How to Start Speedrunning – Guide, Tips, Timers, Hardware

At some point, in 2015, after years of watching speedruns, I found a game that I truly wanted to speedrun. I went through a lot of headaches and confusion when getting started up, so I figure I’ll save you some trouble. I’ll first start off covering the details on a surface level, and then if you need any extra details of how to speedrun, you can keep reading. I hope this guide works as both a quick speedrun checklist, and a thorough enough guide that you’ll be able to refer back to it when you’re looking into more advanced approaches. I personally believe the best way to start speedrunning is to not overthink it. As a quick guide for beginners to jump in and get started, here’s the general overview of the steps you will need to take.

How to Start Speedrunning

1. Choose a game
2. Watch a speedrun of the game
3. Follow along with the speedrun
4. Start speedrunning
5. Practice

Following that general guide will give you a general idea of what you will need when you are first starting off with speedrunning but feel free to read the details for more information. Go ahead and skip around to the sections you’re specifically interested in. For example, if you’ve already decided on a game or watched the speedrun you can move to the step detailing how to follow along. Since you’re speedrunning for your first time, feel free to make mistakes and learn from them. Practice where needed and you’ll be just fine.

Now, let’s break this all down.

Choosing a Game

The main thing about choosing a game is it all comes down to personal preference. However, there are some pointers that could get you started on the right track.

How to choose a game
So many games, so little time

Find a game that you like

You may not be into casually playing games. If that’s the case, you may want to start off by watching speedruns to see which appeals to you most.

Personally, I highly suggest doing a casual playthrough of your game or choosing a game you have already played. This will allow you to get used to all of the intended mechanics for the game. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen new speedrunners jumping into a game without playing casually, and losing time in their runs for not knowing simple, in-game mechanics. I’ve seen speedrunners who reset long runs because they didn’t know how to do a section of the game casually as a backup strat.

Additionally, a casual playthrough will cement your opinion on the game. If you find out casually you don’t like a game there is still a chance you’ll enjoy the speedrun. But maybe you won’t want to spend another minute with the awful music, mechanics, or something else which bothers you. It’s much better to find these things before grinding speedrun learning sessions, making splits, and getting wrapped up in the details.

With that said, it’s totally fine to speedrun without first playing a game. This is especially a good approach when you’re genuinely uninterested in the game casually but the speedrun looks really fun.

On the other side of that coin, even though you may fall in love with the game casually, there’s still a chance you will not like the speedrun. What I have seen more often, however, is a good casual experience leading to a stronger dedication to the speedrun. When you pick a game that you grew up with, or have recently played through and had a great time, steadily improving your times in your speedrun just feels that much better. There’s something very satisfying about mastering a game when you know how difficult the game was to complete casually.

Picking a game that you love, a game you hate, a notoriously difficult game, or a really popular game are all totally fair approaches. The next thing to consider is the difficulty of the speedrun itself.

The difficulty of your first speedrun

All speedruns are difficult when you start competing for faster times, personal bests, or world records, some speedruns may even be impossible. Many speedrunners hear their chat ask about which game or category is the hardest. The reality is, at a high enough level, it’s usually not about the difficulty of the game, but more so the skill of your competition.

However, starting with a speedrun that’s beginner-friendly can often be a good choice. The general consensus on gaming is that low floor, high ceiling makes for a great game. This is also true for speedrunning.

Difficulty can depend on a lot of factors. For example, I cannot play anything well on keyboard, so I usually opt out of games that are best speedran on keyboard. Another thing to keep in mind is 2D versus 3D speedruns. Speedrunning The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you’re fighting with camera controls, precise angles, more buttons, and even controlling how far in any direction you tilt the stick. Whereas speedrunning a game on the original Nintendo (NES), you’re only dealing with two buttons. These runs can be just as hard as 3D speedruns, but starting out with these speedruns can often be easier.

Speaking of entry fees, that brings us to the next consideration.

Cost

Let me start off by saying, for most people, speedrunning is free. You likely already have everything you need to speedrun a game that suits you.

