Apparently speedrunning - racing to finish a game as fast as possible - is quite popular. Of course it is - where have you been? Haven't you heard of the charity speedrunning marathons Games Done Quick?
Speedrunning involves not only knowing every nook and cranny of a game but also how to cut its corners and even break it, if needs be. Take Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus - speedrunners discovered you can skip an entire boss fight with the Citadel/Zitadelle by simply running right past it. But the discovery wasn't the shock to developer MachineGames you might think.
"That might look like it's incidental, but the boss [executive producer Jerk Gustafsson] actually wanted - he likes for people to be able to speedrun the game," said senior game designer Andreas Öjerfors during his talk at Digital Dragons 2018. "Me, as the designer of the Citadel, I don't, because I want people to play my content!"
Öjerfors and team tried to prevent it. "In a very early version of the Citadel design, in the paper version, he had this big shield he could put down and block the places you go past," he said. "But we didn't really get that to work very well, it was too slow, so we moved it out. So yeah, you're supposed to be able to speedrun the game - you can run past him if you want to."
Single-player games like Wolfenstein 2 aren't the only ones pushed and pulled until something gives. In multiplayer games, any advantage is gladly taken, and the amount of people playing the same levels over and over means no stone will go unturned.
Imagine making maps for one of the most famous multiplayer games of last generation, Halo 3, and being really proud of them, only to watch as people systematically broke them apart. It's what happened to Jason Sussman, now world art lead at Bungie, and it got him down.
"I was so distraught the first time someone got out of one of my PvP environments," he said at Digital Dragons 2018 in a separate art panel. "PvP or multiplayer environments were super-dear and all about containment. When that happened I was mortified."
But when he took his worries to the rest of the more experienced Bungie team, they simply shrugged. "Eh, it happens," they said, "they're going to do it. Life finds a way."
"I'm kinda over it," Sussman shrugged. These days, the "I'm gonna beat them this time" developer mantra is a running joke for the environmental art team, presumably because Bungie knows it will never win.
Bungie has even hired speedrunners. "I think it's cool, it's interesting," Sussman said. "People who do speedruns and people who find really clever ways out of the environment, I'm like, 'Holy shit I want to hire you - that's nuts!'
"We actually have; at Bungie we've hired a team of people that are doing exactly that, and they're some of the best of the best. I'll go see what they're doing and it's like, 'Jesus man, I've got to go back and...' It's amusing but also sad."
Overwatch faces a similar amount of scrutiny, and Thiago Klafke, senior environment artist on the game, loves it. "It's awesome," he said in the same art panel. "It feels like sometimes [players] don't pay attention, 'no one's gonna care' - but people care about the pixels. If that pixel is off, there's going to be a post somewhere...'
Even game trailers aren't safe - our own Digital Foundry analyses them to see how well engines perform, and communities comb them frame by frame to see what clues they may hold. The knock on effect has changed how Uncharted and The Last of Us studio Naughty Dog works.
"We actually started stepping through every one of our trailers frame by frame," said former Naughty Dog technical art director Andrew Maximov in the art panel. "It's an actual thing now because 'it's a Reddit post and there's a shitstorm', like, 'oh look their engine is bullshit'."
He added: "It makes it very rewarding the amount of scrutiny that goes into it. We play with it because we put so much detail in. 'Can they spot that Drake's chest hair is moving in the wind?' 'Throw it in there, see what happens!' Or, 'The washing machine is jiggling a little bit, let's see who notices.' There's an endless amount of detail. It's like a game at that point; let's leave all these surprises and see who finds what."
Last November, for instance, a new The Last of Us 2 trailer contained writing on rusted road signs which, in conjunction with some concept art for the game, suggested an area of Seattle as the location for the game. It makes my head spin!
Mario speedrunner Daniel Lipscombe recently wrote for us about how his pursuit of speedrunning changed the way he plays games. Jeffrey looked into the loneliness of speedrunning after interviewing a collection of speedrunners a few years ago, too.
This year's Summer Games Done Quick speedrunning marathon, incidentally, kicks off 24th June.