Games

People Are Speedrunning 'Super Mario 64' on the PlayStation 2

Does a speedrun really count if the speedrun is for a video game that doesn't technically exist?
September 29, 2020, 1:00pm
Artwork from the video game Super Mario 64.
Artwork courtesy of Nintendo

The rules of speedrunning, where players do their best to bend and break video games while finishing them as fast as possible, are not set in stone. There is no official committee who determines how to speedrun, or what games are even subject to speedrunning. If the video game companies were in charge, there's absolutely no chance they would, for example, allow people to be speedrunning unauthorized ports of Super Mario 64 to the PlayStation 2.

Super Mario 64 has been ported to a lot of video game machines over the years, including and most recently as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on Switch. But those ports, understandably, tend to release on machines made by Nintendo because, as you may recall, Nintendo made Super Mario 64. But few game makers inspire fans the way Nintendo does, and that's what's led to people pulling apart the code for Super Mario 64 and finding ways for it to end up on platforms like the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and even Dreamcast.

Fred Wood, a producer at Vlambeer and head of independent developer Mokuzai Studio, was the first speedrunner I found who'd set their sights on this forbidden Nintendo port.

To date, Wood has recorded two speedruns of Super Mario 64 on PlayStation 2, recording times of 01:24:53:01 (one hour, 24 minutes, 53 seconds, one millisecond) and 38:02:12 (38 minutes, two seconds, 12 milliseconds).

There are different ways to speedrun Super Mario 64, but in this case, he was chasing the run that requires 16 stars, and according to speedrun.com, the ranking run for that approach is 14 minutes, 59 seconds. There are also runs involving zero stars, one star, 70 stars, etc.

Wood hangs out in a Discord server for the Super Mario 64 Decompilation Project, part of a larger effort to reverse-engineer the source code for Nintendo's 1996 masterpiece, so it can be repurposed for other means, such as the outstanding PC fan port from earlier this year.

After seeing chatter about the PlayStation 2 version, he got interested.

"Why does that exist? How does that exist? That probably shouldn't exist," Wood told me recently. "I then realized that they were only testing it on a PS2 emulator, and realized I could be the first to test it on an actual PS2."

The game booted up on Wood's PlayStation 2, but the port was a mess. The game almost immediately started encountering visual problems, issues that only got worse as Wood progressed further into the game, but he knew enough about Super Mario 64 to keep going, and eventually was able to see it all the way to the end. Thus, he had the world record run.

"Saying I did a speedrun of the game is a bit silly since it was the only run in the world," said Wood, "but I do want to keep running it because it's so absurd and niche."

Most game developers aren't simultaneously speedrunners in their spare time. But while some folks have picked up baking bread during COVID-19, Wood picked up speedrunning Super Mario 64. Wood decided to turn his appreciation for Super Mario 64 into a hobby, and over the course of a little under 90 days, went from someone who liked playing Super Mario 64 into someone who could speedrun Super Mario 64. Their first run under 30 minutes—29 minutes and 29 seconds, to be exact—was exactly 87 days since they picked up the hobby.

"I don't know that I'd call myself 'good' yet, but I'm getting there," he said. "My only goal is to be able to beat the game in under 30 minutes, and now I've gotta do that on the Nintendo 64."

There are no functional differences between Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 and this fan port to the PlayStation 2, but because it's still got the kinks being worked out, the visual glitches become part of the run—a new wrinkle. There's also the case that speedrunners are using a different controller, and the difference between analog sticks is significant. Wood said the PlayStation 2's analog stick made it easier to pull off some of the trickier jumps.

The Super Mario 64 on PlayStation 2 speedrunning community is very small. In fact, I think there are only people speedrunning this version, and each person isn't aware of the other. When I told Wood about the other speedrunner, a YouTube creator called PootisDaMan, he simply replied "WELL THERE GOES MY NIGHT."

PootisDaMan has speedrun Suthe per Mario 64 on PlayStation 2 twice, and destroyed Wood's attempts with times of 25:35:21 (25 minutes, 35 seconds, 21 milliseconds) and 28:47:48 (28 minutes, 47 seconds, 48 milliseconds). Then again, Wood has only played a few months.

PootisDaMan has also speedrun a separate PlayStation 3 version twice already.

"It would be really cool if they made these ports official as a category," said PootisDaMan to me recently. "It is great to see these ports having speedrunners."

The only place to see all these runs collected and compared in one place is this article. Right now, speedrun.com, one of the more popular places to aggregate ongoing speedruns, does not have a category for Super Mario 64 on PlayStation 2. Currently, speedrun.com collects runs for the game on Nintendo 64, Virtual Console, and emulators. It does recognize "ROM hacks" for games, acknowledging communities may want to engage in unique competitions.

Speedrun.com did not respond to my request for comment, but the website does have a detailed FAQ explaining how it accepts new game submissions.

Importantly, it does not have to be an official release (see: ROM hacks), but "the game should have been played by a reasonably large number of people" and "the gameplay should show some potential for optimization through speedrunning," among other metrics_. Super Mario 64_ for PlayStation 2 does not have many speedrunners, but as pointed out by Wood, the analog stick on the PlayStation 2 changes playing. It could change runs, too.

"Considering the port isn't final yet, it doesn't make sense for it to have a competition category," said Wood.

It's still being updated, though. Maybe in the not-so-distant future, it will get that category.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).