Hidden beneath every great speedrunning achievement, there lays a foundation of practice. Dozens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands of hours of practice. In order to grow as a speedrunner and evolve your gameplay, you’ll need to practice. Practice, along with an analytical perspective and a curious mind, is one of the most important skills needed to reach that next level. Throughout this article, we will explore various tools and skills. You can implement these tips into your gameplay to become a more efficient learner and speedrunner.
To practice speedrunning efficiently, use save states in emulators or Flash Carts. Get involved with the community to learn and share strategies or tips with one another. Watch the world record run and reference a TAS of the game. And, finally, be sure to carefully investigate any errors that end your speedruns often.
I’m confident there will be approaches here that will be beneficial to anybody looking to improve at speedrunning.
How To Use Emulators To Practice Speedrunning
We live in a time where there is an abundance of great emulators available. Many emulators offer a vast range of highly useful tools for us speedrunners to make use of.
Beginner-Friendly Emulator Tips For Speedrunners
Some features available for practicing speedruns in an emulator include:
- Load and Save States: While playing along to a world record or your own strategies, you can use save states to practice segments more quickly.
- Frame Counters: Serve as a visual representation of exactly how many frames (units of time) have passed during gameplay. Using this information to measure time fluctuation is fantastic. It can help you pick up little optimizations that might otherwise not be visible to the naked eye.
- Lag Counters: These counters track how many frames of gameplay have shown a “lag frame” being present. This is extremely helpful information to have in lag-prone video games. With the lag counter information, you can try to prevent it from occurring as much as possible. Examples of lag reduction strategies include killing additional enemies or reorienting the camera to de-load objects.
This is Bizhawk’s frame counter and it can be an extremely useful tool while speedrunning.
Advanced Tool-Assisted Practice Techniques for Speedrunners
- RAMwatch (TAStool): For the more experienced players, TAStools serve as the forensic approach for deeply analyzing your game at the frame level. And sometimes even at a code level.
With TAStools, such as RAMwatch, you can observe all of the game’s functions and extrapolate how they function. This is especially useful, for example, to figure out how much health a boss has. Or what the fastest form of movement might be.
For a more thorough explanation of how to use RAMwatch and other TAStools, here is a brilliant tutorial series from The8BitBeast.
- Frame Advance (TAStool): This is another great TAStool that allows you to slow down your gameplay to a frame by frame speed. You can use this tool to easily execute and test various strategies.
- Rewind and fast forward: Some emulators allow you to both speed up and slow down the gameplay.
- Rewinding can be really useful if you want to quickly retry a section of the run. This is especially true if the randomness changes a lot.
- Fast-forwarding can be useful in text-heavy games, where you want to avoid wasting real-world time when practicing.
The Best Tool For Practicing Speedruns On Console
A fantastic means of practicing games efficiently on a console is the use of Flash Cartridges. There are many Flash Cartridges available, such as the EverDrive or various options across Amazon. These tools allow you to use what were once emulator-specific tools, such as savestates. Flash Cartridges will help you speed up your speedrunning practice on a console.
With 100 savestates available, devices like the Mega EverDrive PRO allow unprecedented levels of practice options on consoles.
It is however worth noting that Flash Carts only have a limited amount of capacity for tools. When it comes to more in-depth research, emulators with TAStools will always be the most advanced option. Don’t be afraid to designate one or the other for specific uses!
Use Communities to Learn How to Speedrun More Efficiently
Friendly rivalries result in collective minds melding together and racing against one another. There are many benefits to working with others towards a unified goal.
Finding others that whom you can brainstorm ideas can lead to some radical developments you may have never discovered on your own. So, if you are unsure of something, it’s always a good idea to reach out to others and see what input they might have. They may well discover something groundbreaking!
Learn from the best
There is a great deal you can glean from analyzing a top runner’s speedruns.
Whilst there is certainly a great benefit to coming up with your own ideas, sometimes it can be useful to study what a top player does too. They have to be doing something right to have placed at the top of the leaderboard, right? Now, not all strategies are going to be smooth sailing or even replicable a single time starting out – and that’s fine!
If you’d like to watch some of the best speedrunners in the world, you can check out our 24/7 Twitch livestream. It features videos of speedrunners achieving world records for various games. If you aren’t sure which game you’d like to start speedrunning, you can watch for a run that looks appealing to you here!
So long as you remain conscious of what is possible, and revisit it from time to time, eventually, you too will be able to perform any trick that they can. All it takes is patience and dedication.
If the game has a TAS, study it!
Tool-Assisted Speedruns are an amazing resource when it comes to exploring the outer limits of what is possible in speedrunning. Whilst some strategies may be impossible for a player to perform in real-time, others are there waiting to be put to use! If you can take a new strategy from the TAS and implement it into real-time runs, that puts you at a great advantage.
One misconception I come across often is that a TAS is a “perfect speedrun”. A TAS is only as good as the creator(s) were thorough. Sometimes a TAS can be unoptimized, missing tricks or key movement tech that the author didn’t manage to uncover. So don’t always take a TAS at face value – experiment for yourself.
Familiarize Yourself With The Speedrun
Why is this mistake happening?
If there’s a mistake that keeps creeping its way into your gameplay and ending your runs, it’s always a good idea to go and investigate it. Don’t let that error haunt your subsequent attempts – address it head-on! It’s good practice to always keep a questioning mind and to search for further cues to solidify your approach.
Don’t let errors repeatedly hurt your speedruns. Find the cause to the issue and resolve it!
