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The Late Movies: 11 Video Game Speedruns

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A speedrun is the act of playing a video game (usually the entire thing from start to finish) as fast as possible. In some cases a speedrun may use glitches in the game or other shortcuts to get through it quickly -- an example of a shortcut that people of a Certain Age may remember is the warp tubes in Super Mario Brothers. On the other hand, Glitching is actually a whole gaming subculture, in which gamers do stuff like run through walls in order to reach unexpected parts of the map. Who knew?

So tonight, I present eleven epic speedruns through popular (and not so popular) video games. SPOILER ALERT: if you haven't played through the entire game, these videos are by definition total spoilers!

Super Mario Brothers in 5 Minutes

This brings back memories! If you're curious about the methodology, check out this YouTube page and read the author's description. He posts a FAQ including this gem: "Q11: So where did you mess up? A11: I didn't mess up in level 8-3 where I ran into the bottom of the flagpole, this was actually completely intentional so that I avoid the fireworks which wastes time. I really only messed up in level 8-4 (right after the walljump I wasted about half a second.)"

Note: this does use mild glitches (some enemies don't hit Mario properly, even when it looks like they do), and of course the warp tubes.

Super Mario Brothers on Top of a Building

This surfaced in July, but deserves a second look.

Super Mario Bros. from Andreas Heikaus on Vimeo.

Portal Done Pro

I actually haven't watched this whole video because I'm stuck halfway through Portal and want to figure it out myself. But in this video, a very talented player uses glitches to get through the whole game in about fifteen minutes. If/when you're confused as to what the heck is going on, check out his 15-part commentary. I listened to part of the commentary, and it's actually pretty amazing -- the sheer effort involved in this speedrun is just shocking.

Oh, and if you want to watch this video in various flavors of HD, go to YouTube. (There are also links in the video description to download an "insane quality" version via BitTorrent.)

Contra in Under 14 Minutes

Oh, Contra, my old NES friend. There's also a notable video of someone playing the Xbox Live version and unlocking all the achievements.

Super Mario Brothers 3 in 11 Minutes

Not much to say about this one. It makes me a little dizzy, I guess that's something to say about it.

Super Mario 64 in Under 16 Minutes

This is a "tool-assisted" speedrun.

Left 4 Dead "Leeroy Jenkins" Expert Speedrun

So if you don't know who or what Leeroy Jenkins is, ask your friend Google. But the gist of this video is, this player decided to use Mr. Jenkins's strategy to get through Left for Dead in Expert mode in just under 7 minutes. Zombiemania ensues. (Note: I'm not an L4D player so can't judge this myself, but some commenters on YouTube claim this is not Expert Mode. In any case, it's intense.)

Half-Life in Half an Hour

I still haven't played Half-Life (I know, I know), so I haven't watched much of this. But I enjoyed the author's notes: "This is my segmented Half-Life speedrun, done by me, Blake "Spider-Waffle" Piepho. I had the idea for this in year 2000, started working on it in 2003, and completed it in October 2006. This run was done through many small segments in aim of achieving a high level of perfection. The final time from start to the death blow on Nihilanth is 29:41."

Super Metroid (SNES) in 30 Minutes

Although no longer the fastest speedrun of this game, this is pretty crazy. I'm also confused by why the YouTube video is an hour long if the speedrun is 30 minutes (perhaps they don't count loading time?), and how exactly they managed to post an hour-long YouTube video in one piece. Anyway, check it out:

Morrowind in 7:30

I'm not super sure what Morrowind even is, but zipping through this video it seems way trippy.

Dragon's Lair (NES) in Under 5 Minutes

Dragon's Lair in its arcade form was famously hard, and thus super-expensive. Remember that game with the amazing animation that cost 50 cents and you died in 30 seconds? Yeah, that's the one. This NES version seems equally maddening (the speedrun's author claims it's "the hardest game in history"). I can't imagine how painful it would have been to play this and pay for it.

If you're not familiar with Dragon's Lair, check out its Wikipedia page, especially the "Technical" section which includes some remarkable information about the Laserdisc system used to power the game. I had an opportunity to play the original Laserdisc system for free in 2000, and I can tell you, it was still insanely challenging and annoying. But the graphics remained awesome.

The Source of All Speedruns

If you're into this kind of thing, check out the Speed Demos Archive, which currently includes official speedrun times for 623 games, with links to videos for each and often detailed commentary by the speedrunner.

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Something Something Soup Something
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This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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Something Something Soup Something

Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

[h/t Waypoint]

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