WHAT!?!
December 8, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

This is a tool assisted speed run of the 1997 PSX game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In it arukAdo (the author) abuses glitches in the engine to destroy the basic rules of the game world. Some highlights (though it's worth watching all the way through for fans of the game): The player character, Alucard, moves like a Trueblood vampire, warps through space to obtain items earlier than normal, blinks in and out of existence, and destroys the very fabric of reality. He explores areas outside the normal bounds of the game, hovers myseriously in place, and annihilates the prince of darkness in seconds.

It's been covered before (previously, previously, previously), but TASes (tool assisted speed runs) exploit holes in a game's design to abuse random number generation, capitalize on glitches in the game's engine, and corrupt memory through deliberate manipulation.

Here are some forums that discuss TAS methodology.

If you search under the category of 'Heavy Glitch Abuse' at TASvideos.org then you can see similar results with different games. A few of my favorites are...

Legend of Zelda 2
Chrono Trigger in ~20 minutes
Crash Bandicoot 2 (feel free to skip the repetetive parts where he's jumping on boxes or pulling crystals out of his jorts)

Lurked via the SomethingAwful forums.
posted by codacorolla (87 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
exploit holes in a game's design to abuse random number generation, capitalize on glitches in the game's engine, and corrupt memory through deliberate manipulation

Also known as Trainers, or just plain cheating.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyone mentioning free time will first be beaten and then forced to contemplate one of the YT comments:

The frog at 28:00 still makes me laugh every time I rewatch this
posted by DU at 10:00 AM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


The frog at 28:00 still makes me laugh every time I rewatch this

You can catch this with the "blinks in and out of existence" link, and I agree, that is terribly funny.
posted by codacorolla at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2010


This thing, with the deep linking directly to timestamps in YouTube videos? I like this. Let's do more of this.
posted by Zozo at 10:05 AM on December 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


If Dracula can have Death itself as his first lieutenant mini-boss, I think all bets are off!

I can respect this kind of cheating, at least, in that these are people who've played through the games, probably several times without going to cheat tools right away. It's not them skipping the experience, it's them making a new one on top of the game they've already mined out.

(also, watching that Zelda 2 link makes me realize how much that game was padded with "Where do I go now? Ah damn! Random encounter! Better grind up so this isn't so hard!" etc.)
posted by yeloson at 10:08 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


What is a Tool Assisted Speed-run? A miserable little pile of secrets!
posted by Greg Nog at 10:12 AM on December 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


I only like speed runs, tool-assisted or no, when I can maintain at least the illusion that someone, somewhere, could play the game that well. Bugs that are in the software are okay to exploit; for instance, there's some weirdness with Super Mario 64 where you can crouch on stairs or something and travel to areas you shouldn't be able to reach yet.

But when someone's actively breaking the code by tweaking with data values in memory, that crosses a line for me. That's not a tool-assisted speedrun anymore. That's just inducing bugs in interesting, perhaps amusing ways.

You shouldn't then record the results and post them to video sites as anything other than 'hey, look at the funny results when I screw with this code'.

Maybe they should call them glitchruns, not speedruns.
posted by Malor at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


or just plain cheating.

It's not cheating, it's playing a different game.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You shouldn't then record the results and post them to video sites as anything other than 'hey, look at the funny results when I screw with this code'.

If you had clicked any of the video links, this is exactly what you would have found.
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2010


Tool-assisted runs don't strike me as cheating. They're alternate achievements.

There's little about their presentation that would lead the viewer to think they're straightforward playthroughs. The challenge is optimization for a particular parameter (time, usually), the only constraint being to get to the end of the game from the beginning, and this brings to bear a different set of problems to solve than the original game's premise.
posted by ardgedee at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2010


Man, kids on the PSX had them some rooten tooten Castlevania action. I was waxing nostalgic all NES up in this thing. Whip whip! Whip whip!
posted by cavalier at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, Castlevania SOTN is the reason why I still have a PS1 (and a PS2, but more often than not that's for DVDs). It made a huge impression on me as a young person, enough so that I schemed to get one of the songs in at my wedding which we held at a church ministered by a friend of the family. I had this playing during the seating. I thought, "Ho ho, I'm being so sneaky, getting all these religious people listening to video game music. Ho ho ho." Little did I know.

I still bust it out every once in a while and do a completionist run from memory. The fact that I (and many others) have this innate "I don't remember, but I think there's something in the wall right one screen, up one and back to the left" sense of the game never ceases to amuse me.
posted by boo_radley at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not cheating, it's playing a different game.

Sorry, but it's cheating when the goal is "warps through space to obtain items earlier than normal" and "annihilates the prince of darkness in seconds".

Playing a different game is... playing some other game. Or loading a new map, with new powerups or weapons. This ain't that.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2010


There is no "cheating" in a single player game. There are only different ways of playing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:20 AM on December 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


(also, watching that Zelda 2 link makes me realize how much that game was padded with "Where do I go now? ...)

Also, a dude named error.
posted by knave at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2010


There is no "cheating" in a single player game.

