Seeing the Bones in Speedruns

During Tomatoangus’ (aka Tomatoanus) speedrun of the Fallout anthology at the recently concluded Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) 2020, he whips out a hastily constructed sculpture made of plastic cups and cardboard, igniting a wave of laughter from the audience present in the conference hall.

(His entire run is worth watching and he’s a great explainer and narrator as well)

You see, he’s about to execute a trick that will allow him to teleport to a trigger volume in Fallout 4. This trigger volume will allow him to load the next scene and skip about 40 seconds worth of gameplay. In order to do so, he needs to go out of bounds of the level to get access to an invisible flat plane in the world way below the level boundaries. This plane is a way for the game to detect if the player has managed to glitch his way out the level and when triggered will teleport the player upwards back into the playable boundaries.

However, it’s not so simple. Between this bottom plane and the playable boundaries is ANOTHER plane with the exact same properties: when triggered it will teleport the player upwards. However he doesn’t need to just go upwards, he needs to end up in a small specific area up above, and these planes only teleport you vertically upwards, so he needs to be in the right horizontal position in order for the teleport to lead him to the right place. It’s impossible to navigate yourself to be in the right spot to be teleported correctly using the plane in between, so that plane just becomes a source of complication.

Thankfully, that plane ends beyond a certain point, so what he needs to do is:

1. Navigate out of bounds
2. Move until he goes beyond the extents of the in-between plane
3. Fall downwards past this plane
4. Move backwards so his horizontal position lines up with the load trigger 5. Hit the bottom-most plane so it teleports him upwards into the load trigger, all to save 40 seconds.

As you can see, the sculpture was probably quite handy in explaining this trick.

There’s something quite beautiful with speedrunning. Consider this trick. Consider the effort needed to discover this trick. Consider the amount of understanding and knowledge of the technical workings of the game and its engine needed to even come to discover this trick.

Videogames are complicated beasts. They are technically sophisticated pieces of software that demand everything of the platform it runs on. Consequently, people who play games often fail to understand their technical underpinnings and the process of making them, certainly not to the extent that they understand how films and music work. The production processes for films or music are part of the popular consciousness, used as marketing even.

In his review of Fallout 76, popular YouTuber Joseph Anderson criticized a bug in Fallout 76, and wondered why it wasn’t fixed yet as in his estimate, it would take at most a few hours to fix in a patch. Anderson’s reviews are otherwise nuanced, fair and very well done, but this comment of his is emblematic of the problems arising from ignorance of the game development process. Suffice to say, fixing even the simplest bug in a large-scale AAA game, especially one with a multiplayer component like Fallout 76, is not trivial. The time needed for building patches for multiple platforms, internal QA, QA by platform holders, distribution in multiple regions on multiple platforms, etc. is not considered by Anderson.

In individuals far less mature than Anderson, this ignorance frequently devolves into toxicity and entitlement.

Great speedruns let us see behind the curtain. We see the bones of the games we play. We come to understand how they work a little bit better. In the nascent years of speedrunning, this understanding was coupled with the aforementioned toxicity, leading to beliefs in the ‘laziness’ of game developers for even allowing the existence of the bugs that allow speedrunners to do what they do best, despite how esoteric and rare they are. However, with events like AGDQ, speedrunning has evolved and matured, and these glimpses of the spines of games has led to an appreciation for them and the technical wizardry and effort needed for them to exist. We see the bones, and we love them.