Why Speedruns And Not Score Attacks?

This editorial doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of this blog. However, blogs don’t have views anyway, so what would that even mean?

Here is a question you might not of thought of. Speedruns are, after some years, still very popular, streamers still chase records, sometimes a matter of shaving off tenths of a second off of the previous time, and AGDQ and SGDQ continue to bring in millions for charities.

But, why? Why is it speedruns that have gained the interest of so many runners and spectators? Many games have their own method of measuring player skill: points! The score record chase is even much older than speedrunning, dating back to the heyday of Twin Galaxies. It’s even encouraged on the attract-mode vanity boards of countless arcade machines. So why is it that quick-playing has attracted so much attention, and not high-scoring?

The first thing, of course, is that time attacks (playing to finish quickly) is universally applicable, while not all games track score. Score keeping has become a lot less common in recent decades. What does it even mean to score attack Metroid Prime or Resident Evil IV? And often a quick-playing game is a lot more exciting to watch than one where the player just seeks to increase some abstract value. Fast play is easy to understand, but high point awards are often not immediately accessible to a viewer who isn’t already familiar with the game’s systems.

But more than that, many games have very sloppy point discipline. If a game doesn’t have a timer, but does have a score and respawning enemies, then there is no reason, from a point maximizing standpoint, to not just regenerate the same enemy over and over, a boring way to play but still, by the strict rules of the game, valid. To some extent this can be accounted for through out-of-game rules, like how Twin Galaxies will disallow certain types of play that just seek to increase points in an empty manner.

It’s not always easy to decide what counts as actually playing the game and what’s meaningless farming, which makes the allowance of some types of play a judgement call, and any time an official’s subjective opinion becomes an important part of the legality of some behavior, you’re going to end up with people trying to push the boundary of what is allowable, and as we see from professional sports, that means no end of arguing about whether a referee or umpire’s call is valid or not.

This doesn’t even cover scoring randomness. Ms. Pac-Man is a great game in many ways, but one aspect of it that makes it less suitable for score attacks is that, in long games, the point values of fruit becomes such a huge part of the score. After the seventh board, the fruit generated in Ms. Pac-Man are random, and can be worth anywhere from 100 points for Cherries, to 5,000 points for a Banana. Up to two of these can appear on each board, and once the game progresses past the point where ghosts can be eaten for points, the value for the higher-valued fruit easily overwhelms all the other scoring in the game, up to the kill screen at around board 144. (Ms. Pac-Man doesn’t have a definite kill screen like Pac-Man does, but a variety of possible screens.)

When point awards are random like this, getting a score record in an individual game becomes a matter of luck. What that practically means is, players who attempt more runs are more likely to get a lucky game that gets a record. Essentially, record chasers must utilize the law of averages: a person who plays 100 games is much more likely to get a lot of Bananas in a single game among all of them than a person who has only played ten.

But even so? Lots of games were made explicitly with scores in mind. After decades where it was a common, sometimes even primary mode of play, I feel like playing for points is fairly neglected now. I mean, I’m not going to go on a rant about young folks trying to get their games over with without stopping to savor them. Just, you know, it’s not bad to play for points.

I fully realize that this is a topic that no one cares about, and even I am not really that concerned with it. It’s just an arbitrary value to maximize. “Yay, I’m X good! I’m Y better than I was before!” Yeah not really terribly important.

Editorial: Where Are Retro Games Going?

This editorial doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of this blog. However, blogs don’t have views anyway, so what would that even mean?

I was sitting and watching some Zelda: Breath of the Wild videos in a Metafilter post by Fizz, from streamer PointCrow. I was going through the usual generation shock–I the hyper-frenetic editing, zooming visuals with added sound effects, slow zooms, constant cues telling me how they want me to feel, combined with his constant state of hype and excitement, they were wearing on me. But that’s probably just my age? As much as it pains me to admit it I’m not young anymore, having just turned fifty last month. Maybe it’s just the style of popular youth media now Somehow I don’t think it is, I don’t see everyone doing that. I suspect it’s really Youtube’s algorithm that prioritizes engagement really really hard, that pushes some people to those lengths. Anyway, I don’t intend to make this into a screed against PointCrow, who obviously works very hard to succeed, and does have some interesting videos. By all means watch a few if you want. That’s not the point of this post anyway.

Movie notwithstanding, does anyone care about Super Mario Bros. anymore, for its own sake?

It was while watching it that I started to realize how insular these kinds of video can be? If you don’t know anything about Breath of the Wild, a lot of it will be impenetrable to you. That may be why there’s so many videos about this game in particular. There’s like a while little genre of BotW videos that show off tricks, odd corners of the game, and amazing feats in it. I post about them here sometimes even.

