Banjo-Kazooie and the Golden Repair of Speedrunning

There are myriad ways to break a videogame. Most obviously if you own a physical copy, you can destroy it, with bonus points for doing so in a cruel ironic way a la the Angry Video Game Nerd. You can also break a game virtually by causing bugs or glitches — purposefully or not. Sometimes brokenness occurs even when the game is working as intended, if for example an item or ability is too powerful, especially in a multiplayer context. Thus the state of being broken is as sociopolitical as it is mechanical.

Speedrunning is commonly understood as another way of breaking games, one where optimal strategies are not a negative aspect but a boon which allows runners to achieve faster times. Some games are like Super Mario 64, when they break they get only better for speedrunners, and a bug like backwards long-jumping becomes canonized, with the entire categorization of runs one can even attempt built around it. Others are like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: just when runners think the game can’t get any more broken people find new ways to break it, leading to debates about what it even means to play and beat the game in the first place.

While speedrunning can be done in nearly every game, there is also a canonization within the broader community of what does and does not make for a good speedgame. Sometimes this exclusion is for technical reasons, as is the case with portable games which are harder to capture on video, but it can also be due to lack of awareness. I’ve been playing Spinch, an indie game which markets itself as speedrunner-friendly but has yet to materialize a competitive scene on its speedrun.com leaderboard. On the flip side there’s SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom, a licensed game which would have been destined to be forgotten were it not for its highly active speedrunning community, whose collective efforts warranted an HD remaster in 2020 to the chagrin of critics.

Bee Banjo Breaks Free
Bee Banjo Breaks Free
Bee Banjo breaks free

Though its community is much smaller than those surrounding the Mario and Zelda N64 entries, the system’s best-selling original IP and the first true “collect-a-thon” Banjo-Kazooie is a popular speedgame in its own right. Yet Banjo-Kazooie is also somewhat distinct; because its base gameplay encourages players to gather nearly every collectible they can, its most commonly performed category — 100% completion — is also the longest. For most speedgames this is the exact opposite, unless a highly difficult trick is required for shorter categories such as in the 0 and 1 star SM64 runs. However the modern day 100% run of Banjo-Kazooie is not at all what the developers had in mind when crafting the game in the mid-90’s, as several major tricks and glitches have created veritable revolutions in how the game is played by runners.

Banjo-Kazooie was one of the first games to employ a freeform multi-objective level design, meaning that while the player is guided through the level via the “breadcrumbing” of collectibles there is no one set order to complete tasks. Speedrunning however is all about finding the path of least resistance, and so BK routing was a complex puzzle unto itself from the outset. Though there were many optimizations and route changes, the first outright revolution in BK speedrunning came in the form of Furnace Fun Moves (FFM), whereby dying in a minigame within the giant board game Furnace Fun allowed the player to carry over Banjo and Kazooie’s entire moveset over to a new file. This meant that runners only had to talk to the moves-teacher Bottles the mole once, and also allowed for an entirely new route through the game that leapfrogged over levels thanks to a trick called Freezeezy Peak early. By using the in-flight Beak Bomb move at a specific spot next to a seam in the level geometry of the hub world at a specific angle, runners can nudge themselves out of bounds. This is done twice in the speedrun — first to get into the Freezeezy Peak loading zone and then to skip the 450 note door after completing the level.

The second revolution in BK speedrunning was an exploit known as Reverse Bee Adventure (RBA) which takes its name from the Reverse Bottle Adventure from OoT speedrunning. RBA is yet another way of getting out of bounds in-flight, this time with the bee transformation from Click Clock Wood. Not only does this allow runners to grab collectibles in Grunty’s Lair that usually require time and effort to unlock, but it once again re-routed the game so that Bubblegloop Swamp is done last. There’s three main reasons this became viable: 1) Runners can clip into the BGS loading zone with the bee 2) BGS contains Mumbo the shaman and even though the rules of his magic were broken he’ll gladly turn Banjo back into bear form and 3) BGS is close to a warp cauldron which takes the player back to the CCW area from whence they came. Finally came Ninpalk skip, which was the latest variation of a bug which allowed Furnace Fun and the lengthy cutscene that follows it to be almost entirely skipped (the runner Duck has made a detailed video about this trick).

