Talking Speed, Glitches, and More
Since yesterday’s Fan Fridays spotlight generated an encouraging amount of conversation and interest, we reached out to Paraxade0 for a more in-depth discussion about his work. He was kind enough to oblige, and you can read the result of our interview session below.
This interview has been edited to correct grammar and streamline content for the sake of readability.
TSSZ: When did you first begin attempting speed runs, and what attracted you to them?
Paraxade0: I got into speed running a number of years ago, around 2004. I was around 10 or 11 years old at the time. I found out about the Metroid Prime sequence breaking/speed running scene through a chance search result on Google. I really loved learning about how many different ways you could play the game and how many crazy things were possible that I never would have dreamed of otherwise. kip‘s 1:05 speed run, which was the record at the time, completely blew my mind. I got very into it after that. I think I acted like a bit of an idiot around those communities back then, but I guess it was to be expected considering my age.
I got into Sonic speed running after I got an Xbox 360 for Christmas in 2007 and a copy of Sonic 06. Yes, I knew the game sucked, but I still wanted to play it. I joined The Sonic Center to see what the records were so I could compare to my times. At that particular moment, TSC was down, so I joined the IRC channel to find out what was up; this led me to getting more involved in the community there. Anyway, I got my first record at TSC then, before I’d even finished the game, since it turned out barely anyone played Sonic 06 and a lot of the records were not very good.
TSSZ: How do you prepare for a speed run attempt, and (on average) how long does it take you to master your planned route?
Paraxade0: I usually just play through the level until I have the fastest route memorized. While doing that, I’ll play through a couple different routes, try a few jumps that look possible to see whether they actually are, try to think of small ways to speed things up, and look for glitches that could save some time. I actually don’t usually have to memorize the whole level, since it’s fairly evident a lot of the time when a route is slower, especially in the 2D games. Memorizing the level is usually not that hard; I don’t know offhand exactly how long it usually takes, but it’s not horribly long.
Actually attempting the run is a completely different story. How much time that takes can vary depending what level I’m playing, but it’s not uncommon at all for me to have to spend at least a few days on a level before finishing a good run. I’ve even had to spend weeks on some segments of my non-Sonic runs. It gets frustrating and very repetitive – in a sense it’s ironic because it means you need patience to speed run. Needless to say, I have a high tolerance for repetition when it’s something that interests me.
On the other hand, I’ve had other segments where I had to attempt for about ten minutes before finishing a good run. It really depends on the run.
TSSZ: How do you discover the glitches and shortcuts you employ in your speed runs?
Paraxade0: The glitches I find myself are generally related to level design. I think the most important thing is to memorize the level layout. I don’t mean simply memorizing how to play through the level and where everything is; I mean actually understanding how the level is laid out, and where every section of the level is in relation to every other part. In Sonic 06, there’s a shortcut I found at the beginning of Silver’s Aquatic Base. As soon as you start, you can glitch through the wall behind you, then hover through the void until you end up at the end of the first map. I found it by thinking about how the level was laid out and realizing the end was relatively close to the beginning, so I tried to get there and found out it was possible. Another example is this run I did of Speed Highway Modern.
This run utilizes a major glitch 30 seconds in that skips the entire rest of the level up to the goal ring. When I found this, I wasn’t expecting to find a way to skip half the level. I wanted to figure out a way to skip the running down the wall sequence. I figured out that if you drift over the lower edge of the building, you would go flying; eventually I managed to land on that ledge on the side of the building. Noticing it was sloped, I used an interesting trick I’d figured out earlier: if you boost and drift off a slope at a wall, you can start running on the wall. I found that while screwing around in Seaside Hill; that level has tons of walls you can drift on.
That much was enough to let me do what I wanted, but being out of bounds that high up while the rest of the level is so low in comparison got me thinking. I started wondering whether I could actually make it all the way to the goal ring…or if not, at least skip a huge chunk of the stage. I played through the level and tried to pay attention to where I was going and which direction the level curved to learn where everything was and how things were laid out. Eventually, I figured it was somewhere off to the right, so I tried launching off the building in that direction. I saw the searchlights near the goal ring pretty quickly, which was a good indication that there was something there; a couple of tries later, I managed to see the goal ring. After a few more tries, I made it.
Like I said, I’m personally better at finding level design tricks. I’m not so good at finding techniques, which are basically engine exploits that let you get extra height or distance or speed or something like that. For example, I consider things like drifting on walls, going through walls as the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed, or doing the superbounce in Sonic Adventure 2 techniques. These are usually essential to finding things because developers understandable design stages around what you’re supposed to be able to do, not what you actually can do. Being able to get a little bit of extra speed or height usually lets you make jumps that are impossible otherwise.
Other runners’ contributions are also key. For example, one of my favorite runs that I’ve done is Rooftop Run Day in 1:56:98 in Sonic Unleashed. The new run used two significant new tricks over my previous run in 2:50, and neither of them were found by me; DarkspinesSonic found the major shortcut at the beginning that saved I think over 30 seconds, and KAKIPI1000 found a new method to skip the clock tower that was much faster than the method I’d used before. Together, combined with more smaller optimizations, they let me save almost a minute and get a sub-2:00 time.
TSSZ: Is there any one speed run that you’re particularly proud of?
Paraxade0: Actually, the two runs I just talked out are two of my favorites that I’ve done. Rooftop Run involved four days straight of attempts. I love how the run turned out; it’s just full of glitches and it makes for a fantastic watch. I’m very proud of Speed Highway Modern because I found the huge glitch skipping half the level by myself. Breaking a level like that is always very satisfying, but there’s just something special about flying from less than halfway through the level straight to the goal ring.
