Speedrunning Mario

Speedrunning, the technique of completing a video game as fast as possible, is a niche hobby in the video game realm. People focus on a game and look to exploit it as much as possible in order to break records for the shortest completion time. Nintendo's 1985 masterpiece Super Mario Bros is one such game. The game may be 30+ years old but there is a whole new generation attempting to shave fractions of a second off records. Kyle Orland at Ars Technica has more of how humans are almost beating times only thought achievable by machines.

Niftski's new record perfectly matches a "perfect" TAS of the game (i.e., a "tool-assisted speedrun" that uses frame-by-frame input recordings using an emulator) through seven of the run's eight levels. His best time is now running ahead of the "theory limit" of 4:54.798 that runner Bismuth set back in 2018 as the ideal human performance standard.

Pulling off a "Lightning 4-2" requires a pixel-perfect execution of the level's famous "wrong wrap"—where going in a pipe takes the player to a warp zone that would usually require a slow climb up a vine. Pulling this off quickly requires "bumping" Mario against various walls and barriers mid-jump, slightly altering his position on the screen and enabling the precise positioning needed to activate the glitch.

For years, the TAS of the level was just a few frames ahead of methods that were considered human-viable in a "real-time attack" (RTA) speedrun. But that small difference was enough for the TAS to save an entire "frame rule" over the best RTA times on the level, leaving humans a full 21 frames (about 0.35 seconds) behind mechanical perfection on the level thanks to the vagaries of the game's loading times.

Ars Technica

While this can all sound very technical, it comes down to this: a machine can play SMB perfectly in 4 minutes and 54.032 seconds. With a human-achieved time of 4 minutes and 54.631 seconds, it seems to be only a matter of time before man bests machine. A few years ago there was an amazing video about how this is all achieved posted to YouTube. It explains why Level 4-2 in SMB is the only remaining way to shave time off a perfect run. It goes into explaining the different methods and records. It's a great watch.

And it's already out of date with what's been achieved in the most recent attempts. It's a fascinating rabbit hole and quite entertaining to learn about this part of the video game universe.

Before You Go...

TimeMachiner is my one-person project I run in my off time when I'm not working my day job in IT. If you enjoy my work, consider subscribing, leaving a tip or becoming a member. Your support is appreciated and goes a long way to keep my work going.