Sit on the couch, turn on the TV, and try to beat Sonic Adventure 2 in 20 minutes. Unless you hold the world record, odds are you won’t come close. Now let’s change the scenario. Turn on your computer, download the game, and use a program to optimize your fastest time. Sounds more feasible? TASes, or tool-assisted speedruns, specialize in doing just that, allowing gamers to see things they never thought possible and break games in ways developers could only dream of.
The driving idea behind TASes is to use an emulator and programming language to create a theoretically perfect speedrun. This branch of esports isn’t necessarily focused on helping players beat the game, but rather testing the game’s potential limits. There are numerous ways to create TASes, such as writing scripts to perform automated button inputs or slowing down the game to frame-by-frame. All this is done to beat the game not only as fast as possible, but faster than humanly possible.
Technical information aside, the creation and implementation of TASes throughout the gaming community has cultivated a large following, providing massive entertainment value that should not be overlooked. Numerous streamers and Youtube channels are dedicated to creating and showcasing TASes. Every year GDQ, or Games Done Quick, hosts a massive speedrunning multi-game convention for charity, and their TAS events always receive some of the largest engagement and donations.
While TASes are computer generated, there is still a human factor. Creating a TAS in and of itself is difficult, requiring a knowledge of programming languages, dedication to the game, and above all else, a lot of time to constantly test and rewrite scripts. All that time and effort religiously result not only in errors, but also in simply falling behind the speedrun curve. As more and more glitches and routes are discovered, it’s hard to implement them into already-running TASes, meaning that new ones need to be created, or at the very least, existing scripts need to be modified. This all takes an inordinate amount of time.
It also leads to times where manually speedrunning the game is actually faster than the TAS, at least until the TAS catches up a while later with new techniques. For example, in 2007, the Pokemon Blue manual speedrun was four minutes faster than the TAS. While this is entertaining in itself, the constant updates to routes, mining for glitches, and new discoveries of techniques leads to collaboration between community members. Human speedrunners of games explain strategies to TASers so they can implement it, allowing for even more optimized runs.
This brief summary of TASes and the TAS community is by no means complete nor comprehensive enough to encapsulate all there is to know, but hopefully it captures its essence and makes you excited about watching the community and what they create. For all the effort, time, and hardship, players spend months running scripts and breaking down the game in order to present something truly magnificent. Watching Sonic getting launched into the outskirts of a level, only to dodge kill planes by a pixel and hit the goal ring, finishing a 4-minute level in 30 seconds, is beautiful. There’s something about seeing Aiai perfectly bounce off of a level collision to hit the goal at the exact perfect just-the-right time that just makes you audibly say, “Wow.” It just goes to show, the speedruns may be tool-assisted, but the feelings are all human.