The Heartbreaking History of Speedrunning in ‘Ocarina of Time’

Jeremy Ray

Fate would make Ocarina of Time not only one of the most celebrated games to play, but also one of the most interesting to watch.

It’s a game about time that manages to be timeless. Not only has Ocarina aged well, its legacy lives on as the roots for modern, 3D game design. And in the case of the most devoted and skilled Ocarina fans – the speedrunners – it’s remained a source of drama and excitement to this day.

Throughout the different “eras” of speedrunning Ocarina of Time, methods have been built, broken, improved, and abandoned. Years of work have been rendered obsolete by a new route or glitch discovery. New skills would have to be learned as the muscle memory of the last few months were suddenly redundant.

It’s a game where going fast means going backwards — figuratively and literally.

Even dedicated fans might watch a brief speedrun and marvel at the dexterity while knowing about half of what’s going on. It’s about skill, but it’s also about the cleverness of an entire community working together, propping up those few on the top of the leaderboard as the pinnacle of an entire village’s achievement. Below we’ll go through the methods, and the drama, of breaking the world’s greatest game.

Beating Ocarina in Five Hours

In the early days of speedrunning Ocarina of Time, the first major goal was to bring existing seven-hour runs down to the five-hour mark. From 2003-2005, these runs were largely devoid of glitches, and players hadn’t yet discovered that by quickly switching weapons and walking backwards, they could skip those painfully long owl dialogues.

You might consider these more “pure” runs. And you’re not alone — glitches were the subject of much controversy before different categories were made to accommodate everyone. What’s allowed and what isn’t is always evolving. Take the Amiibo items you can conjure in today’s Nintendo games — should those who pay more be given an advantage?

Many important glitches were known in these early days, such as the widely used bottle duplication glitch which was written about in 1999, or skipping the trials of Ganon’s Castle by exploding yourself through the tower wall. The world records authority at the time, Twin Galaxies, banned these glitches from use — making the early speedrunning route a fast version of the normal game:

As speedrun historians now know, Ocarina was destined to be more broken than a clay pot in Link’s path. But in this era, glitches were akin to cheating. Later the world of Any% speedruns would adopt an “anything goes” mentality. Except, that is, for actual cheating.

A pioneer in the space was TSA, the legend of this era who edged closer and closer to the five-hour mark

Though later on TSA was exposed for “splicing” footage of his runs to fake lower times. Pieces of the run had actually been done at different times and edited together. To this day, video editing software makes this unfortunately easy, and vigilant moderators use tools to check every entry. TSA’s fall from grace would soon become a matter of history though, as the first major sequence breaks were just around the corner.

The Japanese Method (Five Bosses)

Over in Japan, the burgeoning community of Ocarina otakus were working on their own improvements: the “Five Bosses run.” After years of shaving off mere minutes to achieve sub five-hour runs, a user named Seven Blanks cut over an hour from the world record time to bring it under three and a half hours.

Various contributors had been experimenting with jump tricks to get Child Link into Hyrule’s late-game, adults-only areas for some time. Interestingly, Ocarina only checks for the Shadow and Spirit medallions before giving you the Light Arrow and creating the rainbow bridge into Ganon’s Castle. The other medallions are “assumed,” as long as you could beat those two temples with limited gear.

“Five Bosses” refers to the three boss fights of the child dungeons, and the Spirit and Shadow Temple bosses. With glitches becoming more acceptable, it was then possible to get into the castle and skip the trials, resulting in a run that looks like this:

To add some flair, the Japanese community required zero deaths — although later on, speedruns would become so optimised that unplanned deaths would mark the end of an attempt altogether.

Running from 2006 to the end of 2008, the Five Bosses run eventually brought the fastest time below under three hours. It marked two years of Japanese dominance in Ocarina speedrunning, before another method came along and opened a bottle of whoopass…

Bottle Adventure

Before we explain one of the biggest skips in Ocarina’s history, we have to explain something called Bottle Adventure. It involves confusing Ocarina of Time into putting a bottle on your B button, which is usually reserved for your sword.

Even for normal Ocarina players, the mighty bottle is one of the more valuable items in the game. But what makes it pure gold for speedrunners is that using the bottle makes Ocarina rewrite the contents of the bottle to the inventory. You may have, after all, sipped your milk or captured a new bug.

