Speedrunners can utterly wreck your favorite games and leave you wanting more. When indie developer Frima opened the floodgates with a speedrunning contest featuring its 2014 couch co-op favorite Chariot, the end results surpassed their wildest expectations. Here's the story of how a co-op speedrunning team achieved a new world record.
Individually, veteran speedrunners Cyghfer and Blechy boast blazingly fast completion times in games like Mega Man 2, Shadow of the Ninja, Ninja Five-O, and Gimmick. Together, the pair has produced impressive co-op speedruns of Capcom's SNES puzzler Goof Troop and the classic NES platformer Chip'n Dale's Rescue Rangers.
Responding to Frima's challenge, Cyghfer and Blechy set their sights on level 2-5 of Chariot. After days of work and countless retries, the team achieved a world-record time of 3:07, beating the developer's best recorded time by more than a minute. Below is a replay of their contest-winning submission:
It's a lot to take in at once, and the run takes advantage of several mechanical quirks that you may not be familiar with, even if you've played Chariot through to completion. As part of this exclusive Co-Optimus feature, we're going to let Cyghfer and Blechy themselves take over and explain the work that went into their record run. Read on to learn how the pair won Frima's contest.
"We didn't truly get a grasp of how complicated speedrunning Chariot would be until we acquired the upgraded attractor and repulsor gadgets and experimented with them in 2-5. Pulling a chariot behind you is one thing, but trying to constantly propel the chariot through the air is another matter entirely. It quickly became clear to us that the entire speedrun would revolve around maximizing the gadgets' usage.
We approached the competition by simply playing through 2-5 several times, and getting an understanding of the different ways to progress through the stage. The main fork in routing the level revolves around the disappearing bridge: At first glance, there appear to be two distinct paths through this area one can take, both of them fairly long. After looking more closely, we realized that if we could find a way to break the bridge from underneath, we could skip both paths, saving a great deal of time.
So we did what any experienced speedrunner does when they're looking to find an exploit: we bumbled around like idiots until we stumbled upon an oddity that seemed promising. It turns out that if one character pushes the chariot up the slope beneath the bridge while the other character pushes it in the opposite direction, it forces the chariot to push upwards against the bridge, causing it to disappear after a few seconds. With the bridge gone, we were able to skip a long, winding corridor that would have added on a lot of extra time.
We also noticed that when both characters die and are in the process of respawning, the in-game timer stops while the gadget recharge meter continues to fill. This means that every time you force a respawn on a checkpoint, not only do both characters respawn together, but both gadgets become available for immediate use. After surveying the videos of other submissions to the competition, we believe that finding this trick was a key factor in allowing us to achieve such a low time.
The last oddity we noticed pertains to the green barriers throughout the stage. The idea behind these barriers is that the chariot can travel through them but the character cannot, which usually poses a dilemma in maintaining fast movement.
In one instance late in our playthroughs, we noticed that if the chariot is on the other side of a green barrier but still adjacent to the character, you can actually bypass the barrier. The character sees that the chariot is close enough to climb onto, and enters the animation to do so; during this animation, the character does not have hitbox-detection properties, and so can pass through the barrier without an issue. We knew this technique could be used on the green barrier just above the previously mentioned disappearing bridge, but we couldn't find a fast, consistent way to bypass it. We concluded that it would be more efficient to spend our time doing attempts without it.
The hardest part of the run in terms of raw execution comes when the in-game time reads 1:50 in our video. If executed perfectly, you can chain together attractor and repulsor uses to make it all the way up the narrow shaft. Unfortunately we did not go the full distance, but made it to the 2nd highest area, only losing a few seconds. This was the biggest mistake in our run, given the strategies we used.
After we had submitted our run, we were greatly interested in seeing the routes used by other contenders in the competition. The 2nd place team actually found a way to consistently bypass the green barrier above the disappearing bridge, but the setup takes long enough that it matches the way we handled the area.
We noticed a few other spots throughout the level where other teams saved time compared to our route - the attractor/repulsor management differs so greatly between the top 3 submissions that it truly speaks to the complexity of Chariot as a game for speedrunning. In fact, because the physics of the game are so nuanced, and we were under a time limit for submission, we had to sacrifice raw speed for consistency in a couple instances. This ultimately, however, allowed us to finish more runs and achieve the time we ended up with.
We both agree that Chariot makes for an excellent speedrun, and would be eager to push ourselves even further if any more competitions are held in the future!"
Thanks, Blechy and Cyghfer! If you want to dive into the weird and wonderful world of speedruns, check out SpeedRunsLive for streams of world-record runs in the making and Speed Demos Archive for a catalog of the world's fastest runs of thousands of featured games.