More Basketballs Online

More Basketballs Online

Postby eltomito » 26 Jan 2019, 22:49

Hi! It seems to me that when racing against humans online, the advantage you get from getting in the lead of the pack is too great. You get all the speedups, all the boxes and nobody can shoot you in the face. In most races, the one who manages to get in front withing the first 10 seconds usually wins the race. I think it would be helpful to have more basketballs to pester the lead kart and get it back in the fray.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby QwertyChouskie » 27 Jan 2019, 00:16

Agreed, too few BBalls IMO, especially since good players can sometimes take out an approaching BBall. I wonder if it's possible to have the game give more BBalls if the lead kart is farther from the others. Alayan any thoughts?
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Sockstah » 27 Jan 2019, 01:04

I don't think having more Basketballs is the right solution here. Basketballs are of course needed as like you said the leader has easy access to nitro, items and a free track to drive most efficiently. I think the problem that leads to a player that broke away early having an easy time at the front though is that the rest of the field is getting bogged down because this game has a lot of item pickups and very powerful items. The fly swatter in particular for example has an enormous radius and can block almost the entire track sometimes. If the second place player gets one early the first place will easily open the gap. I think reducing the amount of item pickups and nerfing some items would help compressing the field and ultimately also make the game less frustrating. Buffing the parachute to hit players with a large time advantage harder might help as well, but this is again adding penalties in the form of items instead of reducing them, which I believe is the better approach.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby theTomasPat » 27 Jan 2019, 05:44

I agree that more basketballs might not be the best solution either. I do believe they're a necessary evil but they must be used carefully IMO. There's a really good analysis on the blue shell in MarioKart that you can watch here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFfga8-3SZI

They explain that it's a good to have an item like the blue shell/basketball in these types of arcade-y kart racers because it helps to level the playing field and it's more fun to have a "close" race that keeps you on the edge of your seat than to have a brutal fight in the back while the person in 1st place gets to have a peaceful, boring stroll.

Another option that could be worth exploring is some sort of catch-up mechanic. There's accounts of catch-up mechanics in all kinds of games https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_mechanics#Catch-up, http://socratesrpg.blogspot.com/2015/04/what-is-catch-up-mechanic.html, https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/11196/catch-mechanic. It could provide another layer to leveling the playing field without having to rework every track to add, remove, or just move around the items that are already there.

My suggestion for implementation would be to apply a speed modifier in the range of something like -5% - 10% depending on the player's placement (1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, etc.) and the distance between the first and last place players. So if first place is WAY ahead of last place, you could apply the full modifier range across each player. If the person in last place isn't too far behind the person in first then you could apply a very small modifier range across each player. This way if everyone is very close to each other, their max speed is 100% but if there's a big distance between first and last place then each players would have a max speed between 95%-110% (or similar, depending on that range). Of course the range would have to be fine-tuned to make sure the racing still remains fun and to clarify, the players up front would get the lower speed modifier and players behind would get a larger modifier.

Also, I think that if the devs were to implement it, it would be worth making sure people know that there's a catch-up mechanic. Maybe it could be an option in the UI when you're setting up a race and it might be worth making it active by default on Easy and Intermediate and default off for Expert and SuperTux difficulties. I figure that the people who play on easy or intermediate are more casual players who are more interested in just having fun, where finishing with a close race is more in line with the experience they're looking for. The more seasoned players who have figured out the nuances of the controls and the tracks are probably more interested in a pure racing experience where a catch-up mechanic could really get in the way. Here's another video of someone talking about the catch-up mechanic in GTA Online: https://youtu.be/0Xfy7xEC3xI?t=281
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Alayan » 27 Jan 2019, 18:10

So here is my take on this. Keep in mind for context that I'm currently #1 in the online rankings, with tough and close fights with Andet and Gnu889. There is a gap between the three of us and the rest of the field, we are able to beat other good drivers like slocooked and theodorepringle with high reliability, and will always win against drivers another notch weaker. Even with handicap on, we can reliably beat the average online racer. Despite the luck element, skill matters a lot in STK racing. (For an idea about what our races look like, I've posted many videos on my youtube channel : https://www.youtube.com/user/AlayanT/videos)

the advantage you get from getting in the lead of the pack is too great. You get all the speedups, all the boxes and nobody can shoot you in the face. In most races, the one who manages to get in front withing the first 10 seconds usually wins the race.