Put simply, the B button wasn’t meant to be used in this way. When Ocarina applies its inventory formula to update a bottle, but uses the unfamiliar starting point of B, it materialises something utterly unexpected. But it was still governed by rules — and if one could understand the underlying math, the B button would be a Hyrulian Mary Poppins bag of tricks. A glitching springboard for Deku Sticks, Din’s Fire, or why not just skip straight to the last essential item needed to defeat Ganon: the Light Arrow.

Suddenly the Any% category was getting very interesting, and eventually the regulators followed community interest. A bottle had rendered Ocarina‘s inventory algorithm more fragile than glass, and when a version of Bottle Adventure was discovered that worked across all versions, this opened the door to a world of inventory manipulation.

Bottle Adventure of course required a bottle, and if you ever wanted to see the optimal way to collect all the cuccos in Kakariko Village for the easiest bottle, this was one of many feats of optimisation from this era.

Getting important items onto the B button was a big step, but it was just a peek into how exploitable the Ocarina inventory would become. The path glitch hunters were on now would end up being one of the biggest skips in Ocarina history — one that could cut a speedrunner’s time in half.

Reverse Bottle Adventure

2007 was a period of frantic theorycrafting as the community tripped over itself to test every edge case. But no one understood the full power of the bottle until the 26th of April, when Acryte figured out how to turn a bottle and a broken sword into a Sage Medallion.

With the bottle usually relegated to the C buttons, Ocarina updates the inventory after each swipe by moving three slots to the right to reach the inventory. But with a bottle on B, moving three slots to the right reaches the C Right button.

To its credit, Ocarina doesn’t crash here, even as its inventory system is split wider than its timeline. Instead, it uses whatever item is on C Right to point to a new spot in the inventory, and writes the binary code of the bottle you just updated.

What we all see as a full bottle of Lon Lon Milk, the game sees as 10010011 — eight digits of binary code. Shove that code where it wasn’t intended, and you can end up with full ammo for rare items like Bombchus, or new bomb bags, wallets, and gauntlets.

Most interesting (and broken) are the inventory slots that only accept one digit. In the case of one-off items like songs, you either have them or you don’t — so Ocarina interprets that first “1” as a “yes.” But what happens to the seven remaining digits? Those extra ones and zeroes overflow into the rest of the inventory, writing “no,” “no,” “yes,” and so on.

Glitch-happy game-breakers began furiously swiping bottles, testing new items on C Right. Acryte’s discovery was that with the Broken Goron’s Sword on C Right, Ocarina points to the section for Sage Medallions. It was possible to write a “1” onto the slots for Spirit and Shadow medallions – the only two Ocarina checks for – thereby skipping all temples.

This use of Reverse Bottle Adventure effectively skips half the game, but obtaining the Broken Goron’s Sword involves a lengthy trading quest that ping pongs players between NPCs. For those who spent years grinding Five Bosses, it was heartbreaking. But there was a new route now, and the race was on. Players would do their best impression of a Hyrulian Fed Ex as NPCs made them sweat for a sword that would never be repaired.

This changed the route to look like the following:

Ocarina of Time speedrun reverse bottle adventure route rba

Not many videos exist of the early days of Reverse Bottle Adventure records, but early records with the new route in late 2008 brought times down to one hour and twenty minutes — roughly half of what it was.

Child Link’s adventures were still relatively intact though, and while speedrunners had built up ten years’ worth of tricks for the early dungeons – such as getting into Jabu Jabu’s Belly without a fish – a method was found in 2008 to skip them altogether.

The Door of Time

While the entire second half of the game had been rendered skippable by a bottle and a broken sword, there was still a lengthy first half that involved collecting three Spiritual Stones.

Figuring out how to “clip” through walls and doors is an important part of the speedrunner’s toolkit, and often involves propelling oneself at different angles into walls and corners to find kinks in the game’s geometry. While the Temple of Time‘s huge door separating you from the Master Sword had proved tricky, a user named Mitijitsu eventually discovered how to clip through it while staying alive:

A few side hops and a jump attack was all it took to give it the ol’ clip & skip. By the time the Master Sword cutscene finishes, those Spiritual Stones are on their altar, right where you never put them. Eliminating all three Child Link dungeons had a huge effect on time and altered the route to look like the following:

Ocarina of Time speedrun rba temple of time clip skip

Around the same time, players started switching over to the Japanese version of the game. Able to present more info with less dialogue boxes, the Japanese text was quicker to skip through, and would instantly shave minutes off of a speedrunner’s time:

After four years of improvements to the route, it was Zaccio with the fastest time in the RBA/Door of Time skip era, with this 54:02 run in early 2012 — finally below one hour.

