Speedrunning is an interesting aspect of gaming today, and is often one that arises out of pure luck. There are almost no examples of games that are exclusively designed to be speedran, and that’s because “speedrun-compatible” games are just good games that happen to be completable in varying amounts of time based on player actions. This being said, it is possible to design exclusively for speedrunners, but that often comes at the cost of the casual audience, which in turn affects your playerbase as a whole, and usually isn’t worth it.
So what makes a game a “good” speedrunning game? There are a few conditions that can give a general idea of how speedrun-able the game is. First off, the game needs to have tight controls. A game that has extremely loose controls will be frustrating to play to a pixel-perfect level, and will thus be less compatible for speedruns. Next, the game needs to provide a sufficient amount of options for the player to go about completing each part of the game, and those options need to be consistent. Since speedruns are all about shaving as much time as possible off your completion time, having multiple ways to “solve” a problem such as jumping up a staircase in Mario will let the player think about the optimal path through the level.
A flaw arises, however, if doing the same thing over and over can result in different results. This obviously isn’t a good thing as practice goes completely out the window and the game’s speedrun instantly becomes a casino rather than being skill-based. Inconsistency can also be “created” through high levels of complexity; some things that are rooted in a complex system can be unpredictable and seemingly random to the player, creating the sense of inconsistency when it doesn’t actually exist.
So we’ve got the basic conditions laid out here, but what if I, as a designer, want to include randomness in a speedrun-compatible game? The key is to make sure that randomness evens itself out over time for a master player. If you take Tetris as an example, the order of blocks vary on a game by game basis, and a bad rotation of blocks could ruin the game of a newer player. Masters, however, can play around these poor “draws” of blocks and still maintain their speedrun capabilities through clever positioning. Tetris is random, but the randomness won’t make or break a speedrun, so it’s fine.
Finally, something that is vastly different when comparing modern games to the classic speedrunning games of old is our patching capabilities. Patches are obviously a good thing for game designers, as it allows developers to fix problems in their games without having to hold back a release. Unfortunately, in the context of speedrunning, patches can introduce that inconsistency that we mentioned earlier that destroys potentially speedrun-compatible games. When patches fix certain exploits or change mechanics, lots of prior practice can become irrelevant. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gives your players a reason to think about the next fastest path, but it creates an unnecessary layer of complexity on top of the standard speedrun procedures, and necessitates every speedrun having a version number associated with it for accurate archiving.
Ultimately, it’s up to the designer on how they approach these potential problems, but almost any game can be speedrun if it is consistently fair for a master-level player and has ways to shave time off of its completion time. Just don’t sacrifice your game’s quality for the sake of attracting the speedrunning community and they’ll find their own way to your game!
Important Takeaways: Certain games are more “speedrun-compatible” than other games, but why is that? “Speedrun-compatible” games are often those based heavily on player execution and provide ways for the player to shave off time from their completion time with specific actions at specific times. This fact necessitates that those games have tight controls that can be used at such a precise level. These games will also provide the player with lots of ways to “win,” but allow the player to figure out which ways are the fastest overall.
It’s important that every action has consistency, however, because when your game has inconsistent mechanics or the feeling of them due to complexity, you could argue that every speedrun becomes a lottery as to whether you get the “optimal” outcome or not. Randomness can be included as long as it can be mitigated with optimal play. With all of this being said, don’t compromise the quality of your game to cater for the speedrunning community; if your game is good enough, they’ll come to your game of their own accord! Also, carefully consider how you patch your game as to not artificially create inconsistency for speedrunners by fixing various exploits or changing mechanics.