I don’t watch a lot of Twitch.tv. It often occurs to me that while watching someone else play a video game I could be having a lot more fun if I played it myself, although the site has countless quality entertainers who do an amazing job. Most often, I use Twitch as a reconnaissance tool for games I'm thinking of buying; after all, there is no better advertisement than a live reaction, but sporadically something else happens. While skimming through the directory I see something that stands out, and this is exactly what happened to me recently.
As rarely as I use Twitch, I am that much less of a speed runner. For those who don’t know, a speed runner is someone who devotes an inordinate amount of time practicing a game so they can complete it as quickly as possible. Most often their methods employ the use of glitches and exploits, shaving at times precious seconds off highly competitive runs. Battling for supremacy in whatever off-beat game they’ve dredged from childhood fondness, I have great respect for their dedication, but I could never really grasp the concept of sinking 6,000 hours into a game for the simple purpose of beating it faster. So imagine my surprise when, on this particular Twitch dive, I found myself engaged with a speed running channel focused on the Legend of Zelda.
Much like my compatriot on this site, the adventures of Link consumed a not insignificant portion of my childhood. I still have my original NES cartridge of the game tucked away in a box somewhere in all its gaudy golden glory, but the installment that truly enthralled me was Link to the Past. For those who are unaware, the game is essentially what would become Ocarina of Time years later; following a similar plot to save the realm of Hyrule by collecting pendants and crystals from perilous temples and dungeons. But there was something more to what these particular racers were doing, and when I realized what it was I knew I had to try it myself.
Their community had turned what was once a fairly linear game into something akin to a procedurally generated logic puzzle. Using the ROM of the original Japanese release, they created algorithms which randomize key item locations throughout the world and then subsequently fill in the rest to create a unique, logical avenue by which to beat that particular version, or seed. Every new seed, in effect, becomes a new challenge all the while nestled in the nostalgic bosom of one of the greatest games ever to be produced. It gets even better. Not only can you randomize other things, like which item Link has access to in the beginning of the game, but you can also break the logical sequence of the game in various ways; potentially bypassing difficult areas or gaining access to items before you would logically reach them. To me this was revolutionary, and represented not just a rebirth of a game I cherished but the opportunity for near endless replay ability.
Using what little I remembered of the game, I struggled through my first randomized playthrough in a little over six hours and an embarrassing number of deaths. After a couple completed seeds, I began to get the hang of it, and began making use of more efficient routes; clearing out the most item-dense areas first to minimize my struggles and get a better idea of what the logic wanted from me. At times the solutions are almost imperceptible, or require you to perform a series of actions so obscure and unorthodox you’d never even know it was possible. Sometimes the item you need to clear a required dungeon is so well hidden you can spend the better part of an hour trudging the length and breadth of Hyrule to find it. It can be an utterly infuriating experience, yet at the same time rekindles the rewarding and magical feeling I got all those years ago when I beat the game the first time.
Whether you were a fan of the original game, or if like many gamers these days you weren’t even born when it came out but are interested in a good challenge, then you should seriously consider giving this a look. All you need is a Super Nintendo Emulator, I recommend snes9x, and the ROM version of the Japanese release, Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce. Handy enough, all this information and links to how to get them are provided by the community website, which you can find at http://vt.alttp.run/.
A special shout-out to the SpeedGaming channel at Twitch.tv for getting me started on something I had no idea existed. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy as much as I am.