But Zaccio’s perfected route was about to be turned on its head, as Ocarina of Time was broken once again — this time by Link trying to play his sword like an ocarina.

Wrong Warping: The Ganonless Era

If you thought the state of Ocarina‘s fastest route was bizarrely fascinating already, strap in. It’s about to get weird.

On the 19th of February, 2012, a seemingly minor glitch was discovered that went on to start a new era of speedrunning. Username ChristianF23 posted a video of how to skip cutscenes at the end of temples.

By doing a backflip into the warp provided, then using the bottle and another item at the same time, one could retain control of Link during the warp animation. Humorously, Link would try to play his sword as if it were an ocarina:

Ocarina of Time Ocarina Items glitch

Not very useful though, unless Link needed a close shave. The trick was the next part: if the player could die or use a door before the warp animation finishes, they’d skip a lengthy trip to the Sacred Realm.

But when this was performed in the Fire Temple, it portalled you to the beginning of the Forest Temple instead. What gives?

It turns out there’s a numbered list of every area in Ocarina of Time, and each zone has a few slots on the list reserved for which “scene” you arrive in. This could be day, night, Child Link, Adult Link, or a special cutscene. Performing the above trick adds to the number of your targetted scene, sending you somewhere else entirely.

This was dubbed Wrong Warping, and of course the above is a gross oversimplification, but you can find a meatier explanation here.

Interestingly, this list of zones is not at all in sequential order. Just like Reverse Bottle Adventure, there were underlying rules — the technique was ripe for theorycrafting new routes, but complex moves and even more complex calculations were required to correctly target a scene of your choosing. Wrong Warping was the perfect combination of strategy and dexterous skill.

Players found new ways to trigger it, too. Using Bottle Adventure, one could cast Farore’s Wind on the B button to create a portal anywhere — not just from dungeons.

With the ability to warp to a host of unsanctioned scenes, there was only one logical conclusion: why not warp directly to the end credits? It took a Rube Goldberg level of complexity, but almost right away one player managed to do exactly that:

It took only a few days for the records to start coming in. ZFG used and then modified this technique to grab more than a few world records. After much optimisation he produced this 46:52 run, in which he Wrong Warps from the Fire Temple into the credits scene in which you say goodbye to Navi.

This was known as the Ganonless era. But as optimal as it seems to skip straight to the credits, it was short-lived. The heartbreaking nature of speedrunning Ocarina would rear its head again — literally while ZFG was setting his world record, a new skip was being discovered that would render all of his work obsolete.

Let’s Do the Wrong Warp Again

In a happy little twist of fate, Wrong Warping works from the Child Link dungeons as well. When looking through the numerical list of areas, it was noticed that right after the Deku Tree is the Tower Collapse scene from Ganon’s Castle:

Ocarina of Time speedrun Wrong Warp table

Theoretically, one could warp from the starting dungeon all the way past Ganondorf, to fight Ganon and beat the game. This completely cut out the adult quest to get the Broken Goron’s Sword — or being an adult at all, for that matter.

Each cutscene after that point would have the camera aimed a little higher than it should, as Child Link took the role of Adult Link in saving Hyrule:

Child Link Princess Zelda Navi Ganon Ocarina of Time speedrun

One of the interesting things about this skip is that while you need the Master Sword to defeat Ganon, there’s a cutscene in which he knocks it out of Link’s hand. Afterwards you can freely pull from the ground the only item that can banish Ganon’s evil — even though you never collected it.

Without needing to collect the Master Sword, but still needing something to catch in a bottle to manipulate the inventory, the new route looked like this:

Known as the Ganondoor route, the first world record using this technique was set by ZFG and cut almost 12 minutes off of the record. That was a 34:59 run in April of 2012, but the door was open for many new entrants on the world record table.

From this point, smaller skips and optimisations would become all-important. But as competitive as it was, there would be more entries onto the world record table than ever before.

The Ganondoor Era

Names such as ZFG, sva, Chocopoptart, Cosmo, Pydoyks, and Makaron would grace this period with constant improvements. The Ganondoor route is still the optimal route today, but a handful of major improvements have been discovered since 2012 that are not only genius, but extremely hard to execute.

We can all bathe Bloobiebla in praise not just for an amazing username, but for discovering how to skip Mido. The obnoxious elf who blocks you from the Deku Tree if you don’t have a sword and shield is annoying at the best of times. You don’t have to be racing against time to hate that freckled clock-blocker.