You could cheat yourself. However, this really looks like "homework machine" type of problem. Building the machine is actually harder than doing the work yourself, so if you are "cheating" like that it isn't really cheating.
posted by DU at 10:28 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, Castlevania SOTN is the reason why I still have a PS1 (

If you PS1 ever breaks SOTN is available on XBLA (probably the best thing on there) and PSN
posted by hamida2242 at 10:28 AM on December 8, 2010


I only like speed runs, tool-assisted or no, when I can maintain at least the illusion that someone, somewhere, could play the game that well. Bugs that are in the software are okay to exploit; for instance, there's some weirdness with Super Mario 64 where you can crouch on stairs or something and travel to areas you shouldn't be able to reach yet.

Maybe they should call them glitchruns, not speedruns.


I agree with every word of that. I find speedruns way more interesting. Having worked in game development for a while now, glitches and bugs don't hold any kind of magic for me. Cheating or not, it's just dull.
posted by eyeballkid at 10:28 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


But when someone's actively breaking the code by tweaking with data values in memory, that crosses a line for me.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but none of the linked videos are doing any ROM hacking, right? They're abusing bugs that existed in the original games.
posted by knave at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2010


I don't think the people carping realize just how time consuming, technical, and competitive the TAS world is. Click around their forums if you're curious, and feel your neckbeard grow by proxy.
posted by codacorolla at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


With a single-player computer game you are essentially playing against the computer. Tool-assisted speedruns strike me as not so much about cheating, as about competing with the computer on its own level. What this reminded me of more than anything is that scene where Neo realizes he is not constricted by the rules of the Matrix.
posted by oulipian at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not cheating. It's playing a different game.

Putting together a tool assisted speedrun, at the extremes of high speed, is actually quite hard work. You're basically solving a puzzle -- what's the fastest you can move from A to B to C to D, while meeting all ancillary requirements?

It's another way to solve constraints, one that isn't bound by human reflexes. As long as it's marked as what it is, it's quite cool.
posted by effugas at 10:31 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


That being said, there's a tangible difference between flipping bits in memory, and doing things that *cause* bits to be flipped in memory. I personally don't know of speedruns that involve memory manipulation above and beyond controller input.
posted by effugas at 10:32 AM on December 8, 2010


That being said, there's a tangible difference between flipping bits in memory, and doing things that *cause* bits to be flipped in memory. I personally don't know of speedruns that involve memory manipulation above and beyond controller input.

From what I understand of this particular run, every time he saves it's reseting the % complete of the map, which allows him to miss whole rooms, yet still get a 'perfect' game.
posted by codacorolla at 10:34 AM on December 8, 2010


Maybe I am too much of a purist but I do not understand the desire to 1) mess with a game's mechanics in order to play in a way other than how the developers intended and 2) watch someone else do the same. Wow! It's like a completely new game! Except it's the same game and it is being fucked with! Fascinating.

There is no "cheating" in a single player game. There are only different ways of playing.
This makes me roll on the floor, laughing. Yes I quite like the idea of video-game-relativism.
posted by m0nm0n at 10:35 AM on December 8, 2010


It's not "relativism," because there is no moral question. A single-player game is an entertainment product. Deriving pleasure from an entertainment product is the goal; if deriving pleasure from it means that you iddqd through it, blasting everything you see, fine. If it means that you play it with more constraints on yourself than the developer places on you, fine. It doesn't matter. It's entertainment.

Now, if you are playing a single player game and misrepresent your achievements to others—as in saying that you've won at Nethack, when you've actually only ascended a wizard-mode character—that's different... but only because you're no longer playing a single player game at that point, you're playing a meta-game which consists of achievements within the single player game.

Personally, I like to beat the game legitimately once; then everything is fair game. I also like to rewatch movies while rewinding and fast forwarding, and I often read plot summaries before I go to the movie theater.

Same concept.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm pretty agog that there's anyone here opposed to this. The person owns the product and is using it for a legal end that entertains them. What's wrong with that? Furthermore, the video records made clearly state what happened and so there's no false claims being made.
posted by DU at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2010


Look at this twelve minute speedrun of Megaman. Walking through walls is a comparatively minor cheat. The speedrunner forced the game into such a glitched state that the game is no longer able to keep track of where the walls are supposed to be. Whole levels are glitched away. Random numbers sometimes appear on the screen. The soundtrack starts breaking down.

It's the first time I've ever felt sorry for a video game.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


Well, I'll take a beautifully printed score to the St. Matthew Passion that I purchased and blow a huge wad on it and then burn it. Hey, I can do whatever I want with it, it's mine! Now, are you agog at the fact that I did this? Maybe if I post a video to YouTube it would be more appropriate.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:57 AM on December 8, 2010


No. Why would I be?
posted by DU at 11:02 AM on December 8, 2010


No, because that took no ingenuity or skill. This actually does. Much more than just playing the game. Every one of the people who does a TAS? Probably about a million times better at the original game than you.

Furthermore, this has no bearing on the original game; it still exists and isn't damaged in the slightest. These guys can just disable the tools they have written and stop using the glitches they devised and—voila. It's Symphony of the Night, the same as it's ever been.

You guys remind me of a dude I knew who wouldn't play custom maps in Quake DM because they weren't "real."
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


This seems relevant. [xkcd]
posted by knave at 11:15 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sorry, but it's cheating when the goal is ... "annihilates the prince of darkness in seconds".

To be fair, you could do that with equipment the game provides you, no glitches necessary.

