The Life and Death of Ocarina of Time Speedrunning

Curator's Note

Most eSports are a battle of wits between two players or two teams. In these games, the developers watch over the competition like benevolent gods. If one strategy becomes too strong, the developers change the game to make that strategy weaker. If one piece becomes too powerful, the developers mold it into something more moderate.

Speedruns flip this paradigm on its head. A game that is good to speedrun almost requires an absentee developer, because even though a speedrun is a match of wits and exectuion between many different runners, the really interesting parts happen when the game is intentionally broken beyond all repair and when players find strategies that would be patched out of any other competitive game in an instant. 

Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most popular and most competitive speedrunning games. In particular, players competed for the fastest time in an Any Percent run of the game, which means starting the game at the beginning and getting to the credits through any means necessary. 

Over years of exploration, discovery and technique, this run evolved into one of the most nuanced and technical runs in the speedrunning community. It was filled with highly technical and impressive glitches and exploits, and was beautiful to watch. 

And then a trick called wrong warp was discovered. Through unexpected use of the bottle item, players were able to manipulate memory values in the game to teleport from a portal near the beginning of the game to a portal at the very end. This allowed runners to beat the game in under 20 minutes, a massive improvement over times before the wrong warp. However, the trick also skipped over 12 years of Zelda speedrunning discoveries, a rich tapestry of glitches and exploits destroyed in the single instant of this trick's discovery. 

The discovery of the wrong warp reveals a glowing red weak point at the heart of competitive video games. Can games like Chess and Go ever exist on the computer without persistent and conscious developer omnisicence, fixing the fatal flaws before they destroy the system? Without developer oversight, could many competitive video games turn into a battle against bits and frames? On the one hand, the wrong warp glitch is sublime, and its discovery truly amazing. On the other hand, the fastest Zelda Ocarina of Time speedrun, once insanely technical and deep, is now twenty percent collecting chickens.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.