The Breakdown: Glitches in Speedruns

Read any public comments on speedrunning videos and you will often find the prototypical "I can't believe they cheated, this should be invalidated, the way they glitch is not what the developer's intended and is just wrong". Often times this may just be people trolling or trying to meme but this is an explanation of the differences between glitches and cheating for those that hold these view points. This is also an explanation of why there are glitchless categories and why they are important.


First off, this idea that glitches are cheating really holds no merit because it does not take into account any context. Most of the time you will find runners utilizing various glitches in their speedgames depending on the category of the run. Any% for instance is quite literally any percent; just get to the end of the game as fast as possible with no additional outside help. By outside help I mean the use of cheat devices like game sharks, pro action replay, anything that can change the game that isn't already present in the game itself. These runs can be extremely short like the classic Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time any% speedrun which is down to 17 minutes and 6 seconds. They utilize all sorts of glitches to warp their way around the game, tricking the game into placing them where they want to be to reach the end. These tricks and glitches are not easy to pull off, one thing that separates them from what you could consider cheating. Cheating implies that there is no skill involved and that it is something anyone who wishes to be nefarious can do. Yet these tricks and glitches are anything but easy. There is a reason why runners spend countless hours and days just practicing the tricks and glitches to pull them off during a run. The community self regulates its rules on a game by game and a category by category basis. There are plenty of categories that ban certain glitches to showcase other strategies or other glitches that get overlooked in other runs. 

Developer Intentions

The topic of developer's intentions is also a false argument about why glitches should invalidate speedruns. This argument brings into the debate an assumption that glitching in a speedrun is somehow disrespectful to the developers or that the developers don't condone the use of glitches to beat their games. Yet there are plenty of developers that have the speedrun community in mind when they are making games and often encourage players to find new ways to break their games. They have also been brought in commentary calls for popular runs during marathons like Awesome Games Done Quick to talk about their games and how the runners break the rules of the game's system. 

Any% is beating the game as fast as possible, no questions asked.

If you truly believe that glitches have no place in speedruns, there is a whole category that you might be interested in. Glitchless categories ban using glitches to beat the game and show off what can be done within the rules of the system. Optimization of game mechanics are often the focal point in the execution of these runs. Where in one game any& can be done very quickly, glitchless showcases much more of the game and high level play of the games mechanics. There is plenty of room in the community for all of these categories and each have their own optimizations that are very interesting to watch. The speedrun community is welcoming to all kinds of various runs and categories so instead of focusing on why one type of run shouldn't count, your energy would be better spent focusing on supporting the glitchless community as they are just as enjoyable to watch as any% runs are. 

For marathon runs with developer commentary, many of which are any% runs. 

Leaderboard that lists the any% time for Ocarina of Time. Also hosts glitchless leaderboards which are very active as well


The Breakdown: Todd Rodgers, Billy Mitchell, and the Twin Galaxies Reputation

Welcome to the Week in Review where I breakdown a major story in the Speedrunning and Score attack scenes and provide it to you to understand as easily as possible. On weeks where news is slow I will also talk about various games and why they are fantastic runs and games to watch and who to watch.

These are of course op-ed pieces that reflect my opinions and views alone and not those of the rest of the NoLife.Digital team.

Over the last few weeks we have seen two high profile gaming icons fall from grace and be found to have cheated at one point or another. Both of these icons have been in the scene since the 80's and both featured in the 2007 documentary King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters. Todd Rogers, known for his Dragster world record time that was claimed to be impossible to beat and stood the test of time for over thirty years, had his time retracted due to cheating from him and from his officiating friend at Twin Galaxies. Billy Mitchell, the King of Kong, was found to have recorded his scores on MAME and not the original hardware. At the heart of both of them lies Twin Galaxies, a site that at one point in time was the number one place to go for world records and competition in the gaming world. Yet this controversy may finally be the last nail in the coffin for this once esteemed and established organization that has been losing credibility for years.