My worry has to do with the phenomenon of retro (from our perspective) gaming in general. We often hear people talk about games like Super Mario Bros. and the original Legend of Zelda as if there were some kind of timeless classics, which is a bold statement to make even approaching 40 years out from the Famicom’s launch. Timeless is timeless, and in centuries will anyone know or even care about it? The jury is still out of course on whether humans will still be around in that time, but let’s presume they will be.

It’s a tricky and devious game for people not prepare for it, but the original Legend of Zelda is surprisingly playable now.

In fact, let’s restrict out scope to the relatively near future, maybe 20 years from now. Will people still care about the 8-bit era of games around that time?

We have some reason to believe that they aren’t played as much now as they used to be. NES-era games, on the Switch, are no longer sold individually, like they were on the Wii and Wii-U, but in bulk, as part of a subscription. That seems to indicate, I think, that they haven’t turned out to be as much of a selling point individually as before.

My hope is that they will, and I think games like Super Mario Bros. do have some qualities that don’t just expire like the milk left in the fridge for a month. But they don’t exist in a vacuum, and what gives me cause for concern is the ways in which these games are experienced now.

I think that retro games still fill a useful niche, in that they’re solidly-made and challenging games, with a distinctive look and sound, that don’t have gigantic playtimes. Super Mario Bros. will not claim weeks of your life. Even the longer ones don’t demand as much of your attention and times as a AAA-title Square Bethesda WA Microsoft Co Inc. And indie games, while often worthy, are often a risk to spend money on. Many NES-era games are well known to be playable and interesting, which is how they got to be popular in the first place.

My concern, though, is that as the people who grew up with these games age, their original context is being increasingly lost. Less and less often, the people who play and think about these games didn’t come to them from mostly personal, pre-internet perspectives, but as something brought to them by other people, meaning, not just hearing about them, but being pre-spoiled regarding their gameplay, and especially from watching streamers and speedrunners.

What, I wonder, is the ratio between people playing games as intended, and those purposely trying to break them in a variety of ways, and do superplays? Are new game players inundated by streaming culture? Do they get the sense that 8-bit games are only interesting if one tries to blow them up? And in the future, will people continue to find their way to games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, and appreciate them for what they are?

Is there perhaps space out there for people just doing normal runs of retro games? I wonder if I should give it a shot.

The Gripe Monster Quibbles Over Terms

The Gripe Monster occasionally demands that we give him time to vent his three spleens our our website, or else he’ll shed fur all over the break room. That stuff will clog up a vacuum cleaner like a whole herd of angora cats, so here he is.

Grar! I am the Gripe Monster! The world is in a state of constant decay! People used to know important things, but now they have forgotten! I alone remember the proper way! Every time someone gets it wrong, the center lobe of my monsterly brain throbs painfully! It is like fingernails on a blackboard, or someone slacking off during a raid boss fight!

To save myself from constant migraines I must inform you of the difference between the words “invincible” and “invulnerable!” It is essential that you get this right! So many times it has been misused, that people foolishly get them mixed up constantly now! If you wish to avoid my wrath, you will not be one of them! I bet you misuse “begs the question” too!

Invulnerable is the state of being immune to damage! No harm may come to your character while they are invulnerable! It is a proper state for a game to apply when your character has taken damage, so that they do not get hurt again immediately!

To be invincible is to not be able to be conquered! By game convention, it means that your character defeats enemies on contact! By its nature, it implies invulnerability, but it is a state greater than that!

When Super Mario is attacked by a Little Goomba, as I am sure happens to him all the time when you are playing, while he is flickering, he is invulnerable. Enemies pass through him, but are not touched by him while this state exists! When he collects a Starman (make sure to use the correct name for this power-up!) he is invincible. No foe can stop him! Instead, it is he who stops them! He defeats them on contact, kicking them off the thin plane that his world consisted of until the Nintendo 64 era brought hated depth to his reality!

When speedrunners talk about invincibility frames, they are committing a sin against language! They are properly called invulnerability frames! Because of this, when they are abbreviated to “i-frames,” they may seem to be correct, but they are still woefully mistaken–in their heads! I know what they really mean, and it fills up my copious gall bladder in rage!

Be sure to get it right in the future, and you will not have to suffer my terrible gaze, as do the clerks at the coffee establishment that I go to, when they forget to give me the cream and three sugars that I require! Such terrible service! I will only tip them two dollars!

Geez, how petty can you get? Now that he’s used up our site’s whole inventory of exclamation points for the month, that’s got to be all from Gripey this time. I’m not at all surprised to learn that he plays MMORPGs.