Posted on November 28 2020 by Emi Curtis
From their inception, video games have always had a little bit of a relationship with chaos. Many games of the earlier eras of gaming were often pieced together with metaphorical duct tape and dreams. While some might turn their nose up to these things as relics of their time, they’ve given birth to the wild world of speedrunning. At this point, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know about the existence of speedrunning, but speedrunning has a wacky cousin that remains largely a mystery to a lot of people: Randomizer Runs.
Randomizers actually go back a lot farther than most realize, all the back to the early 00’s where ROM hackers were rearranging levels within Super Metroid and creating randomized runs of Pokemon Red and Blue. But let’s step back a moment. What actually is a Randomizer exactly? Put bluntly, a Randomizer is a video game ROM that has been hacked and patched to rearrange certain elements based on a predesignated algorithm called a seed. Now, that’s a lot of words that may or may not make sense to some people, so let’s take a look at it in layman’s terms. Randomizers use a specific code to rearrange parts of a game semi-randomly, resulting in everything from items, entrances, enemies, dialogue, sounds, and even game models getting shuffled around. I say semi-randomly as most of the applications that perform these patches have logic built in to ensure the game can still be completed despite the wild rearrangement.
The end result of this is a wild gameplay experience where one could start playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and find themselves playing as a white-coloured Link armed with Din’s Fire, the boomerang, and no sword while the Windmill theme plays inside Link’s House. As they leave Kokiri Woods, Saria speaks dialogue from Kaepora Gaebora, Zelda, and King Zora as she hands you the Serenade of Water instead of the Fairy Ocarina. This is an extreme example, but the insanity doesn’t take long to kick in a lot of the time.
So… Why exactly would anyone want to play this nonsensical Legend of Zelda-Alice in Wonderland crossover? There are plenty who run Randomizers for the laugh of it, but how has an entire community formed around this idea? This is where Randomizers tie in with speedrunning. The unique challenge that Randomizers offer is a new look at classic games you know like the back of your hand. When the Kokiri Sword is in the chest hidden behind the bomb wall on Death Mountain, you have to drop everything you think you know about the game and look at it in a brand new way. In many regards, it’s a way to get to know a game you love in a completely different way.
Like, did you know the Rainbow Bridge to Ganon’s Castle only actually requires the Spirit and Shadow Medallions and Light Arrows in Ocarina of Time? Did you know the Gibdo Mask can be used to enter Ikana Valley in Majora’s Mask instead of the Garo’s Mask? Little facts like these are completely unnecessary for a typical playthrough, but are crucial to know for the sake of completing a Randomizer. Much like speedrunning, Randomizers force you to get to know a video game in a much more intimate sense, learning how the game itself views the world from a programming standpoint.
One of the most interesting parts of randomizers is the degree of customization you have over exactly how the game shuffles things. Among the options available are Glitched runs which mix gamebreaking speedrun tactics with randomizers; Swordless which forces you to get creative with how you dispatch your foes; Enemizers which shuffle enemies around the map as well offering unexpected challenges and twists; and even more settings to to adjust just how hard or easy a run might be by controlling where crucial items can possibly show up like Keysanity and Tokensanity which throw items like small keys and Skulltula tokens into the mix.
In trying to figure out the mysteries and misconceptions around Randomizers, I polled people and collected many of the questions people ask about Randomizers and answered them to the best of my ability.
What is the best randomizer to start with?
Start with the game you love most. Completing a Randomizer run requires a strong sense of where everything in the game is originally, so your best chance of having a good time is to play a game you’re deeply familiar with. Just be prepared to throw out your preconceived sense of progression.
How do I set up a randomizer?
Most Randomizers use something called a Rom Patcher. These are typically a form of executable (.exe) you download, but some are actually hosted online like the very prolific OoT Randomizer and don’t require you to download anything besides the patched rom which means they work on all operating systems. Given piracy laws, all Randomizers will always require you to provide a copy of the original Rom you’re randomizing.
What do I do if I get stuck?
So typically, most Randomizers in addition to the patched rom, will also produce what is known as a Spoiler Log. This is a complete recording of what is in every single location. If you’re absolutely certain you’ve exhausted every option, give it a look and see where the items preventing your progression are. You may be surprised all the locations you didn’t think to check.
What games all have randomizers for them?
You can actually find a fairly comprehensive list of Randomizers right here! There is a range from all across many different video games, but as far as Zelda goes, there are randomizers for every single game all the way up to the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess at the moment. Personally, I use Veetorp’s Link to the Past Randomizer, AmazingAmpharos’s Ocarina of Time Randomizer, ZoeyZolotova’s Majora’s Mask Randomizer, and LagoLunatic’s Wind Waker Randomizer.
Where can I find an item tracker?
