Moments in Speedrunning History: The 11-person simultaneous world record in “Home Alone” at AGDQ 2020

Cypherin & McAaronIce share a hug after the 11-Person WR, AGDQ 2020 (Photo: YouTube VOD)

At Awesome Games Done Quick 2020, 11 speedrunners gathered together to attempt to achieve something that had never been done before: an 11-person simultaneous speedrunning world record. And the game was “Home Alone” on the NES. This is the story of one man’s plan, and over a dozen people’s hard work, to pull off an achievement that had never been done before… and as of this article, hasn’t been done since.

Part One: The “Home Alone” NES Speedrun

Before we can discuss the event itself, I do think it’s a great idea to quickly touch on the speedrun for “Home Alone” on the NES itself, as it’s a unique run in so many ways. While most games can be optimized and grinded down further and further, as of this moment it’s a game that is already tapped out in potential. That is why today, as of the writing of this article, 177 people are tied to the frame for the World Record in this game.

For starters, this game has a specific time length in which it can be played. Specifically, 19:58 (just shy of 20 minutes flat, thanks to the NES’ frame rate being slightly over 60 FPS, 60.09). This intentional design choice makes Home Alone a very unique game in the NES’s library. Instead of trying to beat the game as fast as you can, runners must instead survive Marv and Harry’s shenanigans for twenty minutes straight. You have a plethora of traps sprinkled around Kevin McAllister’s house, and Kevin (you) must pick them up, run and hide, and avoid the burglars so that you can outlast them until the police arrive and take the Wet Bandits back to jail.

The speedrun does have one major feature in its’ route that makes it significantly easier to run than a casual playthrough might be: there’s a MAJOR glitch that freezes Marv and Harry, allowing you to literally put the controller down and just wait for the clock to reach 19:58. Luckily, by utilizing two specific traps in very specific spots, you can trick Marv and Harry into getting stuck! This requires an easy-to-learn, and relatively easy-to-execute setup, that might take a few tries to get down. However, with a little practice, you can trap the Wet Bandits and set the controller down; as long as you don’t pause or your game doesn’t crash, you have now accomplished an NES world record!

“I went to sYn’s stream (in December 2019) and he was playing Home Alone for a Christmas thing, and I saw him perform the glitch,” MCAaronIce, the organizer of the 11-person WR event, told us in 2022. “I’m not really a speedrunner, so practicing with save states on emulator and such isn’t something I do that often. But I thought that this was easy enough to execute that I could do it as well, so I tried it, and it proved to be very random and inconsistent. So I decided to look for ways to make it better; to make it easier to execute. And I figured out a way to make it work every time.”

MCAaronIce made this amazing tutorial that teaches folks how to get the WR in “Home Alone” on NES.

Utilizing a specific combination of traps in precise locations, Kevin can trap Marv and Harry in a spot where they get stuck. After the two antagonists are frozen, Kevin cannot be caught by them any longer (as long as he doesn’t mess with them). Aaron decided to create a short tutorial video where folks would be able to learn the setup he discovered in a short period of time, making it consistent and simple enough for any person to learn. This means that the speedrun becomes more of a “set the trap” up run than anything else, but this also raises the question that MCAaronIce, thought up.

“I’ve seen it where, ya know, 2 people went for a world record at the same time,” Aaron told us, “but they typically already have the record, or it’s a co-op run, something like that. So seeing something like three people at the same time was a cool idea I had. But why stop there? Why not try to get as many people as we can together to try this?” And thus, the 11-person AGDQ challenge was born.

Part Two: Creating a Collaboration

Aaron decided to try to collaborate with Games Done Quick leading into AGDQ 2020, in the hopes of getting a panel or dedicated room for him to be able to not only set the event up, but to do the event with minimal distractions, both for others trying to enjoy AGDQ, but also for the participants in the event that needed to focus. Unfortunately, the only space that was made available for this Home Alone attempt was the main practice room.

“I had my eyes on a table,” Aaron said, “and once we had one, we started going around, collecting all the CRTs I could find… since ya know, that was the first GDQ where they really switched from CRTs to LCD panels with RetroTink (2x’s). It made it challenging since there weren’t that many CRTs to go around, so we grabbed every one that we found that wasn’t being used.”

Of course, that wasn’t the only challenge Aaron faced. He needed enough NES consoles and enough copies of either Home Alone, or another way to play the game such as an NES Everdrive or PowerPak flash cartridge. And lest we forget, he needed speedrunners to join the fray. Luckily, at a GDQ, those are in plentiful supply, and he was able to not only show the glitch off to anyone in the practice room that was willing, but that segued into an easy proposition: join the event and get a world record with a group of talented runners, and make history!

The 11 runners (some aren’t in frame) playing “Home Alone” at AGDQ 2020.

Aaron was able to recruit some awesome retro and NES speedrunners. Joining him in the attempts that took place were 10 other speedrunners: JSR_, BoosterShane, Apollo22237, coolkid, GreenZSaber, KLM1187, Flipsider99, z_tox, Cypherin, and MetroidMcFly (from left to right in the video). With the help of others in the retro scene, he was also able to get the CRTs, consoles, and carts to attempt the feat. World 9 only had about 4 NES consoles, so a few people in the retro scene lended their consoles to him to set this thing up.

