Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sorry, a literal cosmic ion ray boost to your Super Mario 64 speed-run only happens once in a trillion

Illustration for article titled Sorry, a literal cosmic ion ray boost to your Super Mario 64 speed-run only happens once in a trillion
Screenshot: YouTube (Fair Use)

The niche competitive eSport of video game speed-running is a pretty fascinating and intricate medium, with countless variations and hacks to optimize performances down to the literal millisecond. Often, there are detailed strategies to induce the quickest times possible, but there are also plenty of instances of blind luck aiding players. One such situation occurred back in 2013 during a speed-run match of Super Mario 64. Check a clip of the glitch below. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to know the fine details of the situation to understand the surprise from the player.)

The situation was so baffling to veteran Super Mario 64 speed-runners (yes, a real thing), that one prominent player, pannenkoek12, even offered a $1000 reward to anyone who could solve the “ceiling upwarp” mystery. For a while, nobody could naturally replicate the phenomenon, but after some investigation, people realized the answer was so obvious this whole time:

You see, cosmic ion particles from the depths of outer space often rain down on Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a shower of protons and neutrons that occasionally affects electronic devices they encounter. In this case, at ion shower allegedly passed through DOTA_Teabag’s Nintendo 64 console, causing a one-in-a-trillion glitch. Duh!


Anyway, an article on The Gamer did a much better job of explaining the nitty-gritty of what’s known as the “single-event upset” phenomenon late last year:

A single-event upset is a change of a binary state in a bit - either from a 0 to a 1, or vice versa - caused by an ionizing particle colliding with a sensitive microelectronic device. This occurs because of a discharge in the storage elements (the memory bits) after a free charge is created by ionization of the particle near the node.

During the 2013 speed-run, the ionizing particle from space managed to hit the N64 in question and flipped a bit within Mario’s “first height byte,” resulting in a change “which by complete chance, happened to be the exact amount needed to warp Mario up to the higher floor at that exact moment.” The same player who offered the $1000 bounty replicated the game’s script to intentionally include this suspected single-event upset, which finally provided the same results as in 2013.

Unfortunately, single-event upsets are generally just that—single events, meaning any speed-runner hoping for a repeat of the 2013 Super Mario 64 glitch will probably be waiting a long, long time for anything similar to happen again. But that’s probably for the best, because we really can only handle one ridiculous, interstellar randomized act of God at a time.

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Andrew Paul is a contributing writer with work recently featured by NBC Think, GQ, Slate, Rolling Stone, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He writes the newsletter, (((Echo Chamber))).