Bisqwit" Yliluoma to start a website called NESvideos, which was dedicated to tool-assisted speedruns for the NES. At first it hosted videos only for the NES, but as the community grew, its members added the features required for tool-assisted speedrunning into emulators for other systems. The name of the site was later changed to TASVideos. As of May 2020, TASVideos is the largest English-language web community that produces and hosts tool-assisted speedruns; the site holds 4161 complete speedruns, of which 2213 are the fastest of their kind.
Tool-assisted speedruns have been made for some notable ROM hacks as well as for published games.In 2014 a speedrunning robot, TASBot , was developed, capable of performing TAS runs via direct controller input.
A joke personification of tool-assisted speedruns, called TAS-san (TASさん, lit. Mr. TAS), has become popular among Japanese Internet users. Tool-assisted speedruns uploaded to sites like Nico Nico Douga, YouTube or TASVideos may be described as a new world record by TAS-san, who is said to have the superhuman memory and reflexes needed to execute such a speedrun in real time.[ citation needed ]
Creating a tool-assisted speedrun is the process of finding the optimal set of inputs to fulfill a given criterion — usually completing a game as fast as possible. No limits are imposed on the tools used for this search, but the result has to be a set of timed key-presses that, when played back on the actual console, achieves the target criterion. The basic method used to construct such a set of inputs is to record one's input while playing the game on an emulator, all the while saving and loading the emulator's state repeatedly to test out various possibilities and only keep the best result. To make this more precise, the game is slowed down. Initially, it was common to slow down to some low fraction (e.g. 5%) of normal speed. However, due to advances in the field, it is now expected that the game is paused during recording, with emulation advanced one frame at a time to eliminate any mistakes made due to the urgency.
The use of savestates also facilitates another common technique, luck manipulation, which is the practice of exploiting the game's use of player input in its pseudo-random number generation to make favorable outcomes happen. Using a savestate from before some event, it is possible to experiment with small input variations until the event has the desired outcome. Depending on the game and event, this can be a very time-consuming process, at times requiring much backtracking, and can as such take up a large portion of the total time spent making a tool-assisted speedrun. Examples of luck manipulation include making the ideal piece drop next in Tetris , or getting a rare item drop the first time one kills an enemy in an action game.
A rarely used tool is brute-force searching for ideal inputs by making a computer play the game, trying all possible inputs. In theory, this process could find the ideal set of inputs for any game, but since the space of all possible inputs grows exponentially with the length of the sequence, this is only viable for optimizing very small portions of the speed run. Instead, a heuristic algorithm can be used. Although such an approach does not guarantee a perfect solution, it can prove very effective for solving simple puzzle games.
Another rarely used technique is disassembling the game executable. By exposing the game logic, this enables the player to manipulate luck without trial and error, or reveal obscure bugs in the game engine. A more common, related technique, is to monitor the memory addresses responsible for certain effects to learn when or how they change. Memory watching is supported by most emulators used on TASVideos.org.
All these techniques involve direct interaction with the game state in ways not possible without emulation, but the final result, the set of inputs that makes up the speedrun, does not depend on such manipulation of the state of the emulated machine. The tool use in tool-assisted speedrunning is therefore different from the sort of state manipulation that tools like Gameshark provide, since such manipulation would not be expressible as a sequence of timed inputs.
Tool-assisted speedrunning relies on the same series of inputs being played back at different times always giving the same results. In a manner of speaking, the emulation must be deterministic with regard to the saved inputs (e.g. random seeds must not change from run to run). Otherwise, a speedrun that was optimal on one playback might not even complete it on a second playback. This loss of synchronization, or "desync", occurs when the state of the emulated machine at a particular time index no longer corresponds with that which existed at the same point in the movie's production. Desyncs can also be caused by incomplete savestates, which cause the emulated machine to be restored in a state different from that which existed when it was saved. Desyncs can also occur when a user attempts to match inputs from an input file downloaded from TASVideos and fail to match the correct enemy reactions due to bad AI or RNG.