My understanding of tool-assisted speedruns is that they're much harder work than just playing through the game. I don't think all of the people here going "pssh, it's just cheating" really understand the amount of effort that goes into exploiting glitches to find the fastest possible path through the game. There are goofy extremes, though.
posted by girih knot at 11:15 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You guys remind me of a dude I knew who wouldn't play custom maps in Quake DM because they weren't "real."

I knew a guy in college who objected to some scenes in movies or TV shows using the phrase "oh, they just wrote that part in". I never had the heart to break it to him that all of it was "written in".
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on December 8, 2010


Look at this twelve minute speedrun of Megaman . Walking through walls is a comparatively minor cheat. The speedrunner forced the game into such a glitched state that the game is no longer able to keep track of where the walls are supposed to be. Whole levels are glitched away. Random numbers sometimes appear on the screen. The soundtrack starts breaking down.

That must be what The Protomen see when they do acid...or something.
posted by schmod at 11:19 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea that any of this is "cheating" is hilarious. Making a TAS is thousands of times more work than actually playing the goddamn game. Many of these have re-record counts in the tens of thousands, representing hundreds of hours of work. I share other commenter's appreciation for TAS which maintain the illusion of playability, but it's really all just shades of gray when you consider the sheer impossibility of 99% of the things that happen in them.

It's like someone built the world's largest log cabin and people are knocking it because it had to be built with a crane. The process is implied by the result, and the result is implied by the process.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:24 AM on December 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


I do not understand the desire to 1) mess with a game's mechanics in order to play in a way other than how the developers intended

Because you already played the way the developers intended, several times, mastered it, and now want to keep playing with it like a set of legos?

I mean, look at people who play games with self-imposed restrictions ("Use only melee weapons", "Never use X weapons", etc.) - sure, there's an element of challenge, but also, there's a way in which the game is fundamentally changed and you're getting a new experience. (I remember having dogfights with Banshees in Halo 1 Campaign mode with my friends... because we could.)

I played the hell out of Sonic 1. Then I found out about debug mode- I got to explore the edges of the map that I couldn't get to. I got to set up challenges of enemies to run through. I could speed through the boring parts of the game and just play the levels I wanted.

I already beat the game. I had fun beating the game. I had additional fun playing at the edges of it.

These folks? They're playing with the edges of the game. It doesn't have to be your kind of fun and it's not ruining anyone else's fun for them to do it.
posted by yeloson at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Same concept.

Hardly. One is akin to warps, the other akin to FAQs or Brady guides. If you manipulated the movie to behave in a way other than how it was intended (characters appearing in wrong scenes, etc.) by the team who created it, then we'd be on the same page.

Again, like I said, maybe I'm too much of a purist, but I like challenges as they are presented. Pretending you are doing something better or different by breaking the fundamental rules of the game world as presented to you seems like a blatant case of cheating, single-player or no. You are violating the norm; you are exploiting mechanics; you are "playing" the game in a fashion that is wildly different than what was obviously intended by the creators. The game lays out its rules in a rulebook or in-game tutorial; choosing to ignore those is cheating. Just like iddqd was cheating (it is known as a "cheat code," after all). If you have fun, great, but I don't see the point in it, or a subculture around it.

You guys remind me of a dude I knew who wouldn't play custom maps in Quake DM because they weren't "real."

That dude sounds silly. He's missing out on a bunch of awesome maps!
posted by m0nm0n at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2010


It'd only be cheating if they passed it off as real-time playing. Nobody hides the fact that these are tool-assisted. It really is just a different game. Instead of playing well in real-time, they're optimizing a complete play of the game. It's less about twitchy skills, more about careful planning, thoroughness, and patience. Different game, different skills.
posted by factory123 at 11:31 AM on December 8, 2010


Oh, speed runs! I swear I'd never spend another evening drinking and watching, but I can't quit you.
posted by Theta States at 11:33 AM on December 8, 2010


Man! Back in college I held a speed-run record for Super Mario World (this was before TAS) - I had it down to 14:21. I held it for about a month before some awesome kid in Japan knocked it down to around 12 minutes. I see it's now down to 10:59.

It was really a blast. Quite an audience would gather in our grubby little dorm room. I did everything on a traditional, unmodded snes and recorded it with a camcorder. It was incredibly time-consuming - one little misstep and the whole thing was shot.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:34 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know what the absolute least fun thing you can do with a Lego set is?

Follow the instructions in the book and build the thing pictured on the box.
posted by 256 at 11:35 AM on December 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


What flabbergasts me is he's doing a TAS and yet it still takes 57 minutes. That's a lot of game.

It's just silly to get upset about someone glitching a 13 year old game and making video of it. it's cool, it's creative, it's obsessive, what's not to like? And if you're feeling like a purist, why, enjoy any of the many fine non-tool-assisted speed run videos instead. Personally my pleasure level is that emulator save-states are OK, but deliberate glitching not so much.
posted by Nelson at 11:45 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like playing chess occasionally, and sometimes I like to watch other people play chess. It's neat to watch a master play and seeing him exercise his skill within the bounds of the game.

