Getting Over It TAS - How to Speedrun the Map with 30% Gravity and Music
A tool-assisted speedrun or tool-assisted superplay (or TAS /tæs/ for short) is generally defined as a speedrun or playthrough composed of precise inputs recorded with tools such as video game emulators. Tool-assisted speedruns are generally created with the goal of creating theoretically perfect playthroughs. This includes but is not limited to the fastest possible route to complete a game and/or showcasing new ways to optimize existing world records.
Tool-assisted speedrunning concerns itself with research into the theoretical limits of the games and their respective competitive categories. The fastest categories are those without any restrictions and often involve a level of gameplay impractical or even impossible for a human player, while those made according to 'real-time attack' rules serve to research limits doable by human players.
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During development of a TAS, its creator (i.e. TASer) has full control over the game's framerate, which when brought down to a still allows frame-by-frame movement to record a sequence of fully precise inputs. Other tools they are equipped with include savestates and branches, rewriting recorded inputs, splicing together best sequences, as well as macros and scripts to perform automated actions. These tools give TAS creators the ability to perform with precision and accuracy beyond what a human player can do.
Because the vast majority of TAS playthroughs are considered humanly impossible, tool-assisted speedruns also serve as a type of proof of concept to demonstrate that a certain way of running the game is possible, however not without some kind of tool assistance, at least at the time of discovery.
The term was coined during the early days of Doom speedrunning, during which the first of these runs were made (although they were sometimes also referred to as "built demos"). When Andy "Aurican" Kempling released a modified version of the Doom source code that made it possible to record demos in slow motion and in several sessions, it was possible for the first players to start recording tool-assisted demos. A couple of months afterwards, in June 1999, Esko Koskimaa, Peo Sjoblom and Joonatan Donner opened the first site to share these demos, "Tools-Assisted Speedruns".[n 1]
Like many other tool-assisted speedrun communities, the maintainers of the site stressed the fact that their demos were for entertainment purposes rather than skill competitions, although the attempt to attain the fastest time possible with tools itself became a competition as well. The site became a success, updating usually several times a week with demos recorded by its maintainers and submitted by its readers. After a short while, when version 2.03 of Lee Killough's Marine's Best Friend Doom source port was released (based on the Boom source port), it became even easier for people to record these demos, adding the functionality of re-recording without having to replay the demo until it reached the point where the player wanted to continue.
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The site was active until August 10, 2001, when Jonathan Donner posted a news message stating that their site would be an archive from now on, and pointing towards The Doomed Speed Demos Archive, a site mainly for non-assisted speedruns, of which the author agreed to take over the posting of tool-assisted speedruns. Although popularity dwindled since then, built demos have still been submitted as late as November 2005, and are usually made with PrBoom.
In 2003, a video of a Japanese player named Morimoto completing the NES game Super Mario Bros. 3 in 11 minutes and performing stunts started floating around the Internet. The video proved to be controversial, as not many people knew about tool-assisted speedruns at the time, especially for the NES. As the video was not clearly labelled as such, many people felt they had been cheated when they found out it was done using an emulator. The video, however, inspired Joel "Bisqwit" Yliluoma to start a website called NESvideos, which was dedicated to tool-assisted speedruns for the NES. At first it hosted videos only for the NES, but as the community grew, its members added the features required for tool-assisted speedrunning into emulators for other systems. The name of the site was later changed to TASVideos.
As of May 2020, TASVideos is the largest English-language web community that produces and hosts tool-assisted speedruns; the site holds 4161 complete speedruns, of which 2213 are the fastest of their kind.
Tool-assisted speedruns have been made for some notable ROM hacks as well as for published games.[n 2] In 2014 a speedrunning robot, TASBot, was developed, capable of performing TAS runs via direct controller input.
A joke personification of tool-assisted speedruns, called TAS-san (TASさん, lit. Mr. TAS), has become popular among Japanese Internet users. Tool-assisted speedruns uploaded to sites like Nico Nico Douga, YouTube, or TASVideos may be described as a new world record by TAS-san, who is said to have the superhuman memory and reflexes needed to execute such a speedrun in real time.
