Why Speedrunners Use Glitches

Why Speedrunners Use Glitches

Any time Kotaku writes about speedruns, we find that a good chunk of the community can’t understand why someone would willingly use glitches and cheats to play through a game. Doesn’t that make the playthrough less valid? Isn’t abusing glitches, you know, wrong?

Let’s forget for a second that there are different types of speedruns out there, and that if glitchless runs are more your thing, then you should probably check those types of runs out. Reader Eric Koziel emailed us an excellent breakdown of speedrunning, which touches on the controversial subject of glitch use. It’s probably not surprising to hear that speedrunners don’t really think about games in the same way the average person does:

Many viewers have an expectation that speedruns clear the game using only the tools intentionally given by the developers. This is an explicit constraint on the run brought on by an internal perception of the game. This by itself is not inherently wrong or incorrect, but it is based on an attachment to the game. Speedruns in the unconstrained case are separated from this in that the game itself is no longer regarded as a game, but is instead the medium. The “game” then becomes the optimization problem, while the medium is just a set of implicit constraints. In this sense, there is no such thing as a glitch, provided that nothing external to the medium impacts it.

In the case that explicit constraints prevent the use of glitches, there are still a few points to clarify. First of all, it is quite difficult to objectively classify what is and is not a glitch. A glitch or bug in the technical sense is when a program achieves an unexpected state as a result of programming errors. A glitch is fairly apparent when a calculator program fails to calculate 2 + 2 correctly, but is not as clear when mapped to a complex program such as a game. In some cases it may not be apparent what the original intention for a function was. A famous example is the original Street Fighter 2, in which consecutive hits were not meant to connect but in some specific cases could be chained together. This was not the original intention according to the developers, but it formed the basis for the “combo” systems seen in every fighting game since.

Earlier in the article, Koziel posists that speedruns are essentially optimization problems where someone tries to find the best possible path through a game — which can mean the use of glitches, if the constraints put on top of the speedrun allow for it.

“In the context of speedrunning, implicit constraints are imposed by the game environment,” Koziel writes. “You can’t start the game with full power-ups because that’s just not how it’s programmed. Falling in a pit will kill you. Those are the ‘rules’ of the game, so to speak. Explicit constraints describe optional objectives, which are better translated into “categories” of speedruns. These include 100%, glitchless, low%, and any other applicable category for a game. Categories exist when the case without limitations (referred to in general as “any%”) is uninteresting or effectively solved, or where there is significant incentive to achieve the secondary goal.”

He continues:

Many people have an aversion to glitches because they see it as something that goes against the spirit of the game. The “spirit” of the game is in the end subjective; it doesn’t mean the same thing from person to person. “Playing the game as it’s meant to be played” also changes the optimization goal to maximise for enjoyment, which has no objective measure and is specific to an individual’s experience. Thus, in the context of speedruns as an optimization goal for least frames, there is no distinction between glitches and normal play unless called out in the explicit constraints. A glitch occurs as just another transition of state, regardless of what a player may see on the screen.

Not everyone is going to feel the same way about glitches — that’s OK. When you or I play a game, we’re not necessarily trying to “optimise” the run in the same way a speedrunner might. Heck, in the past I’ve purposefully made playthroughs of games I enjoyed way longer than they needed to be. In cases like those, doing a glitch that skips an entire portion of a game (for example) might compromise our enjoyment of the game. But a speedrunner isn’t playing with the same mindset. Heck, finding something that’s new and potentially usable for optimization might make the game more exciting.

Plus, the entire process of finding and using a glitch, contrary to what it might seem, can genuinely take lots of skill. People spend endless hours perfecting their runs, optimising their paths. With all of this in mind, it’s really not fair to assume that a speedrun that uses glitches is somehow less valid or takes less effort than a “legitimate” playthrough (whatever the heck that means).

In any case, if you’re interested in learning more about what speedruns are, Koziel’s write-up on them is a must read.


    • Thats all that needed to be said.
      That and 16 gif’s.

      You should write for Kotaku!

  • I believe there are different ways to speedrun games, not just one controlled by a single group.

    There’s, “As fast by any means possible”, which includes glitches.
    There’s, “As fast as possible by design”, which ignores glitches and play the game as intended.
    and both of those can be split between “Real-time” and “Assisted Program”. One in which someone risks mistakes in real time to achieve that result and one uses programs to assist them in finding the shortest possible route. Like how some people speedrun SNES games on an emulator at 1/4 the speed so that they can land every jump or attack at pixel perfection.