However, when the master picks up his knight and starts flying it around like an airplane making pew pew noises, and then flips the board over, eats the king, and declares that he wins... maybe that's fun for him, but I'm not interested or impressed anymore.
posted by Menthol at 11:47 AM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


(also, watching that Zelda 2 link makes me realize how much that game was padded with "Where do I go now? Ah damn! Random encounter! Better grind up so this isn't so hard!" etc.)

I have played a lot of Zelda 2 in a non-TAS sense and can say the game, while still quite difficult, does not require grinding if played well enough. Part of that is in taking advantage of the quirks of the game's experience system strategically. This relies on a few unusual facts about the game:

In the US version, you are allowed to "cancel" experience levels and put the points into a different "category" than the one that costs the least experience points. Most players ignore this because it's risky, as in, if you run out of lives before achieving the higher level you lose those points. But if the game is played skillfully enough the risk decreases quite a bit.

The canceling thing is very useful when getting close to finishing a dungeon. When you finish a dungeon, you are granted enough experience points to make whatever the next level is. If you've played so that your levels are Life-1, Magic-1, Attack-6, and you have more than the paltry 100 points needed to get your experience meter past the Life and Magic levels, then completing a dungeon will earn you all the points needed to get to Attack 7, which can be around 4 or 5 thousand. This is not an academic example: I have done this, by the end of the third dungeon, and with no grinding at all.

What's more, whenever you gain a Life or Magic level, you get a free refill of that meter. This can be abused to get free health or magic refills, at the cost of having to put up with taking more damage or having more expensive magic before then.

The original Japanese version, for the Famicom Disk System, has some substantial differences from the U.S. Zelda II and later Famicom ROM releases of the game. The experience charts are entirely different, generally lower, but you also can lose experience levels when you run out of lives if they aren't built "evenly," that is, they're reset to the lowest level you have. If you have build 1-1-7 like in my example above, then when you run out of lives you'll restart with 1-1-1! If you build to 2-2-7 however, you'll end up with 2-2-2. Despite this, the game is a bit easier, with some enemies worth more points, especially later on. (It also contains more repeat bosses, one fewer boss overall than the US version, and a bit less graphical polish.)

The real key to playing Zelda II well, however, is learning the tricks to beating the difficult enemies. Ironknuckles, those hateful knights with the shields, can be killed with little trouble (at least for the non-blue ones) by jumping and swinging your sword on the way down, so the blade slices through the helmet of the enemy; they can't block that attack. It's a bit easier to time if there's a low ceiling. If you get your attack way up by the third palace as I generally do, then orange and red Ironknuckles die in one and two hits, respectively. There are similar tricks for the lizardman enemies (basically, make a shallow, ducking jump and attack nearly simultaneously) and the infuriating bird people in the last dungeon (upthrust your sword into them when they jump over you).

Even with these tricks however the game is still fairly difficult. The axes of the alligator people in Death Mountain can only be blocked with a spell you can't have learned by that point in the game. For them, you have to rely on the fact that the orange ones just swing over and over, timing your counter-attacks for when they aren't swinging so they're knocked away when the swing happens. The purple ones you basically have to jump over their thrown axes.

I should note that probably the reason Zelda II is so hard is to make the experience system matter more. If you didn't need high levels to beat enemies, then you wouldn't need to think about which level to build. But most players don't think about that. And instead of trying to complete dungeons with lower levels they grind to get their experience up, which I think is more of a problem with human nature in conjunction with experience systems that supply unlimited enemies to kill than Zelda II specifically.
posted by JHarris at 11:48 AM on December 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


However, when the master picks up his knight and starts flying it around like an airplane making pew pew noises, and then flips the board over, eats the king, and declares that he wins... maybe that's fun for him, but I'm not interested or impressed anymore.

What if he flies through the wall, causes the walls to flash neon, and then explodes back into our plane of reality so hard that a toad literally explodes into a fireball?
posted by codacorolla at 11:56 AM on December 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know what the absolute least fun thing you can do with a Lego set is? Follow the instructions in the book and build the thing pictured on the box.

Yeah, but that's kind of a false analogy. That's a full-on building set you're talking about. Video games usually offer a more structured experience.

I've become gradually less interested in TAS videos over time. They're just getting bizarre. Yet it's usually TAS videos that get linked to by websites, even though the process of playing them, always in an emulator and while watching the simulated machine's RAM, is entirely different than playing through normally. While the game is beaten "soon" than before, that's something of a equivocation; what you don't see is all the time spent replaying sections, examining the game state, trying different ways through a screen, etc., that don't make it into the final playthrough which is typically a controller playback of the perfected thread of the game.

A TAS is basically a run through of the game by a hypothetical divine player who has perfect knowledge of the game's internal state. For action games that's not so big a deal, but in RPGs that rely on the player having limited information it actually could be considered cheating an even more profound level than being able to arbitrarily save and restore your state to any point in the game. Not that this actually matters, since again you're more assembling a kind of metaplay of the game, but hopefully it gets across why I find tool-assisted speedruns so unsatisfying.
posted by JHarris at 11:58 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The chess analogy is flawed, because the master flying the knight around the board is violating the game's "code". He is not only breaking the socially-expected standards of play (eg. "if you touch it, you must move it") but also the explicit, codified rules that define "chess" (eg. knights move two squares in one direction, then one ninety degrees from that). Flying the knight around is like modding or memory hacking. There are subcultures for those sorts of things too.

