Monday, December 17, 2012

My Top 10 TAS Runs of 2012

People seemed to like this last year, so here it is again for 2012!

Here's the 2011 list if you'd like to see it. I sorta worked out what criteria I'd use to make the list last year, so I don't think I'll regress on that this year.

Honorable Mentions
There were notable improvements to both the Super Metroid Reverse Boss Order and glitched any% runs, if you're a big Metroid fan or if you haven't checked out these categories they're must see, but for others... not as much. Nahoc's runs of Tony Hawk and its sequel are both pretty exciting. It was a big year for 2D Zeldas, with bobmario511 releasing a slew of great Link's Awakening videos - the crazy playaround probably being the most fun - and the Ocarina of Seasons run finally being finished. I love when platformers with pretty tight runs manage to get improvements through unlikely sources like Sonic 2 and Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Speaking of Kirby, the all-shards run of Kirby 64 is a lot of fun. Pokemon White got a good run too. Super Mario 64 was improved yet again but this list certainly has enough of that game. Although technical issues kept it from being published, there's no lack of amazing tricks in this Sonic Adventure run. I really like this Mario Party 2 run but it's pretty silly. The Second Reality Project is one of the most amazing Super Mario World hack, and it has an amazing run to match. Shmup runs are pretty pointless in most people's opinion, but this Touhou 12 run is stunning. The "minimal presses" trend never really caught on but it produced a pretty neat Super Mario Bros. 3 run and Super Mario Bros. run. Oh, and GameGrumps fans ought to check out the jam-packed all secrets run of Donkey Kong Country 2. I'm sure there's tons I've missed... Anyways, let's go ahead with the list!

10. Super Mario 64 DS in 9:50.64
Nintendo DS

How cool is it that Super Mario 64 DS is just as broken as the original, but in a completely different way? It's pretty cool to me. The DS remake's route contains the ultimate Holy Grail of Mario 64 fans: the moat door skip! Bowser in the Dark World can sleep easy at night! However, this time benefit is offset by needing a star (who gets stars these days?) and having to rescue Mario to do all the heavy-lifting. We're unlikely to ever see this dip below the record of the original, but seeing it cracked this far open is already a delight.

9. Super Mario 64 "70 Stars BLJless" in 42:58.52
Nintendo 64
CeeSammerZ, coin2884, Eru, Goronem, Jesus, Kyman, Mickey/VIS, Mokkori, Moltov, Nahoc, Nekuran, Nothing693, pasta, Snark, sonicpacker and ToT

Yup, more Mario 64. A lot of people resisted adding a third category for the game, but Super Metroid seems to add that many categories per year. I'm definitely in favor, though. This might end up being the equivalent of the "small-only" category of Super Mario World: a restriction that enables some more traditional and perhaps even more exciting strategy. Backwards long jumps (or BLJs), a speedrunning technique that abuses some well-intentioned subtleties of the Mario 64 engine, are certainly thrilling to watch but often chop out many interesting obstacles.

8. Metal Gear Solid in 1:31:49.0

Metal Gear Solid was touted as a landmark game in "cinematic gameplay". Things that we've taken for beyond granted - as annoyances, really - like quick time events and forced camera were revolutionary at the time for their ability to engage players in a way that really made them feel like they were playing a movie. Even now, the "Phantom Pain" trailer is getting basically everyone excited for those same prospects. Well, if you've ever wanted to see MGS at its least cinematic (and often most hilarious), look no further. theenglishman's Snake leaves guards blind and humiliates bosses, tearing through Shadow Moses with a confidence that players typically only display in this genre for the first few minutes the first few times. It's a great watch that leaves me sorely anticipating the arrival of good PS2 rerecording and MGS2 and 3.

7. Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga in 1:12:29.25
Gameboy Advance

I think of runs like this as the TAS equivalent of a Magic: the Gathering combo deck. At first you seem like you're playing the game normally, then you seem to be doing... weird stuff, stuff that people wouldn't think you ought to do if you want to win. Then it finally goes off, and all the weird stuff is revealed to only be marching towards that one end. And after it goes off, sheesh... you'd have to mop the floor to get what's left of the game. For Mario & Luigi, the Splinter Twin is a humble barrel, and the tileset-bending trip it sends them on looks better suited to a Link's Awakening or Mega Man run than any sort of RPG. I can only hope that Paper Mario ends up half as busted.

6. Final Fantasy IX in 7:37:12.28

Yes, that is indeed a pretty hefty length... but like, compare it to those Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathons that I'm told people can actually manage and it starts seeming more reasonable. And sure maybe Final Fantasy IX isn't as entertaining as Lord of the Rings for most people, but I'm sure I'm not alone in my total fanboyish love for this game, from the tiniest charms to the sprawling world to the captivating plot. So why include a run that sprints past all those charms, heads straight from A to B with pinpoint accuracy and blows through dialogue like the most impatient of 12 year olds? Well, sure, I'd also love to just sink into a flawed but exhaustive longplay of the game, or uh, actually just play it myself, but Lil_Gecko proves the game worthy of TASing throughout. His dedication to optimization leads to some brilliant strategies and often hilarious domination of the game's RNG.

