A Brief Explanation On Subpixels In Super Mario Bros.

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When learning about Super Mario Bros. speedrunning, you’ll hear many references to “subpixels.” Tinier than a regular pixel, these subpixels actually play a huge role in performing many tricks in Mario speedrunning.

What are subpixels and how do they work? We’ve got the answers here.

What Are Subpixels?

Subpixels are units of distance that are smaller than a pixel rendered on screen. So while you won’t be able to see these types of pixels, they are there and play a role in the gameplay. In Super Mario Bros., there are 16 subpixels for every pixel rendered.

Subpixels allow for more fluid movement options in Mario than the game’s standard pixel count can render. By using subpixels, Mario is able to move slowly and pick up speed at a more realistic pace.

Speedrunning tricks that involve subpixel manipulation will refer to a “subpixel value.” This value depends on Mario’s position on the screen; by moving to the left, you decrease the subpixel value and by moving to the right, you increase it.

What Do Subpixel Values Do?

Certain subpixel values allow Mario to interact with the levels in specific ways; this includes clipping through blocks or pipes, or performing a wall jump. In speedruns, this can lead to tricks that allow players to skip levels or even entire worlds.

By learning what subpixel values are needed to pull off said tricks, and knowing that movement affects the subpixel count, players can develop strategies to get the proper subpixel count needed to consistently pull off these high-level tricks. An example of this is setting up the wall jump in 8-4 in Super Mario Bros. 

Manipulating Subpixels

While it might not sound that difficult, getting the proper subpixel and pulling off tricks in Mario speedrunning is incredibly difficult; it requires in-depth knowledge of how subpixels are manipulated in each respective game, as well as many frame-perfect inputs to execute consistently.

Luckily, the speedrunning community has developed guides for helping people learn, as well as mods that allow players to see their subpixel count in real time. For those looking to take their speedrunning to the next level, proper knowledge and practice surround subpixels is an absolute necessity.