There are a couple out there if you just google them, but one of the most notable ones is EmoTracker. A tracker inherently is an excellent tool to have in a Randomizer run, especially if you’re doing it in multiple sessions, and EmoTracker has support for multiple games and can be used as an overlay if you’re streaming.
Where do I find an Emulator?
Strangely enough, Wikipedia actually has a great list of them.
Can I run a randomizer on a console?
It is possible to do so, though it does come with some hurdles. For cartridge-based games, you will require what is known as a rewritable flash cart. It is a pretty involved process setting them up, so I recommend reading up on them elsewhere if you’re interested in that sort of thing. For disk-based consoles, this will require you to mod your system in order to directly download Roms onto the system via Virtual Console or other methods. Regardless of which, Randomizer mods read just the same as typical Roms and will run fine anywhere the original Rom would run.
What is the best Emulator to use for an randomizer?
As stated in the previous question, nearly all Randomizer Roms read exactly the same as their original counterparts. Your preferred emulator usually will run them just fine unless it is heavily modded with additional features such as multiplayer functionality. In that case, refer to the modder’s website for specific guidance.
Is there an overlap between the speedrunning community and the randomizer community?
Very much so. I often personally refer to them as “cousins”. They draw from a similar knowledge base of understanding a games coding and functionality, and many Randomizers offer special logic functions that incorporate glitching and exploitation elements into deciding what items will allow a game to be completable.
In addition, there is also an alternate method of Randomizer play known as ‘routed’. (The method of simply searching around until you find stuff is called ‘blind’) Routed gameplay is in fact actually a time-based challenge where a player is allowed to freely look at the spoiler log prior to playing for a certain period of time and use that to try and design the fastest possible route to complete the particular Randomizer seed. In competitive Randomizer leagues, this is the method you will most often see being played as it tends to be quicker and strategic in nature.
I actually received a couple of more complex and even personal questions in my little poll. I figured to wrap us up, I’d answer those as well.
Has your run ever ended as soon as it began?
Technically yes? One time in playing a Wind Waker Randomizer, I had ‘spawn on random island’ clicked and I spawned on Six-Eye Reef. The cannons there made it basically impossible to board The King of Red Lions before dying. I’m sure with perseverance I could’ve made it eventually, but after dying twice I gave up and just reshuffled it.
What was the longest/most awkward chain you’ve had to get an essential item?
The Anju-Kafei Quest. Whenever anything essential gets swapped with the Wedding Mask it is always a pain since there are so many flags in this quest that have to be ticked for it to actually work as intended.
What attracted you to randos in the first place?
I’m bad at speedrunning, but I still love it, so Randomizers make me feel better about being incompetent.
How is it determined what things can and cannot be randomized in order for it to function? Ie. different types of items, enemies, progress flags in the programming?
Lots of very precise coding. I’m not entirely certain on the details, but from what I understand, every single location has a ‘lock-chain’ attached to it which covers every single item necessary to reach that location. The Randomizer logic then checks the locations of every item in that lock-chain looking for conflicts and follows these branching chains until it reaches an all-clear. Hilariously, this isn’t always perfect. Twice in Majora’s Mask I’ve become locked, first because the Pendant of Memories was the reward for stopping Sakon which would stop Kafei from showing up at his hideout if I claimed it, and the other where the logic didn’t consider needing Epona to reach a certain place. Thankfully in the later case I wound up just bomb jumping.
What is the most ambitious feature in randomizer mods that their developers haven’t been able to implement yet?
Multiplayer Randomizers. There are some beta versions of this available that are a bit unstable, but good heavens, making single player games multiplayer is hard enough, but also making them randomized? Wild idea doesn’t even begin to cover it.
As you can see, the boundary for entry into Randomizers is pretty low so long as you’re already passed the apprehension of emulating video games, and even then, there are legal channels with which to do so if you’re willing to put the time into it. Randomizers offer a lot of the exploration and revitalization elements that speedruns do, but with a much lower skill threshold behind them and a way to enjoy them very casually as well as competitively. Plus they’re fun and goofy and it’s always a laugh to see what weird items and enemies might show up in certain places.
Hopefully this has shed some light on this wild world and prepares you for the return of Randomizer Thoughts on December 1st, our bi-weekly serial on all things randomizers from tips, to league progression, to fun experiences, and new this time around, challenge seeds where you can test your mettle on pre-approved rotations of your favorite games.
What are your thoughts on Randomizers? Did this FAQ help to answer some of the questions you had on Randomizers? What would you like to see show up in Randomizer Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!
Emily Curtis is a junior editor with Zelda Dungeon. She is a freelance artist, crafter and programmer with maybe a bit of an addiction to video games. She can frequently be found playing Randomizer runs of Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker, her two favorite Zelda games. Currently, she is in the midst of writing a Breath of the Wild tabletop rulebook and wildly enjoying Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram as her alter-ego Yuurei, posting art and incites on the world today.