A screenshot of Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on PC

How to start (and improve at) speedrunning

By Alicia Haddick, Contributor

So you want to get into speedrunning. Maybe you found a cool streamer playing as fast as possible through a game you enjoy and wanted to try it for yourself, or maybe you just want to add a new challenge to a familiar title. Maybe you were inspired by marathon livestreams like Games Done Quick and the community’s ability to raise millions of dollars for charity.

How do you do it, though? Here’s a brief introduction to speedrunning and what you can do to get into the hobby yourself.

What is speedrunning?

Speedrunning is the act of playing a game or part of a game from start to finish as fast as possible. The hobby has exploded in popularity in recent years alongside the rise of streaming. One glance at a popular game on Twitch and you’ll see more than a few people forgoing a standard playthrough for a technically challenging race, perhaps breaking the typical rules of engagement via glitches in the process.

In speedrunning, a glitch or a bug is an opportunity, not a roadblock, and certain players take advantage of them in order to circumvent slower or more difficult sections of a game and defeat it even quicker than would be possible by normal means.
Take a game like Celeste. This brutally challenging (yet emotionally arresting) 2D platformer is already a test of skill to complete, the journey to the clear screen almost like ascending the mountain that protagonist Madeline climbs on her journey. But certain players, having mastered the controls and long-since overcome its challenge, use special techniques to race through these levels as fast as possible—simply for the pride of scaling the mountain faster than anyone else.

Celeste typically takes players 8 to 10 hours to play through, but the fastest player in the world, secureaccount, recently finished Celeste in just 25 minutes and 19 seconds.

How do you speedrun?

There are two ways you can speedrun just about any game. The most common is a full game run, otherwise known as Real Time Attack (RTA), which requires a player to complete a game from the very first level to the end credits as fast as possible. If you only want to challenge a particular level, there are Individual Level (IL) speedruns, where the challenge is to beat a shorter section of the game as quickly as possible.

IL speedruns are more popular in racing games like Trackmania, thanks to in-game leaderboards and built-in per-track records. For other genres, communities typically prefer to speedrun a full game—although that doesn’t mean that IL challenges don’t have their share of competition.
Many games have dedicated leaderboards at speedrun.com, where communities moderate and host the fastest times of just about any game you can think of. Claiming number one on these leaderboards is considered a grand achievement, and is the motivating goal for players of all skill levels.

These leaderboards are also often separated into different categories with their own parameters and conditions for completion: Any% speedruns will simply expect players to complete a game as fast as possible with no conditions, while 100% speedruns expect the player to collect and see everything in the process. Not a fan of glitches? Some games have categories that exclude them.


What if you want to speedrun, but maybe don’t have the time or patience to spend an hour or longer in a single sitting completing a game when any mistake may force you to start over from the beginning?

Some players get involved in speedrunning by helping find the quickest route through a game, or searching for new glitches that may allow players to finish runs even faster than previously thought possible. Finding the optimal route through a game requires a player to theorize, test, and refine ideas on how to best exploit the movesets and rules imposed by a developer.

In the Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart community, speedruns completed in the weeks following the game’s release differed vastly from how players complete the game today, thanks to a technique known by speedrunners of the game as the swingboost—swinging your wrench while brushing against any surface to gain forward momentum far beyond what was initially intended by the developers. Using the swingboost, players were able to skip over sections of Rift Apart and finish the game even faster. Over time, players further refined this discovery by testing the technique in a number of places to find the optimal usage, creating a route that players have followed—and shaved additional time off of—ever since.
Final Fantasy Vii Remake
In Final Fantasy VII Remake, a player named foxydits found a technique called Infinite Staircase that allowed the player to endlessly gain height and reach areas they weren’t supposed to access. Infinite Staircase was tested and implemented by the rest of the community, and saved significant time over past speedruns.

Routing a speedrun is a fun and unique experience, whether you work alone or with other players. It’s about knowing everything there is to know about a game, and then using that knowledge to find your way through it as fast as possible. If you’re a big fan of a particular game or series, why not try routing it? You may have an idea the rest of the community hasn’t considered, and could be the one who evolves the game’s speedrun to the next level.

What games should you start speedrunning with?

Speedrunning is about having fun, first and foremost—and for that reason, you shouldn’t play a game just to speedrun it. You’ll feel more motivated to improve your skills and best times if you’re playing a game you love.

That being said, popular games are more likely to have large communities willing to help you start speedrunning, and may also have prepared resources teaching new players many of the foundational techniques. In this guide I’ve brought up titles like Ratchet & Clank and Celeste. Both of those communities have plentiful resources available to help new players get started with speedrunning. Similarly, the Hades community has guides for many variations of the full-game run, from a standard playthrough to challenge runs at the hardest difficulty.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t speedrun a game that lacks the popularity of the big hitters—especially if you’re someone who enjoys glitch-hunting and routing a game from scratch. A less-popular game gives you the added challenge of finding the best path forward yourself. Thanks to your efforts, you might even make the game more attractive to other players and speedrunners.

While you may assume that developers would prefer to see their games completed only in the intended fashion, many (especially indie developers) are greatly supportive of the community’s efforts to stretch the limits of their work. Solar Ash developer Alex Preston proclaimed his love of speedrunning and Games Done Quick, asking speedrunners before the game’s release to “break the f*ck out of it.” Some studios, like Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac, have even worked with the community to ensure game patches don’t damage techniques found and exploited by the competitive community. Don’t avoid speedrunning a game because you’re afraid you might annoy the people who made it.

Useful tools for speedrunning

Beyond a copy of the game you want to speedrun (obviously), what else do you need to get started? Less than you think!

Naturally, the goal of speedrunning is to record the fastest time you can while playing a particular game, and that means you’ll need a timer to track your results. The free community tool Livesplit is used by many because of its accuracy and customizability, but any timer that can record your time will work.

Many communities require video verification to prove you achieved the time you claim, reducing the possibility of cheating. Even if that’s not your primary concern, many speedrunners like to stream their sessions on Twitch, growing a community who can support them and that they can interact with while attempting to beat their best times. The free Open Broadcaster Software or OBS will help you record and stream your gameplay to places like Twitch or YouTube. This video recording or livestream archive can then be used as proof of your achievements for leaderboards.
Obs Interface
If your computer lacks the strength to run both the game and recording software simultaneously, anything with the ability to record your gameplay can be used instead. It may not be the prettiest to look at, but even pointing a phone camera at your monitor is better than nothing!

This last thing is the most important and absolutely necessary if you wish to succeed: perseverance. You will inevitably make mistakes, sometimes in painful fashion in the final minutes of a record-breaking run that scuppers the chance at glory. You may have difficulty learning a new trick or hit a rough patch where you aren’t able to compete at the level you’re used to playing. Being able to accept that not every attempt will be perfect will not only make you less nervous when you’re on the precipice of glory, but will help pick you up and give you the motivation to try again without taking out your frustrations on other people.

Practice makes perfect. To improve at speedrunning you’ll need to practice and retry a run multiple times in order to rise through the leaderboards. Shaving seconds or minutes off your personal best is exciting and very visible though, and speedrunning is a wonderful opportunity to meet new players and make friends as well. It extends the time you have with your favorite games and offers new ways to experience a familiar title. Only one question remains: What’s stopping you?