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 Post subject: Formula 0
PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 4:05 pm 
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So I've been watching sim racing on YouTube lately. Also F1 highlight reels and historical stuff. Since I'm a long-time F-Zero fan, this is all very interesting.

As a result, I'm starting to appreciate the long-form race, where it's more about maintaining a consistent pace rather than a desperate dash to the finish line (and if a spectator has to pee, it's "did I miss anything?" rather than "did I miss the race?"). The great thing about this is that F-Zero GX is hiding a game mode that actually allows you to race this way, sort of.

Practice mode, 20 laps, no recovery, 29 master-level opponents. Don't use boost for the first lap (the AI drivers will, but it's a decent handicap). Don't use momentum throttle, snaking, or any other cheesy physics-breaking technique; just try to go fast with normal driving techniques. Don't use attacks - I once decided to seize an opportunity to kill Mighty Gazelle in the midst of a tight battle on Sand Ocean: Surface Slide, and I sorely regretted it because now I'll never know if I could have beat him. For maximum immersion, go for cockpit view, and either pretend the actual cockpit is hidden by a holographic surround display or ignore the fact that you can't see it.

It's great - a lot of the courses range from a bit under a minute per lap to around a minute fifteen, so you can get 20-25 minutes of solid knife-edge concentration, and the results can range from an abject loss ([cough]Phantom Road[/cough]) to a super tight race to lapping the whole field, depending on the course and on your machine and setup (and how well you drive, obviously). It keeps track of your recent lap times on screen, highlighting your personal best, and the time delta to your rival that shows up at the start/finish line is way more useful than it is in the actual Grand Prix mode.

This would probably not work as well in X with its blatant rubber-band AI, but the AI in GX is believable enough that it feels like a race - it feels like if you gain a second per lap, you're doing that much better against your rival, and if he keeps up it means he's pushing harder. I've had tight battles where my rival actually pushed too hard and DNFed, and I finished several seconds ahead of the guy behind him. I've had a race where after 20 minutes of intense battling I won by less than a third of a second, and I've had a race where I lapped my rival and came in nearly a minute ahead. It's a far cry from X Cup, where during lap 3 you literally can't catch your three designated rivals until right near the finish line where they slow way down for no reason...

...

There needs to be a VR F-Zero kiosk game, with real physics and a consistent, detailed technology concept and ruleset. Force feedback wheel and brake pedal, motion rig, tracking gloves, retinal resolution, the works. Maybe a disposable barf bag attached to the headset... Multiplayer Grands Prix (the big thing missing from all F-Zero games to date). Home version too, AX/GX style, with support for VR and sim racing equipment. Unfortunately Switch is probably not up to this in its current form, but who knows what Nintendo's partnership with Nvidia could produce in future?

In addition to the futuristic hovering courses, there could be a few classic courses, like Monza (including the oval) and the Nürburgring (the real Nürburgring, not the GP course). Can you imagine the hilarity of F-Zero at Monte Carlo? Obviously these would be the 26th-century versions of these courses...

I'm still working on the technology concept for a real-physics F-Zero machine. The new hotness is floor suction, which looks like it may make it easier to design a fun game that's recognizably F-Zero, but could actually justify momentum throttle and even blast turns if I'm not careful...

Sadly, the market probably isn't there for this. F-Zero is not Gran Turismo, which has esports events at famous race venues around the world with live commentary in several languages and guest appearances by people like Lewis Hamilton. But I do kinda wonder if, properly handled, it could grow a niche. Smash certainly has...

...then again, Smash has the advantage Gran Turismo does, which is that it has ready-made fans because the content is from other stuff that people are already fans of. F-Zero is its own thing, and you have to be sold on F-Zero specifically to become a fan of it.

Also, perhaps even more importantly, Smash and Gran Turismo have full-fat multiplayer. F-Zero does not. This seems like an easier thing to fix, but it may be necessary to dial back the built-in bloodthirstiness because nobody is going to join an hour-long 50-lap Grand Prix (or a 3-lap sprint race for that matter) if there's a 90% chance they'll be deliberately wrecked before finishing the second lap. Removing the dedicated attack moves seems like a reasonable approach to me; the machines have shields, which means they're much better suited to surviving accidental punts from bad drivers (or "accidental" punts from dirty drivers) than anything in iRacing.