    • hmm interesting, so does 1/4 emulator speed mean the game clock runs at 1/4 normal time? or is the speedrun time measured independently

    • I agree.
      Personally I like unglitched speed runs. Not because I consider it pure but because that’s the way I played the game (speed run or not). I can compare my run to the speed run and think “Geez, that took me 10 hours and he did it in 5?! Nice!”
      But when a story pops up and says someone beat it in 1:30 using glitches I have nothing to compare the achievement to. That hour and a half is inconceivable to me.
      Clearly it is impressive, but I can’t quite relate.

      And lets face it, I can’t recall the last time a speed run story appeared on Kotaku that covered a glitchless run.
      Smaller numbers no matter your camp seems to be better news.

      (Not sure how I feel about speed runs using 1/4 speed though. That seems like a bit of a cheap way of doing things. It’s like Neo running hurdles in the Olympics against normal folk)

      • And you have brought up the main reason that people complain when articles turn up on sites like Kotaku or IGN, most people don’t relate. For people, like myself, who are avid members of the speed running community we can relat and appreciate the glitches that are used! especially ones that cut out entire sequences. It’s all about relatability!

        And on the 1/4 speed runs, these are a separate category known as Tool Assisted Speedruns, and are designed to push a game to the absolute edge, and figure out times that humans can’t possibly get!

        • Sequence breaks are awesome to watch…not only by watching the sequence break itself, but then watching how the player goes about finishing the rest of the game without the use of whatever he should have gained had he not skipped that section of the game. It’s quite fascinating. Metroid and Zelda are two good examples of this.

          • Zelda any% is the perfect example of what speed running is all about! It’s considered the gateway drug to speed running other games! I know it’s the first game me and many others started seriously running!

  • I’m fine with sequence breaking but I don’t really care for speed runs that use hard glitches to cut the game down to something extremely short. Playing Ocarina of Time flawlessly for 20 minutes just doesn’t have the same impact on me as the endurance trial of playing Ocarina of Time at an extremely high level for a long period of time. You end up talking about cutting off 3 seconds performing a doorway glitch rather than being good enough to clear every room quickly, solve every puzzle quickly, survive without getting extra hearts, etc.
    I’m not saying there’s no skill involved in glitch runs, planning and executing them flawlessly is certainly hard work, it’s just not quite the same as a record run where someone achieves a better result purely through faster reaction times, higher accuracy, etc.

  • I love watching how runners break the games and optimize their route through. Probably why I enjoy the heck out of the SGDQ and AGDQ marathons put on by Speed Demos Archive every 6 months. I get to see games I grew up with get broken down and run faster than I ever thought possible.

    • Yeah but after watching these marathons for a few years, its really just the same games again and again and again, it gets stale, especially the zelda and mario runs.

  • “If it’s in there, then it’s fair game…”

    As long as you aren’t modifying the game in any way, shape or form it’s not cheating or hacking. Just because someone knows how to do something sneaky in a game that you don’t know how to do doesn’t make what they are doing wrong, it just makes you ignorant of the methods.

  • It’s all good. My only problem is those who try to pass off something as other than what it is. Ya know, other peoples videos as their own, or runs by bots that are then passed off as human controlled… stuff like that. Other than all that, the only thing I’d recommend to the Speed-run community, is some sort of mutually-agreed labeling, for recorded-runs and the like. That way we’d have a better idea of what is real, and what is fakery. Unless it has been done already?! I’m talking about once videos of runs proliferate out on the web from their original core-sites. Twitch has got a fair-few real-time speedruns I’ve noticed poping up lately, too. Would also make it easier for more people to jump-in and give it a go themselves.

    • Even the “faked” ones aren’t typically run by bots. They’re normally run by humans under very strange conditions. Tool-Assisted Speedruns (TAS) are typically made over a long period of time with a group of people using slow down and save states to get absolutely perfect sections of the game. Then they’ll paste those sections together to get the “perfect” run.

      These runs are normally marked as TAS because there is a world of difference between them and a normal speedrun. It’s the difference between writing a novel and improvising a speech.

  • I definitely enjoy unglitched speed run more as I can learn few things from watching them playing. All I learned from glitched speed run is how to cheat the system…

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