Speedrunning my favorite video game was surprisingly difficult
I am not a speed runner. In fact, I never liked a video game enough to try to make it run until recently, when I discovered the weirdness of the PlayStation 2. X-treme Express. But after almost a week of watching my promising attempts slip away at the last second and feeling my affection for the game turn sour, it’s safe to say it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime affair.
In case you missed it, X-treme Express is a quirky PS2 train racing game it might be one of my favorite video games of all time. I love its old-fashioned presentation, I love its wide range of locomotives, and I love its rumble, buzz and stumble racing action, far from the aerodynamic and sleek action that dominates the genre. Simply put, X-treme Express is a really fun moment that I haven’t been able to put together.
Read more: Trains crash into empty worlds in my new favorite racing game
While writing my previous love letter, I discovered that the game had an entry on Speedrun.com, the official home of speedrunning rankings for just about every video game under the sun. It’s rare, with just one full round of Grand Prix mode and sporadic single level records, but it got me thinking about getting known for a game I’ve been spending a lot of time on lately.
X-treme Express Speedrunning is divided into two categories: the aforementioned “Long Grand Prix”, which encompasses the 10 courses in the game, and a “Short Grand Prix”, which only requires the completion of the first six. I quickly realized that there was no way I could snatch the Grand Prix Long record from Welsh speedrunner derp– who was the undisputed champion of X-treme Express since 2017 — without serious training. But maybe I could do something in the Grand Prix Court.
This category, you see, currently has no entries.
If I had to submit a single round of the Short Grand Prix, I thought to myself, I would immediately be the world record holder by default. Deliciously evil, Ian.
A speedrunner is born
This is how my life as a speedrunner began. I’ve had X-treme Express ready for recording (ranking requires video proof), learned the basics of a speedrunning program called LiveSplit to accurately track my time (thank you Linkus7), and sat down for what I assumed was a short evening of occasional world record attempts. Less than a week later, I still haven’t completed a single successful run.
X-treme Express is strict about what it takes to “beat” a race. The first six courses of the Short Grand Prix require you to finish in the top three in order to qualify for the next stage. At first, that’s not a problem; you just get ahead of your opponents and stay so far ahead of them that you just have to rely on your own skills to win. Don’t miss a round and you should be fine. Easy peasy.
But in later races, rival trains become more savvy to spoil your balance and derail you. One small mistake can be the difference between taking the next step and having to try again, resulting in several minutes of wasted time on a speedrun that’s nearly impossible to catch up.
Maybe it was my obsessive streak, a pinch of perfectionism, or just the inherent “guilt” of hitting a world record in an undisputed category, but I just couldn’t bring myself to submit a X-treme Express race in which I lost and had to retry a level. While I’m sure I still have a lot to learn about the game’s unique mechanics, it felt weird not trying to make the best possible time, even though my ultimate goal was just to have something to post in. classification. Every night before going to bed I start conscientiously X-treme Express, tries a few errands and ends up falling asleep with nothing I thought worthy of submitting.
I noticed my attitude towards X-treme Express started to get worse. Where before it was something I used to decompress after a long day where people told me I belonged to a concentration camp to write a fairly basic Character history, my speedrun attempts made it a chore. I wasn’t unlocking new trains or testing myself with challenges, but devoting myself to other work. With more than 30-40 minutes of wasted time, each failed run was a dagger that slowly bleed my respect for the little quirks of the game I loved. Without fault of X-treme Express I was no longer having fun myself, and that made me feel disgusted.
As stupid as it sounds, I felt like I was moving in with a significant other path too fast. The absence makes the heart more loving and all that.
The end of the line
Realizing what was going on, I immediately put an end to my little speedrunning adventure. With so much weight on me these days I didn’t want to see X-treme Express became yet another object of dissatisfaction in my life.
At the time of this writing, I haven’t played X-treme Express in a few days, and I’m starting to rediscover that familiar feeling of wanting to navigate his railroads and find optimal braking strategies, divorced from any intention to beat the game as quickly as possible.
What have I learned? Speed racing is tough. I already knew that, of course, but my brief experience has given me a better understanding and appreciation of the job of just beating a game as quickly as possible. By wasting half an hour on an aborted X-treme Express running looked like crap, it’s nothing compared to the hour-long attempts of established speedrunners in games that have been optimized so much that even a split second misstep can end someone’s chances. ‘achieve a personal best.
Someone else is going to have to set the Grand Prix short record in X-treme Express. It’s not something I’m dealing with at the moment. Maybe in the future, if I find a new game that I feel compelled to speedrun in, I’ll be in better headspace. Or, at least, more willing to ditch this hypothetical game to the beast of obsessive research, repetitive practice, and ruthless resets. I’m more than happy to leave the speedrun to the pros. I respect hell, but it’s just not for me.
Having said that, I heard there was a cat themed train hidden somewhere in X-treme Express, which is a challenge that suits me perfectly.