The table was set, the people were ready. There was only one thing left to do…

Part Three: The 11-person world record at AGDQ 2020

The attempts began harmlessly enough. Eleven people lined up at a table to the side of the main area of the AGDQ practice room, all with the same game playing at the same time, filling the room with the songs of a forgotten NES game that was proudly proclaiming that it was enjoying the moment, one that the original programmers no doubt had no idea would ever become a reality.

All the CRTs lined up showing the WR run in progress. (Photo: JSR’s YouTube)

“It was kind of incredible, hearing eleven CRTs blaring out the droning siren that was the music (of Home Alone),” Aaron laughed. “At first, nobody really cared, but it didn’t take long to see a crowd gathering around us, wanting to see why there were so many people playing this game at the same time. I was mostly just concerned with someone bumping the table, because as you know, the NES is a fickle beast. I didn’t want anyone bumping their console, or accidentally pressing buttons on their controller, or perhaps kicking the camera, so you know, I was very aware of what was happening around us. I was keeping a close eye on things.”

Fortune smiled upon Aaron in the preparation for the attempts, as the leaderboard before this event was relatively small. At the time of AGDQ 2020, there were only 15 people on the leaderboard! In addition to this, there was only one moderator, and he happened to be present at the event!

“NESCardinality was at AGDQ, and so I approached him and asked him if he would watch us do runs. Having live verification from the only moderator on the board, I mean c’mon, you can’t beat that.” NESCardinality happily obliged, coming over to the table where Aaron was setting up. “He looked at the setup and then looked at me, and he asks me, ‘Wait a second, you don’t mean you’re doing all of this at the same time?’ I told him yes, and he smiled (and said), ‘Yes! This is amazing!'”

“I think this is gonna bring the total up to (26) people,” NESCardinality said immediately before the runs were attempted, in a separate video JSR shot during the event. “It’s a very exciting and momentous occasion; it’s GDQ history! And, to my knowledge, it’s the first time anywhere near this many people have set a world record, at the same time. Like, within a second!”

The 11-person WR at AGDQ 2020 (credit: MCAaronIce)

Once the attempts began, a crowd started to form around the table, with notable speedrunners such as Darbian and Sinister1 watching these eleven brave souls running through an 8-bit mansion. As the resets began to mount, and the gravity of the difficulty of even something as relatively simple as this to coordinate into a simultaneous finish was growing heavier and heavier, it seemed as if they wouldn’t be able to sync the runners into the run. Luckily, Aaron wasn’t phased.

“I purposely made sure that nobody that learned the run (from me) finished a run. Even in practice. I wouldn’t even let myself finish a run. I think the anticipation of getting the record made the excitement a little more real, especially with all of those NES’s running at the same time. Plus, even though we were resetting, it was always some minor mistake. So I knew it was going to happen.”

The end screen for “Home Alone” when the player dies. We saw this often.

It took 23 attempts. Each of the previous, one of the eleven runners would make a minor mistake, which was enough to cause them to reset, but it was encouraging to see that the runners were getting more consistent and closer to the end goal with each try. On attempt number 23, each runner, one-by-one, finished their setups, and looked around to see if someone had made a mistake.

This time, they didn’t.

Despite the game being a meme run, with a world record that anyone can get with an afternoon of effort, the reality of what they had just accomplished was starting to sink in, and by the time that timer began to tick down to zero, the crowd was eagerly anticipating the end screen popping up on all 11 monitors. When it did, a cheer erupted.

“I think it was very exciting to see all those old CRTs showing the ending at the same time, but I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal at the time. But looking back on it now, I can see why it was so notable. Because you didn’t really ever see anything like that happen, especially at a GDQ.”

Part Four: The Aftermath

MCAaronIce edited the run into a wonderfully-done video showcasing the record-setting attempt in all its’ glory. But that wasn’t the only reason that Aaron went through all the trouble of not only organizing this event, but also making the tutorial and teaching people the speedrun. Thanks to the tutorial and the video gaining some notoriety, in the two-plus years since AGDQ 2022, the leaderboard’s tied WR has expanded from 15 people to over 175.

It was a spectacle to behold: after the end screen flashed on all 11 TVs at the same time, the practice room erupted into cheers and applause. It was inspiring, to say the least.

If you’d like to see the final countdown, you can view this clip (from MCAaronIce’s YouTube page) here:

“I think that (the Home Alone WR challenge) is a great segue into speedrunning for anyone that doesn’t think they can speedrun. I think anyone can learn a speedrun, and it’s not as daunting as it appears.” Aaron can take pride in knowing that his tutorial video has nearly the same amount of views as the actual run does, and is filled with comments mentioning that he helped them get the world record as well! “I hope it inspires people to try challenges and speedruns like this, instead of just picking up a game and, you know, running any% and that’s it. Because there’s so much potential there, eventually you could expand games and categories, (and discover) different and fun ways to approach speedruns.”

I personally would love to see more challenges such as this. Obviously, in speedrunning, there are only so many games that could be approached with this sort of challenge in mind, but in this author’s opinion, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. Aaron is proof-positive of this. Approaching games and challenges with an open mind and a creative attitude can lead to events such as (or even possibly surpassing) this popping up at a future event.

The sky really is the limit. Just don’t tell Marv and Harry that.

The leaderboard on January 1, 2020. This was how the leaderboard looked, shortly before AGDQ 2020.
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