In December 2007, the speed runner’s community was shaken by an incredible accident! Taser newcomer from China has broken the record for the speedy passing of Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros Rom Nes.
It always seemed to be something, and the epic mileage of SMB could not be improved by definition because this is the game. Millions of people played it, thousands tried to go at speed, and hundreds of fans assorted the game on cogs, drawing on the entire analytical apparatus available to mankind these days.
After 20 years (1985-2005) all the features of the game were studied, all the tricks were found, Super Mario Bros Rom was disassembled and thoroughly disassembled into logical components. Most of the finds are documented in detail and are now available to anyone. Some of the game’s tricks are described on a separate TASvideos page – SMB Tricks.
Among the TASerov fans, fierce competitions in winning seconds ended in the same 2005, and the final result was the real benchmark for stubborn grinding of button input.
The high-speed transmission by R. Yoshizawa was the latest improvement in the world record, and it was only 4 frames (1/15 second) faster than previous videos. There was nothing more to improve.
2.5 years have passed since then. Hundreds of worthy runs revealed their inferiority and were sent to the dustbin of history, freeing up space for new heroes. But the SMB record was unbreakable. The usual speed runners have already begun to focus on it, some of them managed to study and repeat some of the tricks without TAS tools, and over time the video of the live passage of Super Mario Bros came close to the border of 5 minutes.
It cannot be said that there were no attempts to break the old record at all. The old perfectionist Phil, who has been involved in TAS since the year 2004, has long threatened to lay out overtaking by 2 frames (1/30 of a second), but most were skeptical about the idea. It is difficult to notice an improvement in 2 frames even with the closest observation of experts.
Now you can imagine how much-experienced TASers were surprised when the site showed how to overtake the legendary run for as many as 84 frames. Its author did not invent new tools and didn’t unearth another vulnerability in the game’s code. He simply found a way to apply old tricks to non-obvious obstacles. However, first things first.
Before us is a high-speed passage using pipe-portals for skipping levels. If you are more interested in the complete passage of all 8 worlds of Super Mario Bros, on tasvideos it is also available. There is even an April fool’s joke in the form of passing a game without pressing the B button all the time. However, only the version with the missing levels generated a serious competition of retro-players.
The physics engine of Super Mario Bros is very complicated compared to other games of the 80s. In the movements of Mario, many nuances are not visible to the naked eye. In a normal game (at the macro level of SMB research, so to speak), it is only possible to control the hero with a large degree of error in actions. With unaccustomed, it is quite difficult to predict where the character will jump, if you press Next + A + B for a fraction of a second. Fortunately, thanks to the thoughtful design of levels, the fight against ingenious physics remains the only difficulty for a beginner. And an experienced player already subconsciously takes into account the force of gravity, the additional acceleration of the B button and many other factors. Nevertheless, some error remains.
In the instrumental game, the calculation of actions can be transferred from the sphere of the subconscious to the sphere of completely rational thinking. It is possible to describe causal relationships with quite obvious formulas. For example, how does a regular speed runner start a Super Mario level? Back in time saver presses Right + B and holds. The TASer cannot fuss, but clearly define the first moment when pressing Right + B will act as a run. By writing a trivial solution to the file ( Right + B is pressed at the time of drawing the background image on the screen), you can experiment with less logical options, for example, press B through once, or alternate Right and Right.
It was with such illogical methods that the ancient TASers discovered the fastest way to accelerate from zero speed to maximum. At the beginning of the level (or exit from the pipe), you need to turn to the left and make a small jump back (to the right, but your back), then hold Right to a few frames. Until the speed of Mario has reached the value of “40”, repeat the backward jump with a turn, after which you can simply clamp Forward + B and rush along the level at maximum speed.
You, probably, have already guessed that during the whole run Mario is destined to remain small, since there is no speed advantage for the big Mario, and no one will lose time waiting for the prizes. In this case, there is a complete passage.
As you know, in the first level of SMB there is an opportunity to shorten the path by going down a pipe to an underground cache. Here it is worth noting another simple technique: to get to the exit as soon as possible, the player jumps and falls from a height, picking up a higher speed of descent. This use of gravity is applicable in almost all platform games, and it is intuitively understandable even to a person who is far from computer games.
Much more amazing stunts begin from the second level – Mario shamelessly jumps past carnivorous flowers from pipes, passes through walls and kills enemies with his head.
Everything is clear with flowers from the pipes – well-calculated movements can prevent the intersection of the physical borders (collision box) of objects. And even if the sprites visually intersect noticeably, touching the enemy will not be registered by the system.
But strikes at the bottom of the enemies look like some insolent cheating. The enemy falls on the head of Mario jumping under him, but after a collision, the hero continues to leap up, and the enemy falls defeated. Everything happens in a completely different way than ordinary gamers used to understand the game rules.
Because of this logical inconsistency, the TAS phenomenon was very hard to accept by the masses at the beginning of its development. The fact is that people tend to replace reality with their ideas about it.
