#134: High-grade speed

As Summer Games Done Quick kicks off, a brief love letter to the noble art of playing games very very quickly.

Hello! And a warm welcome to the 150-odd (!) of you who have joined the fold in the past few days courtesy, in a roundabout way, of Australian YouTube chap SkillUp. Didn’t see that one coming. Anyway, come on in, and make yourselves at home. Everyone here is lovely, and I am sure you are as well.

I realise that Hit Points has been on a bit of a downer of late. This is hardly surprising given the various scandals, furores and general bad vibes reverberating around the game industry at the moment. Nor is the atmosphere helped by the relative quietness of the current release calendar, or the sad, drawn-out wet fart that was not-E3 2022. In such an environment, a newsletter that tries to take a zoomed-out, long-distance view of the game industry is naturally likely to give the impression that the sky is falling in. But! We are all here because we love videogames, are we not? Let us talk about something good for once instead.

Games Done Quick, the biannual celebration of videogames being masterfully played at high speed, kicked off yesterday — and this one is special. For the first time since the pandemic began, GDQ is once again an in-person event. Now, the necessary shift to a remote operation was not without its advantages. It made for a more diverse, more global event. The schedule opened up to people who were unable, for reasons of money or time or whatever else, to make the trip to whichever provincial US hotel the physical event would normally be held in. But without its crowd — mostly fellow speedrunners who know immaculate videogame skill when they see it, and express their respect for it at great volume — it just wasn’t quite the same.

Sure, it’s not exactly business as usual again. There are fewer chairs out there than there used to be, they are spaced very precisely apart, and all attendees are masked. But this is the cost of doing business on the events circuit in 2022, and a price well worth paying for the rewards on offer. Over the next week I will have the GDQ Twitch stream running round the clock in a window to the side of my screen — there is no bad time to have an ultrawide monitor, but GDQ weeks are, I think, the very best — as a sort of backing soundtrack to my week’s work.

I will watch games I know and love being played at riotously high speed. I will also watch games I have never played, and in many cases never heard of, and experience much the same level of thrill. It is impossible not to watch and be completely inspired by someone who, along with a community of like-minded people, has broken a game so utterly and totally. Who has stripped it down until it is nothing but bones, and then broken those as well, before putting it all back together in such a way to be played through as quickly as possible. It is impossible to look upon this display — this product of thousands of collective hours of research and practice being flawlessly executed — and not fall at least a little bit in love with it. When a runner pulls off a skip that involves like 12 frame-perfect jumps, is only possible in a certain build of the game and can only be performed when the moon is in Aries, says ‘that saved four seconds’ and the crowd erupts in rapturous glee? Fuck about. Absolute magic.

Oh, and in the process they’re also raising millions of dollars, from viewer donations and Twitch subscriptions, to support cancer research. Should probably have mentioned that earlier, really, but I rather lost the run of myself.

There are a lot of people out there — on discussion forums and social media, in the comments sections of games media news articles, and presumably in real life as well — who do not understand how anyone could enjoy watching other people play games. (They also have a pathological condition that seemingly requires them to share this opinion at every available opportunity.) I watch lots of games: I watch Street Fighter tournaments and high-level Slay The Spire runs and world’s-first Destiny raid races. But I accept those aren’t for everyone. But I want to find these people who say they see no point in watching other people play games, grab them by the lapels and say: speedruns. Speedruns are the point.

If they are somehow open to me elaborating on this point while all up in their grill, I would happily do so. I would explain that speedruns are as pure an expression of passion and commitment, of practice, execution and performance, and of the power of communities that videogames have to offer. And these are many of the things we love about games in the first place, are they not? They are certainly up there for me, and that is why, with GDQ running in the background as I go about my day’s work, the sun seems to be shining a little more brightly this morning. Long may that feeling continue.

If you’re not already on board with speedruns and this has sparked some curiosity in you, the GDQ stream will be online 24 hours a day until the event finishes on Sunday. Here’s the schedule, automatically adjusted for your timezone; individual runs are uploaded to the GDQ YouTube eventually, but for those that can’t wait here’s a Reddit thread with timestamped links to each run on Twitch.

And if all that sounds like too much hassle and you’d like something a little more curated, I hold Bryonato’s Titanfall 2 run from SGDQ 2019 as the peak expression of the form. Incredible technical play, entertaining and informative commentary, and an already brilliant game rendered somehow even more thrilling by the litany of fancy tricks the run contains. A speedrunning masterpiece.


Lots of excellent responses to Friday’s edition, on how subscription services and freebies are affecting our relationships with the medium we love. In an attempt to retain today’s sunny vibe, herewith a selection of replies that seek to accentuate the positive.

  • “I find all the doom and gloom about Game Pass from (no offence!) jaded industry types a bit tiresome to be honest,” writes Chris, with the most brutally elegant use of ‘no offence’ that Hit Points has yet known. Quite jealous of that. “For every person struggling to stay afloat against the tide of ‘content’ I bet there are just as many people who are absolutely loving having access to a great library of games, at a great price, at a time when £70 for a new release just isn’t feasible for a lot of people. Game Pass lets me try games I would never have bought otherwise. To use your buffet analogy, if I sit down to eat something at an all-you-can-eat buffet, regardless of what I’ve picked, chances are I’m not going to eat one mouthful and decide to get something else. I’m probably going to make sure I plate up something I know I’m going to like before sitting down and give it a good go.”
  • “I agree that subscription services are changing how people engage with games, but I'm not sure it's all bad news,” says Ben B in the increasingly busy Hit Points Discord. “I think the kind of tentpole games that a large audience will play at the same time aren't going away, and you only have to look at Elden Ring this year as evidence of that. I think a big part of this is that these days there's so much choice and that's what dilutes attention. But again I don't think that's a bad thing because it means there's a greater range of options and things that appeal to different people.”

Thanks both. Most people agreed with me, mind you. Just wanted to make that clear.


  • A heartening number of videogame companies have spoken out in support of reproductive rights and pledged to support employees affected by the US Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn Roe vs Wade. They were joined this morning by Ubisoft, whose Twitter statement naturally drew a litany of replies from people telling the publisher to stay out of politics — a wearying ironic twist for a company that has spent the last five years trying to convince the world its games aren’t political.
  • Tributes have been paid to Bernie Stolar, former president of Sega America and founding vice president of SCEA, who has passed away aged 75.
  • Zachtronics, maker of such faultless puzzle games as Space Chem and Eliza, is voluntarily closing its doors at the end of the year because its founders want to go off and do other things. “When you make these decisions for yourself deliberately, instead of letting circumstances dictate them, it’s easier to get the results you want in the long run,” founder Zach Barth explained. Tons of respect for that, though the industry will be no doubt poorer for their absence.
  • Lastly, to repay the favour, here’s the SkillUp video I referred to up top. More positive vibes here, with a rundown of some sumptuous indie games that featured in the recent Steam Next Fest.

There you go! Another busy week ahead, which I suspect will be further complicated by the fact that I did one of my knees in this morning. Hit Points will return, on one leg if necessary, on Friday. Have a great week in the meantime, kindly click at thematically appropriate high speed on the buttons below, and I’ll see you all in a few days.