Okay. Let me introduce myself. I am Nano Parx and this is Pixels with Perspective. This is a series dedicated to research and analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, of games and the gaming community. I hope to be able to research topics to inform game developers and gamers alike in a way that can help us all see things a bit more clearly regardless of how dividing a topic may be. With that out of the way, let’s get started.
On January 14th, the 2018 Awesome Games Done Quick marathon reached its conclusion with excitement. Narrowly did the runners at the event surpass last year’s donation total by roughly $48,000 which isn’t much given that GDQ marathons have reached seven-figure totals multiple times before in the week-long span that they run. Regardless, all the money is going to the Prevent Cancer Foundation; that’s awesome and they’re awesome for doing that. What really caught my eye this year was hearing many donations of enthusiastic people talking about wanting to see their game project make it on the big screen to be speedrun and I can see where they’re coming from. The amount of research, tinkering, dexterity, and dedication needed to make a speedrun possible is practically jaw-dropping from an outside perspective. Whether they want to admit it or not, these speedrunners do spend a respectable amount of time perfecting their craft in the game they choose to run and even if it ends with feat or failure it’s just amazing to see them do it. I’d like to talk about some of the things you can do with your upcoming game project that could help your chances at making it GDQ worthy. Just know that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes so don’t expect there to be surefire solutions.
First thing’s first, let’s look at what’s usually the first thing that’s decided in a video game project: genre. This should kind of go without saying but out of the one-hundred fifty or so games run in AGDQ 2018, about 65% of them were either an action-adventure game with platforming elements, a metroidvania game with platforming elements, a run and gun game with platforming elements, or just a regular platformer with platforming elements. Genres to avoid would be real-time strategies because of how slow most of them can be, puzzle games unless you emphasize a lot of platforming like the Portal series, and survival horror because most of them are designed with an “experience” in mind which can take up time. Going back to platformers, it makes sense logically because platformers are quick with movement which pleases the eye, are often segmented into little worlds or levels, and are designed to be mastered. What’s important to note here is that use of platforming in your game won’t just work. While average user or Metacritic score is often irrelevant to its popularity as a speedrunning title, AGDQ has a bad games block for example, a clear majority of them are known for having tight controls that allow for frame perfect tricks.
With your game idea in mind, something to watch out for is making sure you don’t get ideas about how speedrunners would go about conquering your game. This will shift the overall level, gameplay, and feature design from one that is casually friendly to one that is so narrow in focus that it completely shuts away casual players who just so happened to be fans of the genre. As opposed to keeping in that glitch or emphasizing having random shortcuts throughout the game, turn that glitch into a gameplay feature if possible. Try making those shortcuts a bonus reward for exploring the world rather than the focus of the game. The most important time to watch out for these situations is after release. If a glitch allows something game breaking to occur without really requiring much effort from player, it may need to be patched. However, if said glitch requires a specific set of controls or events to happen for it to be pulled off consistently, consider keeping it in there because most casual players probably won’t discover it on their own.
Speaking of consistency, a game can make or break itself in terms of speedrunning potential entirely based on how repeatable the results can be. The act of the speedrun is the scientific method applied to gameplay. First, they take an observation such as, “My character is pushed by moving objects.” Given that information, they construct a hypothesis, “I bet I could phase through walls if I can get a box to squeeze me into them.” Finally, they test for results. That’s the point you need to emphasize and worry about. Aim for repeatable and precise data. Otherwise, gamers and speedrunners alike aren’t going to experiment with the tools given to them to find consistency. A great recent example of this is from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was found that by using the stasis ability on an object, building up momentum on that object, and then have that object hit Link midair, he would keep all that momentum while gliding. This allowed swift traversal of certain parts of Hyrule and shaved minutes from speedrun times for the game. Eiji Aonuma’s team did not predict this would occur, yet for now remains inside of the game. The most important part is that the fast gliding trick is repeatable. It might take the runner a few tries depending on the situation, but it has been done with boulders, logs, and boxes just to name a few examples.
(Video Provided by Goldfire711)
If all else fails, however, the only leftover advice I can give is this. Be Japanese. A solid majority of titles that were ran in AGDQ 2018 were released by Japanese publishers and about 33% of them were published by Nintendo, Konami, and Capcom alone. Take this information and fly to Japan, blend in with the crowd, and try to get into one of their development teams. All jokes aside, sometimes a lot of these events are scheduled the way they are for a plethora of reasons, so the adage, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” rings true. Consider talking to the show hosts or runners of your game if there are any and see what requests they might have to decide on representing your game. Maybe put special thanks somewhere in your game’s credits of a runner to egg them on so that they will feel like they had contributed something to the game project and they did. Sometimes speedrunners are indie developers’ best bug finders.
Ultimately, it’s not easy to balance game design with speed in mind, but hopefully this will have given you a better perspective on how to design your game with a better chance at becoming a speedrunning community gem. Maybe one day we’ll see your game being run at a GDQ marathon.