Built for Speed, Just Like Keanu Reeves

I like to break video games.

This has been a subject of much turmoil for any poor friend or significant other stuck playing games with me, as my inherent curiousity makes me venture far off of the beaten path every few seconds, looking for something I’m not supposed to see or do. It’s not so much the desire to ruin my experience as much as a way to see how the various moving parts work. After all, games are, by their nature, a controlled experience. You are acting inside of a virtual shoebox diorama, knowing that eventually outside of that boundary is nothing, but we willingly give into the illusion, suspending our disbelief. This is why games I enjoy tend to give a sense of a greater world that I’ll never interact with, making it easier to accept the smaller sample size I’m confined to.

But sometimes I just want to peak behind the curtain and check out what the Wizard never intended for my eyes to see. There are other ways to do this outside of just clipping through walls, though. I vividly recall moments in my youth when I’d gleefully discover that one spot in the corner of the room that the boss could never ever reach me, or the enemy that didn’t know what to do to someone throwing endless low kicks. These are instincts that I find myself having to turn off when making videos, lest they all be three hours long. There is actually a moment in my Resident Evil 7 Demo playthrough where I couldn’t help myself and started venturing off during a controllable cut scene, seeing if the other characters would continue on their set path if I turned the other way and walked out.

It wasn’t until my annual binge-watch of the Awesome Games Done Quick marathon that it kind of hit me that I share this mentality with most speedrunners. It would certainly explain why I enjoy watching runs so much, even for games I wouldn’t typically care about. There’s something fascinating and a little bewildering about watching someone that has mastered Wayne’s World for the NES, for example. There’s a level of commitment there that I couldn’t see myself matching, even for games that I love, so I’ve been content to remain a spectator, watching from afar. Watching a Castlevania run from a couple years ago changed that for me.

About four minutes into the video, the runner does a skip involving a bat that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. I never saw it as a trick so much as a way to simply bypass the tedious water area. Speedruns are full of these “damage boosts” as they’re called, where you intentionally take a hit so that the resulting animation puts you somewhere you wouldn’t normally be able to go. What follows after are a series of glitches and other exploits that make the normally 3 hour game only last about 1/12th of that. It’s pretty wild to see, especially if you’re someone that’s long associated Castlevania with the Nintendo Hard designation and never got very far.

I had a bit of a different reaction, however. While I was definitely impressed, my intimate knowledge of Castlevania also gave me the impression that the things the runner did were actually possible for an amateur such as myself. The truth of the matter is, my vaunted “no continue” runs that I’ve idly done for years have already equipped me with a particular skill set that leads itself rather well to beating Castlevania quickly.

Could I, too, be a speedrunner?

More on this story as it develops.

@DamienWilkens

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