Tool-assisted speedruns are more like contriving a game where you back your opponent's king all the way into a corner and then checkmate with a pawn. It's massively unlikely to be useful in competitive play, but it's impressive nonetheless.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:11 PM on December 8, 2010


However, when the master picks up his knight and starts flying it around like an airplane making pew pew noises, and then flips the board over, eats the king, and declares that he wins... maybe that's fun for him, but I'm not interested or impressed anymore.

Yeah, but that's a completely invalid analogy. Doing that takes no skill. Doing a great TAS, though, is incredibly difficult: it's a fascinating mixture of art and deep programming skill. Now, perhaps this isn't your cup of tea, and that's fine; but it's vital to understand just what an amazing achievement the best speedruns are. Do you reject all electronic music because a human being could never play all of those instruments at once?

Or, put another way, TAS's are a weird and enjoyable dance between the maker of the game and the TASer. The intention is never to "play" the game but to play with the very parameters of the game itself. It's a new sort of artform that the makers never intended and it's amazing.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ok, so this isn't really related but talk of Mega Man and such made me think it would be worth mentioning here (on the off chance that any of you have not seen this) Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006. (That's just part one - all the single-link versions were lower quality. Second part in sidebar, of course).
posted by neuromodulator at 12:26 PM on December 8, 2010


However, when the master picks up his knight and starts flying it around like an airplane making pew pew noises, and then flips the board over, eats the king, and declares that he wins...

I am suddenly interested in chess.
posted by Theta States at 12:34 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The most absurdly broken TAS I've ever seen is the recent Super Mario 64 improvement, getting the time down to 5 minutes and 4 seconds. It's pretty ridiculous.
posted by LSK at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2010


LOL at the Prince of Darkness:

Dracula: "How? How is it that I have been so defeated?"
Alucard: "dont feel bad bro i haz mad hax"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:29 PM on December 8, 2010


Well, I'll take a beautifully printed score to the St. Matthew Passion that I purchased and blow a huge wad on it and then burn it. Hey, I can do whatever I want with it, it's mine! Now, are you agog at the fact that I did this? Maybe if I post a video to YouTube it would be more appropriate.

... previously
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:33 PM on December 8, 2010


It's better if you stop thinking of it as "gameplay" and start thinking of it as a hacking challenge.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've played Castlevania SOTN more than any other game in my life. I think played it every day for two or three years---well beyond what it requires to beat the game or beyond any reason the game makers might have conceived of. I carried 99 of every possible item (except the Duplicator which itself costs 500K, but I did have a dozen or so of those {see? totally totally pointless}). For me it just hit some sweet spot of RPG, Castlevania nostalgia, and 2D worldmap that felt completely comforting. I'm sure there are better games out there, but none compare to your first love.
posted by mattbucher at 2:16 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are we discussing Castlevania or the Kobayashi Maru?
posted by Challahtronix at 2:48 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


m0nm0n: Again, like I said, maybe I'm too much of a purist, but I like challenges as they are presented. Pretending you are doing something better or different by breaking the fundamental rules of the game world as presented to you seems like a blatant case of cheating, single-player or no. You are violating the norm; you are exploiting mechanics; you are "playing" the game in a fashion that is wildly different than what was obviously intended by the creators. The game lays out its rules in a rulebook or in-game tutorial; choosing to ignore those is cheating. Just like iddqd was cheating (it is known as a "cheat code," after all). If you have fun, great, but I don't see the point in it, or a subculture around it.

I think this is an argument about terminology as much as anything. We refer to "video games" as games despite the fact that the vast majority of single-player experiences might better be described as toys or puzzles. Scott Kim's article on "What is a Puzzle?" paraphrases Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design to demonstrate a hierarchy of complexity:
Games are rule-based systems in which the goal is for one player to win. They involve "opposing players who acknowledge and respond to one another’s actions. The difference between games and puzzles has little to do with mechanics; we can easily turn many puzzles and athletic challenges into games and vice versa."
Puzzles are rule-based systems, like games, but the goal is to find a solution, not to beat an opponent. Unlike games, puzzles have little replay value.
Toys are manipulable, like puzzles, but there is no fixed goal.
Stories involve fantasy play, like toys, but cannot be changed or manipulated by the player.

For instance, in the realm of computer entertainment software,

•Quake is a game, which includes some puzzles.
The Incredible Machine is a series of puzzles, which includes a toy-like construction set for building puzzles.
SimCity is a toy, which players make more puzzle-like by setting their own goals.
Myst is a story, which happens to be told partly through puzzles.
Video games have mechanics, yes, and these mechanics resemble rules. If a glitch allows the player to circumvent some of those mechanics, you can argue that this goes against the creators' intentions. Such a glitch signifies a failure of execution on the part of the game's creator in implementing that intention.

However. To quote Michael "Kayin" O'Reilly: "Developer Intent is bubkis."
As a developer, when you release a game, THATS IT. Thats what the player has to play. Unless you patch it, its over. Trying to figure out what the developer was intending is stupid for a number of reasons. There are probably a number of obviously fair tactics the developers didn’t intend or think about. Players won’t and shouldn’t play in some sterile ‘what would jesus-imeandeveloper do?’ way. They figure out and exploit the nuances.

