Mario 64 speedrun screencap

Mr. Perfect

Michael Sigler fights to protect his Super Mario 64 speedrun record with a Japanese contender hot on his heels.

By Peter Malamud Smith • August 29, 2012

Every day this month, a 20-year-old named Michael “Siglemic” Sigler is playing Super Mario 64 for 12 hours. Twenty-year-olds playing a lot of Nintendo in the summer aren’t so unusual, but Sigler holds the world record for speed in Mario 64, and he’s trying to beat that record to secure it from a Japanese guy named “Honey” who’s nipping at his heels. (Honey actually took the record briefly on Aug. 10; Sigler, inflamed, got it back before Honey could finish uploading it to YouTube.) You can watch Sigler go for it every day, in a live-streamed video chat room with thousands of other anonymous fans.

If you’ve played Mario 64 enough to know how it’s supposed to go—if you spent the fall of 1996 exploring it, trading tricks with your friends, and maybe even getting your gaming-phobic parents competing over who could get more stars—Sigler’s stream is surreal. Mario 64 gives you an unusually deep set of moves—jumps, flips, dives, and more. Sigler, who was four years old when this game came out, uses all of them in ways that seem impossible, doing in seconds what once took a novice player days. When he’s on, it looks like Mario parkour, a virtuosic dance performance in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Speedrunners have achieved impressive feats of dexterity. A guy named Andrew Gardakis holds the world record in the original Super Mario Bros., rescuing the princess in four minutes and 58 seconds. But Sigler’s performances are even more athletic. They last for an hour and 45 minutes and require the precise execution of thousands of moves. The best possible time is somewhere around 1:39; to get much faster than he already is, he’ll have to be almost perfect.

In practice, nine times out of 10, Sigler messes up in the first five minutes—where “messing up” means overshooting a coin by some fractional distance—and hits the reset button, muttering crankily to himself and his audience. His resets are frustrating to watch, but they also heighten the excitement when he makes it past the first few hurdles. At those moments, I’ve found myself biting my nails with a nervousness not usually associated with “sitting alone in my apartment watching some guy play video games on the internet.”

A few nights back, I watched Sigler make it all the way to Tall Tall Mountain, a world about four-fifths of the way through the game, with a 30-second lead on his record time. His viewership mysteriously doubled, as if the internet had a collective premonition that someone was about to beat Mario 64 really fast, and the tone of the chat room became more anxious. Then, halfway through Mario’s labors on Tall Tall Mountain, he was struck by a cannonball, which made him fall off a cliff, which made him bounce off a mole (there’s really no dignity in this line of work), which made him fall off another cliff, which killed him. While Sigler presumably looked around for a cliff to jump off himself, the chatroom exploded in page after page of variations on “No… NO… NOOOOOOOOOO!” until moderators shut it down.

Siglemic Mario 64 speedrun channel logo

Avid speedrunning fans are generally pretty warm and supportive. But Sigler has attracted a wider audience, and they offer a mix of cheerleading, rote heckling (”Choke! You fucked up! Reset!”), funny heckling (”Guys, be nice—I remember when I first started playing this game and I was as bad as Sig”), random racial slurs, animal faces, and the wordplay and running jokes that tend to metastasize in chat rooms. Every few seconds, someone will yell, “THIS IS THE RUN!” Except no one has said “run” in ages, because they’ve all been saying “THIS IS THE URN!” since the first time some sap mistyped it.

Sigler seems untroubled by his peanut gallery, offering occasional remarks in the narcotized tones you might expect from someone who’s been playing 12 hours of Mario 64 every day for the past month. He’s stoic in the face of what must be serious frustration. Playing the game is literally his job: His subscribers pay $4.99 to watch him play, and everyone else watches ads every few minutes. One needling question about his social life earned the laconic response, “Fuck real life. It’s basically…overrated.” (I’d argue, but then again, I’m alone in my bedroom watching him play Nintendo.) Most of the time, he says nothing—you just hear his controller tapping.

