Speedrunning is when you play through a video game or a section of a video game as quickly as possible. To perfect a speedrun, players will dedicate hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of hours to playing a game over and over again. To beat previous times, players will have to continually optimize their gameplay, master fancy movement, and perform sometimes difficult glitches.
Setting up Super Mario 64
I decided to start speedrunning Super Mario 64 at the end of 2021. If you’d like to speedrun this game as well, or just want to play the game casually, all of the information you need to get started can be found in the resources section of the Super Mario 64 Speedruns Discord.
Mario 64 is traditionally played on a Nintendo 64 gaming console. Most people don’t have an N64 lying around. Fortunately, it‘s perfectly legal to submit speedruns for the Project64 Emulator, so long as you’re using version 1.6. Emulator and console runs are technically submitted under different categories due to the fact that games will run slower/faster according to the platform.
You will also need the ROM (read-only memory) of Super Mario 64. The ROM can be found on various sites online. Once the rom and emulator are installed on your machine, you’ll be ready to start playing.
Though you are running the game through your PC, playing with a keyboard is less than ideal. I recommend the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) N64 controller for most of the game, and a separate controller for the three Bowser fights throughout the game. The bowser fights require that you rotate the stick quickly, which wears out and eventually destroys the N64 controller stick. Most top level runners will switch to a Hori Mini Pad to prevent this, as its stick is much more robust. Stick longevity aside, I’d also recommend a controller that has a stick with notches. The notches can make some tricky movements easier, as you can rely on the consistency that the notched angles provide.
Speedrunning Super Mario 64
Your primary goal in Super Mario 64 is to collect stars hiding throughout Princess Peach’s castle. With enough stars accumulated, you’ll be able to access the final boss fight with Bowser, and rescue Peach. While there are 120 stars to collect, you’ll only need 70 – without glitches – to complete the game.
When you start up the game, you will be placed in the yard of a large castle. The castle interior contains many paintings, each of which links to a different level. By jumping through a painting, you enter the corresponding level. Each level has 7 possible stars to collect. Some stars can be found outside the paintings, hidden around the castle.
I am currently running the 16-Star speedrun category which, as the name implies, means that you complete the game after collecting only 16 stars. Normally you would need 30 stars to open a special door upstairs from the main lobby, and 70 stars to climb the otherwise-endless stairwell located before the final level and bowser fight.
To skip those barriers early, you can use a glitch called BLJ (Backwards Long Jump). To do this, you’ll have to long jump backwards, repeatedly pressing the jump button quickly and at a consistent pace. If you do it right, Mario will generate an absurd amount of speed. This will allow him to clip through gated content, as during one frame, he’ll be in front of a blocked path, and during the next frame, he’ll be behind the blocked path, avoiding collision detection.
Super Mario 64 is a great game to speedrun because of how accessible quality practice is using Usamune ROM. Also known as a trainer, Usamune ROM is a hacked version of the game that allows you to practice any portion of the game quickly and repeatedly. For example, while practicing a route for a star, you can reset the level, or warp back to a previously saved position in the world. This gives incredible flexibility with regard to practicing the individual challenges throughout the game.
Tracking Speedrun Times
While you can use a simple stopwatch to track your times, it’s much easier, more efficient, and more accurate to let a program do that for you. For this purpose, most people will use an app called LiveSplit.
LiveSplit allows you to name and track times against subsections of the playthrough. You’ll be able to compare your current time and pace against your personal bests. This will make it much easier to see what areas of the game need more practice. Seeing your current time compared against your best time also allows you to know if you’re likely to PB at the end of the run.
LiveSplit can be controlled manually by clicking “split” every time you’ve completed an arbitrary part of the game. Manually splitting is cumbersome though, especially when you’re so heavily focused on the run. Thankfully, LiveSplit exposes two ways to split automatically.
Option 1: The first option is more portable and works with many games that run on a PC. LiveSplit can read the virtual memory of the game during the run, watch for certain triggers to occur, and update your splits accordingly. The defined triggers for Mario 64 on emulator include obtaining a star, key, defeating bowser, completing the game, etc.
As previously mentioned, LiveSplit supports auto splitting for many PC games out of the box. The community is full of passionate, talented, and dedicated developers, who update the autosplitter whenever a new patch comes out, keeping it functioning properly.
In the case of Mario 64, the built in triggers may not be flexible enough for you. For example, sometimes you’ll do stars out of order, and so triggering a split on a star acquisition doesn’t always compare well against the same star’s acquisition in a previous run. And unfortunately there is no trigger for a group of stars.
Option 2: The second option offers the missing flexibility of the first option. Using a program called AutoSplitter, you can set up your own custom triggers based on visual cues rather than game memory. AutoSplitter will watch for these visual queues to occur, and then tell LiveSplit to split. This is, for many, the prefered method of auto splitting Mario 64.
Recording and Reporting Your Speedrun
Most speedrunners post their fastest runs on the leaderboards of www.speedrun.com. Here, you can see the fastest verified times for hundreds of different games. To post your speedrun, you will simply need to upload a recording of your playthrough. A good free program for recording runs is the streaming utility OBS Studio.
When you’re ready to submit your speedrun, go to www.speedrun.com, select your game and category of choice, and submit the run by filling out the required form. Someone will retime your run and validate its legitimacy, after which the leaderboards will be updated. This is all done free of charge.
Most people think speedrunning is about dedicating large amounts of time and energy to becoming the fastest person in a particular game. While some certainly play with that competitive ideal in mind, for most people, it is instead a fun hobby that allows you to compete against yourself. I strongly encourage you to try out speedrunning if you enjoy gaming and self-improvement, as few hobbies can reflect your well earned progress so clearly. It’s also a fun way to continually find challenge in a game you’ve already completed.