What Is A TAS: Tool-Assisted Speedruns Explained

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably wondering what a tool-assisted speedrun is. The answer is quite simple, but I’m aware that it can seem more daunting than it is.

In short, a TAS is a tool-assisted speedrun. The tool assistance can include assigning specific inputs to automatically play out throughout the game, frame-by-frame advancements, and even unintended button presses such as up and down or left and right at the same time. TAS are built, but not performed by humans either for entertainment or examination of a video game’s limits.

A TAS is often used to see how fast a game can theoretically be beaten. This is different from a normal speedrun where a speedrunner will strive to beat a game as fast as humanly possible.

How do they achieve this extreme theoretical speed? An emulator can slow the frame rate to make the game go at slower speeds, even advancing the game 1 frame at a time (there are usually 60 frames per second). The average human cannot accomplish the same types of speedruns as a tool-assisted speedrun as you would need superhuman reflexes and memory skills even to go near enough to that speed.

Why Would Anyone Make a TAS?

Tool-assisted speedruns are incredibly useful, as, with the help of these, the author (or TASer) can break down the game by each frame and help to decipher what inputs and actions happen on each one.

These are then usually recorded and viewed online, so there’s a record of what the game is theoretically capable of. Essentially, a TAS can be used to establish a strategy for human speedrunners and whether they can perform the same tactics in their own game.

However, these are also done for entertainment! Speedrunning audiences can amuse themselves by seeing how much you can push a game’s mechanics before they’re absolutely broken to unrecognizable oblivion.

As a general rule, while human speedrunning can get you put on a leaderboard, TAS won’t be eligible for any record-breaking results. Though, TAS will often have leaderboards of their own — where perfection is pushed. And sometimes someone will make a TAS that saves exactly 1 frame over a previous TAS.

How Do Tool-Assisted Speedruns Work?

I’ve mentioned how TAS software can slow down your game’s frame rate on an emulator, but there are a variety of other methods that change the way tool-assisted speed runs work.

You can step through frames one at a time and pause the gameplay to send precise inputs from the mouse, controller, and keyboard. You can even return to previous save states that can help optimize your speedrun. With the help of these speedruns, you can develop a better strategy for any further playthroughs you plan to do for your game.

Overall, these are not developed to make these easier for any player but are instead developed to research the limits of the game. Furthermore, they can be used to find or better understand tricks and strats that would be very difficult to test manually.

How Would You Make A TAS?

Truthfully, making a tool-assisted speedrun does depend on the game and what console it’s for. Emulators are vital to the TAS experience, so finding the correct emulator for that console will help you.

The best way to get some advice is to find tool-assisted speedrunners in your selected game’s community, or you could try and contact them on discord.

It’s important to note that each system has specific emulators used for their tool-assisted speedruns, and some come with more tools than others!  BizHawk is a very common TASing emulator that has many tools at your disposal. It can be used on multiple consoles, and features full re-recording support along with Lua scripting.

How Do People Feel About Tool-Assisted Speedruns?

Truthfully, the TAS community does get looked down upon by gamers. But it’s usually the case that there is a misunderstanding of the intent of the TASer. Playing and beating a game can be tough, and seeing someone use tools to reach the end might rub some players the wrong way. But ultimately, it’s important to understand that TAS are for entertainment, research, and can be created as a creative outlet.

Many speedrunners see themselves as professional Esports athletes. However, TAS is seen as more of a science than a competition.

Many members of the TAS community take part in it to see the theoretical limits of the game, and they don’t do it to show just how quickly they can do everything. They take part in TAS to understand the logic behind the game’s code and to help decipher the clever tricks they can do to change how the game is played.

Many traditional speedrunners see speedrunning as an endurance challenge, which is not what TAS is about. TAS is about understanding and deciphering the code to change the game’s experience, not beating any records.

