When the Sun Cheated a Mario 64 Speedrun (and Why It Will Never Happen Again)

Super Mario 64 Best Platformer Games
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UPDATE: This old speedrunning chestnut has been debunked.

ORIGINAL STORY: Speedrunning a video game for some is the supreme way to test just how good you really are at your favorite games. This isn’t just beating a game. It’s meeting stringent requirements that boil down to beating any given title as quickly as humanly possible.

The 1996 classic Super Mario 64 has long been a speedrunning favorite, with extremely competitive times that determine new records by a matter of seconds. It comes down to an incredible combination of reflexes, timing, and a fundamental understanding of everything the game encompasses and demands.

Check out the speedrun records for Super Mario 64 at any given time. Any ranking of the top 5 or 10 best speedruns differentiate from one another by literal seconds. So, again, we’re talking about players seriously pushing the limits of how quickly you can collect the minimum 70 stars needed to finish Super Mario 64 and rescue Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Super Mario 64 is one of the most popular speedrunning games of all time, with 25+ years of players using everything from their own skill to what seems like pure, blind luck through RNG (Random Number Generator) to find the best possible speedrunning route.

In some cases, even with all those things, a Super Mario 64 speedrun can be influenced by elements beyond your control. This was the case for speedrunner DOTA_Teabag, whose 2013 Super Mario 64 speedrun received some unexpected assistance from the cosmos. Mainly the collision of an ionizing particle with an appropriately sensitive microelectronic device, effectively helping him to teleport upwards.

An up-warp with a grabbable ceiling was considered a distinct impossibility in the game, and yet this was the experience DOTA_Teabag had more than ten years ago during what began as a perfectly normal speedrun. It became an extraordinary one-in-a-trillion glitch that players from all over the world tried desperately to recreate, failing even as they set the exact same conditions DOTA_Teabag played under.

Why did they fail? Simply put, DOTA_Teabag experienced what players call a Single Event Upset. Without forcing you to have some sort of science background to understand all of this, a Single Event Upset essentially refers to high-energy particles creating a unique change in the state of your transistor gate. As cosmic particles enter our atmosphere, they can collide with atmospheric atoms. This creates what can be described as a rainstorm of protons and neutrons, which in turn can cause minor issues with any electronic devices they come into contact with.

In most situations, this contact isn’t something you’ll even notice. But occasionally, something whose odds are almost beyond comprehension completely transforms the speedrun. Playing at his normal furious pace, DOTA_Teabag cried out in surprise when an ionizing particle colliding with his Nintendo 64 flipped the 8th bit of Mario’s first height byte. This led to a situation that unexpectedly warped Mario to a higher floor at the precise moment the Single Event Upset created a height change that went from C5837800 to C4837800.

None of this was within the realm of the player’s control. In a normal situation, meaning 99.9% of the time, players need to bump into ceilings using the edge of the hitbox, but only when the grabbable ceiling is right above them. The game understands that the grabbable ceiling is above Mario, so when the player touches the ceiling, the game responds by warping you up to it. DOTA_Teabag understood this rule of the game, so it’s easy to understand their reaction when the warping occurred while Mario was jumping along platforms. That isn’t supposed to happen.

Understanding the conditions by which the warp occurred would have dramatically changed the approach speedrunners would take to playing the game. One Mario 64 player by the name of Pannenkoe12 even went so far as to offer a $1000 bounty to any player who could break down why this warp happened at all. This was the same person who eventually created conditions for the bit flip to occur manually and at the precise necessary moment, confirming the staggering unlikelihood of the flip happening naturally.

In fact, some speedrunners believe this event was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. There is no possible way to manipulate these conditions to make the occurrence more probable. Nothing you do naturally in the game will recreate the glitch DOTA_Teabag experienced on that day.

If you could manipulate a speedrun by creating the conditions of a Single Event Upset, world records in video game speedrunning would change in droves. However, it’s just not possible. It has been over ten years since DOTA_Teabag seemingly did the impossible. There is not one documented case of this upwarp moment occurring again. It’s entirely conceivable that it will never happen again in the whole of human history.

Yes, that may sound a touch extreme, but we want to drive home just how incredible it is that this even happened to DOTA_Teabag at all. You could probably win the lottery 100 times and still not trigger this event again.

What makes this particular upset even more stunning is that it impacted the speedrun positively. In almost all documented instances of Single Event Upsets, the consequences have been anywhere from annoying to highly dangerous. Examples include planes dropping out of the sky and voting machines to seriously malfunction its tabulation of votes. In most cases, the resulting upset is as simple as your device suddenly acting strangely. You force restart your laptop or phone, and the issue has seemingly gone away. This has probably happened to you, and it’s more likely than not the full extent of anything you’re going to experience with these upsets.

Super Mario 64 continues to be a beloved entry in Nintendo’s iconic franchise. New players are discovering the game all the time, along with players who have been looking for new ways to challenge themselves since the game’s release three decades ago. Even from its beginning, Super Mario 64 is a game that offers a wealth of secrets and possibilities. Sometimes, those secrets and discoveries are as simple as an event so completely obscured by the odds, some might be tempted to call such an occurrence an act of God.

A true act of God would be getting a brand new 3D F-Zero game, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

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