I was once talking about games with a psychologist friend, reflecting on how much of my parents’ “stop rotting your brain” message I’d internalized. “On the other hand,” I said, “I don’t know of anything else that lets you travel so deeply into a fictional world.” He grinned and said, “Psychosis?” Games demand that you disappear down their individual rabbit holes, usually alone. That’s part of their appeal, but it can be isolating, too.

So watching a guy you’ve never met, whose face you’ve never seen, play Mario 64 for a chat room full of invisible watchers should be kind of lonely, shouldn’t it? But I actually feel a weird sense of communion. I might not want to have dinner with most of these knuckleheads, but their enthusiasm’s contagious, because it’s live; if I watched the run later, the excitement would be gone with the crowd.

What might last after the real-time thrill is gone is what Sigler’s runs say about Mario 64 and the old-school design philosophy it embodies. Many newer games deliver a more polished experience at the expense of the player’s feeling of control. In relative terms, they’re less about inhabiting a space and more about being pinballed through a series of impressive set pieces—a trend that makes them more dazzling, but less likely to last.

An example: Sigler’s goal is to collect all 120 stars in Mario 64 in less than an hour and 44 minutes. Super Mario Galaxy, a decade newer, has the same 120 stars, and speedrunners think that seven hours is a reasonable mark. That’s a lot of extra padding for the same basic goal. Galaxy leads you down certain paths at its own pace, halting your progress to play up the drama of its story or to explain things that don’t really need explanation. It’s a roller coaster, but Mario 64 is a playground, throwing you into a dynamic world and letting you make your own way. In that sense, Mario 64 performs an act of game design generosity and humility: it allows itself to be not its own story but a venue for yours.

Of course, some stories are more gripping than others. Like the kind of athletes who aren’t holding Nintendo controllers, Michael Sigler is telling a story that’s not entirely in his control. If you head over to his channel now, you may yet catch the last chapter; whether it’ll end in glorious triumph or mole-bouncing defeat is, delightfully, still up in the air.

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1,312 Responses to “Mr. Perfect”

  1. BarbleBapkins says:

    I am always fascinated by things like this, whether they be speed runs or some other variation on the “I have mastered this game more than anyone thought possible” theme. Its obviously an impressive display of skill, but what I think is the most interesting part is just seeing a game that I thought I was so familiar with being played in such a wholly unfamiliar way. It really is like they are playing their own game that just happens to use the same ruleset as another.

  2. Deceleration Waltz says:

    I was happy to see Sigler manage to beat the green demon to the star in that clip.


  3. Colonel says:

    What amazes me the most about speed runs is all the new tricks and glitches they find on games released decades ago.  A couple months ago people found a new glitch in Ocarina of Time that shaved off an incredible amount of time (in speed running terms).

    You can see it here 
    (it’s worth the half-hour it takes to watch it): http://youtu.be/JbceRzEL3ks

    I find these endlessly amazing.  I’m subscribed to a bunch of them on twitch.tv even though I really only watch them if I’m playing a DS game or whatever.

    • The Otter White Meat says:

      If you listen to the version with commentary, they mention how the Deku Stick is just as powerful as the Master Sword. That’s…if someone had told me that in 1997 I would have laughed in their face.

      • Geo X says:

        Well, as you may know, in A Link to the Past in the fight with Agahnim you didn’t have to use the master sword to deflect his shots; the bug-catching net worked just as well.  So there’s precedent for this sort of thing.

        • The Otter White Meat says:

          One of my gaming shames is having never played much of LttP.

        • ApesMa says:

          In Ocarina you can use an empty bottle to deflect Ganondorf’s attacks in the first part of the fight. The final form of Ganon is the only boss besides the first one to be stunned by Deku nuts, which are also as powerful as the Master Sword if you hit his tail with them.

          In the final swordfight in Twilight Princess you can dangle the fishing rod over his head and he follows it around with his head like a cat, looking stunned and confused.

    • Enkidum says:

      I really want to see a Skyrim speed run.

    • duwease says:

      That Family Feud speedrun is amazing.  Even if you didn’t know what an emulator, speedrun, or video game was.

    • Asinus says:

      THat is insane. I’d never have understood it without the commentary. 

