Image credit: Dennis Burger
It’s a big milestone in an important game, but it also signals the possible beginning of the end for the race to beat Super Mario Bros. as quickly as possible.
It was last October that Darbian set the game’s previous world record with a time of 4:56.878.
The discovery of a new flagpole glitch was revolutionising the runs, leading to a frenzy of record breaking that ultimately ended with Darbian until Kosmicd tied his run around several weeks ago.
Speedrunning the game has become so refined that players spend months chasing improvements of only a fraction of a second. That’s why last week an unexpected fish flying across the screen demolished one of Darbian’s otherwise perfect attempts.
So what allowed him to finally improve his time by .35 seconds a year later? “I performed the flagpole glitch in 8-3 to save a FR,” he said in an email. “My 8-4 was exactly as fast as my 8-4 in the last record, so the total improvement was exactly 1 FR / 21 frames / ~0.35s.”
That glitch, which allows players to grab the flag at the end of a level at the very bottom, rather than somewhere above and waiting for Mario to come down, was originally being used on 1-1 and 4-1.
Since those levels come early in the run, they were low hanging fruit. 8-3 on the other hand required more practice since it comes toward the end of the run and pulling of the glitch requires precise play leading up to that point.
Now that Darbian has finally incorporated that time saver into his previous best run, however, the opportunities for improving in the game are disappearing. “There are still two humanly-doable framerules to save,” he said.
“The first is in 1-2 and the second is in 4-2, totalling 0.7s. Beyond there, one could save a few frames in 8-4 — up to a handful without doing anything too crazy. There’s another handful of frames that could be saved by going all out”
Darbian believes 4-2 will be the next frame rule to fall. A frame rule in Super Mario Bros. speedrunning refers to the way the game tracks time, only loading subsequent levels at intervals of 21 frames, so if two players fall within the same frame rule, their times will be identical, even if one was slightly faster.
In order to “get” the frame rule on a level, like 4-2, it means completing it fast enough to break into an earlier interval. That level includes glitches that are hard to pull off together, which is why an optimised 4-2 run wasn’t a part of recent world records (when the flagpole glitches were discovered, many speedrunners abandoned it in favour of easier, more reliable time savers).
Stuckinaplate is one speedrunner who is currently trying to achieve every frame rule in a single run. This sort of brute force method would potentially lead him to an unbreakable record, but it’s also much less likely to see success, especially in the short run.
All told there’s just shy of a second left to improve on the current world record before Darbian believes people may have hit the limit of what’s humanly possible. “You can never call a game solved, but at this point I think it’s unlikely any new human-doable time saves are found.”
Instead, what’s left for the small army of people still trying to speedrun the game in its any% category is to improve on the execution of individual exploits. “We do continue to find more consistent ways to save existing FRs though,” Said Darbian.
“Such as the new start delay to essentially eliminate the ‘non-optimal’ shot in 8-2 which Kosmic fell victim to in his current PB.” Start delays help plays manipulate the moving obstacles on a level, and in this particular case the old way of doing it wasn’t reliable.
“We use a start delay to manipulate the cannon at the end of 8-2 so the bottom cannon shoots to the right as early as possible,” said Darbian. “Previously, the delay we used resulted in the cannon shooting at the right time roughly 50% of the time, otherwise it would shoot slightly later, resulting in a loss of a FR.”
Improvements like this that increase the odds of a trick working also increase the likelihood that any given attempt leads to success. Even if the best possible world record in Super Mario Bros. is fast approaching, there’s still a secondary meta race around developing the most optimised route through the game that also yields the most reliable results.
Where will the game’s speedrunning community be in another year? “I give the new record a 60% of surviving this year,” Darbian said. “For comparison, I gave the last record a 50% chance of surviving 2016.”
You can watch Darbian’s most recent world record in its entirety below.