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:24 pm 
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.then again, Smash has the advantage Gran Turismo does, which is that it has ready-made fans because the content is from other stuff that people are already fans of. F-Zero is its own thing, and you have to be sold on F-Zero specifically to become a fan of it.


Set the racing game in Becky Chambers' the long way to a small angry planet universe, it's got the perfect space opera intergalactic weirdo species for this sort of thing. Engines are algae based but can be boosted by a precious substance known as amby. Not so big that it’d be completely impossible to make a deal for a smaller studio. Then again.. not the fanbase of mario and pikachu.

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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2019 3:48 am 
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Yeah well I don't know about amby salad engines, but I really think they should expand on the canon space opera universe (so not the non-canon anime story). The story mode in GX, Falcon Densetsu and Climax was among my favourite modes. That's one thing F-Zero has that Gran Turismo doesn't, a universe with tons of characters, use that.
A story mode with an upgradable machine that you have to buy parts for, or why not something like a quest mode kind of like in Final Lap Twin for PC-Engine (a racer-RPG hybrid with racing challenges replacing battles). That would please me at least.
You maybe start out with a machine you put together from things you found in a junk yard, and you participate in underground bet races until you can afford to participate in a real F-Zero grand prix. While doing that you have to fight off space pirates, gangs and stuff.

And yes there are no more excuses to not include multiplayer in GP anymore. In the past it may have been a technical limitation, but surely the Switch can do an F-Zero GP with 30+ machines including 4 human players at least. And with the online service available they should at least make it on par with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

But I don't think the attack move has to go. F-Zero is supposed to be a dangerous race where only the bravest/craziest pilots participate to entertain the rich merchant sponsors. One of the fun parts in F-Zero X multiplayer mode was trying to squash your brother at the start of the race, and since human-controlled machines was stronger he wouldn't die from it, often it just sends him in hyper speed forwards or backwards but with significant damage, so attacking was a gamble. And even dying wasn't so bad because you could at least play the slot machine and hope for revenge. Removing the slot-machine in GX was unforgivable, it has to come back in F-Zero Switch.

As for realistic physics, F-Zero may be a "cartoon racer" but I also don't think it wouldn't benefit from a little more realism. It may be hard to do away with things like rubber-banding but I'd prefer they didn't include so many counterintuitive tricks like snaking and momentum throttle. The game should be fully beatable with realistic driving skills alone.

The VR idea isn't bad either, although F-Zero needs to be accessible without expensive accessories as well.

BTW what's the thing with that attachment?


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2019 8:20 pm 
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Apologies for the long post, but apparently I've been holding back some pressure on this topic... I get enthusiastic about this stuff, and with nobody to talk to about it and no realistic prospect of implementing it any time soon, it just builds up.

Pokun wrote:
story mode

That's another direction they could go in. There's quite a lot of room for expansion there, and a number of ways they could approach it.

It could be interesting to have non-racing gameplay in the story mode - Captain Falcon is supposedly a bounty hunter, but has famously never used his gun since the Scale Head encounter in the original comic, and has never even pulled it out since the mob boss encounter in the same comic.

One question is how cheesy to make it. Whether to attempt to top GX, or do a gritty, subtle, realistic story (to match the realistic physics), or something in between. (You want gritty? Do a mission as Pico.)

At first sight, this idea of expanding the story mode clashes a bit with the idea of a sim-like F-Zero, and non-racing gameplay especially clashes with a wheel-and-pedals sim rig. You'd almost have to make The Adventures of Captain Falcon a separate game; otherwise it's kinda like welding together a Batman game with Assetto Corsa Competizione... but the idea of working your way up from the junkyard is a bit different, and more similar to how Gran Turismo actually works...

Quote:
But I don't think the attack move has to go. F-Zero is supposed to be a dangerous race where only the bravest/craziest pilots participate to entertain the rich merchant sponsors.

The same thing was true of the original F-Zero, and it had no attack moves.

In fact, much the same thing was true of F1 in the '50s and '60s. Sir Jackie Stewart says he had a one in three chance of surviving his racing career. And the racing back then was much more gentlemanly than today; it was just an inherently dangerous activity, and they all respected that. Simply having drivers like Pico and Zoda not respect the rules and/or their fellow drivers would make F0 plenty hazardous IMO, leaving aside stuff like mines and lack of guardrails, or even just the fact that driving that fast without crashing on your own is actually pretty hard. The usual X paradigm of half the field getting killed in each race kinda strains suspension of disbelief...