One exceptional means of analyzing your own gameplay for mistakes is to have a recording of that error occurring. Using programs such as Avidemux, you can advance frame-by-frame. With tools like this, you can study and pinpoint the moment that a mistake was made. Doing so can often highlight what precisely went wrong. Whereas in real-time it might look less decipherable.
No Resets, and the pursuit of consistency
If you find yourself struggling to make it to the later levels in a game often, you’ll become more susceptible to mistakes. Additionally, you’ll be vastly underprepared to handle those final sections once you do finally make it there.
“No reset runs” can serve as a great means of attaining a more even distribution of time spent playing the game as a whole.
Sure, it can feel grueling to play out a “dead run” where there is no chance of achieving a personal best at the end. But, there are more incentives there if you look for them. Maybe you’re playing for new gold splits or building up resilience on difficult sections for the future. There’s a lot of merit to finishing a run out if you can stomach the arduousness.
Use Visual And Audio Cues To Improve Your Speedruns
Floor tiles, scenery, sound effects – there exists an infinite number of indicators you can use. Throughout the game, look and listen for defining details to help boost your levels of consistency. Here is a basic example for various parts of the screen you can look at. Doing so will help guide you in performing an action precisely how you want to. In this example, we want Mario to land on the door trigger as quickly as possible. If performed optimally, we can advance to the next world more quickly.
1st visual cue: Jumping when Mario is positioned directly underneath this hieroglyph.
2nd cue: Do a jump when you are three blocks away from the Sphynx.
3rd cue: Jump the instant you see the door fully appear into view.
Every player has their own preferences when it comes to cues. So play around and see what works best for you. Maybe you find that audio cues are the way to go. Or perhaps counting aloud helps you memorize when to perform the next action. Just experiment with it!
Use Practice Sessions To Increase Your Familiarity With A Speedrun
Make use of practice sessions – because your speedruns can wait! Try dedicating an entire session to honing your skills. Don’t worry yourself thinking that you have to get a personal best to show improvement at the game. That isn’t the only measurement of progression. Instead, focus on the little things. Take it one section at a time. Building up your levels of consistency! And explore new ideas as you go.
You can try setting yourself mini-challenges too, sure as:
“Am I able to beat this boss 5 times in a row?”
“Can I find backup strategies to survive this screen, no matter how bad the luck I get?”
“Will I beat this level faster than the World Record does with enough effort?”
Goal-oriented practice like this can be a more incentivizing method of improvement. See what works best for you!
Check For Practice Versions Of Your Speedrun Game
Various speedrunning communities have gone so far as to create their own edited versions of a game’s files (which you can then attach to your legally obtained ROMs) that include additional on-screen information to aid in optimization. The Mario 64 Practice ROM created by Usamune is a prime example of what the efforts of a large speedrunning community can produce.
Within the Usamune ROM, you can find:
- Settings screen: allows you to display and edit various options, like adding an in-game timer.
- Stage Select screen: This allows you to jump to any area in the game you wish with a press of the button.
- Lag frame counter: In this example, you can clearly see how impactful the lag from the submarine is on the game’s performance when Mario is swimming toward it.
- Input display: this too is particularly useful for studying precisely what inputs your controller is and isn’t registering. Very useful for monitoring accurate control stick movements.
- Reloading the last entered area: very useful for practicing particular screens over and over.
- Save states: Just like on an emulator or Flash Cartridge, the Usamune ROM allows players to save/load wherever they wish.
Now, most speedrun games aren’t fortunate enough to have a dedicated practice ROM like this. But those communities that have gone the extra mile to create one are certainly worth keeping in mind. They really do make a big difference!
Remember What You Have Learned In Practice
A method I find really useful when trying to remember strategies is to make short videos of the segments I want to memorize. This way, I always have the exact strats I want to perform saved. If I ever need them, I can access the video and there will be no need for second-guessing!
When it comes to remembering what to do in longer and more technical speedruns like RPGs, written guides are often the best way to go. Sometimes just a few bullet points can help keep you on track.
How To Know When You’ve Practiced A Speedrun Enough
The eternal question. How much is enough practice for a speedrun? Each runner has a different amount of time they are able to invest into this hobby, as well as separate goals they are hoping to achieve. So taking this into account, you need to find the correct balance between runs and practice to attain whatever your overarching goal is. If your aspiration is to get to the top of the leaderboard, then you will need to invest a disproportionate amount of time into practice than somebody who’s just trying to finish out a run and be done after that.
My advice would be to analyze what goes right and what goes wrong during your speedrun attempts. If you find yourself losing runs in a specific spot of the run often, practice it a lot! If it keeps persisting mid-attempts, practice it then and there!
You’re probably noticing a theme by now. Analytical deconstruction! I really do believe maintaining an analytical perspective is the biggest key to success in speedrunning. If you can maintain the presence of mind to challenge why things aren’t working, and persist with it until you’ve fixed them, then you can go as far with this hobby as you desire to. That is something I truly believe!
Concluding How To Practice Your Speedruns Efficiently
Being a successful speedrunner is ultimately about your level of investment. If you invest enough time and mental application into the hobby, you will start to see more and more results. I am personally a firm believer that virtually anybody can become a great speedrunner. The key is to apply yourself fully and be mindful of what optimization methods work best for you. There are also many wonderful communities out there that are more than willing to aid new players. Many speedrunning communities already have their own guides and Discord servers awaiting you.
I know that with enough persistence, you will achieve amazing things.
All it takes is a little practice!
Callum is a Speedrunner & TASer of underloved games, hoping to give them more recognition.