Andet, Gnu889 and I clearly noticed how much a good start matter. Arguably, it's in our races that it matters the most : an average player will still benefit from the 1st place advantage but will do some mistakes helping to catch up, while in our races such mistakes are rarer and you need to drive really well and/or have some luck to still win after losing a few seconds at the start.

Being destroyed by a bowling ball a few seconds in the race is quite random between closely matched players and matters a lot for the final result.

The start position also matters a lot. In a 3 players race, the difference is tiny, but in a 8 players race, being behind a few slow karts whose drivers don't know how to accelerate properly is a big disadvantage.

I think it would be helpful to have more basketballs to pester the lead kart and get it back in the fray.


No, this wouldn't be a proper solution in my opinion.

It addresses the issue that the lead kart is much safer on average that karts "in the pack", but it does so by adding another layer of randomness. If the basket ball manages to make the leader get 2nd or 3rd, there is another player who will now benefit from first place advantage and catching up will be extremely hard.

Also, it doesn't work so well at higher levels, because top players can avoid the basket ball long enough to often (but not always) find a protection (this is an intended mechanic : the basket ball goes very fast when far from the kart, but slows down when getting closer so high level racing with nitro, skidding and no crash can protect).

The key advantages of being first are :
- Nitro denial. A player in the first place can get all the useful nitro cans, and it can also deny them to another driver behind. This mostly matters when there is a single big nitro can to get, as being denied it makes a big difference. Smart driving take into account nitro denial (from both side : trying to deny it and trying to not be denied) but ultimately the respawn time of nitro is long enough that it can be very hard to overcome in some tracks. Nitro denial is as much if not more applicable to time-trial races. In a track like Northern Resort, being first at the good time and being able to pick up the big nitro cans while a driver close behind can't is a winning advantage at close enough skill levels.
- Relative safety from attacks. A player in the lead can (in typical races) only be attacked from behind and can prepare for it, a player chasing may be at the risk of an attack from behind, and from ahead if he is about to catch up. In races between Andet, Gnu889 and me, it is common that the 2nd and 3rd place driver attack each other several times and thus lose any hope of getting first. An extremely powerful defensive item for the 1st player is the bowling ball. At short ranges, the bowling ball is very powerful, and to get ahead you need to get close to the leader kart at some point. On longer distances, aiming well enough to get a strike when attacking ahead is really hard, as you need to take into account the time for your ball to get to the kart ahead and what its trajectory will be in the meantime. When I sometimes manage to get a strike from well behind, I feel like I really deserve to have won some time because the aiming and the timing required real skill. As a defensive item, the story is different. The optimal trajectories are more narrow than the road length, and you can just spam bowling balls behind you. Even if most of these do not hit, they still force the player behind to avoid them and increase mistake rate in trying to do so. And some other balls will definitely hit, especially when it's not possible to see them ahead of time enough and they are just in the middle of the optimal path.

I think the problem that leads to a player that broke away early having an easy time at the front though is that the rest of the field is getting bogged down because this game has a lot of item pickups and very powerful items. The fly swatter in particular for example has an enormous radius and can block almost the entire track sometimes. If the second place player gets one early the first place will easily open the gap.

Absolutely, players behind attacking each other is a key factor of the first place advantage, along with nitro denial.

The swatter is indeed quite powerful. It not only has great range, but it can squash quickly in succession so several karts close will all get squashed and a bubble shield don't help much.

The distribution of items in 0.10 has actually been changed to make the "players in bad spot destroy each other" issue smaller.

However :
- The previous situations, with common triple cakes for bad places, was much worse. The improvements looked very good compared to the baseline.
- This was tested against the AI. While the AI has top reflexes to use items and its item usage behavior has been enhanced, the overall racing skills are quite different.
- The rate of offensive items is at its peak around the first quarter (say you have 12 players, it will top for players 3 and 4). So while the change make the player in last position less likely to be destroyed repeatedly when making a comeback, the situation for players just behind the 1st place hasn't improved much.
- There is only so far you can go by tweaking the existing items. What can you add for the players in position 2 or 3 ? More basketballs ? Nay. More parachutes ? Nay. More cakes, bowling balls, swatters ? Nay, that's what we're trying to avoid in the first place. More zippers ? It can quickly become unfair in the hand of good players. More plungers ? You can have only so much before it becomes annoying. More bubble gums ? A bit maybe, but not that much, as the gum placed strategically can also be a big hindrance to players behind and there is already often a lot of gums on the ground in a multiplayer race.