The backstory for X and GX states that F-Zero was suspended for years after a huge accident (which in the GX version didn't even kill anybody), and only reinstated with greatly improved safety systems. Having dedicated attack moves may be metal but would seem to run counter to this narrative, although I can see counterarguments. In addition, the attack moves are difficult to justify physically and are hard to implement without introducing cheese techniques (the side attack was the best way around fast corners in X, which is utterly silly, and I've even seen people recommend using the spin attack to get around hairpins in GX).

Also, story-wise I'm not sure the attack moves exist. We've seen Deathborn use a side attack on Black Shadow in a movie - he literally just drove into him and forced him into the wall. I can do that without a dedicated button...

Quote:
One of the fun parts in F-Zero X multiplayer mode was trying to squash your brother at the start of the race, and since human-controlled machines was stronger he wouldn't die from it, often it just sends him in hyper speed forwards or backwards but with significant damage, so attacking was a gamble. And even dying wasn't so bad because you could at least play the slot machine and hope for revenge. Removing the slot-machine in GX was unforgivable, it has to come back in F-Zero Switch.

It's a difficult issue. What direction should F-Zero be taken in? Even Nintendo can't do everything at once (and having two F-Zero games, one arcade-style and one serious sim, seems a bit much). But I suspect that with an increased emphasis on multiplayer, the heavy metal wreckfest vibe of X and GX might not work as well.

I think with realistic physics, punting an opponent into the barrier (or off the course, which I'm not convinced should be an auto-death) should be a plenty sufficient mode of attack, and even there I'd be open to considering a penalty system. Especially if longer races are contemplated - even the weaker effect of the attack moves on human players can be decisive if the target has already used most of his boost, and over the course of a long race there will probably be many opportunities to wreck somebody under those circumstances. It may be fun to try to wreck each other if it's just you and your brother and the race is 90 seconds long, but if you invest 90 minutes in clawing your way up to first place and holding on to it against a field of a couple dozen of the best drivers on the internet, only to have some jackass backmarker destroy your machine on the final lap, you WILL be cursing the developers for giving him the tools to do it. Not that you'd likely survive even that long; with every competitor using attacks, every race of any real length would turn into one of those X Cup prank courses where the objective is simply to cruise across the line because everybody else is dead.

I've seen online races in iRacing with 40-50 cars (all human; there are no bots in iRacing). The first lap is hellish enough with everybody trying not to wreck. Even in real-life F1 things can get ugly; look what happened at Turn 1 in the Belgian Grand Prix last year. And you want to incentivize that stuff?

I don't know; maybe there's a good way to balance it. I'm not a game designer... and after all, Wreckfest is a real game, and it does have multiplayer... At the very least, the fact that you do have shields should probably result in more of a casual "rubbing is racing" attitude towards car contact, especially if the machines can take a little physical bumping even with the shields down.

Quote:
As for realistic physics, F-Zero may be a "cartoon racer" but I also don't think it wouldn't benefit from a little more realism. It may be hard to do away with things like rubber-banding but I'd prefer they didn't include so many counterintuitive tricks like snaking and momentum throttle. The game should be fully beatable with realistic driving skills alone.

Now that I can fully get behind.

I would love an F-Zero game where everything the machines do can be explained by reference to a consistent and plausible technology model that operates in the context of real physics, modelled with aggressively robust and conservative numerical methods and models. This way, if the player understands how the cars are supposed to work, everything that happens in the game will make sense.

Also, an essential part of real racing techniques being valid is good AI. If the AI is heavily rubber-banding or otherwise cheating in a way that's affected by the player's actions, it becomes a totally different game. Instead of trying to lap as fast as possible, you have to figure out how to keep the AI from cheating its way to victory. And even if you can't figure that out, the results of trying to be legitimately fast are often wildly inconsistent, discouraging the player from focusing on finesse. (Of course, breakable physics also contribute to this - why work on your racing line when driving like you're having a seizure gets you a better result?) In the original, taking a fast line can put you under more pressure from the AI than taking a slower line that doesn't make the computer think you messed up. And there's little point in using super jets unless you're under threat, because the AI will just teleport behind you. But perhaps the most blatant example anywhere is the Red Canyon run in GX's story mode, where it literally locks victory behind the lesson that you shouldn't boost until right before the end because Goroh has unlimited boost and won't use it unless you do.

