Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Mario On Speed - Ben Winterton Does it Fast.

If you’ve played a videogame, the chances are you’ve played a Mario game (if you haven’t played a video game, I may question why you are reading this article). Now, let’s first get the formalities out of the way; the Mario franchise contains some of the best platformers ever created: Super Mario Bros 1-3 (plus “The Lost Levels”), Super Mario Land 1 and 2, Super Mario World 1 and 2, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, even Super Mario Sunshine.

Super Mario 64

Great. Lovely. Fantastic. Do you know what I love about all these games? They are great, nay, perfect, for speedrunning. I’m aware some people may know what speedrunning is, but it is also likely that a lot of people don’t, so I’m going to give a quick explanation for the uninitiated.

Imagine you are preparing for some sort of social gathering, one that you want to look fairly presentable for. It is several hours away. You have some clear goals; brush teeth, have a shower, get dressed, apply some sort of scent, sort out hair. Once you have finished all these goals, you are done. You want to take your time, do all these activities to the best of your ability, and look good. You calmly get in the shower, have a relaxing wash, get out, and dry yourself off whilst lackadaisically picking your outfit. Then you decadently apply some perfume, spend 30 minutes on your hair, brush your teeth, and still arrive early to your destination. This is what normal gaming is.

Now imagine doing the above but in a fifth of the time. You brush your teeth and hair with the same implement. You get dressed in the shower (which you have also fitted with special scented water). Sure, you arrive four hours early and no-one is impressed by your achievement, but you’ve done things as fast as you can. This is speed running.

Basically if you apply speedrunning to Sporcle quizzes, you blitz through them against a self-imposed time limit. Mario games are, for some magic reason, perfect for speed running. This is partially due to the number of shortcuts within Mario games, and partially down to the number of exploitable glitches. My personal favourite is Super Mario 64, a game which should take several hours but can be done in under 20 minutes (my personal record is around 40 minutes).

What these games do that is so good is allow you to get the same experience but on any scale. Compared to, say, rather grand RPGs, which demand a certain, generally huge, time committal, these games can be as big or as small as you make them. Sure, I can exploit “Super Mario 64” and bomb through it in less than an hour, or I can have a bit of a wander, have some laughs, maybe cry a little, and take my time getting all 120 stars. Sure, it takes longer, and means I have to play “Tiny-Huge Island”, but it allows me to play how I want to.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

It’s an odd fact that these games serve such a broad level of play so well when it is (in certain instances, at least) a complete programming fluke. It seems that, in the age of high-concept gaming, the notion of the “breakable” game has been lost. Sure, “Mario Galaxy” may be a smoother game, but it doesn’t let me fly backwards through a supposedly solid door, and I for one count that as a loss.