In the end, you would need new items to solve this.

I think reducing the amount of item pickups and nerfing some items would help compressing the field and ultimately also make the game less frustrating.

I don't think this would really compress the field. Skill matters a lot in STK. You'd get less space between 1st and 2nd that is now usually the case, but also more between 2nd and last, etc.

Buffing the parachute to hit players with a large time advantage harder might help as well, but this is again adding penalties in the form of items instead of reducing them, which I believe is the better approach.

STK could do with a few more boosting items for karts in bad positions too, I think.

They explain that it's a good to have an item like the blue shell/basketball in these types of arcade-y kart racers because it helps to level the playing field and it's more fun to have a "close" race that keeps you on the edge of your seat than to have a brutal fight in the back while the person in 1st place gets to have a peaceful, boring stroll.

The issue is skill level.

The races between me, Andet and Gnu889 are often tense and exciting, because our skill level is close enough. But take any of us and put against us the average STK player, and even with three times more parachutes and basketballs we'd still crush him because the skill gap is too big. I often put handicap on when playing against less skilled players, but at least it's a conscious choice, not some RNG punition.

You just can't make a bad player beat a good player without making the game downright unfair, and frustrating for the good player, period. And while there are more bad players than good players, good players are those which are the more invested into the game, so just crossing them out is a terrible idea in my opinion. Ideally, STK would be so popular you would be able to sort people by skill level and pit them against other of similar level, but this isn't realistic so far.

The whole idea of making the speed of the player in front artificially slower as a catch up mechanic like the GTA one is terrible from my point of view. In novice, intermediate and expert, the AI is coded to slow down depending on distance to player, but extending this by force to human players, no.

That said, I do think that STK needs at least one, maybe two, items boosting speed for players in bad position. In practice, casual players find big speed boosts items fun, but they have often trouble handling them well without crashing, so this lessen the fairness issue.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby eltomito » 27 Jan 2019, 23:28

To sum it up:

1) The hammer is too long and maybe it should break after single use.
2) I should learn to play STK better :D

Wow! That's not what I expected :lol:
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Andet » 28 Jan 2019, 07:11

Firstly, that was a very good and thorough post, Alayan. :D

It looks like we all agree that 1st place has it too easy compared to everyone else in the race. It would be nice to see some new items as Alayan suggested, but I don't think that's the only way to fix the imbalance other than basketballs.

Increasing nitro spawn time and making the swatter less powerful would help, as was already suggested.
More zippers ? It can quickly become unfair in the hand of good players.

It wouldn't really be unfair since it's compensating for all the attacks people behind 1st face. And wouldn't adding additional speed items have the same issue? (Still, I am a fan of having a more diverse range of items.)
[In response to the weakening items suggestion]...You'd get less space between 1st and 2nd that is now usually the case, but also more between 2nd and last, etc.

I don't think this would be a major problem, unless last place fell way behind. Either way I'd prefer this over 1st breaking away.

In addition to these fixes, I have some more complicated ideas to consider for after 0.10.0...

-Make items more defensive, this would 1) protect players from items, 2) give incentive for players to hold onto their items as opposed to throwing it (like how you might want to hold green shells in Mario Kart for protection, rather than hit someone)

-Make it possible to know what the other players have in some way (then I know to stay away from them)

-Have different item or rubber-banding/handicap modes

Those are my thoughts, but I haven't done any developing/testing so I don't know if these ideas would actually work or have already been considered. ;)
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Alayan » 28 Jan 2019, 14:40

Andet {l Wrote}:Increasing nitro spawn time and making the swatter less powerful would help, as was already suggested.


I think you meant decreasing the spawn time. :)

Andet {l Wrote}:
More zippers ? It can quickly become unfair in the hand of good players.

