The RPG Scrollbars: Quests Done Quick

I must confess, since finishing Siege of Dragonspear the other week, I’ve not actually fired up any RPGs. It’s not for want of them to play. I’m particularly looking forward to finally trying Final Fantasy IX, which I missed back in the day, and Beamdog’s recently announced interquel, Planescape Torment: The Nameless One And A Half. (It’s very similar to the original, only now whenever someone asks “What can change the nature of a man?” a furious little goblin pops onto the screen to yell “#notallmen!”)

The problem has simply been timing – not having a nice satisfying chunk of time to really settle down for an epic experience. So instead, I thought I’d take a look at a few speed-runs, and see how fifty hours suddenly becomes a minute and a half… provided you don’t include the hundreds of hours to get to that point. Here’s a few of them I dug up to make your completion times look like crap, from RPGs old and new.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

About a year ago, CD Projekt claimed that its testers’ idea of a Witcher 3 speed-run was 25 hours. Bless. But then, they probably played fair, rather than using a speed-glitch that’s since been patched out that made it possible to travel the world at Benny Hill speed. Wild Hunt? They must be bloody furious.

Fallout 4

If Bethesda RPGs seem a little broken when played ‘properly’, it’s nothing to seeing how the engines crack before the speed-running community. This run is all the more impressive for zipping through the game with relatively little walking through walls and going out of bounds (stepping out of the world and walking around to where you want to be). What did earlier ones look like? Well, like this…

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

And like this!

Fallout: New Vegas

But not like this! Because this is a different game entirely!

Pillars Of Eternity

It’s often a single trick that allows for crazy times. In the case of PoE, the discovery that – oh, I’ll just quote. “I found something interesting while I was toying around in this game, which may or may not be helpful. If you kill the main character and immediately do a transition to a new area they will be replaced by a character named “Player” who is a level 7 Cipher with amazing stats ”

Amazing stats indeed. That’s not the only thing this run does, obviously, but you won’t get a better starting point. Having a dedicated ‘Fast Mode’ doesn’t hurt either, whipping this 50 hour game down to under half an hour. That’s the kind of time that makes me feel genuinely sorry for the villains of these games. Millennia of planning and plotting, dreaming and scheming, and all of it gets dealt with faster than the B-Plot in an episode of The Big Bang Theory as soon as one player shows up with the Plan.

On the other hand, they are typically evil, so screw ’em.

Serpent In The Staglands

And it’s not just the big-name RPGs that get this kind of treatment. Serpent in the Staglands was one of the more overlooked RPGs of last year, but one of the better indie ones. It’s also hard as diamond-tipped nails. What’s that? 40 minutes? Bah!

Ultima VII: The Black Gate

Of course, sometimes a game just makes it a little bit too easy. Chances are if you’re reading this then you already know the secret, but in a nutshell, there’s a room almost at the start of Ultima VII that contains every important item in the game and teleports to all the locations. That means that a speed-run of it is more or less just building a staircase and declaring that you win. See also Super Mario Bros, which just about anyone can knock out in a few minutes courtesy of the Warp Zones and a little practice. Want to see it done more fairly, even if ‘fairly’ includes somewhat unfairly knowing where the magic carpet is? Here’s a longer run.

Fallout 2

I’ve got a fondness for Fallout 2 speed-runs, just because they were one of the first non-FPS ones that I saw. Like the Ultima ones, they’re largely a case of knowing in advance where some key stuff is and making a bee-line towards it (power armour being the big one), but what I mostly remember was seeing how much more advanced the engine was than I thought. The later Bethesda games kept in the idea of priming an explosive and sticking it down someone’s pants – British or American, it doesn’t really matter when you hear the boom – but Fallout 2 really made it an assassination technique. As long as you were off-screen when it exploded, nobody realised. Add to that the ability to heal people to death (stimpaks having a debuff effect, you can take someone out when they all hit at once) and Fallout 2 just became that little bit more special.

Age of Decadence

And fittingly for a Fallout inspired game, Age of Decadence allows much the same efficiency. True, you don’t actually accomplish very much playing it this way, but nobody said being fast had to mean also being particularly useful to quasi-Roman society.

System Shock 2

Who’s the ‘perfect, immortal machine’ again, SHODAN? Another case where one simple trick to do something more useful than getting a pearly-white smile pretty much cracks a game over the player’s knee. In this case, immortality only has one problem – being at face level with the giant spiders. At least the anime lady seems excited.

Ultima Underworld 2: Labyrinth of Worlds

If there’s a downside of watching speed-runs, it’s that they have a tendency to make the games that you remember being epic, month-long adventures suddenly seem a little… was that it? In my heart, Ultima Underworld 2 is still that. Bonus points for the notes explaining what’s going on. Grr for choosing a mage because they die quickly.

