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Game On: Minecraft: An infinite sandbox that’s being beaten in minutes

The whirlwind game by the YouTuber known as HanabiYaki, who beat an optimally set-up world in 53 seconds, was the latest in a series of unbelievably fast, history-making runs.

Game On: Minecraft: An infinite sandbox that’s being beaten in minutes

Kieran Press-Reynolds

NEW DELHI: Players who try to beat the sandbox game Minecraft can spend months or even years on the task. They must embark on an arduous journey to a lava-swamped region called the Nether and then excavate deep underground to find a dungeon known as a Stronghold. After creating a portal to the abyssal world the End, they battle a flying dragon that shoots fireballs in between its poisonous breath attacks. In January, a player did all of that in less than a minute.

The whirlwind game by the YouTuber known as HanabiYaki, who beat an optimally set-up world in 53 seconds, was the latest in a series of unbelievably fast, history-making runs. The same month, a player known as drip120 broke the record in the game’s most popular category, conquering a randomly generated world without using any glitches in a blistering 7 minutes 1 second. Many fans of Minecraft, which debuted in a beta version 15 years ago this week, enjoy the casual thrill of mining for rare resources and building fantastical houses. Given its infinite- exploration playability, it is one of the last games you would expect to have a robust speedrunning community.

But Minecraft’s competitive scene is one of the industry’s most feverish, helping to keep interest in the game robust as titles like Roblox and Fortnite have surpassed it in monthly users. A fresh generation of players is trying to beat and break Minecraft with deliriously creative and cunning strategies.

Similar to running in real life, speedrunning involves extensive periods of solitude and painstaking labor. There is often no objective beyond beating a personal best. “I love the idea of chasing perfection, because we never really achieve it,” said Felipe Reymundez, 19, a YouTuber known as Technes. Reymúndez decided to study computer science in college in part to improve his speedrunning by finding a way to algorithmically detect the best Minecraft seeds — worlds that are most likely to result in a swift run.

Parker Marriott, 22, who uploads speedrunning clips to his YouTube channel rekrap, said he really liked figuring out how to improve. “What are these strategies that I can learn?” he said. “What are these interesting game mechanics that can help me in these different scenarios?”

Minecraft speedrunning has increasingly become like a science, which is very different from how the game was in the beta-stage days: anarchic, no guidelines or advanced strategies.

After 2011, when Minecraft was taken out of beta and the Ender Dragon feature was introduced to give the game an official ending, that became the focus of speedrunning.

The earliest records were sloth-slow — clocking in at more than an hour — compared to today’s relentless sub-10-minute pace. Speedrunners sliced off chunks of time with canny breakthroughs, including methods for killing the Ender Dragon in a ridiculously short amount of time, before it does anything.

Players have learned to manipulate the game’s debug screen, which can reveal how many monsters are in a certain area and where a chest lies. One exploit of Minecraft’s chunk- rendering system toggles short and far render distances to force the game to generate more monsters, therefore more loot.

Veterans can also discern whether a randomly generated seed is conducive to a speedrun in the first few seconds as it unfurls. If they do not spawn near a beach biome, which has a Buried Treasure chest with enough iron ingots to reach the Nether, then it is most likely garbage. Players like Marriott use a special tool that allows them to have 15 separate Minecraft games open on a screen at once and refresh them instantly. They are like biologists scanning vast swaths of DNA for an exceedingly rare gene.

“Within two or three seconds I’ll reset the entire 15 — two or three seconds later, reset the entire 15 again, unless it looks like a beach,” Marriott said. He said he had loaded more than 1.3 million Minecraft worlds to get his best time, which is 10 minutes 30 seconds.

Reymúndez specializes in tool-assisted speedrunning, using computer tools to slow the game by 10 or 20 times so he can make every movement pristinely; a program lets him return to a micro- position if he messes up. Since he has endless chances to make a run near-perfect, the skill of tool-assisted runs is in figuring out the world’s most optimal path.

The latest innovation in the scene is the transformation of speedrunning into an e-sport. A new mod lets players compete in head-to-head matches within the same exact Minecraft world, eliminating luck and rewarding whoever has the best techniques and precision. As in chess, the mod uses an Elo rating system to evaluate players. At the end of every season, the top 100 face off in an invitational.

Speedrunning’s competitive nature means the scene is occasionally overrun by drama, such as when Dream, a mega-famous YouTuber whose Minecraft server brought renewed interest to the game in 2020, was exposed for cheating during a speedrun. (He used a custom mod to increase the rate at which slain Endermen would drop teleportation Pearls.) The ferocious passion for speedrunning also causes debates over collectively decided rules, such as whether players can use calculators in the middle of a run. Before runs are accepted, recordings must be sent to moderators who check their legitimacy.

For the most part, though, Minecraft speedrunning is a phenomenon because of its community. Marriott said people readily shared strategies and offered feedback on runs. There is also a plugin on Discord that will signal when someone is on pace to smash a record, like an emergency hype siren. Members of speedrun communities rush to watch the live video as though it were an Olympic sport.

Marriott said that at one TwitchCon, he and three friends had tried to play together like a speedrunning exquisite corpse. They sat around the computer, each responsible for different keyboard shortcuts while trying to avoid making goofy mistakes.

NYT Editorial Board
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