Extended Description of SDA

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MatrixTN wrote this for a class assignment. He says "I have no problem with any of it being used in the KB, provided my name's on it somewhere." Use this when you want to give people a detailed description of what SDA is about. Please keep it up to date.

Speedrunning – Playing Games Quickly and Skillfully

Have you ever wondered how fast you could beat your favorite video games? Speed Demos Archive (speeddemosarchive.com) has videos of over 700 games beaten quickly, skillfully, and legitimately (no cheat codes, turbo controllers, or extreme glitches). Run by Mike Uyama, Nathan Jahnke and Kevin Juang, SDA has players from various parts of the world attempting to blaze through their favorite video games as fast as they can. Some players even tell interesting stories of how or why they ran the game, or about points in the game that they found hard to master (efficient boss strategies, difficult time-saving tricks).

How SDA Started

SDA first came into existence in April 1998 through the merger of a pair of Quake sites. Nolan Pflug, one of the original founders, completed a 100% run of Metroid Prime in 1 hour and 37 minutes in November 2003. The run received a lot of hype and inspired him to open SDA to all games in April 2004. Nathan Jahnke, who also runs Metroid 2002 (www.metroid2002.com), joined that summer with his video capturing services. Mike Uyama, a veteran runner, joined around August 2006 taking over Pflug’s contact and verification duties. Pflug left around late 2007 and Kevin Juang signed on around January 2008 taking over for Pflug and another mod that left around the same time.

How Runs Work

Players take their favorite game and system, set it up by connecting to their VCR/DVD recorder and TV, and record themselves playing it. After a successful attempt, they contact Uyama through one of several communication outlets and describe the run with details of the game, completion time, type of run and some notes. Uyama attempts to find verifiers for the run to ensure that there is no cheating or foul play in it. The player is not allowed to send the tape until Uyama has found enough verifiers. The verifiers remain anonymous throughout the verification process and may voluntarily reveal themselves either after the run has been posted or it has been rejected. They are also not allowed to mention anything about the run to the player or anyone else as their judgments may be influenced otherwise. As of January 2008, VHS tapes are no longer used for submission as DVD recorders are becoming cheaper. You can still record through your VCR, but you’ll need to transfer the video to DVD. In addition, recording on DVD recorders is slightly more complicated as most have input lag (meaning what you’re seeing is anywhere from half-a-second to a full second behind what’s actually going on and it can be awkward playing games this way), but workarounds have been found.

Run Categories

  • Pure Speed: Mostly known as “any %”, you do whatever it takes to complete the game as fast as possible outside of anything considered cheating. You can acquire or skip items as you see fit. This is the default category.
  • 100%: Collects “everything” in the game. Can be subjective unless the game tracks an item percentage, and some games just don’t lend themselves to a 100% category. It’s usually imperative to ask Uyama or discuss the game’s definition of 100% on the forum, especially if you’re not sure what the game constitutes for it. In general, SDA prefers concise, non-arbitrary definitions instead of comprehensive laundry lists. A good example is “all levels” in games that allow warps like Super Mario Bros. or Battletoads. A bad example would be “all items” in RPGs as there are too many hypothetical questions to ask.
  • Low percentage (%): Alternatively known as minimalist, collects the bare minimum number of items required and still tries to go fast as possible. These runs do not restrict using items that you are forced to obtain (i.e.: Mega Man series where you collect a power/weapon from a defeated boss). These runs are usually slower than any % runs but sometimes skipping everything possible is the fastest way through the game. In that event, the two categories are functionally the same and the run would be labeled as “low %” since it’s more restrictive.

    What’s Not Allowed?

  • Cheat codes such as invincibility, more lives, etc. Codes that are cosmetic (suitless Samus in Metroid) may or may not be allowed, you may have to ask. Codes that make the game harder (no DK and continue barrels in the Donkey Kong Country series) may be considered separate categories.
  • Turbo controllers – You can only use controller features that are standard issue with the game’s system. Thus, turbo is not allowed unless the game has a turbo-fire option or the system’s controllers have turbo built-in (i.e.: TurboGrafx-16). You may be required to show video proof of your button-mashing skill if the run appears to have very fast shooting.
  • Modifying the game while it is running: There are some known exploits such as “crooked cartridge” in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and “CD streaming” in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Think of it this way: don’t mess with your system while playing a game or modify the game itself at any time.
  • Emulators: All runs are done on the actual system. Emulators are not allowed for several reasons: being able to play at a slower speed while recording (you can play back said recording at the correct speed and have no evidence of slow-mo play), most are inaccurate when it comes to timing, and the ROMs of the games are illegal to obtain in most parts of the world. However, you are allowed to use official sanctioned emulators such as the Nintendo GameCube’s “Game Boy Player” and the Wii’s “Virtual Console”, although it is preferable to use the original hardware whenever possible.