Yes, in real life Mario would have been crushed since the enemy was above him at the moment of the collision. But because of the weak power of the Dandy microprocessor, the SMB developers decided to save resources by simplifying the calculations to the limit acceptable by the player’s mind. As long as the adequacy of physics is not questioned by man, his subconscious will quietly draw the missing fragments.
But in reality, the process of crushing enemies is implemented according to one simple rule: if Mario is in a fall when crossing a player with an enemy object (the vector of vertical acceleration is directed downwards), it is automatically assumed that Mario jumped on top of the enemy.
The Y coordinates are not compared since objects are moving discretely, that is, in one frame Mario could fall on the enemy from above and fly below his center, so that at the moment of registration of his intersection Y turned out to be below Y of the enemy.
And since after crushing the enemy, Mario jumps up from him, the inattentive viewer does not even notice how the rise phase of the jump Mario entered the fall phase just before the collision, and then the rise phase began again.
And finally, a million question – how does Mario go through walls? The calculation of collisions with the background in SMB is implemented quite standardly for NES – the intersection with an impassable block is determined after the fact, after which the pushing force turns on, which corrects the coordinates of the hero so quickly that without slowing down, Mario’s foot fell into the brick for a split second. However, having the inhuman reaction, this force can be deceived. Popping usually occurs in the opposite direction to the player. This is logical – if a player runs to the right and collides with a stone block, he should be pushed to the left. But if you tricky, you can immediately send Mario to the left after activating the pushing force, having changed the direction of movement for those tenths of a second while the character is still partially inside the block.
For the full passage through the block (16×16 pixels), such a focus is not enough. The retractor will soon be compensated by pressing the back button, and Mario will exit the block. But here another feature of the physical calculations of the SMB comes to the rescue – in the jump the direction of movement does not change. Try it yourself to make a big jump to the right and turn around on the fly, holding Left. Nothing will come out! Changing the button will register, but Mario will continue to move forward until he falls to the ground. This is not Chip & Dale, where you could change the direction of the jump in the air. Here inertia leaves its mark on the course of game events. By the way, the more realistic SMB physics may be the main reason for the popularity of the game.
So, so that when you press Back, Mario would still move forward, and at the same time, the pushing force would only help him in this, it is required to be in a state of descent after a jump with beating bricks over his head. The easiest way is to penetrate the wall in a situation where Mario hits a brick ceiling in front of the wall itself, as in the illustration to the right. Here, the author needed to make several micro-jumps, during the descent phase of each of which the object penetrated the wall deeper and finally reached full immersion.
If there is no ceiling in front of the wall (or it is too high), then penetration is still possible, but this requires tremendous patience and many re-recordings of unsuccessful jumps. The key factor is a certain speed of vertical and horizontal displacement, allowing even before landing on the lower boundary of the block to get into it more than half. Then, during the subsequent jump, Mario will be able to knock down the upper block in the same way as was done in the case of the ceiling in front of the wall.
It is difficult to paint all this … Even if you now understand everything said, for a complete analysis of the process of penetration into the wall it is necessary to look at the pressed button combinations in frame-by-frame mode.
Let’s return to over speedran. Thanks to the passage through the walls, the author manage to get to the WARP ZONE screen much faster than the developers intended. So much faster than the game does not have time to initialize the destination for teleports, and if the player went down the first pipe before the figure “4” flashes above it, it would be thrown into a level randomly formed from ROM external data not intended for level design. This unplanned level among romhakers was called “Minus World”. WORLD _-1 is looped into itself, and the portal at the end of its map leads nowhere.
If you want to see what Minus World is, you can stop playing the FCM file as soon as Mario entered the wall in front of the WARP ZONE. Climb into the nearest pipe until the numbers appear on the screen. Naturally, the speed runners will not descend into the teleport until the destinations are fully initialized in the memory of the console. Already in the first minute of the video recording, the author of the new record falls to level 4-1.
Running through ground levels, it is important not only to reach the castle as quickly as possible but also to prevent delays during inter-level demonstrations. Remember, sometimes after recalculating points in the sky above the castle fireworks flash. These, of course, pleasant things, unfortunately, only lengthen the total runtime, so you need to avoid them. It turned out that the number of volleys depends on the remaining time at the time Mario touches the pole with the flag in front of the castle. If the last digit of the timer is 1, 3, or 6, an equal number of flashes will appear on the screen. Therefore, it is sometimes better to linger for half a second when overcoming a level card in order to arrive at a castle at a better time.
In addition, thanks to the advent of the Frame Counter tool, TASers discovered a very unpleasant feature of inter-level screensavers. Everyone has long had to put up with the fact that when the screen is dark (the end of the level or the transition through the pipe) the game is suspended for N frames (data of the new level is loaded), usually less than a second. But in SMB, the waiting time in the dark is artificially set by the game so that the moment the level starts is a multiple of 21. That is, even if someone succeeds in overtaking the previous record of passing level 1 to one third, the game will simply increase the delay between levels by 20 frames, and as a result, the next level will still start from the same time mark as the previous TASER. If you overtake the record for a second (60 frames), then real overtaking will be 42 frames, and 18 frames will disappear during the screen dimming.