I don't think rubber-banding is absolutely necessary on a modern CPU. I'm not sure it's even used in normal races in GX. (Obviously Story Mode is a different matter...) Supposedly there have been tests where the AI has been clocked putting in pretty much the same times regardless of what the player is doing. And in my recent experiments with 20-lap races, I've been in situations where I'm struggling at 1:09 per lap but handily pulling away at 1:07 per lap. The AI times do vary, and I've seen opponents make up a two-second gap in one lap without any discernible errors on my part, but they tend to arrive completely drained of energy and either can't repeat the performance later in the race or try too hard and DNF.

What I imagine (probably wrongly) would be cool is a non-cheating Master-level AI so good that even a top-level player would basically have to win on points, because different machines are good on different courses and you can't reasonably expect to win them all. This is of course distinct from having to build up a big lead in points before Slim-Line Slits because all the AIs are suddenly CGN...

Quote:
The VR idea isn't bad either, although F-Zero needs to be accessible without expensive accessories as well.

Of course. You can play modern racing sims just fine without VR. You can even play with a controller, although it's harder. There's no reason F-Zero would need to be less accessible than iRacing...

The only problem right now, interface-wise, is that none of the last three Nintendo systems have had a controller with analog triggers, and no Nintendo controller has ever had analog face buttons, so the smooth control of throttle, braking, boost, and slide is basically impossible without a GameCube adapter and really tough with one... wait, I guess the lack of pitch control on your average racing wheel might be a problem too, not to mention that I don't think all of them have dual analog clutch paddles - I wonder if it's possible to design a custom rim and/or button box that would provide those features while being compatible with an existing wheelbase...

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BTW what's the thing with that attachment?

That's my attempt at an early mockup of what the four main F-Zero machines might look like if they were designed by actual engineers to a consistent set of rules. Minimum frontal area, large inlets, area ruling (ie: transonic streamlining, though I didn't really try very hard at this early stage), that sort of thing. I also made them smaller, about the size of a modern racecar. It's low-resolution because I wanted to deliberately limit my options so as to make the pixel-poking quicker and not have to specify fine details I'm not prepared to justify.

Basically the idea is that all motive force is provided by airbreathing electric thrusters, so you need a lot of inlet area to get the best acceleration for a given amount of reactor power, and as little non-inlet frontal area as possible to minimize drag. There's also a lot of aerodynamic downforce from wings, body shaping and floor shaping to push the machines closer to the track and strengthen the grip. Sucking extra air through the floor helps with downforce and low-speed acceleration, but hurts high-speed acceleration. All things considered, I figure performance should be broadly similar to GX, but with maybe a bit more speed and a bit less acceleration.

I had a detailed technology concept description here, but it was giving me a tl;dr vibe so I removed it. If anyone wants to see it, I'll happily re-post it.


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 3:19 am 
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I wonder what it would take to give F-Zero a good online multiplayer mode. The kind that could support a 30-machine race with no bots.

My recent experience spectating online sim races has taught me that it's not trivial to do good racing netcode. For example, the term "netcode" in iRacing is used to refer to a collision between cars that didn't touch each other, which, while hardly common, seems to be common enough to make this the dominant usage of the term. RFactor 2 may be even worse; I've heard stories of cars outright teleporting into other cars that were trying to slipstream them, wrecking both. Lately I've been watching Jimmy Broadbent's stream of the 2018 VEC 24 Hours of Le Mans, and at one point there was a Code 80 (essentially a full-course caution) due to an accident on the start/finish straight - from the official stream, it appears that a car experienced lag and abruptly stopped cold, and the guy behind him was too close to evade.

If F-Zero is to have an online mode, I'd want it to be as airtight as possible. It's a way faster game than any modern racing sim, with a lot more collisions (partly because it's harder to react at speed, and partly because it's the sort of racing series in which the design of the Wild Goose makes sense). RFactor 2's potentially deadly netcode jank was actually one of the reasons Jimmy Broadbent quit the VEC after the 2018 season in favour of just doing iLMS. We don't want F-Zero's netcode turning people off - one of F-Zero's main differentiators versus Mario Kart is the focus on skill and the lack of RNG as a core mechanic, right?