It wouldn't really be unfair since it's compensating for all the attacks people behind 1st face. And wouldn't adding additional speed items have the same issue? (Still, I am a fan of having a more diverse range of items.)

The point is that the increase in zippers would be met by a decrease in attacking items. This can add up quickly.

Also, think of the situation where the 2nd is chasing the 1st but the 3rd isn't close to the 2nd either (also is common in our races) : in some tracks with enough item boxes, the chasing player could get several. A single zipper is worth about 1.5s to 2s, so this can quickly add up. Losing due to the chasing player getting a zipper or two sometimes happen right now, it could become quite common...

For the additional speed items, there is roughly two cases :
- One where the item is actually as good if not better than the zipper. Such an item would be reserved for karts in the worse positions in races with enough karts (we don't want it in a 2 or 3 players race I think)
- One where the item is weaker, more worth about a small nitro can. Such an item would be much more easy to give in replacement of some proportion of offensive items, and could decrease the "exploding each other" factor meaningfully without the risk of an excessive catch up help.

[In response to the weakening items suggestion]...You'd get less space between 1st and 2nd that is now usually the case, but also more between 2nd and last, etc.

I don't think this would be a major problem, unless last place fell way behind. Either way I'd prefer this over 1st breaking away.


I don't think this would be a major problem either, but I think it was important to address the misconception expressed in the post I replied to.

In addition to these fixes, I have some more complicated ideas to consider for after 0.10.0...

-Make items more defensive, this would 1) protect players from items, 2) give incentive for players to hold onto their items as opposed to throwing it (like how you might want to hold green shells in Mario Kart for protection, rather than hit someone)

Having one defensive item which is not as OP as the bubble shield could be nice. I would not want too many defensive items however.

-Make it possible to know what the other players have in some way (then I know to stay away from them)

It would be possible to do this, but is it desirable ? Tbf, making it visible would remove any concern of someone doing so in its local copy (same issue as with plunger hiding view in online multiplayer :( ).

-Have different item or rubber-banding/handicap modes


I think a different item distribution between easier difficulties and harder ones could be given a shot.

Those are my thoughts, but I haven't done any developing/testing so I don't know if these ideas would actually work or have already been considered. ;)

Interesting and useful post. :)


A big question at this point in the discussion, as it is clear that improving STK's item set would be a good way to improve this first place advantage issue, is: what should the new items be ?

What should be their effect, their name, their in-game appearance ? We'd want something which fit thematically with the rest of the game (so no super-rocket :p ), with bonus points if there is a link with SuperTux.

By the way, theThomasPat, this is where artist work would come in very handy. I can handle the code side, but not graphics.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Andet » 29 Jan 2019, 09:08

A big question at this point in the discussion, as it is clear that improving STK's item set would be a good way to improve this first place advantage issue, is: what should the new items be ?


Should we start a new topic? I liked the big kart idea in https://github.com/supertuxkart/stk-code/issues/3594 for a start.

Also, think of the situation where the 2nd is chasing the 1st but the 3rd isn't close to the 2nd either (also is common in our races) : in some tracks with enough item boxes, the chasing player could get several.


I guess the best way to fix this would be to make items based on distance rather than just placement. That might be difficult to do, though.


New items + distance-based items would help a lot as a future solution, but do you think there's anything worth tweaking before 0.10.0 is released? I still think making zippers appear (slightly) more often and making attack items a little less powerful (especially the swatter) would overall be an improvement, despite the problems that you pointed out. And also making nitro spawn faster (I got it right this time :) ).
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby theTomasPat » 30 Jan 2019, 00:11

Holy smokes Alayan, I watched some of your youtube videos and damn, it's pretty silly how easy you make it look; as well as Andet and Gnu889. I absolutely think a matchmaking feature would be a great thing to have but unfortunately, it will probably only be viable once the STK player base grows and there's more people playing online.

I'm still not convinced that modifying speed as a catch-up mechanic is an awful idea but I do understand that among experienced/professional players it would be much less desirable. Perhaps if matchmaking becomes a feature, discussion of this could come up again.

All that said though, having new items sounds interesting! And I also quite like the "big kart" idea. Maybe another idea could be a cow-plow like on the front of old trains. This could provide some protection and maybe add a slight speed boost or increase turning ability?

