A beginner's guide to speedrunning

Speedrunning is awesome

And thats a fact. Ever since Sonic came along and started handing out 50,000 point bonuses for finishing a level in under 30 seconds, speedrunning has been a staple of videogame competitions. There's one simple rule: Be fast. You don't need to collect anything else, or kill any enemies. It may sound strange, but it's a whole new way of looking at games you may otherwise have exhausted months ago. Ive got three speed-based Guinness World Records (I'll link to them at the end) but speedrunning is no elite club. Anyone can have a go. So let me show you how to get started...

1. Choose your game

By all means choose a game that means something to you personally, but DON'T choose your all-time favourite, at least not to begin with. Playing anything too much could make you hate it. So start with a game you like and think youre pretty good at. Then consider its suitability. Does your chosen game have online leaderboards to prove your times and compare with rivals? Is it a game anyone else actually cares about? If you're stuck for ideas, the first level from the latest Sonic game is always a good default.

2. Know your game

It may sound obvious, but this is the most important thing, without question. You might be amazing at Super Mario 64, but if you dont know there's a special control input for a faster-than-running long-jump (or even the fact this itself can be glitched backwards for even more speed), youre never going to win in a speedrun competition. In multi-character games, experiment to find out which character is fastest, or check the existing leaderboards to see which character is favoured by the fastest players. You'll usually notice a theme. Learn this character's moves so theyre as natural as blinking. Now you're ready to start your practice.

3. Check out the competition

Other people will probably be speedrunning the same game as you, so run a search on YouTube to see what tactics the competition have to offer. Youre not necessarily 'stealing' tactics, instead think of it as standing on the shoulders of giants to reach your goal. Look at what works and then look at how it could be improved. And be sure to watch out for Tool Assisted Speedruns (TAS) and glitches. The former may be near-impossible to replicate with human hands, but you can still learn from them. And if a machine can do it, so could you... in theory.

4. Try some 'unusual' techniques

True originality comes from mistakes, although most levels are designed to make missed jumps slow you down. But just sometimes youll find youre perfecting a route thats way slower than another one you hadnt considered. So experiment. Again, sometimes trying something that should be impossible or logically slower can yield surprising success. For instance, look up there at how that 'drift' move in Sonic Generations has gained a full second over the non-drifting run before you're even 10 seconds into the level. Any second gained is massive in a speedrun, but over the full run, this technique will give you several.

5. Remember: If it's in the game, it's in the game

The old EA Sports motto is still super-relevant when it comes to speedrunning. A glitch may not be pretty, but it is part of the game's program, so it's fine to exploit it. That said, zero-second speedruns like the one above don't impress anyone, and you'll get way more kudos for playing something imaginatively and with skill than just breaking the game. To get the best times (or scores), you'll still need to be great at the other 'non-glitchy' parts too.

6. Don't hit 'retry' as soon as you fluff something

This is incredibly important. Its really tempting to hit Pause, Retry, Yes and then get ready for the next attempt. But all youre doing is getting really good at the first few seconds of the level. What happens when youre suddenly a clear second up on your previous best but youve got hardly any experience of what lurks in the levels final third? Keep going every time (at least to begin with), perfect your route and know your run. That elusive perfect run will come eventually, but it'll come sooner if you've learned exactly what to do at every stage of the level.

7. Stay calm when you're 'up'

This is so much easier said than done, but its imperative you remain calm. If youre actually challenging for a world record in front of a crowd of people (and only given a finite number of attempts to get it right), its pretty much impossible to stay calm, but in that case youll just have to use the adrenaline to make you super-sharp. But in regular, pressure-off speedrunning where only Xbox Live or PSN is watching you, its best to approach each session with a I dont even care attitude. Nerves will make you screw up even the easiest jump, corner or whatever. Be calm, stay focused. Theres always next time.

8. Remember Yoda

Getting flustered wont help, but focus most certainly will. This is probably a stupid thing to say, but I do believe Yoda from Star Wars got it right when he said Do, or do not there is no try. If youre only *trying* to succeed, you probably wont. Youve got to know what you want and damn well take it.

9. Take regular breaks!

This is mega-important. Its really hard to put the pad down when you know youre ridiculously close to claiming the title of world's fastest Frogger player (or whatever), but you will make yourself ill if you dont rest properly. Any aches and pains mean youre too tense, so if you feel them, take a day or mores break. Seriously. Dont worry, it will still be there when you return. Even one hour of speedrunning is a mammoth stint of ultra-concentration. So keeping that up for hours at a time will make you tired, irritable... and crap at speedrunning.

10. Enjoy it

It can be hard to still enjoy a game when youre playing the same level and hearing the same music for the 5,000th time. That doesn't mean you should branch out into speedrunning while you speedrun (pictured). But do celebrate your achivements. Look for milestones to beat, like the 1 minute mark or each full second you shave from your time.

What's your best speedrun time?

Let us know in the comments why you chose a particular game to speedrun and what your best time is.

And if you want to see some examples of my own speedrunning, try watching The world's first speedrun on Sonic 4, How to beat the Xbox 360 Sonic 2 Guinness World Record, GamesRadar breaks the Guinness World record on Sega Rally or my personal video of a Sonic Generations run. If you think you can beat any of them, then best of luck!

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.