According to one famous TAS speedrunner, Scott “pannenkoek2012” Buchanan, he and his team chose to do their tool-assisted speedrun of Super Mario 64 to see what else they could do on the game. It stems from a place of childhood wonder and how they can make the game go on forever.

The Super Mario 64 TAS

I can’t mention Scott Buchanan, or pannenkoek2012 as he’s known on YouTube, without mentioning the challenges he’s imposed on himself while playing Super Mario 64.

As the first game he played as a child, he decided to return to his childhood favorite game with the help of an emulator.

With his degree in computer science, he decided to share his challenges on YouTube and explain what he could do. In one such challenge, he attempted to complete Super Mario 64 without jumping from each platform without using the A-button.

As this button is integral to the game’s function, he had to play this game using only the game’s environmental hazards and various glitches. As he’s done more, he’s been steadily using the A-button less and less, and as of July 2022, Scott Buchanan completed his 120-star playthrough of Super Mario 64 with 16 A-presses.

Over the years, he’s even managed to get the impossible coin hidden on Tiny-Huge Island, a level previously declared impossible to reach. This coin has been known since 2002, when it was discovered and reported on the GameFAQs forums.

Using the tool-assisted speedrun, pannenkoek2012 collected it by jumping and kicking a single frame while heading out of water. He’s even mentioned that it would be possible to collect without tool assistance but would take a lot of practice.

Misconceptions About TAS

I previously mentioned some different opinions regarding tool-assisted speedruns from both speedrunners and those in the TAS community. But perhaps, in this case, I should go into more details about what misconceptions are held regarding tool-assisted speedruns.

Using my example of Super Mario 64 above, you can tell that the tool assistance hasn’t been used for any reason other than to beat pannenkoek2012’s personal best.

But what misconceptions are held out there for other TAS players?

Many assume that anyone using tool assistance is lazy, but understanding TAS is more complex than the average speedrun. While speedrunners need to practice understanding it, TAS users must fully understand the game’s code and calculate what they need to do. They also need to edit these videos to make them more entertaining.

Glitches in TAS

Then some believe that abusing glitches ruins the experience, which is an average playthrough it’s true. But TAS is about challenging the game’s modes and creating ridiculous challenges for the player.

It’s not about being better than others but simply finding other ways to play the game. It’s even been said that it takes away the game’s human element, but several players will search for glitches.

You can even perform some of these glitches on the actual console, so it rarely takes away from the humanity of the speedrun. Some players will even say that the game being skipped will ruin the entertainment factor, but it’s instead its own form of entertainment.

There’s a joy in seeing a game get beaten in such a small amount of time. You can’t even say it makes the game too easy as so much research is implemented into a tool-assisted speedrun to make it work.

While some will say that a tool-assisted speedrun is useless, others find the challenge of understanding the code and the strategy much more entertaining. There’s no reason to say that a TAS is useless, as it’s not done to break any records as speedrunning is usually done. Instead, it is done as a theoretical exploration that should be encouraged.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve read this article, you should know better and understand how a tool-assisted speedrun works.

If you want to know more, then feel free to check out forums and communities around TAS to get more involved. If you’re more interested in normal speedruns, that’s alright too.

Both are different ways to play the game, and you can enjoy both. Depending on your niche, you may prefer one over the other. But just remember that TAS videos are solely made as a form of research and entertainment and haven’t been designed to be taken seriously.

Some speedrunners may use them for research. So long as they aren’t used to breaking records, there’s no reason to worry. If you want to see some TAS videos, head to YouTube. Over there, you should be able to find a TAS of any of your favorite games.

Regardless of what the game is, there should be a TAS run available for it online. If you want to make your own, then feel free to contact TAS community members to find out more.

Just remember, there’s no shame in tool-assisted speedruns.

There are so many features of games to explore, and in a way, TAS playthroughs can introduce a brand new perspective on how you can play your favorite game. So go out there and check out a few videos if you’re curious about how tool-assisted speedruns work.

Happy TASing!

Leave a Reply