Problems with emulation, such as nondeterminism and incomplete savestates, are often only discovered under the precise frame-by-frame conditions of tool-assisted speedrunning. Emulator developers often do not give speedrunning issues high priority because they have little effect on regular gameplay; consequentially the community has forked several emulators to make them suitable for the task. These include Snes9X improvement, Gens rerecording, VBA rerecording and Mupen rerecording. If a forked emulator is used to produce a TAS, playback on the normal, unmodified version of the emulator will usually result in a desync.
Emulators that currently feature the tools necessary to create tool-assisted speedruns include the Arcade emulator MAME (MAMEUI's option to record an uncompressed AVI slows down a game), the NES emulator FCEUX, the Super NES emulator Snes9x, the Genesis emulator Gens, the Game Boy Advance emulator VisualBoyAdvance, the Nintendo 64 emulator Mupen64, the GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin, the Nintendo DS emulator DeSmuME, the Sega Saturn emulator Yabause, the PlayStation emulator PSXjin, and several others for these and other platforms.
In 2012, there was a release by TASVideos.org which is an all-in-one emulator called Bizhawk. Due to the success of some of the cores that are built into the emulator, the team are phasing out some of their older emulators towards and the end of the year and the team encourage TASers who were working on Nintendo 64 and PSX projects for submissions on their website to move to Bizhawk.
Tool-assisted speedruns are timed in a distinct category from unassisted runs, for reasons of fairness. In unassisted runs, a difficult path is often avoided in favor of a safer, but slower one, in order to avoid risks such as dying and having to start over, failing a trick and wasting more time, or failing a setup for a difficult trick. Depending on the game, tool-assisted speedruns can surpass their unassisted counterparts by a few seconds to entire hours (with the major sources of time differences including TAS-only routes or tricks as well incremental advantages gained from frame-by-frame precision that add up over time). For an example of a highly optimized real-time run, the fastest TAS of the NTSC version of Super Mario Bros. currently stands at 04:57 (4:54.032 using standard unassisted timing), while the fastest unassisted run stands at 4:59 (4:54.948 using standard unassisted timing by Niftski).
Tool-assisted runs are timed by input, i.e. from game power-on to the last input necessary to reach the ending scene and/or the game credits. Any introductory cutscenes, game-loading screens, and trailing dialogues after the last boss battle (if input is necessary to scroll through the text) are included in the final times. The times are exact (to the nearest frame), a level of precision that is not possible with unassisted runs because it cannot be determined from a recording when exactly the input ended. Speed Demos Archive and Twin Galaxies measure only the length of the gameplay proper, and begin timing when the player gains control of the character and ends timing when the player loses it. These differences in timing conventions can result in seemingly discrepant times between unassisted and tool-assisted runs. For example, a Super Mario Bros. speedrun by Andrew Gardikis, a 4:58 by SDA timing, seems to be only 0.69 seconds slower than a TAS of 4 minutes and 57.31 seconds by HappyLee, but his run actually contains 5 minutes and 1 second of input starting from power-on.
Because tool-assisted speedruns often take more time to create than unassisted speedruns, discovery of a time-saving trick may lead to a situation of the fastest unassisted speedrun being faster than its tool-assisted counterpart.
From August 13 to 21, 2007, the fastest unassisted speedrun of Pokémon Blue was 4 minutes faster than the best TAS due to a new trick that allowed walking through walls. On August 21, however, a TAS was submitted that was 20 minutes faster than the unassisted run. [ citation needed ]
From January 12, 2020, the fastest unassisted speedrun of Donkey Kong Country was 810 milliseconds faster than the best TAS due to a new trick that allowed Diddy Kong to grab a DK barrel and the throw the DK barrel near a hidden barrel at the beginning of the last level, which skips the entire last level and level-finish animation as well.