  4. NFET says:

    Damn slow college internet making it impossible to watch a live feed. I’ll just look him up on Youtube. Great article BTW.

  5. onetimeerer says:


  6. ItsTheShadsy says:

    This is terrific. The extremely personal aspect of this story is what really gets me. I often read stories about communities vying for the best time on speedruns, but something about just two people at war over such a footnote of a goal is a great hook.

    It’s easy to say that I’m glad that other people are competing over such things for our entertainment, but this really is a vicarious thrill. I’ll probably start watching the livestream soon.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Yeah, the more general topic of speedrunning (not even TASing, it’s actually a guy using a controller! What a nutter!) being crystallized in the story of one person’s Sisyphusian struggle reminded me a lot of King of Kong.

      I’ve always held speedruns as a sort of morbid curiosity, and tend to watch them with equal parts admiration and confusion, so I really enjoyed this article.

      • onetimeerer says:

        nice film, great sisyphus

      • Sean Smith says:

        I watched a lot of the stream of Steve Wiebe’s attempt at the record at E3 in 2009. He kill screened it but fell short of the record point total. But it’s compelling and you really get into it.

        I’ve been watching this Mario 64 stream for a half hour and he reset like 5 times already.

        • Zack Handlen says:

          Man, the reset–I’m trying to remember the exact contexts (I’ve never done a speed run before, I’m nowhere near patient or good enough), but I can remember doing that over and over again with some games. I think it was always something about getting to a certain point, and needing a certain amount of health, and realizing I was doomed so I’d need to start from scratch.

          Actually, timing was probably involved, although it was always an in-game timing. I just remember the frustration of it, and the nagging sense that what you were doing had stopped being fun, and started being mechanical labor, but being unwilling to give up and move on to something else. And it was the worst when you had to keep resetting over and over near the start of the level; it was like practicing on the piano, and getting to the point where you almost knew the wrong key to press better than the right one. (This is a pretty standard gamer experience, right? Like, there’s always that point when you cross the line between play and work, and you start to hate the game you’re playing more than a little, but you can’t bear to let go.)

          I can’t imagine the kind of patient, obsessive dedication necessary for speed runs. Love watching ’em though. (And reading about them. Great article!)

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

        One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

  7. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    I’m in the top 50 (score) on most levels of Zuma’s Revenge and Chime and was in the top 200 for Peggle for a long time.  The amount of time I’ve spent in puzzle games is truly embarrassing.  But I could never, ever, imagine running through a platform that many times.  The sheer tediousness of doing exactly the same run over and over and over would drive me insane.

    • Girard says:

      And the constantly ramping anxiety, as every bit of progress you make means you have more you stand to lose, drives me bonkers just watching the stuff, much less playing it.

      • Yeah, I have to imagine it’s what I felt while trying to beat the 15-minute melee in SSBM magnified by like a thousand. I don’t think I would ever willingly subject myself to that kind of mental torture, but more power to those who would.

      • BarbleBapkins says:

        There is absolutely no way I could ever attempt something like this (even if I were good enough to do so, which I am reeeally not). I think about 12 stars in my brain would shut off as a self-defense mechanism.

        Knowing one wrong move is all it takes to completely invalidate over an hour of play makes me stressed just thinking about it.

      • Graphite says:

        My last job had an arcade machine with a bunch of classic games from the 80s loaded on it. An office rivalry developed around “Robotron 2084”, and I had a goal to be the first person to break 1,000,000 points on the machine. But every single time I got above 900,000, I started thinking too much about how close I was, and lost the total focus on just playing and being one with the game that it took to survive the higher levels. I hit 900,000 six or seven times, but always spent my last life before I got the magic seven figures.

    • Bad Horse says:

      It’s not torture. In order to even beat the original Ninja Gaiden for NES, you have to get into this sort of zen state where you know exactly, down to the millisecond, when to swing to hit that fucking bird in mid-jump in stage 6-2. That state is sort of its own reward – it’s sort of like a meditation in a way. It’s like playing a musical instrument, where no matter how many times you have to go through a really hard piece to learn it, you can still enjoy the feel of the strings and the sound of the notes, every single time.