It turns out there’s a way to clip through the ground and get past him — but getting the angle right takes no small amount of skill:

This was combined with an odd physics glitch in the Tower Collapse scene, in which rolling into a falling rock would propel you backwards very fast — fast enough to clip through a door and fall almost all the way to the Ganon fight.

It was estimated that there was an 8% chance to hit this correctly, and this was a discouraging prospect for many speedrunners. Even if they did everything right, the end of the run might be decided by luck. But an important user named Skater82297 found a concrete way to make sure Link was at the right angle, by targetting and untargetting Zelda on exactly the right frames. It was a difficult technique even for the best speedrunners, but it was reliable.

A user formerly known as Cosmo (now Narcissa) achieved dominance in this period through a combination of skill, optimisation, and an obscure but official Nintendo console from China called the iQue, the text of which was even faster than Japanese. Cosmo scored a time of 18:10 in mid 2014 – a full 50 seconds ahead of any rival – and looked unbeatable:

Schrödinger’s Bottle

By this point, glitch hunters had discovered a way to collect an item without really collecting it.

Let us explain.

Link always was one to celebrate a bit too much when he collects an item, raising his arms to the sky for a fanfare after every new stick and seed. But if players could collect an item while the camera was locked – such as when you come out of a tunnel – they could let an enemy interrupt that indulgent new item animation. This puts the item in a “delayed” state, similar to when you collect an item underwater. Ocarina will wait for you to surface before awarding it to you.

Here’s the tricky part. Ocarina stores a number so it knows which item to give you when you come up for air — and this number can be manipulated before the item is given. By running next to a chest, the stored number of the item you’re “owed” is changed to the negative value of what’s in that chest. Opening the chest would change that back to its normal, positive value.

There’s an easily accessible chest in the Deku Tree with the dungeon map — item value 65. What item corresponds to negative 65? Full points if you guessed it: a bottle. A glorious, game-skipping, Wrong Warping bottle.

Yet there was still the observer effect and Schrodinger’s Bottle wrapped into one conundrum. The very act of opening the chest changes what’s inside it. But what if one could loot it without opening it? All a speedrunner would have to do is trigger the item delay, run next to the chest, then go for a swim and come up for air. Called Get Item Manipulation, it’s the quickest path to a bottle anyone has found so far.

This cut out the entire cucco quest. There was no need to clip out of the Lost Woods, and no need to visit Kakariko Village. It was bound to shave off some time.

Newcomer Jodenstone had been chipping away at Cosmo’s record for months by this point. There’s a moment when a speedrunner realises they’re on track for the world record, and they start to freak out, concentrating on nailing the last few difficult techniques. Jodenstone’s nervous, authentic joy was always a pleasure to watch and after barely pipping the record from Cosmo, he used Get Item Manipulation to further his lead.

Having been involved in the glitch’s discovery, Skater was soon back at the top as well, alongside new challenger Torje. Skater improved the method further by skipping the crawl tunnel, instead clipping through a wall in the Deku Tree to make the game think he was diving when he wasn’t. Not only was this quicker, it got rid of some of the randomness in previous runs, which only had a 12% chance of dropping the necessary Deku Nut.

After some highly competitive trading of the world record, Torje edged out Skater in September of 2018 with a 17:04 run. He includes a heartrate monitor on his stream, which peaks at 174 as he gets past the most difficult sections. The run looks damn near perfect, but we all know better than to say it’s unbeatable.

The following is the current world record run:

From Seven Hours to 17 Minutes

While any Ocarina fan can appreciate the trick jumps and rapid boss kills displayed by modern speedrunners, Any% looks almost indistinguishable from the game we grew up with. Without the above knowledge, it seems downright ludicrous.

We enter the Deku Tree to conjure a bottle out of thin air, beat Gohma in one second with a Deku Nut, take a bizarre detour to the Lost Woods to capture bugs, flip into Gohma’s portal to play our stick like an Ocarina, then walk through the door to find ourselves in the Tower Collapse scene. We then clip through the wall and create a chorus of metallic clanging as we shove a Deku Stick into Ganon, and deliver the coup de grace with the Master Sword we never picked up.

All, of course, while walking backward the whole way.

From the earliest days of seven-hour speedruns to the unrecognisable 17-minute glitch fests, investing time and energy into Ocarina Any% has been a dangerous proposition with fleeting rewards. But the ever-shifting goalposts give this sport new life, and allow new faces to see their username in the #1 spot.

It’s a tough but captivating category with a fascinating history of theorycrafting and sheer determination. We wouldn’t have anything less for the greatest game ever made.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.