Some speedruns require some equipment and hardware, while others can be free to pick up and play so long as you have a computer or phone. It probably goes without saying that you can get a bunch of games for free on Steam or elsewhere, and emulation is allowed for many games. Meanwhile, other games are way overpriced. Make sure you pick a game that suits your needs. As your first speedrun, I would try out a free or cheap option to get a feel for the sport. This way you can see if it’s something you’d like to further invest in.

We will break down hardware, software, and pricing for any of these items that may be useful, but are certainly not required for speedrunning.

It’s time to see how it looks to go fast!

Watch the Speedrun

Once you have a game selected, see if there are any speedruns for the game. The first place to check is speedrun.com, you can dive deeper and check on Youtube, Twitch, or just do general search engine searches for results. The only available speedrun for The Adventures of Microman: Crazy Computers, before I started to speedrun it, was on a random wiki site… sometimes they’re well-hidden! If there are not any speedrun videos available, you should probably get yourself with this guide instead: How to Start Speedrunning a Game Which Has No Runs – Creating a New Speedrun

Alright, it is time to check out what the speedruns offer. From here, the first thing you will probably see is which category to choose. There are no one-size-fits-all categories or speedruns. If you watch a speedrun and it looks too glitchy, or not glitchy enough for your liking, you can check if there are other categories you’d be interested in.

Speedrun Categories

Any% and 100% Speedruns

As a general rule, “Any%” means the speedrunners are completing the game as fast as possible, by any means possible (outside of tool-assistance — which means no turbo buttons, save states, or anything like that). “Any%” literally means beating the game with any percentage of the game being complete. If in a game where you can collect 10 items, you can complete the game faster by only collecting 3 of those items, this is Any%.

Perhaps you are more of a completionist. If that is the case, check out the 100%, hard mode, or any speedrun titled with the word “All” (for example, “All Dungeons”). If you want a speedrun with less glitches, you will likely want to look for speedruns listed as “Any% No”. Maybe it will be “Any% No WW”, this means no wrong warps are allowed in the speedrun. Wrong warps are when you gain access to an area through unintended means. Or perhaps you will see “Any% No OoB”. OoB stands for out of bounds. These are typically going to be your slower, but often more welcoming, beginner-friendly categories — though sometimes they actually introduce more challenges!

Sometimes, games will also have “meme” categories, such as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX’s “House%”, where you literally just exit the house you start the game on. I wouldn’t recommend this for starters, but they usually come with some fun speedrunning history. Usually these categories come up due to funny mechanics in a game, enjoyable gameplay, or in this instance, it was because Link’s Awakening speedrunners tend to put a ton of weight in those first couple seconds of the speedrun.

So you have found a category which is right for you. If the category you would like to play is not available, check out this guide: How to Create a New Speedrun Category – A Speedrunner’s Guide

Watch some speedruns and see which category interests you most. Remember, you want speedrunning to be fun since you’re going to be spending lots of time with the game!

Don’t speedrun a game which looks like a chore to you!

Follow Along, Take Notes, and Get Involved

Now, the training begins. There are often guides available for many speedruns, so the first place you’ll want to check is Speedrun.com. Search for the game you want and once you are in that game’s leaderboard page, look for “Guides” in the left sidebar. You will likely find guides available here for different categories. Be sure to check the “Last updated” row if there are multiple posts of the same type. For one example, here’s what The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX guides page looks like on Speedrun.com: https://www.speedrun.com/ladx/guides. Guide: All Main Caegories would be a good jump-off point to determine some of the best categories and guides for this game.

LA:DX Guides
Guides available for Link’s Awakening DX Speedruns

Start up that video of the speedrun you’ve selected. Play the video, and just repeat what they do, pausing often. If the game is split up into short enough levels, you can just watch one level, repeat what they do, and then on to the next! It is extremely important to not nitpick your playing at this point. Just get the general path of the speedrun down — that is the only thing you are looking to remember from this. And even with that, you don’t want to worry about remembering it perfectly yet. That’ll just slow your learning down. The memorization will come with time and exposure.