Some games may produce beneficial glitches if the inserted cartridge is manipulated, which may not be reproduced on an emulator for a TAS. One of the most famous examples is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time , where lifting the side of the cartridge may allow the player to walk through solid walls. [ citation needed ]
However, due to potential benefits for either kind of speedrunning, it is not uncommon for speedrunners of both types to collaborate. Unassisted speedrunners can provide their expertise on the subject and receive new points of reference in return. A number of unassisted speedrunners have also made complete TASes, and vice versa.
One of the most important differences between a tool-assisted and unassisted run is the use of glitches in the game. Though glitch use is often prevalent in unassisted runs, tool-assisted speedruns often make much heavier use of them. This may in part be because the majority of glitches are very difficult to exploit without frame-precision and re-recording. In some cases a trick relies not only on precise timing, but on several variables in memory also having a specific state, which would be nearly impossible to recreate in real time and without detailed knowledge of the game program.
These differences also lead to different expectations from tool-assisted and unassisted speedruns. Taking damage when doing so does not save time and/or is not required may look sloppy in a tool-assisted run, while being hit by the occasional hard-to-avoid enemy in a relatively long unassisted speedrun would not prevent the runner from holding their world record title. After the advent of frame-advance, frame-precise movement has also come to be expected, the lack of which may be characterized as sloppy play. Another difference is in the standards of use of waiting time in the speedrun: in situations where it is not possible to make the game move faster, and the player has to wait, such as in autoscrolling or any other areas of a game in which the runner does not have control over the speed, the runner is advised in TASVideos guidelines to do something entertaining for the viewers. An example of this is the gathering of 99 extra lives in the autoscrolling sections of the famous Super Mario Bros. 3 speedrun. In unassisted runs, players usually would not risk dying and having to start over to entertain the viewer.
Runs that prove unentertaining may get rejected for publication, even if the run itself is technically optimized. A bad game choice may contribute to a lack of entertainment. In this context, a "bad game" may represent a goal choice that does not demonstrate the merits of tool-assistance, so choosing a different goal may alleviate this issue. In other cases, such as the Excitebike TAS by Thomas Seufert, a previously unpopular game had achieved notable entertainment boost due to massive improvements brought into play by increased tool-assisted precision.
When someone submits a finished movie file of their input data for publication on the TASvideos website, the audience will vote on if they find the movie entertaining or not. According to their website, movies that stick with their site rules and have an 80% Yes Vote rate is a sign to say that the audience are interested in the movie and is more likely to be accepted or obsolete the current published movie and have the movie published on their website.
Because tool assisted speedruns can account for all aspects of the game code, including its inner workings, and press buttons precisely and accurately, they can be used to help verify whether an unassisted speedrun record is legitimate. In 2018, Todd Rogers' record for Dragster was removed from Twin Galaxies and the Guinness World Records after a TAS experiment proved that his time, 5.51 seconds, was impossible to achieve even in a TAS.
Some players fraudulently recorded speedruns, either by creating montages of other speedrun or altering the playing time, posting them as TAS or RTA.
One of the best-known cases is Billy Mitchell, who had his Donkey Kong and Pac-Man Guinness records revoked in 2018, considering that he used an emulator.Another fraudulent RTA case is Badabun, where Tavo Betancourt streamed a Super Mario Bros. speedrun, finishing it at 05:12. Later, it was discovered that he was only pretending to play a series of speedruns from other youtubers. Youtuber Karl Jobst, after analyzing the video, called it "the worst fake speedrun on YouTube". The stream has been parodied by several youtubers of the genre, including Kosmic, holder of the current RTA world record for Super Mario Bros. .
In the context of tool-assisted speedrunning, many common terms, usually neologisms, have been created. These terms are necessary to understand most general discussions about the phenomenon. This list covers the most ubiquitous terminology. Note that some words may have a different typical meaning outside of the lexicon of tool-assisted speedrunning; for example, frame applies to movies as well as to video games, but only the latter has relevance in this case.
