Incredible Discoveries Ten Years Later in Zelda Speedrun

There’s a fascinating speed run of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that made it onto¬†metafilter, where the game is beaten incredibly quickly through an ingenious set of bug exploits that were gathered over the course of ten years.

I queued up the most interesting part of it on YouTube, where the speedrunner skips a huge part of the game through a difficult and technical exploit, and goes on to describe the elaborate twisted ways in which it works:

Crazy explanation of Speedrun as he continues to beat the game (watch a few seconds of this before you bounce off the page, my text isn’t nearly as interesting as this guy’s explanation.)

If you have the time, the whole video is pretty interesting. Ordinarily I wouldn’t watch something like this, but I got sucked it by the description of how the discoveries were made over the course of years, and how the speed run continued to evolve through a dedicated curious community.

What’s fascinating is the level of complexity and interesting discoveries hidden in just about any complex system, whether it be science, math, or even an old video game. It probably helps that I’m guessing this game had to be rushed out the door and perhaps had some inexperienced programmers working on it, which led to a more fascinating and strange world for speed-runners to explore.

11 thoughts on “Incredible Discoveries Ten Years Later in Zelda Speedrun

  1. Your guess is a bit off the mark. Ocarina of Time was one of the flagship games for Nintendo’s then-newest console. It pushed the envelope of gaming in about a dozen ways simultaneously, and is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made.

    • I didn’t mean to criticize the game inasmuch as praise the interesting bugs that made it past QA, which allowed for such a fascinating development of speed run techniques.

  2. I like that you’re so gracious to the programmers, saying that they were probably either inexperienced or rushed. Both of which may be true, but in my experience the truth is probably closer to, “No one tested game glitches involved in objects in the game being removed from memory because they were off camera when Link’s animation hit a certain frame at a certain time in a certain place.”

    Great video.

    • True, I completely agree that completely debugging a game may be impossible, and that it is much more interesting anyways that these idiosyncratic bugs exist.

      It provided such a fascinating ecosystem for many years of exploration and discovery — perhaps QA should allow more glitches than less (perhaps with a bias towards the weird hard-to-discover ones).

  3. I tried to read this on a mobile device but the yellow block with your name and the twitter follow button blocked the text. (iOS 7 iPod touch)

  4. It didn’t have to be inexperienced programmers. The coding style back in the day, apparently, was often focused on using the limited resources available, which often meant using memory for multiple purposes so long as they did not overlap. It is unfortunately not easy to know exactly when that is.

    I listened to the story of one computer scientist, Kaare Danielsen, who wrote a chess AI for a Chinese company having something like 64 or 128 bytes for both the state of the chessboard and any thoughts the AI might have. (I remember there was an inherent conflict between representing the board at full and having any additional data.)

    Just as Zelda is still played, that chess AI is still sold today.

    • That’s a good point, and complete debugging is likely an impossible goal anyways. It is amazing what programmers were able to accomplish given the limitations of past hardware.

  5. Interesting post, I will definitely watch this. I highly doubt though that Nintendo had inexperienced programmers working on their flagpole game, but probably the truth is that this game had to be rushed to be released and they didn’t just have enough resources to test all of these glitches, and probably didn’t even expect people to try out all of these crazy things. The 3D worlds were still then a pretty new thing, and Ocarina Of Time was one of the true pioneers of having an open world to explore.

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