Games that are interesting are not interesting because the designers perfectly plotted every little detail of the game. That is umpossiblz. Instead, they make games interesting by creating environments where interesting nuances and details will emerge. Whether or not something is a glitch doesn’t exactly matter. Glitches and exploits have often been legitimized in games by the developers, and obviously intended tactics have been removed because the developer went “My god, what was I thinking!”
When I play Super Mario Bros, I always attempt to jump into the first pit in level 1-1 at full-speed. If I miss that pit, I either reset the game or stop playing. Why? At this point, it's a tradition, and it's a tradition that I value higher than the game's implicit objective of avoiding hazards. Why should I put the developer's intent over my own enjoyment? I happen to love falling down that pit at full speed, at first because it pissed off my friend when I was a kid, but now because this is how I play Super Mario Bros now. By your definition, m0nm0n, I'm cheating when I do this, but I cannot help but strenuously reject that choice of terms: I'd be cheating to jump into that pit at less than maximum velocity, or (worse) to continue through the level without jumping into that pit at least once.

If there's not another human involved that I'm competing with, it doesn't matter what the creator intended: it's my game and I'll play it how I want.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 3:05 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's better if you stop thinking of it as "gameplay" and start thinking of it as a hacking challenge.

I think that's probably the best way to put it, really.

As a game-player, I don't find much of interest in these sorts of videos. As a code monkey and tinkerer, I find them absolutely fascinating. I find the disdain a bit weird considering the MeFi community's general respect for the concept of remixing.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:08 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


ReeMonster: "I'll take a beautifully printed score to the St. Matthew Passion that I purchased and blow a huge wad on it and then burn it. "

You just compared Castlevania to St. Matthew's Passion.
posted by boo_radley at 3:17 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, when the master picks up his knight and starts flying it around like an airplane making pew pew noises, and then flips the board over, eats the king, and declares that he wins... maybe that's fun for him, but I'm not interested or impressed anymore.

codacorolla: What if he flies through the wall, causes the walls to flash neon, and then explodes back into our plane of reality so hard that a toad literally explodes into a fireball?

Who plays chess with a toad? I was following your logic until that point, and then me. Rooks, pawns, knights and bishops, those guys I understand. But a toad?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2010


ardgedee : Tool-assisted runs don't strike me as cheating. They're alternate achievements. There's little about their presentation that would lead the viewer to think they're straightforward playthroughs. The challenge is optimization for a particular parameter (time, usually), the only constraint being to get to the end of the game from the beginning, and this brings to bear a different set of problems to solve than the original game's premise.

If you don't object to simply walking through barriers that normally require hours of playtime to get past, what fraction of the game would you say they need to skip to make it count as "cheating"?

As the absurd extreme, you can trivially (in most games) have the "start a new game" option jump directly to the "you win" sequence. If nothing can kill you, you can kill anything in one hit, and no obstacles can block you (including not just plot-barriers, but actual normal walls), I don't see how taking a quick jog through the game's maps counts as all that much more impressive than just "start -> you win".

Now, a non-TAS glitchrun, I might feel differently about (for example, the door / morph-ball trick in the original Metroid). But this? Just not that impressive.


jsnlxndrlv : If there's not another human involved that I'm competing with, it doesn't matter what the creator intended: it's my game and I'll play it how I want.

Absolutely. Play however you want... But I don't care how perfectly you jump in that pit, just not YouTube-worthy (and I say that with a pretty damned low opinion of the average YT vid in general). And, hacking the game to let you jump in it even faster still doesn't merit an audience.


Sorry to sound like a hater, but I consider this comparable to a home-run derby with aluminum bats. To a trampoline slam-dunk. To winning the Kentucky Derby with an F1 racer. Without the challenge, none of those mean anything. And as a programmer, I can assure you that these don't even rate as impressive hacks. For most games, pick an effect/item/location and give me five minutes with a debugger (or softICE, if this needs to run on real hardware), and I'll give you the appropriate addresses and values to do whatever you want.
posted by pla at 4:18 PM on December 8, 2010


But pla, they're not munging memory. They're figuring out how to make it happen with controller input. That's a lot more interesting, even if I can't see myself ever devoting a single minute to it.

Kind of like WoW and dwarf fortress and minecraft and eve played normally... fascinating just as the results of human endeavor. These people may gain satisfaction from odd things, but clearly they are gaining satisfaction and people are interested in seeing the results. Just... people that aren't you.
posted by flaterik at 4:26 PM on December 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


What if he flies through the wall, causes the walls to flash neon, and then explodes back into our plane of reality so hard that a toad literally explodes into a fireball?

I watched the linked video and didn't see the human player do anything remotely resembling that. I did, however, see pixels on the screen represent things in that manner.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:37 PM on December 8, 2010


This thing, with the deep linking directly to timestamps in YouTube videos? I like this. Let's do more of this.

For whatever reason, they don't work for me. (Flashblock?)
posted by kenko at 4:40 PM on December 8, 2010


Okay, since no one is getting this:

They don't fuck with the game's memory or code.