A particular intention or set of rules with which to record a speedrun, such as playing with different characters, collecting all items or achieving the best ending. Sometimes, when a glitch is found that allows extremely fast completion of a game, it will be considered a separate "category" as people may find the old way of doing it to be more enjoyable or otherwise interesting.
The most common categories include any% (fastest completion), 100% (full completion — may differ on per-game basis), and low% (completion using the minimum amount of items or powerups; sometimes synonymous with any%).
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is a 1986 side-scrolling platform game developed and published by Nintendo as the first sequel to their 1985 bestseller Super Mario Bros. The games are similar in style and gameplay, apart from a steep increase in difficulty. Like the original, Mario or Luigi venture to rescue the Princess from Bowser. Unlike the original, the game has no two-player option and Luigi is differentiated from his twin plumber brother with reduced ground friction and increased jump height. The Lost Levels also introduces setbacks such as poison mushroom power-ups, counterproductive level warps, and mid-air wind gusts. The game has 32 levels across eight worlds as well as 20 bonus levels.
A speedrun is a play-through, or a recording thereof, of a whole video game or a selected part of it, performed with the intention of completing it as fast as possible. While all speedruns aim for quick completion, some speedruns are characterized by additional goals or limitations that players subject themselves to, such as collecting all key items, playing blindfolded, or attempting to achieve goals that are particularly not a desirable goal for a video game's community. Players speedrun mainly to challenge themselves, to entertain, to compete with themselves and others, and to attain mastery over a games systems in a way that would not be possible in an ordinary playthrough. Players performing speedruns, called speedrunners, often record their attempts. These recordings are used to entertain others, to verify the completion time, to certify that all rules were followed, and to spot ways to further improve the completion time.
ROM hacking is the process of modifying a ROM image or ROM file of a video game to alter the game's graphics, dialogue, levels, gameplay, and/or other elements. This is usually done by technically inclined video game fans to breathe new life into a cherished old game, as a creative outlet, or to make essentially new unofficial games using the old game's engine.
Speed Demos Archive is a website dedicated to video game speedruns. SDA's primary focus is hosting downloadable, high-quality speedrun videos, and currently has runs of over eleven hundred games, with more being added on a regular basis. SDA additionally used to host two annual speedrunning charity marathons, Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) and Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ), before Games Done Quick LLC started holding the event independently in 2015. It hosted nine marathons in total, and raised over $2.7 million for various charities, with the most successful one being AGDQ 2014 which raised just over $1 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
Glitching is an activity in which a person finds and exploits flaws or glitches in video games to achieve something that was not intended by the game designers. Players who engage in this practice are known as glitchers. Some glitches can be easily achieved, while others are either very difficult or unperformable by humans and can only be achieved with tool-assisted input. Glitches can vary greatly in the level of game manipulation, from setting a flag to writing and executing custom code from within the game.
Virtual Console, also abbreviated as VC, is a line of downloadable video games for Nintendo's Wii and Wii U home video game consoles and the Nintendo 3DS handheld game console.
The Nintendo Player’s Guides are a series of video game strategy guides from Nintendo based on Nintendo Power magazine.
The Minus World is a glitched level found in the 1985 video game Super Mario Bros. It can be encountered by maneuvering the protagonist, Mario, in a particular way to trick the game into sending them to the wrong area. Players who enter this area are greeted with an endless, looping water level in the American version, while the Japanese version sends them to a sequence of three different levels. The difference is due to the former being on a cartridge and the latter being on a disk, which arrange data in different ways. It gained exposure in part thanks to the magazine Nintendo Power discussing how the glitch is encountered, and Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto denied that the addition of the Minus World was intentional, though he later commented that the fact that it does not crash as a game could make it count as a game feature.
Narcissa Wright is an American speedrunner and co-founder of the website SpeedRunsLive, which allows speedrunners to race with one another in real time. She has previously held the records for the fastest completion of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the GameCube, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the iQue Player, Paper Mario on the Wii using Virtual Console, and Castlevania 64 on the Nintendo 64.