    Timing Runs

    If the game has an in-game timer, and is confirmed to be accurate, that will be used. If not, or if the in-game timer is not shown at the end of the game, a standard measure of real time is used. Some game timers (e.g. RPGs) don’t count time spent in pause/inventory screens, in-game dialog and cutscenes, so the time can be substantially lower that the length of the video. In most RPGs that don’t display the time at the end, you might see it in a menu before entering battle against the final boss, the time would be noted with real time added from there. For games that don’t display a timer, or has an inaccurate timer, timing starts when you first gain control of the character, and stops at the end of the game when you no longer have control of him/her (including after defeat of the final boss); any movement that’s possible during/after the credits don’t count. Games that allow you to save anywhere (without save points) have a half-second penalty for each save. That is designed for discouraging excessive saving in a run. The penalty/restriction does not apply to games with save points, as they are a form of restriction themselves. Automatic saves also do not incur a half-second penalty, as they are forced and unavoidable.

    Segmenting Runs

    Most games allow you to save your progress and continue later. Runs can be segmented in that same fashion, and you can retry segments as much as you like in an effort to optimize your run. Segmented runs imply a higher level of risk and a lower tolerance for mistakes. Runs that don’t use saves (in games that you can save) are known as single-segment (SS) runs. Both are separate categories but a SS run that’s faster than a segmented run will obsolete the segmented run. You are not permitted to “save & quit” in SS runs; that counts as a segment, even if you are using that to warp around and continue playing without stopping. The only exception is a game that forces you to reset in order to progress.

    Special Considerations

  • Save warping: Was initially not allowed. Some games that allow you to save at any time don’t put you back where you were when you resume.
  • Intentionally killing yourself (character): Was also initially not allowed and had a time penalty of one minute imposed. This can save time by either teleporting back to a location you need to return to and/or refill your character’s health. Usually encouraged to avoid backtracking. There’s also unintended death, which costs time. A death in a long SS run may be allowed but are usually frowned upon in segmented runs. Due to difficulty in determining death intent, runs with deaths are considered a separate category from deathless runs.
  • Glitches: Unintended “side effects” of a game’s programming. Some out-of-bounds glitches were originally not allowed. There are some exceptions but I do not know what the details are. Glitches that skip only a small part of the game are not considered separate categories, those that skip large chunks of the game are considered such. Faster runs that don’t use these glitches will obsolete slower runs that do use them.

    Have You Done Runs Yourself?

    The only game I (MatrixTN) have done a speed run on is “The Bouncer” on Playstation 2. In fact, I’ve done three on that game: single-segments as all three playable characters individually (and I don’t use the other two throughout the entire run) and they all were in 19 minutes according to the in-game timer. Incidentally, I wasn’t sure if the timer was legit because it didn’t restart when I started a new game immediately after beating it previously or getting a game over (I made sure to only attempt on cold starts or resets). The timer also continued to run on the final screen (seen at the end of Kou’s run) when asked if I wanted to save it for story mode’s “extra game” or just end the game. After checking with a couple of mods, it was determined that what was shown initially at the final screen would stand since I was technically no longer in control of the character and I was at the end of the game. I’ve even had my share of swear bombs after getting creamed by a boss either due to stupidity or bad luck (I had a Volt run attempt die at the final boss and I only needed one more hit to defeat him!) I’ve also been practicing running Animaniacs on Sega Genesis just so I can request having “It’s the Warner Brothers (and Sister)!” or something similar for a site update title. I’m also considering recording audio commentary for it so I can mess with the “Pinky & the Brain” theme.

    Do You Have Any Favorite Runs By Other Players?

    There are probably more runs out there than I can think of as favorites. Some of these runs have either impressed me or have brought some interesting kudos to SDA.

