Behind Superhot’s Super Fast Speedrun

The other day I turned on Superhot VR for the first time since it launched back in December and played through the entire campaign in one sitting. It took about 40 minutes, and I laughed to myself about how quickly I’d managed to run through it the second time when I was familiar with enemy placements. Imagine my humiliation when, a few days later, I watched in astonishment as Ben Massey shot, sliced and punched his way through the game in eight minutes and 21 seconds.

Speedrunning is an art I’ve always respected if never attempted. As a fan of games like Super Metroid, I’ve always been fascinated by eye-opening methods that mad gamers concoct to tear through games you’d have thought were water tight in their design and impossible to conquer in less than five hours or more. I’d assumed the concept wouldn’t really translate well to VR but, clearly, I was wrong.

Massey has been playing Superhot since launch, and we’ve already talked to him about how VR changes the game for speedrunning. But this new world record is something of note, shaving a total of 12 seconds off of the previous best held by Gibe_Shrugs (below), a runner that Masey speaks of as a friend. Since Superhot’s launch on the Vive a few months ago, the two have shared a budding rivalry along with another runner by the name of Fhajad_036.

Speedrunning Superhot essentially means ignoring the game’s primary mechanic in which time moves only when the player does. At a normal pace, you’ll be able to slow down to negotiate your way around a bullet, or duck a punch. A single successful attack will kill you, so caution is of the essence. If you’re trying to get through the game as fast as possible, though, caution goes out the window a little.

“You have to actually point with your hand at each of the enemies, not just press a correct button combo,” Massey explains. “It is a lot harder to optimize the way that you physically move your body than it is to optimize the order and timing of buttons. It becomes even more of a sport that real speedrunning, which already has heavy execution and a difficult mental game. This is generally canceled out right now as there are harder tricks in most popular flat games, but this physical nature makes the simple things a lot less auto piloted in VR.”

Massey lists a long history of the three runners shaving times off of each other’s records. What started off at an astonishing 9:04 record was eventually whittled down to 8:36 by Massey.

“After that 8:36 standing for a long time, Gibe pulled out that 8:33,” he says. “It had plenty of mistakes, but the run is so inconsistent that it is still an amazing time. We joked I would take the record back in a day because that’s what I had generally done with Gibe’s records, but it took 14 days until I got the 8:21.”

Whereas in traditional games a good speedrun might require tying your fingers in a knot, mastering Superhot VR, Massey says, largely depends on three other areas: memorization, understanding, and luck.

“You have steps that you do for each level,” he explains. “First pick up Uzi from left, then shoot each guy, then gun show [we’ll explain that in a minute], shoot first guy, throw Uzi at another guy, etc. If you nail that optimal route, then you get the best time that you can.”

In traditional gaming, you can rely upon the definitive mechanical input of a button press, but VR gaming is far more open to human error. Just memorizing a level might not be good enough; you may well need a backup plan for all your near misses and quick dodges. “For more difficult levels, there might be specific “backup” strategies that you are used to doing. ‘Oh, I missed that Uzi shot again? Well, I’ve been in this situation before, so I know that it’s pretty quick to just throw the Uzi now and pick up that pistol to my right.’ These situations are great where you know what to do, but often times something unique will happen, so it comes down to game sense.”

There are likely going to be hiccups with your run; the game’s AI isn’t always predictable and sometimes even the sturdiest of hands can’t help the erratic inaccuracy of an Uzi. There is one trick to help you get by, though. The ‘Gun Show Loophole’ allows you to bring weapons into the next area by regrabbing them as you teleport, for example. In parts of the game in which you’re meant to be defenseless, this can wipe a lot of time off of the board. Massey even made a tutorial showing how to do it.

Massey says the hardest part of the run is probably the start of Desperado’s Bar, in which you start the level without a gun. You’re meant to dance around bullets before charging your superpower, but play it how Massey does in the run and you can grab an Uzi early. Overall, he estimates that he must have attempted to set records for the game around 850 times now, though many of those will have been quick resets lasting no longer than a minute.

“I hear a lot of people joke about SUPERHOT VR being a sweat simulator while playing it casually, but just imagine it while trying to go as fast as possible,” Massey says. “For this reason, you really can’t grind for hours upon hours. Out of the community, I grind with the biggest sessions as far as I know, but I learned quickly to take it easy and take many breaks.”

There may be more Superhot speedruns to come, though Massey hasn’t really seen many other VR games he’d love to tackle in this way.  “In order to want to speedrun a game, you need to have a game that you love so much that you’re willing to play it hundreds or thousands of times. There haven’t really been any other VR games like that for me, so I haven’t been seriously considering many VR games,” he says, though he adds he might look into blasting through Crytek’s The Climb. He also gives a shout out to the To The Top community which is currently blazing through that game.

Personally, I find Superhot VR punishing enough without trying to perfect a speedrun, but Massey and co are proving that one of gaming’s most respected art forms will live on in this exciting new medium.

 

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