The use of savestates also facilitates another common technique, luck manipulation, which is the practice of exploiting the game's use of player input in its pseudo-random number generation to make favorable outcomes happen. Using a savestate from before some event, it is possible to experiment with small input variations until the event has the desired outcome. Depending on the game and event, this can be a very time-consuming process, at times requiring much backtracking, and can as such take up a large portion of the total time spent making a tool-assisted speedrun. Examples of luck manipulation include making the ideal piece drop next in Tetris, or getting a rare item drop the first time one kills an enemy in an action game.
All these techniques involve direct interaction with the game state in ways not possible without emulation, but the final result, the set of inputs that makes up the speedrun, does not depend on such manipulation of the state of the emulated machine. The tool use in tool-assisted speedrunning is therefore different from the sort of state manipulation that tools like Gameshark provide, since such manipulation would not be expressible as a sequence of timed inputs.
Tool-assisted speedrunning relies on the same series of inputs being played back at different times always giving the same results. In a manner of speaking, the emulation must be deterministic with regard to the saved inputs (e.g. random seeds must not change from run to run). Otherwise, a speedrun that was optimal on one playback might not even complete it on a second playback. This loss of synchronization, or "desync", occurs when the state of the emulated machine at a particular time index no longer corresponds with that which existed at the same point in the movie's production. Desyncs can also be caused by incomplete savestates, which cause the emulated machine to be restored in a state different from that which existed when it was saved. Desyncs can also occur when a user attempts to match inputs from an input file downloaded from TASVideos and fail to match the correct enemy reactions due to bad AI or RNG.
Problems with emulation, such as nondeterminism and incomplete savestates, are often only discovered under the precise frame-by-frame conditions of tool-assisted speedrunning. Emulator developers often do not give speedrunning issues high priority because they have little effect on regular gameplay; consequentially the community has forked several emulators to make them suitable for the task. These include Snes9X improvement, Gens rerecording, VBA rerecording and Mupen rerecording. If a forked emulator is used to produce a TAS, playback on the normal, unmodified version of the emulator will usually result in a desync.
Emulators that currently feature the tools necessary to create tool-assisted speedruns include the Arcade emulator MAME (MAMEUI's option to record an uncompressed AVI slows down a game), the NES emulator FCEUX, the Super NES emulator Snes9x, the Genesis emulator Gens, the Game Boy Advance emulator VisualBoyAdvance, the Nintendo 64 emulator Mupen64, the GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin, the Nintendo DS emulator DeSmuME, the Sega Saturn emulator Yabause, the PlayStation emulator PSXjin, and several others for these and other platforms.
Tool-assisted speedruns are timed in a distinct category from unassisted runs, for reasons of fairness. In unassisted runs, a difficult path is often avoided in favor of a safer, but slower one, in order to avoid risks such as dying and having to start over, failing a trick and wasting more time, or failing a setup for a difficult trick. Depending on the game, tool-assisted speedruns can surpass their unassisted counterparts by a few seconds to entire hours (with the major sources of time differences including TAS-only routes or tricks as well incremental advantages gained from frame-by-frame precision that add up over time). For an example of a highly optimized real-time run, the fastest TAS of the NTSC version of Super Mario Bros. currently stands at 4:57 (4:54.032 using standard unassisted timing), while the fastest unassisted run stands at 4:58 (4:54.798 using standard unassisted timing by Niftski).
Tool-assisted runs are timed by input, i.e. from game power-on to the last input necessary to reach the ending scene and/or the game credits. Any introductory cutscenes, game-loading screens, and trailing dialogues after the last boss battle (if input is necessary to scroll through the text) are included in the final times. The times are exact (to the nearest frame), a level of precision that is usually not possible with unassisted runs because it cannot be determined from a recording when exactly the input ended. Speed Demos Archive and Twin Galaxies measure only the length of the gameplay proper, and begin timing when the player gains control of the character and ends timing when the player loses it. These differences in timing conventions can result in seemingly discrepant times between unassisted and tool-assisted runs. For example, a Super Mario Bros. speedrun by Andrew Gardikis, a 4:58 by SDA timing, seems to be only 0.69 seconds slower than a TAS of 4 minutes and 57.31 seconds by HappyLee, but his run actually contains 5 minutes and 1 second of input starting from power-on.