How to start speedrunning

So, watching SGDQ got you bit by the speedrunning bug. Now you want to be that guy on the couch blazing through your childhood classics. But where to begin? How do you go from a casual player to a professional speedster? Well it takes a lot of thought, research, practice, and a small monetary investment as well. Here’s our guide to getting started in the speedrunning community.

Choose Your Game

Choosing a game to speedrun might seem trivial, but it’s the most important decision you will make. In theory, every game can be run. In practice, there are many games that are poor choices for your first speedrunning attempt.

The very first thing you want to do is pick a game you enjoy. You will be playing this game a lot while practicing your runs. Think several hours each day. So you are going to want to pick a game that you really and truly love, one that you won’t get bored of no matter how much you play. You won’t get very far if every attempt becomes a chore.

The next thing you have to consider is game length. For your first speedrun, you’ll probably want to choose a relatively short game. Aim for a game that can be run in around a half hour or less, something that doesn’t take a lot of time when you have to reset. Classic platformers are probably your best bet. Steer clear of RPGs as they tend to take multiple hours to run, and while these are incredible to watch, they are intensely frustrating to practice. No one wants to play a game for 3 hours just to fail right before the end.

Finally, you’ll want to consider how random your game of choice is. The best speedrunning games have as little variance as possible.  Bosses with random patterns or enemies with random placements will make it difficult to plan an effective route through the game. The more random a game is, the more likely it is that the game can decide to ruin your run for no reason. First time runners should aim to pick a game with zero variance. Once again, classic games work best. The lower tech a game is, the fewer random elements it tends to have.

Do Your Research

Unfortunately, getting good at anything requires some study and speedrunning is no different. First, you’ll probably want to head over to YouTube and watch some existing speedruns. Take note of the strategies each runner uses. Watch the current world record, but also watch some other attempts with safer and easier strategies. These are probably the runs you are going to want to emulate.

Search around for a speedrunning community based around the game you want to play. Good places to start are Speed Demos Archive and the speedrunning subreddit. Ask for advice from existing runners. Find a route and print it or, if an optimized route doesn’t exist, take notes while watching speedruns and write the route yourself. Also, print out step by step instructions on how to do every glitch, skip, and trick in the game. You’ll want these on hand when you start your actual runs.

You should also research categories for your game of choice. There’s a huge difference between any% runs which attempt to beat the game as quick as possible, and 100% runs which require you to complete all the quests. In general, I’d recommend an any% run for your first run if there aren’t many tricks to memorize. Otherwise, I’d choose a 100% run. Essentially, choose whatever category requires the least breaking of the game to start.

Gather Your Tools

Before you start running, you are going to need the right equipment. First, make sure your controller is in perfect working order. Buy a new one if you have to. Many world record attempts have been ruined simply because a controller button was sticky. Speedrunning is about being perfect, so your equipment has to be perfect too.

Second, download a timer. I personally recommend LiveSplit. Timers like this will not only time your run, but individual sections of your run. They can then compare those sections to previous runs and even the world record, letting you know when you are on track for world record time. Timers like this will let you know which sections you have to improve on, and the best timers will automatically start, stop, and divide sections up as you play your game of choice. No extra inputs needed.

Next (and this is going to be a bit controversial) you’ll want to download an emulator or invest in a console that allows you to use save states. Speedrunning is largely muscle memory, and it’s difficult to build muscle memory for later stages of a game when you have to go through earlier sections first. You’ll want one save state before each section as divided by your timer, and then further save states for particularly difficult sections and/or skips and glitches. When practicing, you’ll want to focus on one section at a time and these saves can help tremendously.

Finally and optionally, you’ll also want to invest in a lagless monitor or TV. Many speedrunning tricks are “frame perfect”, meaning that they have to be done within a sixtieth of a second. That’s a lot easier when you aren’t experiencing any input lag.

Your First Runs

Now that you have everything you need, boot up your timer and play your game casually. Don’t worry about breaking world record times. Don’t worry about performing crazy glitches or skips. Just play through the game from beginning to end and time yourself.

Then, before you even attempt an actual speedrun, it’s time to practice. Practice every area of the game. I recommend practicing in reverse order, i.e. practice the later sections of the game first. These are the ones that you’ll want to hammer into your muscle memory. Early sections of the game tend to be simple and give you a lot of leeway to screw up and improvise, so they usually require less attention.

Don’t even worry about doing full runs right now. Just figure out how the game works. Understand every skip. Memorize enemy placement. Rehearse boss strategies over and over again.

Also, while you practice, try to distract yourself. Put on music. Watch a TV show. Have your little brother pelt you with nerf darts. This sounds foolish, but you are trying to learn muscle memory, not visual memory. You want to be able to complete these sections as if they were second nature to you, and learning to play them through distractions really helps the learning process.

Once you have practiced a bit, attempt an actual run. Don’t get discouraged if you screw up. Just play through the game from start to finish, but this time with your speed strats in mind. You’ll be astounded at how easily you beat your casual times.

Fine Tune and Perfect Your Run

Now that you have an actual run under your belt, it’s time to get serious. All those safe strategies you were using before? It’s time to ditch them. Now you have to practice every single section with optimal strats in mind. Frame perfect tricks? Do them. Glitches? Do them. Anything that could possibly save you time. Do it.

From this point on, it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Once you have a decent run speed down, you’ll want to start doing full runs rather than starting from your save state. Keep shaving off small bits of time, sometimes only five or ten seconds, as you continue to get better.

Finally, avoid the desire to reset the game immediately. Unless your run is totally screwed by RNG or a huge time loss, you can usually make up any early lost time by a good performance in later stages. Resetting often will burn you out, forcing you to play the first few stages over and over again. Remember, you chose this game because you love it, so you’ll want to experience it all on most of your runs. Plus, resetting makes your practice become front heavy. This is why I said you should practice the game in reverse order.

And that’s it. Now you are speedrunning with the rest of them. From here, you’ll probably want to keep up with your speedrunning community of choice. You’ll constantly see new strategies get posted and you’ll probably want to integrate them into your run as soon as you can. Teach new runners the ropes whenever possible. Fiddle around with the mechanics of your game and see if you can find some strange skips or glitches. Heck, if you get good enough, submit a run to AGDQ or SGDQ. Maybe you’ll find yourself up there on the couch next year.