Niftski is a Different Kind of Keyboard Warrior

Jason Bennett,

May 16, 2021 1:09 PM

A Q&A Session with the Speedrun champ of Super Mario Bros.

In April, speedrunner Niftski set the gaming world abuzz with a new record on the NES classic Super Mario Bros. (Any%) where he achieved the world's first sub-4:55 time, clocking the game at 4:54.948. I recently caught up with Niftski for an email interview to chat about early days on the PC, the way of the keyboard, and what comes next.

Twin Galaxies: When did you get your start with gaming?

Niftski: I've been gaming since I was about 3 years old, and I played a variety of games.

TG: What was your "entry" point into gaming (eg. console, PC) and what titles were among your favorites when you first started?

N: My entry point into gaming was on PC, and I rarely ever played on console, but I played SMB1 on console a lot at a young age. I started off playing PC flash games for the most part.

TG: How did your initial foray into gaming evolve into a full-fledged interest in speedrunning?

N: I never really had too much interest in speedrunning, but I got into it in early 2019 after finding love for SMB [Super Maro Bros.] 1 speedrunning. Playing other games on computer really helped me become good at SMB1 quickly, as I was already used to playing a lot of other games on keyboard.

TG: There are thousands of games that are tracked at How did you end up actively pursuing records on a 36 year old title for the Nintendo Entertainment System [NES]?

N: After finding the SMB1 speedrunning community, it brought back many memories of when I played SMB1 as a child, so I gave it a try and had so much love for it that I ended up grinding it at least a few hours a day.

TG: How important is the community that builds up around a game to drawing you in to compete on it?

N: The community was a very important factor in drawing me into speedrunning SMB1. Through speedrunning the game, having people there to support me through the ups and downs makes the experience much more enjoyable and keeps me motivated to keep grinding.

TG: How long have you been actively pursuing to break the 55 second barrier?

N: Ever since Miniland got his former world record run of 4:55.230 on 2/4/21, me, LeKukie, Miniland, Thelxinoe, Tree_05, AldynSpeedruns, and jscarbo started the race for 4:54 to see who would become the first person to break the 4:55 barrier. Some people grinded 4:54 daily (like I did), and others touched on 4:54 attempts less frequently.

TG: What do you think were the crucial ingredients in setting you up for a new speerun record?

N: The crucial things that set me up for the SMB1 WR [world record] were the findings of TAS 8-2 framerule not needing a fast acceleration at the start of the level (found by Kriller37) and the implementation of the hardest flagpole glitch in the game in 8-1, which requires a fast acceleration at the start of the level to speed up slightly faster and a flagpole glitch from the top step of the staircase.

Niftski executes the flagpole glitch that allows the player to complete the level without waiting for the flag to descend [Source: Niftski YT]

TG: In your speedrun, you played Super Mario Bros in emulation, which gave you the option to use your keyboard versus a D-pad controller. As someone who's only ever played SMB with a D-pad, your expert use of the keyboard was a thing to behold. Are there any great debates in the community about keyboard versus D-pad along the lines of Coke versus Pepsi, or is it completely a non-issue?

N: Using keyboard is not an issue with this game because it gives no unfair advantage over controller, and emulation for this game is 100% accurate. Everyone in the community knows that this is an acceptable option for speedrunning this game, however, it's people that generally don't know much about the game that try and discredit my run for not playing on original hardware. The reason I play on keyboard instead of a controller is partially because I grew up playing everything on keyboard, so I'm already super used to playing it on there. Another misconception people have is that they believe I am doing left + right during my runs (an input that is impossible on an NES controller and also can be abused to save time), however, this is also not the case. It is a requirement to have a setting on in your emulator settings that prevents left + right from being inputted, and I have to have that on at all times for my run to be accepted, or else it is unfair because you cannot do that input on an unmodded NES controller.

TG: Now that you've broken the 55 second barrier and taken Super Mario Bros into uncharted territory, where do you think things go from here? Do more players jump in or does the competition become more rarified given the immense skill required to compete at the top level?

N: I think the competition has become a bit more rarified since the world record is extremely optimized at this point. There are still players like Miniland, LeKukie, and Thelxinoe that are actively running this game, and I have no doubt in my mind they will be the next to achieve a 4:54. I am also certain that my 4:54 will not be world record before 2022 rolls around, as they are also top level runners of the game and have gotten extremely close to also achieving this time.

TG: In addition to SMB, are there any other speedrun records that you're eyeing?

N: Yes, I recently broke the SMB2J / Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels WR with a time of 7:53.570, and 2 days later, improved it with a 7:52.721! I am now going to be grinding other category extensions WRs for SMB1, as well as trying out some other Super Mario Bros. rom hacks. I also might go for the Warpless WR, which I have former world record in with an 18:58.658 which got beaten a day later by GTAce99 with a 18:57.926.

TG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today!

For more speedruns and related gaming, you can catch Niftski on Twitch channel


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