Dark Souls II

Yes, that’s not just Dark Souls II destroyed in an hour, but destroyed by two players on one controller. That’s just plain showing off.

There are Dark Souls III speedruns out, but I’m not linking to one of those for spoiler purposes. Mostly for my own benefit, I admit, since I still haven’t had a chance to fire it up after last week’s confessional and I don’t want to ruin anything. Apparently the current best time is 1:05:58. I don’t think I’ll be topping that myself. But just for good measure, here’s Dark Souls II done in just 16 minutes by someone who doesn’t mind cheating through walls as well as carving through the undead hordes.

And of course, that’s just a handful of the videos available. Speed-running is super-popular on Twitch, with YouTube tending to hold the archives. Sites like SpeedRunsLive and Speed Demos Archive are great places to see both whether a game has been run and what tricks are being used in it (it’s often not possible to see exactly what’s happening in game, such as why someone is repeatedly loading while hammering a key or whatever.) There’s also the twice yearly Games Done Quick event, which is an awesome demonstration of skill mixed with community spirit – the next one is Summer Games Done Quick, from July 3rd to July 10th. Previous event archives are available on YouTube. Not every game has a whole army of runners competing to shave the last few seconds off their time in the same way as most Mario and Zelda games, but it’s fairly rare that someone, somewhere won’t have taken a crack at a big release.

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16 Comments

  1. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    Thanks, Richard. I thought the Planescape thing was real (haven’t had much of my coffee yet) and that song will be stuck in my head all day.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I think if it was real, you’d have heard the shrieks echoing from the rooftops :-)

      • J. Cosmo Cohen says:

        That single shriek you heard was me, however. It was quickly drowned out.

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          I also thought that was real, but just shrugged it off, because I haven’t played any of Beamdog’s “enhanced” games and don’t think I will. Although, the talk of an interquel made me confused, because there is only one Planescape game and Torment is only a spiritual successor. You can’t fit an interquel between the first game and a spiritual sequel.

          I’m very much anti-speed run, I give each game the time it deserves. That’s the best way for me to reduce my backlog and not having it feel like I’m playing games just for the sake of finishing them. I’m impressed by the skill and clever tricks people use to speed run games, but for me that’s like trying to eat a three course meal in record time or running as hell in a walking simulator.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            “You can’t fit an interquel between the first game and a spiritual sequel.”

            Not with that attitude.

  2. deiseach says:

    That Ultima VII video has made me happy. Exult, here I come. Oh, and Elizabeth and Abraham here I come. “You’ve just missed them.” “Never mind, I know where they are”.

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    caff says:

    I love watching speedruns of RPGs I’ve laboured over for 100+ hours. It gives both a nostalgic trip and sense of wonderment. One of my favourites is this Deus Ex speedrun from Awesome Games Done Quick:

    link to google.co.uk

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    Alfy says:

    Ouch, you missed FFX? It is one of my fondest PS2 memories, but I doubt I’d be able to deal with its silliness nowadays. Also probably the most linear of all FFs ever, although admittedly it fits well with the pilgrimage storyline. I’d love to hear your modern thoughts on it if you ever decide to give it a go, though.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Nah, I played VI, VII, VIII and X. But I never played IX, which just came out on PC. I liked X well enough aside from the Blitzball and some of the later stuff like Seymour’s constant reappearances.

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        Alfy says:

        My apologies for misreading those silly Roman numerals. Do play IX, it’s fun and silly and lovely and completely unlike any of the others in the series. The only real issue is the absolutely absurd number of random battles, it was a big, big complaint when it came out.
        But the characters are great, and the princess is just lovely, and your character has a tail (!) and you’ll have a blast. And if you do and have the time, do tell us about it, IX has always been a bit of the forgotten child of the FF series.

      • Wowbagger says:

        You didn’t like the blitzball?! You monster.

    • funkstar says:

      more linear than ffxiii? :o

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        Alfy says:

        It’s a bit difficult to talk to talk about without revealing any spoilers, but the whole game is one long trek along a line until there’s roughly a tenth of the story left to unravel. My memory of VIII is hazier (I hated both the main character and his bride to be), my it wasn’t that bad?

        • funkstar says:

          That ‘One long trek along a line…’ pretty much describes FFXIII too! That gained extra ridicule because it had a minimap pretty much showing you a straight line 90% of the time: like this

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            Alfy says:

            I’m gonna have to stop posting here because I’m embarrassing myself with those numerals: I thought you wrote “VIII”. Yes, you’re quite right, XIII is just a line from beginning to end, and I quite disliked it, although the following one was much better (was it called XIII-2?) and I guess I should finish that series one day.

  5. csbear says:

    “…and Beamdog’s recently announced interquel, Planescape Torment: The Namele…”

    *quickly clicks link*

    FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUU…..