Even though we are not yet looking for perfection or memorization, it is wise to take notes. Whether in notepad, sublime text, pencil and paper, it does not matter. Just write some things down to reference if you forget what to do when the speedruns begin.

You will likely find yourself confused or curious how to do something you’re seeing in the speedrun. You see them do a weird trick and no matter how hard you try, things just aren’t working out for you. On the speedrun.com page for your game, you will find guides, forums, and resources in the left sidebar. These are your friends, do not hesitate to reference them! If you’ve checked the guide and couldn’t find what you’re looking for, or if you just want a quicker answer, look for a link on the left to the Discord. In the Discord channel for your speed game, you will likely find many people who are happy to help you along as you learn the speedrun!

Speedrun!

Okay, are you ready? No? Not yet? Too bad!

It’s time to start speedrunning!

Don’t worry, this is where things get fun. The first thing you’re going to need is the hardware to actually, physically start speedrunning. As I mentioned earlier, you can speedrun on a budget, you can speedrun at no cost at all (it’s totally free), or if you’d like, you can spend some money on certain amenities that might make it a more comfortable or fun experience for you. Whatever it is that you’re looking for, I hope to guide you in the right direction.

Hardware

Let’s start simple. By now you probably already have a computer or phone and the game you want to speedrun. If not, that’ll be the real cost of speedrunning for you. There are tons of free options available! You could speedrun a game using emulation, though you may want to check the leaderboard or the discord channel for the game to see what is or is not allowed. There are also plenty of free games on Steam. And chances are, you already have loads of games to choose from!

You do not need a fancy, high-end computer or phone to record your gameplay. You can probably work with whatever you already have, so don’t let that hold you back. Start doing runs, and if you notice any serious lag, then you can deal with that when you feel certain it’s a step you’d like to take, or find a less CPU-intensive game.

Speedrun Timer

LiveSplit is the most common and functional timer for speedrunning with easy setup and extensive customization capabilities.

If you not speedrunning on a Windows machine, you may need to consider other options outlined in this speedrun timer guide here: The Best Speedrun Timer – Which Timer to Use For Speedrunning?

You don’t need to worry about your splits or timing being perfect. However, I do kind of recommend getting your timer and splits set up because having your timer and splits set up this early is going to show you your progress with each run. Your first speedruns will be the biggest time saves you will ever have for this game. They will feel good, and it will be positive reinforcement, enticing you to speedrun again and again. This helps establish your time spent speedrunning with feelings of positivity, and it also tracks your progress in a way that is easy to follow along to.

You should never need to pay for a speedrun timer. This should be a free aspect of speedrunning for everyone. However, if you’d ever like to donate to those who built the timer you choose, that’s great too!

Splitting

How I recommend approaching this is just starting your timer and just giving it your best shot. With your splits set up, it will build up the habit of splitting at specific times in the run. It’s always best to put splits at recognizable times in the speedrun where you have downtime. Let me further explain.

these moments in a speedrun would be when a screen goes dark, or during a specific moment during a cutscene. For example, in one of my speedruns, there’s a cutscene where a photo is taken. When the screen lightens up from the flash of the camera, I split. I don’t have to worry about mashing or controlling my character during this time, so it’s really easy to split here without messing anything up. Alternatively, it could be when you collect an item and there’s a pause in the action of the game. If you had to split in the middle of the action of a run, you will inevitably end up tripping yourself up.

With that said, some speedrunners don’t have to worry about splitting at all. Some speedruns come with auto-splitters. Auto-splitters are programs or code that runs alongside your speedrun timer, and split for you automatically. These are usually custom-built by members of the speedrunning community.

Another option is to buy a foot pedal which can be tied to your timer. This way, you won’t have to take your hand off your controller or keyboard to split. Instead, it only takes one tap of your foot to track your times. While it’s not as convenient as auto-splitting, it can save you from awkward repositioning of your hands after splitting.

Recording

There are many ways to record your speedruns. The most common way is to use Open Broadcaster Software, also known as OBS. There are many versions available, but they all work just about the same. I personally use Streamlabs OBS because it integrates well with Twitch notifications. You can simply window capture your game if it’s being speedran on your PC.