Super Mario Bros. is a platform game developed and published by Nintendo. The successor to the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. and the first in the Super Mario series, it was released in 1985 for the Famicom in Japan. Following a limited US release for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in late 1985, the Vs. Super Mario Bros. arcade game port for the Nintendo Vs. System received a wide international release for overseas markets outside of Japan in early 1986, before the NES version received a wide release in North America the same year and in PAL regions in 1987. Players control Mario, or his brother Luigi in the multiplayer mode, as they travel the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser. They must traverse side-scrolling stages while avoiding hazards such as enemies and pits with the aid of power-ups such as the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman.
Kaizo Mario World is a series of three ROM hacks of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System video game Super Mario World, created by T. Takemoto. The term "Kaizo Mario World" is a shortened form of Jisaku no Kaizō Mario o Yūjin ni Play Saseru. The series was created by Takemoto for his friend R. Kiba.
Piotr Delgado Kusielczuk, better known as The Mexican Runner or TMR, is a speedrunner who specialises in Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) games. After three years, on February 26, 2017, TMR was the first player to play through the entire NES catalogue, completing all 714 officially-licensed titles in a project he called NESMania, which earned him a Guinness World Record. TMR is also known for his speedrunning accomplishments in Contra, Battletoads, and Cuphead.
Alex Tan, better known under the screen names PangaeaPanga, Pepanga and formerly Penangbenny, is an American ROM hacker, speedrunner and tool-assisted speedrunner. He is best known as the creator of difficult Super Mario World ROM hacks and Super Mario Maker levels. His notable work includes Super Mario World ROM hack Super Dram World and Super Mario Maker levels "P-Break" and the "Pit of Panga" series. He has also played through Super Mario World blindfolded.
SethBling is an American video game commentator and Twitch video game live streamer known for YouTube videos focused around the 1990 side-scrolling platform video game Super Mario World and the 2011 sandbox video game Minecraft. He created original and derivative video games, devices and phenomena in Minecraft, without using Minecraft mods. He created an interpreter for the programming language BASIC and an emulator for the 1977 home video game console Atari 2600 in Minecraft. In addition to Minecraft builds that run without mods, he created plugins for the game.
David Hunt, known online as GrandPooBear, is a video game streamer, speedrunner, and creator of Kaizo Super Mario levels. A Red Bull athlete, Hunt is primarily known for playing and creating levels for Super Mario Maker. He has also performed at various Games Done Quick events and TwitchCon, and has hosted his own in-person and virtual speedrunning events.
TASBot is a tool-assisted speedrun robot created in 2014, developed by a team led by dwangoAC. The robot takes a list of controller inputs which it then sends to a console such as a Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) directly via signals to the controller ports.
Zfg is an American speedrunner and streamer known for his The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time gameplay. He has held various records in speedrunning the game and its alternative version Master Quest, most notably the 100% completion category for the original game, which he had held the record for since mid-2015. He was the first person to complete Ocarina of Time to 100% in under four hours. He currently holds the record in this category with a time of 3 hours, 3 minutes and 32 seconds, as of March 2021.
The 2020 Nintendo data leak, more commonly referred to as the Nintendo Gigaleak is a series of leaks of data from Japanese video game company Nintendo on the anonymous imageboard website 4chan. The releasing of data started in March 2018, but became most prominent in 2020. Nine main sets of data leaked on 4chan, ranging from game and console source code to internal documentation and development tools. The name "Gigaleak" mainly refers to the second leak on July 24, 2020, which was 3 gigabytes in size. The leaks are believed to have come either from companies contracted by Nintendo in the design of these consoles, or from individuals previously convicted of intrusion into Nintendo systems. An earlier, much smaller leak had also occurred in 2018 which had the Nintendo Space World 1997 demos for Pokémon Gold and Silver leaked.
Carl Wernicke, known online as Gymnast86, is an American speedrunner and streamer notable for his speedrunning world records and discovery of exploits in various 3D Zelda games.