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.
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.
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.