This feature of the SMB is called the “rule of 21 frames.” It was because of her that the race for records in Super Mario Bros was considered long overdue – all small improvements could not change the final score, except that in the last level a pair of frames won could reduce the total time by 2 units.
Well, all this has been known for a very long time, what did the author of the monitored run come up with? After reviewing previous records, KLMZ studied the wall penetration method demonstrated in them and tried to pass through an iron block on which a flagpole was installed. Before each castle, there is such a pole, designed to measure the skill of the player.
It was not possible to pass through the block, but after an unplanned ejection of the sprite up, an unexpected effect was manifested – the animation of the flag launch did not start, and Mario walked without hesitation to the door of the castle. As a result, the first level was completed 31 frames earlier than in the legendary unimproved mileage! However, due to the alignment during the blackout, 10 frames were lost.
Later, the most corrosive TASers went through the listing of the game code and found an explanation for this trick. Everything is surprisingly simple. When the pole is touched, the flag descent animation starts, which ends when the flag is Y = the lowest point of the pole. In the process of playing this animation, Mario comes down the pole, and soon his Y gets to the lowest point, which starts the animation of jumping from the pole. However, if the flag descent timer has not yet zeroed, reaching a low point will not start the jumping procedure.
If Mario suddenly jumps out onto the pole from the bottom, and not to the left, as the creators conceived, then immediately after starting the flag animation, the Mario Y-coordinate is checked, and in accordance with the lowest point of the pole, the procedure of jumping and entering the lock is started. The flag descent timer simply does not have time to initialize to postpone jumping until the end of the descent.
In such an uncomplicated way, one Chinese overtook one Japanese by 84 frames, using the trick 4 times (in the penultimate level, the use of 3 in the last digit of the timer prevented its use – fireworks do not need anything). This is our lecture on geopolitics today.
Well, still not tired? Finally, I will talk about how the author penetrates into WARP ZONE level 4-2 without climbing the beanstalk. Everyone who played SMB in childhood remembers that the passage to levels 6-7-8 is hidden in the bonus level, which can only be reached by climbing a stalk that grows from an invisible brick in WORLD 4-2. Who does not remember, he is not a retrogamer!
For a speedrunner, a journey through the stalk threatens a serious delay – it is necessary to knock out a series of bricks to form a ladder, and then the game also tangibly shows the animation of climbing up to the sky. It was not for nothing that at the beginning of the review I mentioned the disassembled code of the game – this time the fruit of romhacking helped the researchers to discover the cunning way of replacing the beanstalk with an ordinary pipe, which leads into the bonus room.
The portals in SMB are arranged in such a way that within a certain level section there can be only one arrival address (WARP ZONE is not counted). When the scrolling screen goes beyond the limits of a certain portal, the number of another place fits into the destination address. Level 4-2 is designed so that the portal is located directly in front of the pipe portal leading to the room with coins. If Mario manages to crawl through the pipe while the left edge of the screen is still within the range of the stem, the bonus level will remain the destination address.
How to do it? You need to shift the position of Mario within the screen. Usually, the screen is scrolled evenly, in accordance with the run of Mario, so the sprite of the hero is always in the center on the X axis. It is possible to advance to the right of the center only by convincing the scrolling procedure that Mario is not in a hurry and at the same time quietly move forward.
Such a deception is achieved by the same penetration into the wall – while the pushing force freezes the scrolling of the screen, Mario is digging to the right with might and main, eventually reaching the optimal ratio of X to the edge of the screen. This distance is quite enough to get into the pipe-portal, while the left edge of the screen has not yet left the zone of action of the beanstalk – the trick shown in the diagram above is in a blue frame.
As a result, having lost several frames due to the optional penetration into the wall, the player wins a whole bunch of seconds thanks to a faster appearance in the bonus level. A similar trick is used by the author in level 8-4, but there he purposely scrolls the screen forward to write down the number of the underwater level to the destination address and then returns to the nearest pipe, which previously led to the very beginning of the castle.
All the tricks described were found by people from different countries 4-5 years ago, the novelty of 2007 was only a reception with a flag on a pole.
When the legendary record of 2005 was broken, something in the world imperceptibly changed. No one else can be sure of perfect ready-made solutions. No matter how desirable, with a clear conscience, at least one TAS cannot be called extremely speedy…
..After all, at first we were brave, indisputably argued that it was thanks to a Tool-Assisted Super play that the world could touch the theoretical limit of classic games. When the toolmakers overtook the most famous records of ordinary speed runners, they said that this is the theoretical limit.
But it turned out, everything is not so simple. Perfection is still elusive, it leaves the researcher, even when he is armed with the most clever methods and devices. It is difficult to say whether it is much more pleasant to be aware of yourself at a distance of X seconds from the ideal than at a distance of Y.
And yet, in the period from 2005 to 2007, the author of the “perfect” TAS was happy in his illusion. As Isaac Newton, from the height of his time, could have considered that he had learned all the laws of this world in a single consistent system, TASer could at least for a short time feel complete, absolute satisfaction from his work.
Perhaps this is the meaning of the super play.