Everything you see in a TAS video is the result of controller inputs. In fact, when people publish their runs, all they upload is a file which tells the emulator which buttons were pressed at which time. The word "glitch" is just to note that they press buttons which cause the game to do unexpected things. It's like you're looking at a remote, privilege-escalating, heap-corrupting, integer-overflowing exploit and saying "That's easy, I can start notepad just by clicking on it". The fact that these guys found a series of button presses which break the game so badly is testament to how smart and dedicated they are.
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:53 PM on December 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


They don't fuck with the game's memory or code.

Thank you! I was going to post just to say this. You can pretend that its like what would happen if Superman were really into video games instead of fighting crime.
posted by Green With You at 5:05 PM on December 8, 2010


What is tripping people up here is that there are different kinds of games, and different ways of approaching those different kinds, and thus different kinds of cheating.

Most games have at least some aspect of hidden information in them. Examining the machine's state to discover what those are is cheating. But if there is no hidden information in the game then that might not be cheating.

Savestate abuse might be cheating if the game doesn't support saving. However, I'm currently playing through Deadly Towers, and I use savestates in that game just to avoid having to write down passwords. That's technically cheating, but player intent matters here. I'm not using it to cheat my way through the many horrible rooms of Death Bats.

BTW, random game fact: Many RPGs use a non-intuitive mechanism for generating random encounters. They don't roll the dice on each step or given times as you might expect. They instead roll number of steps after the last encounter or when the last screen change occurred, with the encounter occuring then. This number is often bounded so that you won't get too low values, and is always bounded so there's an upper limit to the number of steps. They often count more than one step when you pass through higher-encounter zones like woods or hills.

This itself can be abused. Going from memory here, Mother/Earthbound Zero rerolls the number of steps every time the field menu is entered. This allows TAS players watching the step counter to go through the game without getting a non-scripted fight. But it can theoretically be abused even by players not watching memory; if you party is temporarily traveling through an area with difficult monsters, it's in your best interest to pace before entering it until you get into a fight, to reduce the number of encounters you face in the difficult region.
posted by JHarris at 5:10 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there's not another human involved that I'm competing with, it doesn't matter what the creator intended: it's my game and I'll play it how I want.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 6:05 PM on December 8 [!]
I'm going to assume you've just given me explicit permission here to TAS (and I mean utterly destroy) the next exquisite knorpse.
posted by yeoz at 5:19 PM on December 8, 2010


flaterik : But pla, they're not munging memory. They're figuring out how to make it happen with controller input.

Okay, I didn't have that impression from the links, but if so, consider me impressed.


JHarris : But it can theoretically be abused even by players not watching memory

Heh, true enough. I learned way back in the days of the original NES that you could avoid random encounters in many RPGs simply by going to the menu (or doing something else trivial - I don't remember the game, but I remember one where casting any noncombat spell, such as the lowest level heal spell, would always give you a few encounter-free steps). Of course, in most RPGs, you spend most of the game trying to get in fights so you have good enough stats for the next boss you meet. ;)

posted by pla at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


So does anyone know why the guy seems to do the same thing twice in a row occasionally?
posted by kenko at 5:33 PM on December 8, 2010


And saving occasionally—what's the point?
posted by kenko at 5:44 PM on December 8, 2010


It's possible, in my comment above, I may have misunderstood the OP's phrase, "capitalize on glitches in the game's engine, and corrupt memory through deliberate manipulation.". I understood that to mean running the code in an emulator, and manipulating the memory externally, much like a Gameshark did to a real console. In reading subsequent comments, and carefully re-parsing the original post, I realize this may be an incorrect read.

If he's actually doing everything purely with a controller, as though a person were sitting there (even if it's in multiple pieces recorded individually with savestates or whatever), then I have no objection to calling it a TAS, and am duly impressed.

If it's being manipulated externally, then I think it's more a 'glitchrun', and I find it much less interesting. Even if they're limiting themselves to 'real' inputs, should they be using machine emulation to, say, send joystick events faster than a human could possibly send them, to try to overrun a buffer or something, I'd also think of that of external manipulation, and thus a glitch.

As far as 'cheating' goes, that's just silly. "To cheat" is a transitive verb. There needs to be a subject of the sentence ... you need to be cheating someone. If you're playing a solo game with no interaction with other people, you can't possibly cheat. You're just enjoying the game differently than the author(s) intended.
posted by Malor at 5:45 PM on December 8, 2010


"To cheat" is a transitive verb. There needs to be a subject of the sentence ... you need to be cheating someone.

Transitivity means that you need an object, and "cheat" isn't a transitive verb. The following are perfectly grammatical: "he's cheating!"; "he's cheating at checkers". (The OED agrees: "4. intr. a. To deal fraudulently, practise deceit.")

You might think that cheating is as it were conceptually transitive, in that no one can cheat who isn't cheating someone. That's a separate issue from the grammatical transitivity of "cheat". It is also, I think, false. I can cheat at solitaire. You might say, then I'm cheating myself, but that's a pretty desperate move.
posted by kenko at 5:52 PM on December 8, 2010


Or, you know, cheating on a test. Another case where people are inclined to say, mystifyingly, that the cheater cheats h/hself.
posted by kenko at 5:52 PM on December 8, 2010


As far as 'cheating' goes, that's just silly. "To cheat" is a transitive verb. There needs to be a subject of the sentence ... you need to be cheating someone. If you're playing a solo game with no interaction with other people, you can't possibly cheat.