An example of Kintsugi
An example of Kintsugi
An example of Kintsugi

Kintsugi — also known as Kintsukoroi — is a lacquerware technique dating back to feudal Japan which translates to “golden joinery” or “golden repair”, wherein shattered ceramics are re-pieced together with a special adhesive which contains either gold, silver or platinum dust. Rather than attempt to make as new, Kintsugi celebrates the history of a given pot, plate or bowl and elevates its breakages into a work of art unto itself. Philosophically speedrunning is like a Kintsugi for videogames which are “broken” by their own bugs and glitches, which can either reinforce games to their former utilitarian glory or remold them into something entirely new.

One of the reasons fans love replaying Banjo-Kazooie is that each of its levels can be completed in one pass. Well actually, that isn’t true, and the game wasn’t designed with that in mind according to an interview with lead designer Gregg Mayles where he states “I wanted players to decide when they left [a world], not the game”. While this can be seen as supporting the completionist mindset (or perhaps a dig at Mario 64) it equally applies to those who wish to go back-and-forth between levels at their own leisure. However in the 100% speedrun of the game the one instance of mandatory back-tracking — unlocking the speed shoes in Gobi’s Valley to perform the Boggy race in FP — is negated by FFM. Thus, not only is Banjo-Kazooie repaired by speedrunning but it is realigned with the way most fans feel that it’s best played.

A similar albeit not unintended concept is death warps. Usually in Banjo-Kazooie dying is the last thing a player wants to do, since on the N64 version the notes that are collected regenerate every time the player re-enters a level (this itself was “fixed” in subsequent re-releases). However because dying or going too far out of bounds sends the player back to the level’s exit, intentional deaths and void-outs are exploited to save time, ideally performed as soon as the player grabs the last collectible within a given level. Death warps also make health management a major factor for speedrunners, and have been routed into every level except Mumbo’s Mountain, since it’s small enough to form a complete circuit. As if the notes, jigsaws and honeycombs Banjo and Kazooie collect on their adventure have been liquefied, a golden repair is performed on the game through FFM, death warps and other techniques. However when it comes to speedrunning BK’s sequel Banjo-Tooie, all that glitters is not gold.

Banjo-Tooie’s Main Menu
Banjo-Tooie’s Main Menu
Banjo-Tooie’s main menu

In the parlance of a Banjo runner, Tooie is “scuffed” — essentially a catch-all pejorative that can mean, among other things, broken. Though the average player might never notice the subtle nuances, Tooie’s movement is allegedly slower and less responsive, perhaps due in part to the framerate which often takes a hit in the game’s larger areas. The Any% speedrun of the game used to be much more grueling before late 2014, taking around 3 hours at best, while its 100% category was closer to 5 hours (for reference BK 100% can be beaten by top runners in under 2 hours). This is due to the fact that while Tooie has fewer levels than BK, they are also interconnected, at times requiring players to perform multi-step processes across different levels to obtain Jiggies.

Then came a revolution which rocked the Tooie speedrunning world even harder than Furnace Fun Moves did for BK. It’s called the Delayed Cutscene Warp (DCW), and it similarly has the runner do something outside of the main file to trick the game into granting early access to, in this case, the final boss fight. Banjo-Tooie is a game that’s full of cutscenes — jokingly referred to as “the movie” by runners — and certain cutscenes are loaded in such a way that they play back-to-back, which is the behaviour that’s abused with the DCW.

First a runner triggers a cutscene in the second level Glitter Gulch Mine, followed by a second related cutscene in the third level Witchyworld, but resets the console before a third cutscene can play. After the reset the runner plays the cutscene preceding the final boss fight from the replay section of the main menu, then revisits GGM where they trigger the cutscene that’s usually paired with the WW cutscene. However since the cutscene has been replaced in memory with the final boss cutscene that one plays instead, and thus the runner is “wrong warped” to the end of the game after it finishes.

