SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom may be one of the most improbable video games of all time, a licensed project that turned out to be both a great game and a worthwhile challenge for the speedrunning community. But the absurdity doesn’t stop there: SpongeBob speedrunners recently discovered that smudging their Xbox discs could result in much better times, though the tactic may be rendered obsolete in the near future.
A new video by YouTuber and SpongeBob speedrunner SHiFT details the community’s findings. Essentially, marking up the Battle for Bikini Bottom disc in a specific way interferes with the Xbox’s ability to read it, resulting in hitches between gameplay and menu screen that make it much easier to perform a “lag clip,” an important trick that lets players squeeze through normally inaccessible barriers by overloading the game with excessive pausing.
The speedrunning community has long tried to optimise Battle for Bikini Bottom runs on the hardware side, cataloguing the different versions of the Xbox disc drive to find out which provides faster loading times. The downside is that the quicker the console accesses data from the game disc, the harder it becomes to lag clip. But by combining smudged discs with the fastest hardware, serious players could theoretically have the best of both worlds.
Speedrunners have been known to do some wild things to beat games more quickly. On top of simply playing for hours on end, we’ve seen them crawl around on the floor while in virtual reality, inject their own code into Super Mario World, and even mess with the Famicom by putting it on a hotplate. I’m not quite sure where to rank squirting ketchup onto a Battle for Bikini Bottom disc in pursuit of the best, but it’s certainly up there.
After further testing, however, this smudging method was found to be pretty unreliable itself, not to mention it’s bad form to go around ruining copies of an 18-year old game. Some speedrunners have also come to the conclusion that lag clips are too reliant on hardware inconsistencies to be considered a viable or worthwhile tactic moving forward.
“It’s too much,” SHiFT explained during a Twitch stream last night. “You need something as fine as a scratch on the disc to make these things work, and we’re not gonna be defacing our discs. That’s just not gonna happen. That’s ridiculous. And like I’ve said before, it’s unethical to do that because the whole point of speedrunning is to preserve a game.”
SHiFT went on to explain that new developments in Battle for Bikini Bottom speedrunning might make lag clips, and thus the need to screw around with discs, obsolete anyway. By making it legal to run the game from hard drives via soft-modded Xboxes, the community would be able to level the playing field by normalizing load times across the board and making lag clips impossible, removing the frustration of searching for the perfect console with the perfect disc drive to make pulling off the difficult technique a little less so.
There isn’t a single, unifying body at the centre of speedrunning, but rather a disparate collection of detached scenes that do their own thing for the most part. Battle for Bikini Bottom players will need to come together and figure out what’s best for them while balancing frustrating mechanics and accessibility to newcomers. At least we now know that smearing their discs with ketchup is (probably) off the table.