5. Chrono Trigger "glitched" in 3:28.06
turska and inichi

If I included Final Fantasy IX because of my love for the game, well, this run contains only about 1% of Chrono Trigger so I'm not sure how much love I can really give it. If I included Mario & Luigi for its combo-deck setup-breaking, this run of Chrono Trigger in under 5 minutes is Hulk Flash. If you can't really tell what's happening here I can't blame you but I think you ought to know because it's pretty mindblowing. From the submission text: "The position value 1F3E is partially overwritten with the party's current position, 4A50, resulting in the position 4A3E being stored in SRAM.", "The game is saved on Zenan Bridge, resulting in a save file with a location value of 2000. We then exit the area and reset while the location value F001 is being written to the save file, resulting in SRAM containing the location F000.". Amazing. Seriously amazing. Aside from all the ingenuity and creativity that this run obviously took, I think it stands as a testament to just how sophisticated emulation has become.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 22:50.27
Nintendo 64
Swordless Link

Although OoT doesn't have the complete mastery of time and space that save corruption allows, I don't think many people would find the amazing breaks found this year that lead Young Link to kill mighty Ganon any less mindblowing. Seriously, look at that time! Even unassisted players can now save Hyrule in about an episode of Seinfeld. And not one of those double episodes like about the pilot or the bottle collection but a regular episode! Nobody would believe this back in the days of TSA, when ISG was a novelty - people then would give sub-hour times as lame April Fools' pranks - or even in the days when RBA seemed to be blowing the game off its hinges - running around doing errands is below a kid who can't even be bothered to grow up properly! Since this run is mostly cinematics and waiting for Zelda to open doors, I figure it can't really get that much lower. I look forward to being wrong.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time "All Dungeons, Temples & Ganon Trials" in 2:04:45.22
Nintendo 64
Swordless Link

Of course, if we're talking Ocarina of Time, we're talking about superslides, megaflips, OoBs, powerstabs, and really, who wants to skip any of that fun stuff? MST, especially after the amazing Shadow Temple Boss Key skip, still is more a highlight reel than an actual accurate representation of the game's contents, but hey, that's what TASes are all about. There's few games that match the 3D Zeldas in having such an (often literally) explosive variety of exciting tricks, and anyone familiar with the game (and who isn't?) should look forward to having their minds blown a few times a minute. Swordless Link's masterpiece of TASery was beset on all sides by setback and controversy (some of which still lingers!) but it is a simply legendary run.

2. Pokemon Yellow "Executes Arbitrary Code" in 12:51.87

bortreb is an outsider to the TAS community (and the Pokemon community, but that's beside the point, I guess), but he has achieved one of its oldest and most foolish dreams. One of the most sacred dreams of almost any enthusiast of messing about in video games in ways you aren't supposed to. I wonder if he was aware of the ancient desires he was fulfilling when he had Pokemon program itself into a My Little Pony joke... forgive me if I get too emotional here. Earlier on this list we showed how you can, through precision resetting, have the game overwrite only half of a value in RAM. That's pretty amazing. Last year we had Super Mario World players who made a fish-spawning machine to churn through the RNG to a specific value. That's incredible. But this... this makes those look like kids' science fair projects. Sure, we can toy with the game, making it read and write where it shouldn't, but it's still the game. We might be calling all the shots and supplying the balls, but it's still hitting all of them into the park with the bat its given. Analogously, this run is tearing down the stadium, processing all the materials into their rawest materials, and rebuilding them with Godlike precision into anything with lesser or equal mass. We can do anything. This run makes Pokemon Yellow Turing CompleteDoesn't that send shivers down your spine just to read? Sure, actually working in this exciting new language is so tedious that little outside of proof of concepts will ever likely be made, but it isn't about the probabilities, it's about the possibilities. I love runs that make me rethink what's really possible in a game, and never, ever, has any run opened so much potential. It's not even close. 

1. Super Mario 64 "120 Stars" in 1:20:41.52
Nintendo 64
MKDasher, Nahoc, sonicpacker, Bauru, Eru, Goronem, Jesus, Kyman, Mokkori, Moltov, Nothing693, pasta, SilentSlayers, Snark and ToT

And yet, I couldn't help but put this run above it. I really couldn't help it. Five years of work. Hard work. Look at that list of contributors. Look at this rerecord count: 2136942. That's over two million. Look at that monkey cage. Look at that shell Mario. Look at that high speed flying, those BLJs, those HSWKs. Look at the whole thing, really. I don't think I'll have to convince anyone who watches past, say, Bob-Omb Battlefield to continue. Seriously, just look at this thing. It actually exists. They actually did it. It's finally here, and man, was it worth the wait.

So there's my list!

More 2012 lists to follow... hopefully, maybe, but the track record doesn't look too good. More Live Reviews to follow, most likely.

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