      In order to get to be the Steve Vai of Mario 64, like this guy is, you have to love that state way more than most people. I could never do that for the same reason that I’m only a decent guitar player instead of a virtuosic one.

      • Girard says:

         I can see that. I’m definitely not a hard core speedrunner, but my experience as an adult playing ‘Nintendo Hard’ games like Megaman 9 and 10 and Meatboy definitely involves a sort of trance-like dissolution of the ego, where your brain seems to rest entirely in your fingertips.

        I don’t think I could sustain it on a long-term speedrun like the Mario thing, though, as the aforementioned ramping anxiety would pull me out of my trance.

      • When you get in that Zen state, and really master the muscle memory, it’s so rewarding. If you can break through Nintendo Hard, you can break through anything.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        The last time I remember achieving that Zen state on a modern game was Ninja Gaiden Black. It’s really odd, because when you’re in the zone things seem easier but you’re also tense. Then you screw up and return to “normal” and things are harder again until it suddenly returns. Or at least that’s for me, it comes in bursts, I wouldn’t last 1+ hours like that

  8. got linked to this feed earlier in the month, and laughed at the entire concept of it right away and all the nerds who would spend time watching it. then sig launched into a 16 star speed run (ie, getting the minimum amount of stars physically possible and beating the game in 15-20 mins) and I was transfixed. 

    this article perfectly sums up the experience…the surreal perspective on what you thought was a game you knew…the feeling of being in a room full of heckling watchers… the tension of watching something played out live.

    • doyourealize says:

      Your experience of watching the feed echoes my experience of reading this article. I kind of rolled my eyes at first, not being a fan of speed runs and…um…never having played Super Mario 64. However, I was immediately drawn in by Smith’s narrative, despite not really wanting to be at first. A nice personal touch, but also informative of the culture as a whole.

  9. Matthew McGrath says:

    ” Super Mario Galaxy, a decade newer, has the same 120 stars, and
    speedrunners think that seven hours is a reasonable mark. That’s a lot
    of extra padding for the same basic goal. Galaxy leads you down
    certain paths at its own pace, halting your progress to play up the
    drama of its story or to explain things that don’t really need

    Ding ding ding.

    You can play Super Metroid in a 1 hour blast, or a 4-5 hour slog.  Or, you can try a play-through without using the Varia Suit. 

    Then you have Metroid Prime.  Are you having fun exploring these worlds later in the game?  Well, how about we throw those Dark Space Pirates into random rooms, and we’ll lock the exits, and you’ll have to waste time killing them.  Oh, and even better, we’ll have them do a cool long boring intro every single time they appear.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      Not that I want to ruin whatever point you were trying to make, but the speed run record for Metroid Prime is just over an hour long.

    • Kevin_The_Beast_King says:

      You mig

      • Bad Horse says:

        I always sort of liked the interludes, especially on really hard stages where you probably almost broke your freaking neck just now. Good palate cleansers.

        • Girard says:

           Yeah, I think those floaty stretches complement the classic Mario-playground bits quite well. I can see how they’d be a pain for speedrunners, but I don’t think they’re an inherent flaw. (It would be a bit like complaining that I can’t “speedrun” an episode of a TV show or something – though I guess one could always fast-forward an old cassette…)

        • User Googol says:

          Yeah, and it’s not like the interludes are complete dead air gameplay wise, since the game will throw starbits at you to grab.

  10. bunnyvision says:

    It almost makes me sick to watch this. Especially because of the activity in the chatroom. Is this the kind of company I keep…?

    • bunnyvision says:

      A rare highlight of the terrible chatroom: ”
      “this shits so easy for me. i can get the wr ~anytime i want~” -siglemic 2012, on most shirts worn at once record”

      • bunnyvision says:

        Also. I’ve seen him do the first few levels twice now and it is absolutely unreal. It’s absolute genius applied to the crassest artform imaginable.

  11. bunnyvision says:


  12. Enkidum says:

    This is a fine article. 

