Today, runners in some games have grown so proficient it is hard to appreciate their skills. Watching Quake Done Quick With a Vengeance (the entirety of Quake at Nightmare difficulty in 12 minutes, 23 seconds), you find it difficult just to process what's happening on screen, let alone understand the cleverness and fabulous precision involved.
But speedrunners still race ahead. There are 9,000 Quake demos on Speed Demos Archive; it would take six weeks to watch them. The pinball and videogame record-keeping site Twin Galaxies tracks championship events nationwide. Runners are exploring new games such as Bungie's Halo; check out High Speed Halo for a chronicle of obsession. ("Tartarus Battle 2:23: Cody Miller's Tartarus Battle is taken from his Full Game Legendary No Death run. This is the last few minutes of three and a quarter hours of non-stop Legendary play.") One running team, DivZero, is even writing a new 3-D game engine specifically intended for speedruns; it's called HASTE.
Players argue over the merits of emulators and programming tools in speedrunning. Some impressive runs have been revealed as tool-assisted frauds. Finnish runner Joel "Bisqwit" Yliluoma has partly defused the issue with his site TASvideos. (TAS: "tool-assisted speedruns.") The site, which enshrines tool assists, establishes an unexpectedly arty aesthetic: "Although most of our movies intend to play games as fast as possible (tool assisted speedruns, if you will), with respect to art, our main goal is to create movies that are beautiful to watch."
The stern and cranky TAS guidelines emphasize entertainment value and self-awareness: "If you have to wait for something to happen (like a boss waking up), you do not need to just stand still. Jump around, do special moves, dance to the music, anything to make the delay less boring. ... Do not sleep. You are supposed to be the master of the game, not the slave of the game. Aim for the impossible."
Meanwhile, some zealots are exploring the newest speedrunning frontier: MMOGs. In late January 2006, after four attempts, a 25-year-old American runner named Bob "Mancow" Norris achieved his goal of advancing a World of Warcraft character from level 1 to level 60 in under five days of online play. He recorded the entire 115-hour marathon; the 65-gigabyte movie fills nine DVDs. On eBay, Norris sells an edited version of the movie, along with an eight-page strategy guide.
In a February 18 Kotaku post, commenters expressed distinctly mixed views of Norris's achievement.
But speedrunners laugh. The run is the thing. And they keep going, ever faster.