(Image)

Alayan:
By the way, theThomasPat, this is where artist work would come in very handy. I can handle the code side, but not graphics.


I'll definitely help out where I can! :D
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby QwertyChouskie » 30 Jan 2019, 01:01

I also had the idea of a "cow plow" and quite like it :) Add a speed and accel boost and I think it would be great.

Actually maybe it could be STK's "Bullet Bill"? The kart get a cow plow and some rockets and rides on a train track that appears out of the road some kart lengths ahead of the kart (10 kart lengths? Needs to be enough to give ahead karts enough warning), and disappears 1-2 kart lengths behind the kart.

All aboard the Rocket Plow Express!
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby tempAnon093 » 03 Feb 2019, 04:40

How about scaling the amount of Nitro a can gives you depending on your current position distance from first place?

A very nasty way to approach with the problem is to make levels with unavoidable gates of bananas to slow down fast players, but they would just respawn if the gap is too large so that won't work well... Maybe a gate of heavy movable hazard objects.

I would rather avoid a 'cheat' power-up like the Mario Kart's Bullet Bill.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby tempAnon093 » 03 Feb 2019, 05:05

Using Mario Kart as an example again, things like the moving train in the Kalimari Desert level act as a speed limiter. Tracks containing a dynamic hazard like this, when strategically designed, could add an extra challenge only to expert players able to reach the hazard in time, while having negligible effect on players who arrive late. Maybe something like a falling rocks on a cliffside or canyon map, which may bounce or roll across the track, leaving the road before the less skilled players arrive. For example, in one of the gameplay videos Alayan posted, he is beating the main clump of players by 15 seconds per lap. There is a large window of time after he arrives at most locations before the other players would. You could time the temporary hazard to repeat so that it would hit a perfect player every single lap, and the later you arrive the less it will slow you down.

At that point, it's still a skill-based hazard which will add challenge to the more skilled players without it being something boring like too many plungers or speed limits, or something random like being bombarded with basketballs.

Also, what about things that will make things more difficult when travelling at high speeds? Some tracks (especially icy ones) could throw in many corners that have low friction and can't be taken at high speed without sliding off the track. A less skilled player won't be skidding every single corner and will probably not have enough speed for the corner to be an inconvenience.

PS.
Another point (I recall triple-posting to be bad forum etiquette last time I checked, so I'm just editing this post), I think it may help to increase to amount of skidding required to earn a yellow speed boost. It seems silly to me the amount of advantage that a player can get skidding on straight road. You could also make the skidding radius smaller to make skidding less useful on wide straight stretches of track, but I think adjusting that would ruin a few pre-existing tracks designed to work with the current skidding physics.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Andet » 03 Feb 2019, 08:42

tempAnon093, I like your idea of track hazards, I think SuperTuxKart could use more stuff like this. I'm not sure how much it would help balance the game though, as you would have to be really strategic about where/how the hazards worked. For example, slippery roads would affect players based on how fast they're going, but that makes it more difficult to catch up as well. But yeah, I think it'd be cool to see some hazards in future tracks or upgrades of old tracks. :)

And I agree with what you said about skidding. It's a bit too easy and creates huge gaps between people who can skid properly and people who can't. It reminds me of Mario Kart DS for anyone who's played that game. :p
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Gnu889 » 04 Mar 2019, 07:53

I really think thath a lot of basketballs is very anoying and it does not make the race fun...
Alayan,you should not say things like "we can beat other players",we are better than other players"...Say thath is very ugly and you may up offending some other player...
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby XGhost » 04 Mar 2019, 14:43

Gnu889 {l Wrote}:Alayan,you should not say things like "we can beat other players",we are better than other players"...Say thath is very ugly and you may up offending some other player...

It was not meant to be insulting. Anyone should be able to tell this. It's just the truth that there exist players with a different skill set, some of them are better or worse than others. We should be able to deal with this when we discuss game design and balancing.
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Re: More Basketballs Online

Postby Alayan » 04 Mar 2019, 18:06

XGhost {l Wrote}:It was not to be meant insulting. Anyone should be able to tell this. It's just the truth that there exists players with a different skill set, some of them are better or worse than others. We should be able to deal with this when we discuss game design and balancing.

Exactly. :)
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