A speedrun is a playthrough of a game with the intention of completing it in the shortest amount of time possible. Unlike the Three Heart Challenge, optional upgrades are acceptable but are generally ignored if the amount of time they save is less than the time it takes to obtain them. Most speedrunners attempt to break record times by using a variety of glitches to save time. However, cheating devices, hacks and custom game controllers are generally not allowed. A video of the gameplay is usually required to verify that a record was truly broken. Most record breaking takes place on streaming services in recent years. Sometimes, speedruns are done on emulators, which their use is sometimes allowed.
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The speedrun challenge has given rise to its own community consisting of casual and world-class speedrunners and their spectators. Much of the community is hosted on the website Speed Demos Archive (SDA) as well as the live-streaming site Twitch. The SDA forums are often used to discuss route planning and new techniques in order to improve run times. Many speedrunners – especially world-class ones – will stream their runs live to spectators; most do so on Twitch using timing software. Through Twitch, spectators can support runners monetarily by donating or paying for a subscription to the runner's channel. Donors can add comments to their donations which runners will usually read aloud during lulls in the run, or after it is completed. Many speedrunners allow their donors to choose a file name for each run. Twice a year, SDA hosts charity marathons called "Awesome Games Done Quick" (peak winter event) and "Summer Games Done Quick" (off-peak summer event), where world-class speedrunners congregate and live-stream speedruns to elicit donations from viewers.
The Legend of Zelda games are highly contested and constitute some of the most popular games for speedrunning. Zelda speedrunning has its own expansive sub-community. ZeldaSpeedRuns compiles information on speedruns and hosts the series' definitive speedrun leaderboards.
- Main article: Speedrun/Glossary
Speedrunners evolve unique terminology and abbreviations for each game. It usually refers to important techniques or strategies ("strats"), most of which are exploitative glitches.
Most speedruns rely on exploitative glitches and sequence breaks to finish the game quicker. Glitches are a rallying point for the speedrunning community. The discovery of new glitches, usually a result of extensive research by members of the community, can lead to breakthroughs in a run category. This can reignite interest in a "dead" category, resulting in further competition and run improvement. A category "dies" when a strong, decisive record is made that cannot likely be beat. Competition in the category thus wanes until new "strats" or glitches are discovered.
Some Zelda games are more "broken" than others. In Ocarina of Time and Link's Awakening, massive sequence-breaking glitches exist that skip most of the game. These games can be completed in a matter of minutes – Link's Awakening can be completed in under 3 minutes; Ocarina of Time in under 10. Games such as Twilight Princess and Twilight Princess HD feature less drastic skips and still require many hours to complete.
Due to slight design changes between game versions, a specific version of a game will be more desirable than others for speedrunning. Many speedrunners prefer to play with the NTSC version of the game, because a PAL version of the same game is almost never optimized for the difference in frequencies (~60Hz for NTSC versus 50Hz for PAL) and thus would run slower. Japanese versions are frequently used for Zelda games, not only because Japan uses NTSC, but also because there is less text to wait through (The Japanese writing system utilizes a combination of Chinese logograms and its own syllabaries. These amount to a smaller volume of text than an equivalent translation written with the Latin alphabet).
The Chinese version of Ocarina of Time for the iQue Player was at one point ideal for any% speedruns. This version has the fastest text and the least lag. It is less suitable for other Ocarina of Time categories because of the iQue's slow start screen. The Japanese version is used for other Ocarina of Time categories.
Multiple speedrunning categories exist for each game. Each category sets unique conditions under which the run must be completed.
Any% is the standard speedrunning category. The goal is simply to complete the game as quickly as possible, without any conditions.
100% is the second most popular category. Full completion of the game is required in this category. All Heart Containers, songs, inventory and quest items must be obtained. 100% speedruns do not necessarily have to meet any other 100% Completion criteria.
Glitchless runs must be completed without the use of glitches.
Various categories exist that are unique to each game. For example, Majora's Mask features an "All-Masks" category. Ocarina of Time features several unique categories, including "All Dungeons", "Ganonless", "No Wrong Warp", etc.
- Main article: Speedrun Records
- Pac (Peter Chase), Speedrun.com is under new ownership, Speedrun.com, published October 13, 2020, retrieved July 19, 2021.
- "This run was done on the official Chinese release of the game. I chose this version because of faster text and less lag." —Narcissa Wright, world record holder for Ocarina of Time any% as of August 1, 2014 (Zelda: Ocarina of Time Speedrun in 18:10 by Cosmo)