If you are playing on a console, you will have to use a camera, which may be rejected from some leaderboards, or game capture software.

Game Capture Devices and Hardware

To capture video from a console and send it to OBS, you will need what is often referred to as a “capture card”. For retro games, before HDMI, I would recommend the GVUSB2, a powerful, lightweight, easy to set up capture device. For HDMI and more modern console gaming, you could try out the Elgato HD60s, which is what I personally use to capture Nintendo Switch video. There is very little game lag, and the quality is great!

References

During these first attempts, check your notes any time you need to — let that timer keep running, embrace the future time saves! If you need to even play the video of the speedrun as you go through, go ahead! After a couple of speedruns where you reference your notes or videos, it will start to become unnecessary. You will think, on your second or third speedrun, “What do I do next again?” But this time, when you ask yourself, you will recall the answer you found in the previous runs. The route will slowly cement itself into your mind.

After a few times through, you will find your times going down. The amount you need to stop and think about what’s next will dwindle away. And there you have it!

You’re a speedrunner now!

I mean, you literally are. You are speedrunning, and thus a speedrunner. The only thing left — git gud!

Practice, Improve, and Have Fun

If you find that you’re struggling in certain areas, this is where you should consider save state practice, individual-level (IL) practice, or whatever you believe will help you drill out those pain points in your speedrun. You may have already done this in previous steps, but if not, it’s never too late for segment practice. Afterall, you know better which parts of the run stump you most after you’ve completed many speedruns.

For some games, the best practice is just full game speedruns because you get a feel for the nerves, splitting, unexpected variables, and everything in conjunction with each other. So go all in, do more speedruns, keep on improving your time, and feel proud of your hard work!

Keep in mind, if you’re at the bottom of the speedrun leaderboards, or not even in the range of the other speedrunners, don’t sweat it! Everyone on that leaderboard has probably put in significantly more hours than you have. Keep your chin up, learning the run is the hardest part (well, maybe not, but it is tough).

Submit your Speedrun to the Leaderboard

After you’ve finished a run, hopefully, you have either saved the video, have it highlighted on Twitch, or uploaded it on the video platform of your preference. At this point, you can head to speedrun.com (SRC) or other speedrun leaderboard websites to share your accomplishment with the world and document your progress!

Enjoy!

Speedrunning Pro Tips:

  • Don’t get lost in the details
  • Do no-reset runs
  • Use a comfortable controller
  • Enjoy the journey

Don’t get caught up in the details: Reiterating what I said throughout this guide, don’t get wrapped up in the details when starting out. Even if you recorded a speedrun on your phone’s camera, posted it to the leaderboards, and got rejected, that’s fine! Your first runs will not be your best. You will learn all the pieces by the time you get your first really good run on the leaderboard.

No-reset runs: It’s so easy to get caught up in resetting for a 1 second time loss at the beginning of the game. Meanwhile, you find yourself totally comfortable with losing 20 or more seconds near the end of the run. This mindset will lead to less finished runs, and thus a worse personal best. You can reset when you want to, but I recommend at least finishing or starting off your speedrun session with at least one no-reset run. Some streamers will even have a full day of no-reset speedruns.

Finding a comfortable controller: To help your hands get through the intense movements of speedrunning, I’d recommend finding yourself a super comfortable controller to work with. For example, I use the Razor Wildcat Xbox One controller, which has soft grips and clicky, snappy buttons. The main reason I chose this controller, is because of the disconnected D-pad. Each direction is a button of its own, which reduces strain on my hand while I try to avoid putting an accidental diagonal tilt in any of my movements. To each their own, of course, but this is what works for me during emulated speedruns and PC gaming.

Enjoy your speedruns: Please do not forget to have fun! Almost anyone can get competitive, whether with themselves or other speedrunners, but don’t forget that when you step away from the game, life will continue as normal — feel free to take a step away from the game if you feel yourself getting too wrapped up or upset with your speedrun. Speedrunning is hard work, but it can also be a great experience. Have fun and godspeed!

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