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The Late Movies: 11 Video Game Speedruns

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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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
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Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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entertainment
8 Surprising Facts About Bubble Bobble
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iStock

by Ryan Lambie

Originally released in 1986, Bubble Bobble is a colorful platform video game with a fiendishly addictive two player co-op mode, which quickly became an arcade hit for Taito. Widely ported to home computers and consoles, Bubble Bobble marked the start of a long-running series of sequels and spin-offs that is still remembered fondly today. Here are a few things you might not know about the '80s classic that started it all.

1. IT HAS ITS ROOTS IN AN EARLY 1980s TITLE.

Before Bubble Bobble, there was Chack’n Pop, a far more obscure platform game released by Taito in 1983. Some of Bubble Bobble’s ideas appear here in nascent form: a single-screen platform game where the player controls a weird chicken-like creature (the Chack’n of the title). The aim is to retrieve a heart from one corner of the maze-like screen before rushing back to the top.

Some of the mechanics are a bit strange: Chack’n’s primary attack is a grenade-like weapon, which is quite difficult to control. Nevertheless, many of the enemies and collectible items are identical to those in Taito’s later classic—the purple enemies called Monstas make their first appearance here, while two levels in Bubble Bobble directly reference Chack'n Pop.

2. IT WAS AIMED AT COUPLES.

Bubble Bobble was designed by Fukio Mitsuji, who joined Taito in his mid-20s and initially worked on such games as Super Dead Heat, Land Sea Air Squad, and the (very good) vertical shooter Halley’s Comet. For his next game, however, Mitsuji wanted to create something very different from the experiences commonly found in arcades at the time. Noticing that arcades in Japan were commonly frequented by men, he wanted to create a game that couples could enjoy together.

"Back then, women were rarely seen in Japanese arcades," Mitsuji later said in a video interview for the video game compilation, Taito Legends. "So I thought bringing more couples would help solve this issue. That's why I designed cute characters and included cooperative play in Bubble Bobble."

3. THE GAME WAS AN EARLY CO-OP.

Mitsuji’s concept was unusual for its time. If two-player games existed at all in '80s arcades, they were usually competitive and violent. The four-player Gauntlet, released in 1985, warned that “shots do not hurt other players—yet ...”, while 1987’s seminal beat-'em-up Double Dragon ended with its players fighting to the death over the woman they had just rescued.

Bubble Bobble, on the other hand, had a far lighter atmosphere. While players could compete over the items that appeared on the screen, the game encouraged cooperation rather than aggression. Indeed, the only way to get to Bubble Bobble’s true ending was for two players to work together.

4. IT CONTAINS HIDDEN EXTRAS.

As well as the game’s central concept—which involves spitting bubbles at enemies to capture them before bursting the bubbles to finish them off—Mitsuji packed in all kinds of bonuses and hidden extras among Bubble Bobble’s 100 levels. The hardest to find are the three hidden rooms, which can only be unlocked by reaching levels 20, 30, and 40 without losing a life, and then entering a special door.

Full of jewels to collect, these hidden rooms also contained coded messages, which, when deciphered, gave clues as to how to complete the game. “If you want to get back your love of truth you must help each other until the last,” for example, hinted that you could only complete Bubble Bobble with two players.

5. NUMBERS WERE IMPORTANT.

There are hidden depths to Bubble Bobble that will only become obvious after long hours of play, such as the way items are linked to certain digits in your score. If the two penultimate numbers of a player’s score are identical—so, 5880, for example—then higher-scoring items will appear once the level’s completed. Similarly, rounds ending with a 0 or a 5 will also generate rarer bonuses.

6. THERE WERE MULTIPLE ENDINGS.

Bubble Bobble may look cute, with its cartoon dinosaurs and bouncy theme tune, but it’s also a tough game to crack. Later levels can only be completed by mastering tricky techniques, like riding on bubbles to get out of otherwise inescapable pits. The cruelest twist comes at the end, where a single player will be told, after 100 levels of action, to “come here with your friend.”

Even in two-player mode, the game has to be completed twice in order to see the true ending; get through the first 100 levels, and “Super Mode” is unlocked, where the same 100 levels are made faster and more difficult to complete. At a time where most games either didn’t have a conclusion, or concluded with a simple “Congratulations!” message, Bubble Bobble’s multiple endings were quite unusual. And the ending you’re rewarded with when completing the Super Mode is very strange indeed...

7. IT WAS ALL ABOUT FAMILY TIES.

The plot of Bubble Bobble sees its two brothers, Bubby and Bobby, turned into bubble-blowing dragons, while their girlfriends have been kidnapped by the evil Baron von Blubba. Completing the game once reveals what’s called the “Happy End,” where the heroes are reunited with their girlfriends and turned back into humans. But complete the game’s Super Mode, and you’re treated to an unexpected twist: the huge boss you’ve just defeated—the hooded, bottle-throwing Super Drunk—is revealed to be Bubby and Bobby’s parents, who must have been transformed by the same grim magic that turned the heroes into dragons. It’s a surreal—and even quite dark, depending on your interpretation—ending to a classic game.

8. THE SERIES IS STILL GOING STRONG.

The popularity of Bubble Bobble quickly made it one of the most widely-ported games of its era. It appeared on such computers and consoles as the ZX Spectrum, the Amiga, the NES, and Sega Master System—even the Game Boy got its own monochrome, handheld version of the game. Bubble Bobble’s success also prompted Taito to create a string of loose sequels and spin-offs, including Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars and Bubble Bobble Symphony. The spin-off series are still going strong, with recent installments hitting the Nintendo DS, Wii, and Xbox in recent years.

But Mitsuji himself only worked on the first sequel to Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands (1987), a wonderful single-player platform game that differed wildly from its predecessor in terms of mechanics and pace. Mitsuji also created three other games for Taito— Syvalion, Darius II, and Volfied—before he left the company in the early 1990s. His last game came in 1991—an obscure yet delightful platform puzzler called Popils for the Sega Game Gear, which contained much of the elegant simplicity of Bubble Bobble.

For the remainder of his life, Mitsuji taught game design, before he passed away at the tragically young age of 48 in 2008. It was a sad loss for the video game industry, for sure, but his most famous creation delighted a generation of players with its lighter-than-air action. More than 30 years later, Bubble Bobble remains an out-and-out classic.

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