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Donald DeChellis— Enter the world of videogame speedrunning

Donald DeChellis of Metal Production (PT-1) is a speedrunner, a new type of video-gamer whose goal is to complete entire runs of videogames as quickly as possible.
June 26, 2018
  • Donald DeChellis
  • Donald DeChellis
  • Donald DeChellis
  • Donald DeChellis
  • Donald DeChellis
“I think anybody who wants to can speedrun. It comes down to noting things that you can cut out or down to improve speed. It’s a strategy we all learn in normal life, asking ourselves, ‘do we really need to spend so much time on a certain task?’ All of us already do this, and it’s just a matter of applying this strategy to playing a videogame.”

Enter the world of videogame speedrunning

Donald DeChellis of Metal Production (PT-1) picks up a videogame controller and stares intently into a large computer screen. The vintage game Super Mario World flickers to life, but this is no typical video-gaming session. Don is a speedrunner, a new type of video-gamer whose goal is to complete the entire videogame as quickly as possible.

“Most of the videogames I’ve played I’ve managed to complete in about one and one-half hours,” Don says. “These are complete runs, through all levels.”

Speedrunning in the videogames community has been around since the early 1990s. Although the origin of speedrunning has not been formally documented, it likely started after the release of the home videogame Doom. In Doom, players assume the role of a space marine who must fight his way through various levels filled with hordes of demons.

One of the original features of this videogame was that players could record videos of their play through the levels. About a year after the game’s release, a gamer by the name of Christina Norman launched the LMP Hall of Fame website. This site chronicled the best play-though runs of the game Doom. One of the first communities dedicated to the speedrun was COMPET-N. This community emphasized speed of completion rather than overcoming other challenges. Other websites soon followed, with competition among players leading to communities dedicated to completing other videogames as quickly as possible.

Fast forward to 2014 when a gamer named Pac founded Speedrun.com specifically for the speedrunning community. As of January 2018, the site boasts 120,000 registered users that have achieved more than 480,000 speedruns.

Donald DeChellis
Don DeChellis (upper left) speedruns his favorite game, Super Mario World.

Levels of Competition

Don first learned about speedrunning while in college. “It was sort of a way for me to pass the time,” he says. “For me, it was pretty cool to beat a game in a short amount of time, just play this game all the way through and then turn it off for the night.”

Today’s speedrunners compete in various levels of competition. One of the fundamental competitions is known as a full or 100% speedrun, which requires a player to complete the game all the way through as quickly as possible. In addition to eliminating all opponents and collecting all key items, the player must also find all the game’s secret features or complete any side quests required of the game.

“Then there’s what is called the ‘Any%,’” says Don, “where you complete the game under the simplest conditions with the shortest possible time. This type of competition is the most popular with players, as it has minimal rules when it comes to what you can and can’t do.” 

A third level of competition is known as “Low%.” This type of competition is reserved for games that require key items to gain greater power or ability in game play. In such competitions, players must complete the game as quickly as possible while obtaining the fewest key items or upgrades as possible.

Although Don does not hold any current speed records in officially released videogames, he has achieved record performance in what he calls “hack-games,” modified versions of traditional videogames.

“There’s a hack released in 2012 known as Kaizo Mario World 3,” says Don, “and I am the first person to speedrun it—to beat it in one sitting. It’s a game that’s too hard for most people to even beat, but I can now beat it in about 47 minutes. I also hold a record speedrun in Super Panga World, another difficult hack of Super Mario World.”

Donald DeChellis

Don DeChellis getting ready for a speedrun at the 2017 Summer Games Done Quick. This marathon raised more than $1 million for the charity Doctors Without Borders.

The Speedrunning Community

Don notes that the speedrunning community is a subset of the video-gaming community. “It’s actually tiny right now, but it is growing,” he says.

Another interesting fact about speedrunners is that they are competitive with themselves but not necessarily with each other. “Speedrunning is not as aggressively competitive as you might think,” says Don. “There’s a lot of sharing going on—if someone finds a new strategy to beat a game, he or she will immediately share it. Everyone is pretty open about sharing ways to beat a game faster.”

Don regularly streams his speedruns on Twitch under the username “Dode” at the following site: https://twitch.tv/dode.

Speedrunners have started to form and attend what are called speedrun marathons, which consist of a webstream of multiple videogames being challenged in succession. Many of these marathons are similar to fan conventions, with speedrunners raising money for charity. In 2017, the Awesome Games Done Quick marathon raised more than $2 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.

“These marathons are a lot of fun,” says Don with a smile. “They’re an opportunity for speedrunners to come out from behind the screen, get together and talk about the latest innovations and strategies related to speedrunning.”

 Donald DeChellis
Don DeChellis performs a speedrun of Super Panga World during an Awesome Games Done Quick marathon.

Donald DeChellis works at TA-55 for the Metal Production group (PT-1).


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.