It depends.

Many games are designed with the intent that overcoming them is a challenge, but doing so is a big accomplishment. This is what I mean when I occasionally mention the 'Mt. Everest' school of game design. If you use out-of-game means to beat a game like this, you've not truly won. But many kids failed to see the difference, and went out into schoolyards claiming to beat, say, Zelda II with Game Genie codes. If you then go on to claim to other people that you did it without mentioning that fact then you are lying, and if you do mention that fact you won't get much credit for it. The same is true for claiming to have ascended in Nethack, but you actually used backed up saved games.

It is true that this all amounts to cheating at solitaire. For most people, the "intended" way of playing the game is the best one because the game was designed around providing interesting challenges when played that way, or at the very least present a narrative arc that makes the most sense when this is done.

What tool-assisted speedrunners are doing, as people have stated above, is playing their own game that contains the subject game. The rules to that are different, and provided for cheating in the subject game in order to derive more entertainment from the metagame. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this in most cases*, except that it might be considered detrimental to one's enjoyment of the subgame.

*Explaining the weasel words "in most cases": It is hard to make flat, always-true pronouncements about these things. I might be able to imagine a kind of game where this isn't true. Most of the examples I can imagine are actually multiplayer games in some sneaky way, or rely on persistent state that carries over between games.
posted by JHarris at 7:38 PM on December 8, 2010


yeoz: I'm going to assume you've just given me explicit permission here to TAS (and I mean utterly destroy) the next exquisite knorpse.

Man, if I'd known you were willing, I'd have asked you to do that! I have absolutely no problem with people employing software assistance to beat that thing. Load it up in the level editor and study exactly which areas connect where: that's entirely up to you. Hell, load it up in a level editor and fix our terrible design decisions, and subsequently redistribute: as long as it's acknowledged that this is a different version of the game with additional tuning from another editor, and I have no grounds to complain.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:25 PM on December 8, 2010


I have to say that I find TAS runs a lot more compelling to watch when the player limits themselves to normal gameplay. The TAS as the ur-perfect game, which could theoretically be played by a mathematically perfect player, is more interesting than glitching out games. Even glitches that are technically possibly by a good player, like metriod door-jumping, makes the TAS less interesting to watch.

I think a lot of these glitches also rely on things that aren't electonically possible within a real system, like hitting all of the buttons at once (even up and down together on a D-pad, for instance) or hitting a key 15 times in one second.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:01 PM on December 8, 2010


The reason you'll see oddly inefficient-seeming actions or stuff being done twice is that the player here is deliberately manipulating the game's pseudorandom number generator in order to get a more favorable result down the line.

And yeah, in theory, if you had a way to hook up a controller to a computer with accurate-to-within-1/60-of-a-second actuators on the buttons or something, you'd have this. They might be looking at the man behind the curtain, but they never get to talk to him directly.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:49 PM on December 8, 2010


Family Feud TAS -- pretty funny, especially the look on the opposing teams' faces after each set of questions gets demolished.
posted by jcruelty at 2:05 AM on December 9, 2010


I think a lot of these glitches also rely on things that aren't electonically possible within a real system, like [...] hitting a key 15 times in one second.

In fact this has been done on a physical controller by Hudson spokesman and minor Japanese celebrity Takahashi Meijin, who is famously said to be able to hit a button 16 times a second. I can probably do north of 10 myself with one finger, and possibly more if I have two buttons or a wide spacebar to smack.
posted by JHarris at 2:21 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


And saving occasionally - what's the point?

I haven't watched the video in full yet but is he actually saving, or just opening the save menu? Either will refill your life, which is probably necessary for the odd glitch.
posted by stelas at 2:38 AM on December 9, 2010


It occurs to me that watching a robot play a TAS might be epic.
posted by effugas at 3:31 AM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I probably should've done the leg work when making the original post, but here is the TAS forums thread about this particular run, which includes people discussing the methods used by the author, which will explain some things (like the saving that he does).
posted by codacorolla at 11:50 AM on December 9, 2010


That discussion is fun, codacorolla. I like how the community applauds this run specifically because of all the bizarre glitching it does.
I think there's a mistake in the title. That wasn't Symphony of the Night, it was too broken to be! In other words, yes vote. :p

You broke the graphics and most of the game as well. Yes vote.
There's also some debate on whether he cheated the TAS rules by starting with a glitched memory card that unlocks some things for sale earlier than you'd get them otherwise.
don't the rules say that you must start from a clean starting point?

You shouldn't do it unless there is a good reason but like all rules they can be broken for the sake of entertainment. If arukAdo decides the run is better without a clean memory card I'm inclined to agree with him.
posted by Nelson at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2010


Portal in 10 minutes. (9 of which are waiting for GladOS and elevators). Mix of basic technique and glitches. Involves lots of jumping backwards, sliding portals halfway under closed doors, and working a portal on the edge of a wall to jump entirely outside the geometry.
posted by Nelson at 9:13 AM on December 10, 2010


I've watched the first 20 minutes so far. I really wish there was a version that had a running commentary explaining what's going on.
Everything seems very impressive, but I'm sure things are even more imperssive in the context of the linear game.
posted by Theta States at 8:41 PM on December 14, 2010


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