Meet the Person Who Is Speedrunning Disneyland

Meet the Person Who Is Speedrunning Disneyland

How do you retrofit video game speedrunning rules over a real-life theme park? This former Lego Island speedrunner has a plan.

When we think of speedrunning, we think of the pomp and circumstance around it. Glitch runs. All boss runs. "People being annoying on the couch behind the speedrunner at Games Done Quick events" runs. Speedruns are in a league of their own in the world of sports-like gaming: because they're more of a community effort than something competitive-minded like other esports.

In a couple weeks, former Lego Island speedrunner Jae Kaplan is tackling a task that no one else has seemingly accomplished before: she's speedrunning Disneyland, a real-world place, with a goal of a little over 13 hours. For Kaplan, Disney theme parks have been a focal point for her entire life. She grew up in Florida, where she visited Disney World semi-often. She now lives in Oakland, California, working as a software engineer, where she has a annual pass for Disneyland, which is located about six-or-so hours south in the city of Anaheim. Kaplan knows the park well, because she lives and breathes it already.

The idea to "speedrun" Disneyland, that is retrofitting similar speedrunning rulesets in doing all the theme parks' attractions listed on the map, started as a joke. And then Kaplan sat on the idea more, and before she knew it she was planning things more concretely.

Lego Island is where Jae Kaplan got her start in speedrunning.

"At a certain point [I] was like, you know what, fuck it. I'm going to try this," Kaplan tells me over Discord. "I came up with some rules for myself and wrote 'em down and put them on my blog, and it was a more popular idea than I had anticipated." Kaplan tweeted about her plans on January 29. In just a few days, the tweet blew up at a bigger scale than she imagined. The initial tweet has been retweeted over a hundred times, liked over 400 times, and Kaplan says she's gained over 80 followers in just a few days. She only had about 800 followers on Twitter before the speedrunning news got shared around.

There's a comparison to draw between the theme park-like wonder of Lego Island that may stem from Kaplan's lifelong enthusiasm for theme parks. Before she broke into Lego Island in particular, Kaplan was just kicking around ideas for games to speedrun. As with Disneyland, Lego Island became an obvious choice for her personally. It's also a challenging game when it comes to speedrunning on modern computers because movement in it is locked to frame rate, meaning the faster the computer, the more unwieldy it is to control. But Kaplan got a handle on it; and for a time, she was the second best in the world at it. Then her setup went kaput and it was onto different things, like plotting a speedrun of Disneyland.

Comparatively, there's actually not too huge of a difference in the structure of a video game speedrun and this theorized IRL (in real life) speedrun. Both require intense research. Both require on the fly finessing if something goes wrong. Both require a deep knowledge of both the routes and the game (or park) itself. Only for the Disneyland speedrun, a lot more pre-planning is required. And by a lot, I mean a lot. Kaplan's even been perusing historical data to compare crowds on similar days of her visit.

"It's mostly just staring at a map for a while with a bunch of spreadsheets open, writing down a bunch of notes and then reading back over them, like does this actually make any sense? Is this actually going to work? And a lot of the time the answer is no," says Kaplan. "The advance planning aspect of it really does make it sort of a different piece to approach [than video game speedrunning]. The other part of it is you can stream a speedrun pretty easily. This is a very hard thing to stream. It's difficult to put 16 hours of real life onto Twitch when you have to be mobile and you can't be plugged into a wall or ethernet." To solve this issue, Kaplan's going to be livetweeting her adventure when she can, sharing pictures for proof of her endeavors, and even Periscoping impromptu streams when she gets the chance.

The Disneyland map that Jae is focusing her run on.

Her run has taken a few forms at this state. In a published blog, she listed off everything on Disneyland's website to decree her 100 percent-ish run of all the park's rides and shows, from fireworks to her favorite ride, the Haunted Mansion. Explaining this to others though, she tells me, has proven cumbersome. In the days since chatting with me, she's opted to roll back a little bit and pivot to an "everything on the map" style of run within the 16 hours the park is open. Or as she says more succinctly, "If it's on the map, I'm doing it." (This apparently doesn't change much from her initial plan, essentially only replacing one show with another.)

There have been other similar "runs" of Disneyland, even if they aren't of the speedrun-specific variety. Only a few online have catalogued their own "all rides in one day" adventures at Disneyland, optimizing the best possible route for the feat. For Kaplan, all rides wasn't enough. She wanted to go bigger.

"By including shows and stuff, you give yourself some tent poles to build around, like the fireworks only happen once at night," she says. Those tent poles come in the form of bigger shows like Fantasmic!, a nighttime show on the waterfront of the area Frontierland, too. By arranging her day around these specific timed events, her speedrun has more structure rather than just being "freeform."

But even then, things are bound to go wrong, just as with any other speedrun. Rides shut down unexpectedly, sometimes for the whole day. Sometimes parades derail pathways to other areas. Sometimes the park gets closed because of a bomb threat or something. (Side note: this actually happened when I went to Disneyland a few years ago; it was wild. Then the park's hours were extended, so I felt bad for all the employees.) I ask Kaplan about these worries, and she affirms that they're in the back of her mind, but hopefully nothing will shut down for too long.

This is the Disneyland Monorail in 1963. Disneyland's changed a lot since then.

"I've literally never been to a Disney park and had everything be up all day. So it's going to happen," she says. "It's most likely going to happen with Indiana Jones Adventure, honestly, which is going to be rough because that ride has some of the longest lines of any given day because it's popular and it's really low capacity. It just gets a lot of lines, so if that goes down, I might be screwed. That might be a run killer."

Kaplan will also be utilizing another secret weapon on her run, in addition to fast passes (Disneyland's free, line-cutting passes that are allotted in small amounts for different times at the park). After sustaining an ankle injury months ago, Kaplan qualifies for the Disability Access Service. This service allows her to go to a line, show her pass, and instead of waiting, say, 70 minutes to ride Space Mountain, she has the option to do something else in the meantime and return at the noted time rather than wait in line. "[This] is intended for resting or eating," she tells me. "But I'm kind of a dumbass, so I'm going to be using it to multitask." Essentially, Kaplan's Disneyland speedrun is almost a glitch run. Only the glitch at her disposal is that she still qualifies for this handicap pass.

Kaplan's big speedrun of Disneyland is on the horizon though. She'll be in Disneyland for a few days in a couple weeks, and on February 11, the speedrun will go down, with its own hashtag (#DLDQ2018) and everything. In the future, I ask if Kaplan has any plans to speedrun other theme parks, from ones local to the San Francisco Bay Area like Great America, or even beyond. But her sights are small for the time being: her focus is only on the grueling speedrun ahead, and if it goes well, maybe even a head-to-head race in the future to see who can do a Disneyland speedrun faster. Maybe even a Disney World speedrun, if she can afford it.

As for the upcoming Disneyland run itself, Kaplan remains optimistic, even if a dreaded Indiana Jones breakdown throws a wrench in things. Her IRL speedrun is bound to be a chaotic time, whether she nets Bonus Points she's set for herself like being chosen as the Rebel Spy on Star Tours to help ease her overall time or not. But it just goes to show: you really can speedrun anything.

Image credits: Header of Disneyland: "Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Anaheim" by Tuxyso is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
"Monorail Station in 1963" by EditorASC is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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