Outside of Sonic, I really like my segmented speed run of Zelda: Twilight Princess in 3:09. I was working on it for over a year, and it’s got tons of glitches and sequence breaks, like entirely skipping two and a half dungeons. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re familiar with the game.
TSSZ: Some players argue that exploiting in-game glitches makes a speed run less valid than a “legitimate” attempt, and your runs have shown that you do not agree. How do you defend your position on this issue?
Paraxade0: Correct, I don’t agree. My stance in terms of glitches is that anything that can be done in the game without using cheats or modifying the game is fair game. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest reason is that I love glitches. I love being able to take advantage of the game’s mechanics to the fullest extent possible. I love being able to find new ways to play levels that save tons of time, and I love having so many options open. Plus, I love watching them. A run without glitches is nothing special; it’s just a quick “normal” playthrough, and what’s fun or memorable about that? A run abusing a glitch that goes absurdly fast and shows crazy things happening is just jaw-dropping.
But as I said, that’s just one reason. Another is that speed running sites like Speed Demos Archive and The Sonic Center generally don’t track glitch-less times. There’s a simple reason for that, and it’s one I don’t think a lot of people consider: it is nearly impossible to define what counts as a glitch. There are obvious things like flying to the goal ring in Speed Highway that are pretty clearly a glitch, but when you really get down to it, there are a lot of more subtle things you would have to make a ruling on. In Unleashed, when you drift, you gain speed. You can do this almost everywhere to go faster than you normally can just by boosting or running. Chances are gaining speed by drifting isn’t intentional, but the question is: is it a glitch? After all, you’re just drifting. You are supposed to be able to drift. What’s glitchy about that? If you say that’s not allowed, then you’re either denying the player a completely intended mechanic, which makes no sense, or coming up with weird definitions of where you are and aren’t allowed to use a mechanic, which is just weird. If you do allow it, then you’re allowing something that likely wasn’t intended.
That’s just one example. There are tons of cases like this where you can speed things up or, in some cases, skip portions of levels without doing anything glitch. For example, in Unleashed’s Werehog stages, there are multiple places where you can skip required fights by simply jumping around the purple barriers. Jumping isn’t a glitch. At some point you are just arbitrarily limiting where you are and aren’t allowed to do simple actions. It’s a headache and it’s impossible for everyone to agree on a definition, plus it’s a ton of work for the person who has to make decisions abut what’s allowed and what isn’t. Even if you do settle on a definition, the fact that there are people who would disagree with the definition renders the category pointless, because for them, it’s still not a glitch-less run. Simply allowing yourself to go all-out and abuse glitches has none of these problems.
I think people should consider a distinction between something being cheap or lame, and actually being illegitimate or cheating. There’s glitches I don’t like; the lap skip exploit in All-Stars Racing is neat, but it really dumbs down competition. Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast has a glitch in Final Egg where, for some reason, there’s an extra capsule floating out of bounds right at the beginning of Sonic’s level. It’s possible to get to it and finish the level in 7 seconds. My opinion on things like that is that they’re lame and I wish they didn’t exist, but they’re possible to do without cheats or modifications; while I don’t like them, I think they’re legitimate. Of course, there are other things that fall into this category that would simply be stupid to allow. Over at TSC, the general rule of thumb we have is that if something still allows room for competition, then it’s allowed. This generally works well, as it allows practically every possible shortcut or glitch, but it also bans stupid stuff like getting 0:00:00 on every level in Unleashed; that’s my thinking in terms of whether I personally consider something to be legit, too.
TSSZ: Are there any speed runs you are yet to attempt or accomplish to your satisfaction that you hope to tackle in the future?
Paraxade0: The runs I do are usually pretty much done on a whim, so I don’t typically plan anything too far in advance. However, I am currently doing some Sonic 4: Episode 2 speed runs. In Episode 1, I did a complete individual level table for Speed Demos Archive, and I’m hoping I can do the same for Episode 2; I’ve got a playlist of what I’ve done so far. I am still working on it, and things are going relatively quickly; subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want updates. After I’m done with that, I’m probably going to make some more Generations videos, especially if people start putting out custom levels; it’d be a lot of fun to tackle those.
TSSZ: What was the first Sonic game you ever played, and which one is currently your favorite?
Paraxade0: I think the first Sonic game I ever played was Sonic 3 & Knuckles. When I was a kid in elementary school, I went to an after-school daycare, and they had a computer that had the PC version of the game on it. At some point I got Sonic 3 & Knuckles Collection at home, and really started liking the franchise after Sonic Adventure 2: Battle came out.
My favorite game has to be Sonic Generations. My first playthrough was such a nostalgia trip; it was amazing. One of the things that I remember the most from it is when I was doing Dreamcast-era challenges. I picked the Espio one in Speed Highway. It took me a second to recognize the song, but when I did… “Wow! That’s from Sonic Battle!” I’m probably making it obvious that I’m fairly young since I got a nostalgia blast from Sonic Battle of all games, but it was just so unexpected! I think I had a similar experience with Episode 2 when I heard the White Park Zone Act 2 music, so I guess I’m a sucker for musical throwbacks.
First playthrough aside, the game is seriously fun, especially for speed running; it’s fairly buggy, which just makes me love it more, and the music is fantastic. It’s just too bad they completely dropped the ball on the final boss.
TSSZ: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Paraxade0: There’s currently an ongoing speed run marathon called Summer Games Done Quick over at Speed Demos Archive right now, raising money for the Organization for Autism Research. The schedule contains a couple Sonic games, but it’s a general gaming marathon. SDA’s done a number of marathons and they usually end up being hugely successful; Awesome Games Done Quick raised around $150,000 earlier this year for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. I’m also planning to attend AGDQ next year and will be sure to get some awesome Sonic stuff in there. Everyone wants to see some Generations stuff.