Super Mario 64 Speedrunner Explains How He Just Made History In The Wildest Way Possible

Gaming

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How many hours would you stand around in Super Mario 64 waiting to do something that’s never been done before? Five? Ten? A whole day? A speedrunner who goes by Marbler recently clocked in over 80 hours with the Nintendo classic to be the first ever player to beat it without pressing the jump button even once. This incredible feat required meticulous planning and waiting several days for a platform to slowly rise.

Video game speedruns are known for their wild glitches and the harrowing dedication of the players behind them, but few rise to the level of complexity and diligence required to complete them as Super Mario 64’s “A Button Challenges,” which see players aim to complete the game (or specific stages) with as few presses of the jump button as possible. Jumping is integral to the design of the game’s 3D levels and the hunt for its collectible stars, so naturally speedrunners have long wondered how few jumps they could get away with and still complete the game.

The history of the challenge dates back decades and is full of incremental discoveries and improvements. While there are specific strategies developed for various stars and particular sections of the game, much of the difficulty revolves around the precise use of Mario’s other inputs, including the B button mid-air dive, to maneuver through intricate levels. Marbler completed a two A button press run of Mario 64 last fall and has worked with the rest of the community to eliminate those two presses and achieve a true zero-jump, 70-star run.

On the original Nintendo 64 version of the game, speedrunners have gotten down to a single full A button press, which includes half-presses that get rounded down. But on the Wii Virtual Console version, thanks to some idiosyncrasies of its tech, zero is possible, though it requires going after some harder stars like red coin one for Big Boo’s Haunt. Often, speedrunners use software to map out what’s theoretically possible in a game before trying to enact it themselves. That wasn’t an option for Marbler’s zero-button-press run in Super Mario 64. This makes his latest run even more remarkable; it was performed in real-time by a human before it was ever simulated by a machine.

“The significance of [this run] is pretty big in my opinion, at least for the ‘A Button Challenge’ (ABC),” he told Kotaku in a Discord interview. “There hasn’t even been a tool-assisted-speedrun (TAS) made of a zero A press run of the full game because the standards for TASes in the Super Mario 64 community is that it must be able to play back on console. Wii Virtual Console has a plethora of issues that make this pretty much impossible for all but the shortest of TASes.”

There are two pivotal moments in the zero-A-press run. The first comes in the Fire Sea, a section of the game where players collect red coins in a lava pit on their way to the second of three Bowser encounters. Normally, players must use moving platforms to jump onto a green pole to climb to the next section. Navigating the obstacle course without jumping takes an incredibly long time but is possible thanks to how the Wii does math.

That’s because every time the console converts a double value to a float value it truncates the extra bits, “effectively rounding such calculations towards 0,” Marbler explained. “[This] means the platforms (which use a double to float calculation for a sine wave oscillation) will slowly tend towards the center of the level,” he said. “After 78 hours, they’re high enough to bypass the pole entirely.”

That section would take even longer–roughly eight whole days–if not for another trick Marbler uses called “vertical speed conversion.” Making Mario land in certain ways lets him conserve momentum which can then be used later to get launched upwards. “I set the console to run and forget about it for 6 hours, then I return to it and touch the lava, which gives Mario a crazy amount of vertical speed, and land from it immediately to conserve it,” he said. “From there, I move forward by only punching until Mario is right at the edge of the platform, and let it run for another 72 hours.” Once he returns, he’s able to clip through the wall to get where he needs to go.

The second make-or-break moment comes near the very end when facing Bowser for the final time in the sky. It’s less about patience and more about precise execution. Players have to ascend a long maze of platforms which is normally impossible to do without jumping. A trick called the Chuckya drop, however, makes it possible to bypass the hardest section of the level without a single A button press. Further painstaking refinements to the strategy made it possible for Marbler to do the entire thing in real time.

The Chuckya is a purple enemy with red gloves that picks Mario up and throws him in semi-random directions when he gets close. But it’s possible to manipulate the enemy into throwing Mario exactly where he needs to go, it’s just very hard and was only theoretical until Marbler pulled it off. The speedrunner could write a fifteen-page academic journal article on how the trick works. I’ll try to break it down as straightforwardly as possible.

As Marbler explained, most enemies in Super Mario 64 has a certain amount of logic programmed into it to avoid walking off ledges. That logic goes out the window if the Chuckya is in the air. The enemy also bounces when it falls. By getting the Chuckya to walk down a slope, the game essentially treats it like it’s falling and bounces it just slightly so that the game also thinks it’s in the air. When in the right spot, the Chuckya can toss Mario exactly where he needs to go. Actually setting that scenario up is much more complicated, especially since it’s entirely out of view during the whole process.

Normally, the Chuckya will chase Mario until he moves behind it, at which point it stops, waits, and then turns back toward Mario. To manipulate this behavior, Marbler relies on Super Mario 64‘s very short draw distance. Once the Chuckya is just beyond the limits of what the game will render, it goes into a state of “limited updating functionality.” It continues “going through the motions of the chase” but won’t actually move or be subject to gravity. This allows players to get the Chuckya to fall off the ledge, freeze it in place, turn him in the right direction, reactivate the chase, and get him to where he needs to go to make the speedrun’s most important maneuver possible.

The final piece of the Chuckya puzzle is the 1/32 chance of being thrown in the right direction. Not leaving anything to chance, Marbler can manipulate this part of the enemy’s behavior as well. The enemy has a failsafe built in where it will die if it reaches an out of bounds part of the map. Before that happens, it will turn for 15 frames to try and get back on track. Using this reflex to his advantage, Marbler can make sure the Chuckya doesn’t throw Mario until there’s a floor in front of it.

“This brings the chance of a successful throw up to 16/32, and in addition to this, the place it lands it just so happens that there are two extra angles that work to keep Mario alive, for a grand total of an 18/32 (56.25%) chance of success on the throw,” he told Kotaku. “Not ideal to have RNG at the end of such a difficult trick, but a hell of a lot better than a 3% chance.”

The final run clocked in at 86 hours and 48 and a half minutes. That’s over three days total but just nine hours of actual gameplay, a drop in the bucket compared to how much time Marbler said he spent practicing. “If I had to guess, I’d say practice by itself was probably somewhere in the 150-200 hour range, with research and strat development coming in somewhere around 50-100 hours.”

For everyone watching live, it was more than worth it. Viewers began spamming the chat with “I WAS HERE” after Marbler successfully pulled off the Chuckya Drop Throw. By then it was clear they were watching history unfold before their eyes. “Dude it’s done,” he said during the stream once the credits started rolling. His next goal? Start practicing for the full 120-star challenge.

    

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