What I learned from watching 50+ hours of Super Mario 64 speedruns

January 27, 2022Posted invideo games

Here’s a clip of the speedrunner “KANNO” beating the old Nintendo 64 game “Super Mario 64” in 6 minutes:

The speedrunner “Kanno” beating Super Mario 64 in 6 minutes and 29 seconds.

Here’s me beating it in 15 years:

…and getting very disappointed by the anticlimactic Yoshi meeting on the roof (spoiler).

What’s the difference between the two? Answer: One of them is a normal guy who takes a long time to beat Super Mario 64, and the other one is the best in the world at it (at least in the “0 star” category (yes, it’s possible to beat the game without getting any stars and skipping almost all of the game’s content)).

Beating a game as fast as possible is called “speedrunning”, and the people doing this are so good at gaming that they’re not really even gamers anymore: They’re athletes, mathematicians, hackers and inventors! And reality defyers! Laying unreasonable amounts of time on unreasonable tasks, like spending weeks trying to figure out how to cut half a second from the “8 red coins” route in “Lethal Lava Land”, just to make the total race a little bit faster. Does anyone need to do this? Is this really needed in the world? No. And that’s why it’s magic to me. What would seem way too dreadful and difficult to most people is what these people (the speedrunners) find the absolutely most intriguing to pursue. I call it “The Speedruners Paradox”. “Is it the hardest thing in the world? I’m in. Daunting tasks with little to no outcome? Awesome! Grinding every day for several years to eventually lower the world record with no more than 3 seconds? YES.” That way of thinking, that dedication and that mind-control is in my opinion among the coolest things in the world.

I would even consider extreme speedrunning to be art. Art has many definitions (I even tried to make one myself), and there’s a chance that absolutely everything in the world could be considered art in some way if you really tried, but I’m convinced that speedrunning is one of the higher forms of it. Show KANNO’s 6 minute speedrun to anyone who’s just fairly familiar with the game Super Mario 64, and they would likely be mesmerized, in awe and speechless by the sheer impressiveness of it. It’s like seeing a spectacular soccer goal, or watching someone break a world record. Moments like this mean more to the world than just the numbers they affect in the game or competition, because otherwise people wouldn’t still talk about them. An impressive speedrun is worth more than its place on a speedrun leaderboard, because it creates feelings far outside of the scope of “A new world record. Nice!”. When I watch KANNO’s 6 minute speedrun, I think: “Is this even possible?” “How did he do this?” “Where does this insane dedication even come from?” It makes me feel, think and reevaluate how I see things. It’s a piece of art!

And maybe it’s not the speedrun itself, but the insane dedication, that’s the actual art. Speedrunners are, as I said earlier, reality defyers, which means they do things generally seen as impossible and by that change our perception of what’s possible in our reality. And no one goes further in this than the “blindfolded speedrunners”. They’re on a different level. They’re on a God level. Blindfolded speedrunners beat the game without seeing it. In just a few hours. Let me remind you: I completed Super Mario 64 in 15 years and that was with my eyes fully open. If you’d ask me if it’s possible to beat Super Mario 64 with a diaper around my eyes, I’d say: “No. Idiot. Or… Theoretically, maybe? But definitely not in practice. No, that’s impossible. You’d have to be insane… Like, who would actually put the extreme amount of time and practice needed to do that?” Apparently, these people exist. They defy reality and do things that humans aren’t supposed to do. Extreme achievements like collecting every star in Super Mario 64 while wearing a blindfold almost make me believe in a God. It makes me believe that the universe is more than just dead matter meaning nothing, because if people can do such things, there must be a hidden power somewhere. Which is only given out in small doses to people like Albert Einstein, the religious people who built the extremely detailed and huge churches in Milano and Köln, and Bubzia. Bubzia can’t exist in a universe without gods. Collecting all stars in Super Mario 64 while being technically blind is magic. It’s beatiful. It’s art. Or, it’s a really good speedrun, which may actually be a more flattering description since I’ve tried pretty hard to raise speedrunning as a concept to a level high above art with this text.

Bonus clip. An insanely technical explanation of doing totally unnecessary things to the game.

So what have I learned from watching 50+ hours of Super Mario 64 speedruns? About how to be good at stuff. Watching hours of speedrunners practicing, getting frustrated, quitting, starting again, talking about their craft and having fun while they’re at it has given me a pretty good class in how to be good at anything. Wanna become good at something? These people know how.

Here’s a playlist containing the fastest runners right now (jan/feb 2022) and some history about the subject:

The fastest players (as in January 2022), and some history about the genre.

While we’re at it, I have an idea for a new kind of Super Mario 64 speedrun: Backwards Speedrun – get all stars in the wrong order. Since you CAN reach the last Bowser fight with zero stars, it could be possible. So go to Rainbow Ride with 0 stars, and then work backwards from there. Can someone try it? I’m too bad at the game to try it myself. Does this idea sound too stupid? If so, that’s why someone SHOULD put an exessive amount of time on it.