Global signal latency might require the online to be region-limited, unless we can figure out how to generate small wormholes for data transmission...

...

Also, there's the question of the "Forza open lobby" problem. Online racing games that don't filter or sort their users tend to be full of griefers and astoundingly bad drivers. The sort of driver who, instead of braking for a corner, will floor it and aim for the guy in front, and then miss. The iRacing model of just making the game itself stupidly expensive isn't really an ideal option here, but some way for good, serious drivers to lift themselves above the muck would seem desirable. iRacing (in addition to being stupidly expensive) has two separate statistics they use to divide up drivers: the iRating, which describes how good a driver is, and the safety rating, which is more or less self-explanatory. I wonder if a similar system would make sense for F-Zero...

...or if being good at F-Zero just means being able to give as good as you get against griefers who aren't even trying to race. But that doesn't sound like fun, honestly.

Then again, if you prioritize gratuitous bashing over lap time and track position, you won't build skill points anyway. And too heavy an emphasis on safety points might exclude players who legitimately drive like Pico from the top levels of the game, possibly resulting in a much cleaner race than F-Zero was ever intended to be. Thoughts?


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 6:29 am 
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Would it help to split the league into two, one that discourages contact and one that encourages it? It'd help separate players with Pico's idea of what the sport should be from players that aren't quite as much into bumper cars. And a sport with two leagues with different rules that meet mostly in the post-season has precedent: Major League Baseball has the American League, where a designated hitter sits in for the pitcher, and the National League, where pitchers hit and each run is more valuable.


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:56 pm 
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Perhaps it would, if the player base was sufficient to support it.

I imagine you'd need to gate at least the higher levels of the gentlemanly side behind a sufficiently good safety rating. But since it'd be impractical to try to build safety rating in the wreckfest side, you'd need a bush league of some sort to demonstrate your ability to respect other drivers.

If somebody on the gentlemanly side wanted to blow off some steam (or build some up), he could pop over to the wreckfest side because racing there wouldn't affect his safety rating. But just going there to wreck as many folks as possible wouldn't be desirable because losing would still damage your skill rating. And gross misbehaviour would still be bannable everywhere, like it is in iRacing - you see someone driving the wrong way and trying to line up head-on collisions, you report him.

Invitationals and private lobbies wouldn't need to observe the distinction rigorously, because the participants would be known quantities.

...

I'm finding it hard to mentally model what a race would look like with no restrictions on car contact, but with all drivers having a reasonable level of skill and a primary goal of doing well in the race. In a lot of modern racing (especially stuff like formula cars and prototypes) you try to avoid contact as much as possible because almost any significant collision has the potential to seriously hurt your pace or even force you to retire. But in F-Zero, you can be in a situation where your opponent is significantly more vulnerable to damage than you are, and you can wreck him and only lose a bit of time (this goes tenfold for the scenario where the attack moves are still in the game). For this reason, I'd favour not showing any external indications of low shields, and only have actual damage be visible - broken rudder, bashed or overheated thruster pouring smoke, that sort of thing. That way, the aggressor would have to guess how much boost his target has used and how many hits he's taken since he last pitted.

...I was considering having only energy recoverable by driving through a pit strip, and having physical damage require an actual stop. That might heighten the risk of using up all your shields without the unrealistically harsh one-touch deathblow mechanic of X and GX. On the other hand, it would be more complicated than just having the pit row repair physical damage more slowly than shields. But on the other other hand, if you could recharge shields without repairing physical damage first, it would add more uncertainty to a potential attacker unless he actually witnesses the impact that breaks your car. Now, would this be good or bad for online gameplay?

...

I wonder if F-Zero is sufficiently different from modern racing that it would work without contact rules at high skill levels... I still think the attack moves are a bad idea in the context of online multiplayer, though; the temptation is just too great, and you'd never get a fair race.


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 Post subject: Re: Formula 0
PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2019 3:54 am 
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I want to know what people think of an alternate vehicle concept. Something different from what I've been working with, and pretty different from what most fans and probably even the developers had in mind:

What if a Formula 0 machine actually propels itself by some sort of electromagnetic linear motor effect between it and the track, and the apparent jet nozzles are actually just thermal exhaust ports?

Consequence #1: no thrusting while airborne...


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