  • Blaster Master (NES) in 36:59 (deaths) and 42:27 (no deaths) by Benjamin Cutler: Cutler recorded audio commentary for both of his runs (the non-death run features questions from his brother). In the non-death run, he mentions a difficult part of the game that always had him freaking out because a lot of attempts have died there and it’s late in the game when it happens. There are also several other glitches in the game that can kill an attempt, such as one of the bosses not appearing causing you to reset since you can’t progress or another boss’ explosion animation takes slightly longer to run.
  • Contra (NES) in 10:17 by Freddy Andersson of Sweden: Known to the SDA community as the “Swede of Speed”, Andersson has acquired an NTSC NES and SNES and he has done a lot of runs on a few games, including this impressive masterpiece. Most people believe that the Konami code (30 lives) is a necessity for completing the game, but Andersson conquers it in only one life (he dies at the very end, but it’s as the final boss is blowing up so no harm done). Some members of the SDA community, including myself, Andersson and about a half-dozen other runners hosted a speedrunning panel at MAGFest this year by showing a montage of speedrunning clips from various games, including this run in its entirety. As the end credits of the video were rolling, Uyama announced that Andersson was the one who performed this while Andersson stood up and bowed.
  • Final Fantasy VI (III in US, SNES) in 4:48 (SS), Final Fantasy IX (PS1) in 8:32 and Final Fantasy X (PS2) in 10:25 by Kari Johnson: Johnson is in the minority as there are very few women who have done speedruns. She’s also probably the only active female runner at this time. She is known to SDA as the “Destroyer of Final Fantasies” as evidenced in this trio of Squaresoft’s (now Square Enix) work. An interesting note is that the FFIX run was recorded over 19 VHS tapes as Johnson never rewound and/or taped over failed segments.
  • Gunstar Heroes (Genesis) in 41:15 on expert difficulty by Mike Uyama: Considered by many to be the best action game, possibly the best game period, for the Sega Genesis. Most of Uyama’s runs are on the hardest difficulty and he has never died in a completed run as far as I know.
  • Justice League Heroes: The Flash (GBA) in 27:26 on Justice mode by Uyama: This received the attention of Wayforward, the company that developed the game. A member of the engineering team had downloaded the run and showed it to the whole company. They were astounded by it! The director of the GBA version posted on SDA’s forum to tell Uyama that it was an honor that he ran the game. Uyama’s not the only one to get praise from a game developer for a game that they did.
  • Metal Slug 3 in 33:19 on hard difficulty by Uyama: This is another masterpiece that deserves an honorable mention. The Metal Slug series is notorious for having to dodge a lot of enemy fire because one hit from anything can kill you (unless you’re in a vehicle). This run took Uyama about a year to accomplish, most of his attempts failed within the first two levels.
  • Metroid Fusion (GBA) with 1% of items in 1:06 (SS) by Damien Moody: This run had started as a joke by Jahnke on Metroid 2002’s forum when he said, “(Moody) should definitely record a 1% single-segment.” According to Moody, this type of run requires one to be a maniac to attempt. It took him 53 tries (around 48 hours worth) to accomplish and he even mentioned that he felt a surge of adrenaline late in the run, “My hand was shaking so fast, (my thumb) was tapping the A button on its own.” He also believes that he has never button-mashed that fast in his life! In addition to adrenaline, he also mentioned during his attempts that his nerves would become shot about midway through the game and he would start using “twitch reaction” throughout the rest of it. Will a 0% run be pulled off on console?
  • Metroid Prime (GC) with 100% completion in 1:37 by Nolan Pflug: This run has been bested several times, the first instance being in November 2004 by Paul Evans with a 1:28 effort, about a year after this one. The current 100% record is 1:24 by Besmir Sheqi. The reasons why I list this run amongst favorites despite obsoletion is because it is considered a landmark amongst the SDA community and that SDA would not be where it is today without this inaugural masterpiece.
  • Super Mario Bros. (NES) in 5 minutes flat by Andrew Gardikis: Half the internet may tell you that this is bogus, that (the player) cheated, and/or that there is no way you can “pull stuff off like that”. Gardikis is recognized by Guinness as the world record holder for the fastest completion of SMB and this is no exception.


    To most of the SDA community, speedrunning makes you play the game like you’ve never played it before. They have played the games so much that they know the boss’ patterns, make the game’s protagonist(s) feel like an underdog, and know when it’s over that someone online is watching the video and thinking things like “How did he do that?” and “Man, this guy’s good!” I’m still a “green thumb” myself when it comes to speedrunning but know what it takes to do it. If you know someone that’s good at video games, tell them to show us their stuff.
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