Dragster, a racing game on the Atari 2600, had long been the topic of controversy since the record had been 5.51 seconds (with the proof being a Polaroid picture being sent to Activision at the time in 1982) had never been beaten in over thirty years. It had been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest gaming record and many top ten lists claiming it would never be broken. The closest anyone has come since is 5.57 seconds, a time shared by a handful of people. The record holder was Todd Rogers and for years people wondered how could his time be .06 seconds faster for so long. Given the limitations of the system, broken down frame by frame and even using an optimization tool, the time of 5.57 seconds is the lowest time that can be achieved. Twin Galaxies introduced a new process for disputing scores in July of 2017 and the arguments against Todd Rogers 5.51 second record began to be filed. The community provided sufficient evidence to discredit the record and having been caught cheating, all of Todd Rogers' scores have now been removed from Twin Galaxies. Unlike the community, who provided solid fact based evidence, Todd Rogers has continued to argue that he is being attacked by the community and defending himself by trying to say that gaming is about fun at the end of the day. While I agree that gaming is about having fun, when you play competitive it is also about being fair. If you wish to compete, you must do so with integrity. It does not matter who you are, whether that be a fresh face in the community or a veteran of thirty plus years. If you cheat, you will be discredited and lose all credibility.

screengrab from Apollo Legend video (click to view

Then there is Billy Mitchell, the King of Kong and the basis of the documentary by the same name. He has recently had some of his scores removed because they were played on an arcade emulator known as MAME. While MAME is an acceptable emulator when it comes to competition, MAME and original hardware are evaluated and approved in different fashions. By submitting MAME as if it was original hardware, it does not go through the same checks that it should have if it was submitted as MAME. One thing emulators can do, and especially true in MAME's case, is that they can be recorded and manipulated to create what looks like one play-through that is in actuality an edited play-through. One of the ways to point out a difference between MAME and original hardware is how they both handle certain situations in the game. It is not something one can tell just by watching but those with experience with both systems and how they handle things like screen transitions can point out based on their experience. Yet, just like with Todd Rogers, Billy Mitchell is quick to say that the community is attacking him and that a "pack" mentality to discredit him and Rogers is forming. The King of Kong documentary from 2007 featured both Mitchell and Rogers and both have come out against the documentary over the last few years for portraying them in a negative light. For some years you could have understood those claims, documentaries are known for shaping narratives all the time. However, given the circumstances of cheating and the subsequent public statements crying wolf from the disgraced former record holders, I am less likely to believe that the documentary painted them in a negative light.

So why now of all times for people to start to scrutinize and debunk these old records? Maybe one reason is that people don't want their heroes to die. Perhaps it is that players are getting to the skill level cap that exposes former players scores for being so good because they are in fact falsified. I for one believe it stems from a long time dissatisfaction with Twin Galaxies as a hub for all of these records. For some time Twin Galaxies had become defunct and was brought back and reopened in 2014. The idea behind this new team running Twin Galaxies was to create a more balanced and fair system for scores to be submitted and verified. Verification has long been a standing issue in both score attack and speedrunning scenes as verification can often have rules that make it difficult to submit or there be collusion between verifier and submitter. This new team did open the way for these older records to be disputed by people with solid facts and hard evidence. When one domino falls, the rest start to come down as well. The fall of Todd Rogers led others to believe that they too could challenge records like the Billy Mitchell MAME issue without fear of either being mocked or being dismissed. While I applaud Twin Galaxies for doing this now, I do not believe they are a site of relevance for future submissions. Many other communities have moved on to becoming more independent. The need for a hub as large as Twin Galaxies is no longer needed. The MegaMan speedrunning community was one of the first to break away and create their own site for leaderboards. Even the main speedrun community has made their own website for various games from the popular to the obscure. The community needs more people well versed in specific games to verify than what Twin Galaxies can offer. Their reputation has long been dead but their dispute system is the last bastion of hope for them as a credible source in the gaming community.

screengrab from Apollo Legend video (click to view)

The Who:
Todd Rogers: Long time record of 5.51 seconds in Dragster for Atari 2600 proven to be unable to achieve even by a computer following the rules of the game
Billy Mitchell: Icon of the classic gaming score attack scene and focus of the 2007 documentary King of Kong. Found to have submitted a high score using MAME but claiming it as original hardware
Eric ìOmnigamerî Koziel: Speedrunner who uncovered hard evidence that Dragster could not be beaten in the record time even with computer assistance.

The: What:
Cheaters exposed, cry wolf, can't accept that they were caught.
Twin Galaxies is no longer a reputable source for future scores and times, better left being handled by their individual communities rather than a large hub.
Dispute systems should always be encouraged for integrity