    I think anyone commenting here (especially those who migrated from AVC) can appreciate the solitary consumption of online content, and commenting about it to strangers thousands of miles away. Especially if those comments involve when you someone urn it. 

    Also, I haven’t played much Nintendo in… uh… a decade or something, so can’t be sure about this – if I’m talking out my ass my apologies. But I’m not sure I would agree that the differences you mention between Super Mario Galaxy and Mario 64 stem from different design philosophies. Galaxy is just a… longer game. Does it really have less freedom of movement or ability to control that movement than Mario 64?

    In principle, someone could do that 7-hour speed run, and it would just be like watching a 10,000m race rather than the 100m sprint of Mario 64. They’re both people running from A to B. Well, alright, Mario 64 is more like a half marathon in terms of how long it takes, and SMG is, I dunno, like me running a marathon or something. But the point is that SMG is just a longer version of the same sport as M64. Sure, the coins are rarer and harder to get, but in principle that just makes getting them all the more impressive.

    Probably also makes them more boring to watch. But at any rate, I don’t imagine early designers were thinking about speed runs when they placed the coins – speed runs are kind of like exploits in that respect. So I don’t think the 7 hours it would take is because of different priorities on the part of the designers, just the inevitable result of having massive amounts more storage space and man-hours.

    But again, I’m talking here about games that I really haven’t played, so it could be that all of the above is nonsense. Anyways, it’s nice to read something this thoughtful on a Tuesday night.

    • Bad Horse says:

      64 and Galaxy really have fundamentally different designs, if you ask me. The moves are the same, and that’s about it. 64 is closer to a perfect information game – you can see more of the playfield at any given time, and you can explore the stages at your own pace. 

      Galaxy gates off sections of their levels in such a way that you can never really know what’s next unless you go through the gate. You can’t see the next rock that the next warp star will launch you to unless you go through it, and the path could be something you would never guess. 

    • TreeRol says:

      Your likening these games to actual runs is interesting, and leads me to wonder if there’s some kind of gaming Olympics. Get the 8 best SMB speedrunners together and have them compete against each other, live, simultaneously. Winner is the player who performs the best at that very moment. Setting a World Record is nice, but incidental.

      I’d actually watch that.

  13. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    Playing the game is literally his job: His subscribers pay $4.99 to watch him play

    Wait, people pay real money to watch some loser play a game for hours? Mrs Stew Bum used to often drop by the living room to watch me fail at the Uncharted 2 multiplayer and didn’t pay me a damn thing. Clearly this “Siglemic” character is a far more savvy businessman than I could ever hope to be.

  14. EmperorNortonI says:

    I’ll occasionally get hit by this sort of bug, in a very minor way.  I got every gold medal on every special training challenge in the original PC Worms Armaggedon, and got to the very top rank in the knockout mode.  Those were both ridiculous, especially getting gold on Ninja Rope, which took far more time than all the others combined.  But I did it. 

    Most of the time, though, I just can’t bring myself to really care, and deliberately work to avoid anything approaching a completest approach, especially if it’s an RPG.  The diversity of game experience is more important than pure mastery, except when I find that perfect challenge that just speaks to me in a personal way, and I find that playing as completest tends to make games WAY TOO EASY once I finally get around to the main quest/storyline/whatever.

    • Girard says:

      “I find that playing as completest tends to make games WAY TOO EASY once
      I finally get around to the main quest/storyline/whatever.”

      I’m far from a completist, but I can sympathize with this. I still remember Jenovah and the first Sephiroth both going down after one bout of ‘Knights of the Round’ and thinking maybe I was playing the game wrong…

      It’s strange how often in (J)RPGs, the joy of finding some awesome secret weapon or conquering some awesome secret dungeon comes at the cost of some of the joy of actually completing the normal game properly.

      • Bad Horse says:

        I haven’t played a JRPG to completion since PS1 times, but I always found it extremely strange that they never implemented a real difficulty system, or leveling enemies, or any of the other things that tend to keep American RPGs better-paced. Not even Chrono Trigger.

