How a Speedrunner Broke ‘Prey’ in Three Days
Speedrunner and pro gamer Draqu knows his way around an immersive sim. And he can beat the 20+hour long ‘Prey’ in less than 20 minutes.
All Prey screens courtesy of Bethesda
I am often legitimately astonished by what speedrunners can accomplish in games. These folks learn the code, the physics, the most obscure glitches and exploits in games in order to "break" them and beat them in world-record times. They train for thousands of hours in order to shave seconds off of their best times, and sometimes, the physical performances of these feats is nothing short of superhuman.
Even in this field of impossible-seeming speed and Matrix-like manipulation, Draqu's world record (at the time) speedrun of Prey—at 19:34—seemed like a miracle. Prey is not a short or small game, the going rate for an average completion is over 20 hours. Adding to that, it just came out, on May 5th. The run was posted on May 8th. Many games that have been out for years—or even decades—haven't been broken down in this fashion yet.
"It's pretty crazy, I don't remember the last time a game got broken this much this fast," Draqu told me in an email.
In order to get to his unprecedented time, Draqu leaned on his own skills as a speedrunner (his Dishonored runs are a thing of fractured beauty) and a dedicated community.
"Routing a new game is basically just trying a bunch of ideas—whether those ideas came from a past speedrun, something you saw during your playthrough, or from the community. Emphasis on the community, because routing a new speedgame is a group effort," he said.
"Prey for example, had a couple of dedicated runners looking for potential skips, glitches and exploits around the clock [and they were] sharing these findings on a community Discord server. From these findings, the route took form, going through a bunch of chances along the way."
In just three days of work, that community—and Draqu—had found enough exploits, and figured out how to make the game's signature GLOO gun do game-breaking, magical things, enough to blast through in under 20 minutes.
Much of that is also down to experience and training, whether for a specific game or not. Certainly, skills learned speedrunning other first person 3D games transfer over, even if the specific mechanics (and the particulars of GLOO) differ.
"Once you have enough experience in speedrunning, you learn to look for certain things in a game," said Draqu. "For example how certain actions might affect your character's position to allow for clipping through walls. As they say, the first thing you do when routing is mash your face against a corner until something breaks. More specifically, the GLOO Gun had great potential from the start; A weapon that creates platforms that you can mount and place on almost any surface and the blob of GLOO also pushes you around."
I asked Draqu if he goes into every game with a speedrunning mindset. If you do this, and do it well, potentially every interaction you have in a 3D environment is building towards something, including a new record, right?
"As they say, the first thing you do when routing is mash your face against a corner until something breaks."
That's true for him, to some degree, but he's also very down to earth about the whole enterprise. He has a deep appreciation for the craft of game design and a well-paced game experience, as well as a gentle sense of humor about it (evidenced as well in his YouTube description for the run: "Deranged lunatic in his undies traumatizes inhabitants of a spacecraft.")
"If it's a new game that I'm interested in, I'll play through it casually first without paying close to no attention to potential speedrun exploits," he said. "After all, these are games that I'm passionate about and enjoying a good game always takes precedence over speedruns. A casual playthrough also helps me better understand the mechanics and progression of the game, which helps in routing."
Good luck, Draqu and the Prey community. Certainly, the 19:34's days were numbered from the start, but this run will stand as one of the fastest times a game this complex was broken to this degree so quickly after release.