While getting all the moves as soon as possible is optimal in BK, running Tooie hinges on one all-important move: firing Clockwork Kazooie eggs. The item is notorious for its ability to get between seams in collision, cause bugs and allow for sequence breaks, but in the current Any% run they are used mostly as intended. As long as the runner has them in tow they can defeat Grunty without needing to meet the usual 70 Jiggy requirement.

Although DCW made Tooie significantly more accessible due to shortening its length and requiring less route memorization — making it more akin to Banjo-Kazooie with the minimized back-tracking — it only became marginally more popular than the original Any% No DCW category. One might think a Tooie fan such as myself would be disappointed that DCW skips over so much of the game, however I think it’s brilliant, as it’s only possible because of Tooie’s novel interconnected levels (the tunnel between GGM and WW is incidentally my favourite area in the whole game because of its unique music).

A Tooie runner sets up for a Bit Clip in Cauldron Keep
A Tooie runner sets up for a Bit Clip in Cauldron Keep
A Tooie runner sets up for a Bit Clip in Cauldron Keep

There was actually a second revolution in Tooie speedrunning within the past year, but it was a fairly quiet one. A technique for performing a specific type of clip called a Bit or Float Clip was discovered through the use of tool-assistance in the spring of 2020, with a setup for real-time runners being found in June. Bit and Float in this context simply refer to a hyper-specific coordinate value precise to the decimal where Banjo must be located for the clip to work. Getting into this position requires starting from a fixed point, such as a warp pad, and performing a combination of Beak Barges, “angle buffering” done through first-person aiming in conjunction with button presses and “Peck cancels” done by pressing the B and Start buttons simultaneously. To aid runners with this clip, overlays have been developed using text fields in the Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) that Twitch streamers use (the lines seen above are actually lowercase L’s). Getting these external visual cues itself requires in-game visual cues, but once they’re set up they can be used indefinitely. To return to the Kintsugi metaphor, this sort of metagaming reminds of the “joint-call” method, where other pieces that weren’t part of the original are brought in as part of the repair.

The benefit of all of this is it allows runners to clip beneath the floor then move forward and flutter back up onto it, which is highly useful for getting around barriers, namely the gates leading to WW and the final boss area in Cauldron Keep. Because of this runners can now do a sort of “Reverse DCW Adventure”, which foregoes the need to formally unlock GGM and WW and the associated cutscenes making Jiggies nearly a complete non-factor. The fourth level Jolly Roger’s Lagoon and a miniboss fight can also be cut from the run entirely, which is accomplished by doing a DCW not to the final boss cutscene but the one after the Tower of Tragedy quiz game within CK. Runners then go backwards through the hub world to unlock the Clockwork Kazooie eggs, then perform a few neat tricks and clips along with the final Bit Clip to get back into Cauldron Keep and the final boss area.

All of this combined meant that over the course of about a week there was a mad dash to improve the Banjo-Tooie Any% world record, breaking both the 40 minute and 30 minute barriers and temporarily allowing primarily-BK runners to reign supreme. Bit Clips have even made their way into the original Banjo-Kazooie among top runners, most notably being used to beat the game on N64 in under an hour without formal cheats by entering both Mad Monster Mansion and Click Clock Wood early. However in Tooie it was inevitable that the top runner Piji would return to take back the throne, with his world record time currently sitting at 27:17 set in January of this year, and even more impressively being the only one daring enough to perform Bit Clips without an OBS overlay. While all time save is good time save and the new Tooie route obsoletes the need for the tedious file setup known as Jinjo manipulation, Bit Clips are perhaps one breakage too far, as they haven’t brought in more than a handful of new runners. In fact a mere 15 people out of 83 — or 18% — have been brave enough to even attempt them.

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