        • Girard says:

           Well, I think they’re mainly different design priorities than one being inherently more effective than the other. Fallout, the WRPG par-excellence, is so open-ended that you can totally buck its pacing and beat the game in under 10 minutes.

          Even so, though, it does seem that (at least in my limited experience) WRPGs don’t tend to have an ‘ultimate weapon’ (or tech/spell) for a character that almost breaks the game, whereas that seems to be the case in many JRPGs. (I usually end an FF game feeling like I’m ‘walking into Mordor,’ which I haven’t enountered in a Fallout game) JRPGs have tried to address this in different ways, like making acquiring these weapons an increasingly byzantine and complex process, or by adding sort of meta-game accomplishments like peripheral ultra-bosses that can become the object of challenge-oriented players once they’ve out-leveled the main quest. How well these strategies work probably depends on who you’re talking to.

          Maybe it comes down to stat complexity? While JRPG characters usually have a number of stats (including enigmatic ones like “vigor” which I always leveled up on Breath of Fire out of some stupid sense of irony), the only meaningful number that steadily increases is ‘experience,’ which usually just bumps you up levels, and automatically increases all of your other stats. Whereas WRPGs, with their emphasis on character creation, usually have you constantly selecting and increasing different idiosyncratic stat sets that lead to different ways of winning. So a typical JRPG has you basically just going straight up the EXP ramp the whole game, meaning if you take the time to do sidequests and so on, you’ll be wildly overpowered by the end. Whereas WRPGs might have a sidequest that just boosts your charisma in a certain city, or gives you an optional non-combat item that is useful for some event down the time, but doesn’t necessarily make you more ‘powerful’ in a combat/stat sense (since that sidequest would be useless for someone playing as a charismatic diplomat).

          I’m out of my depth here, as the entirety of my WRPG experience is 1.5 old-school Fallout games and KOTOR 1. People can jump in and correct me if I’m totally wrongheaded about this.

        • Travis Stewart says:

          Eh, WRPGs still have a ton of them. Combat is at the heart of enough of these games that developers still include them, even if diplomatic options exist (and plenty of titles don’t pay attention to diplomacy at all). Consider the +5 weapons from Baldur’s Gate 2, Starfang from Dragon Age: Origins, the DLC weapons in Mass Effect, Fallout 3’s Gauss Gun, weapons made using the alchemy system in The Elder Scrolls (as well as pre-made weapons, like Goldbrand in Morrowind), and so on. Even the Ultima series provided one in the Black Sword.

        • alguien_comenta says:

          Resonance of Fate has difficulty settings, you might want to try that one out. You can still “break” the main story with the side quests but it’s pretty hard

      • Geo X says:

        Ya use knights of the round, of course you’re going to win easily.  Not that there’s any reason not to; they stuck it in there, but still.  Of course the actual process of GETTING knights of the round would be insanely difficult without looking up an faq, so I guess it balances out.

  15. El Zilcho says:

    Wait a moment, there’s a SECOND WARP ZONE in World 4-2 in Super Mario Bros.?? How am I only learning about this when I’m 31 years old?? I spent all the time setting up those blocks and climbing the vine for NOTHING.

  16. I’ve spent hours marveling at the speed runs over at http://speeddemosarchive.com/. 

  17. MinecraftHolmes says:

    I still prefer the Let’s Play by a Something Awful goon who played the entire game with his feet.

  18. JokersNuts says:

    Very cool.  These Speed-Run guys always amaze me, I feel like I’m watching someone go “Matrix” on these games.

  19. woca386 says:


  20. Colliewest says:

    I just clicked the link and he was in the last few seconds of a new world record. I didn’t believe it was live thought it was a rerun so I signed up and my name popped up in the chat room. Bonkers.

  21. This is a strange kind of athleticism where hours and hours of practice and perfection gets as much praise as it does disapproving head shaking. Just based on the comments on this article alone, there are as many people who are awestruck by his mastery of the game as there are people who are sure this is an unhealthy obsession.

    It’s a polarizing hobby first because it’s video games, and second because speedruns can really only be appreciated by players who are familiar with the mechanics of the game. Only then can we understand how some of the tricks displayed really do seem superhuman at times.