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Educated Guesses: A pre-release competitive analysis of Mario Kart 8. [Part 1]

Discussion in 'Articles' started by flc, Apr 22, 2014.

  1. flc

    flc Professional Site Breaker

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    Educated Guesses
    A pre-release competitive analysis of Mario Kart 8.​

    Six years ago, I'd just blown something like $150 on importing Super Smash Bros. Brawl and a region-free disc from the USA. I couldn't stand to wait another six months (this was a time when the idea that Australia existed was still fresh in video game publishers' minds).

    Unfortunately, the game had the depth of a water cracker and the netcode of a 19th Century telephone, so within a few weeks of getting my hands on it, I had realised my terrible mistake and was instead trying to take my hands off it. Perhaps I shouldn't have covered them in superglue.

    On a boredom-induced whim, I grabbed some new kart racer on launch. The jury is still out on whether or not this was a good thing, but then again, I don't need a jury to tell me that I enjoyed the hell out of Mario Kart Wii. What was it about Mario Kart Wii that kept me interested (though not necessarily playing) for the six years it's been out?

    Mario Kart Wii has a unique combination of mechanical skill, strategy, and luck. This combination makes every race different, even if every race is on Luigi Circuit because that one person keeps getting picked twelve times in a row (this is one of many highlights of the GameFAQs Pro Lounge from 2008).

    The game is fun, chaotic, and hilarious, but it can be tamed and even mastered. I spent these six years trying to do just that. While it's hard to say if I succeeded or not, I did learn enough about the game to be able to draw wild conclusions from the few vague scraps of Mario Kart 8 information that we've been thrown.

    Through this article series, I shall attempt to elaborate on these conclusions, and hopefully give people an idea of what to (and not to) expect out of Mario Kart 8.


    Karts Only

    One of the defining features of Mario Kart Wii was inward-drifting bikes. While an exhaustive list of bikes' advantages over karts would see us comfortably through to the heat death of the Universe, it's easy to see why they were so dominant. Bikes had the world record time trial 31 of the 32 tracks in the game, the only exception being the result of a kart-only shortcut on a track already known as one of the least bike-favoured.

    They also had much smaller hitboxes, and a cute little advantage in that holding items out reliably blocked red shells. Perhaps most importantly, they were agile. Avoiding an item in a bike is almost trivial, and the wheelie mechanic means there's almost no time loss. Avoiding an item in a kart could lose over a second, while also screwing your racing line so hard that it often took half a lap to be back to optimal—by which point you've been redded five times through the enormous gaps between your triple shell defence, and you've watched helplessly as five people pass you with bike-only shortcuts and low tricks. Then you get hit by a POW and find yourself facing backwards and well on your way into orbit.

    I'm actually not exaggerating that much. It was a lovely view from that high up.

    Regardless, bikes are returning for Mario Kart 8, but curiously, wheelies and inward drift are not part of the package. Bikes do have different cornering physics than karts—bikes can steer in a manner similar to inward drifting (just without the whole "drift" part), and their drift seems to be a sort of hybrid of outward drift and inward drift—but, we've been told, the differences are almost entirely cosmetic.

    I say "almost" because bikes do still have their advantages. They are still much smaller than karts, meaning defensive items are reliable and their hitboxes are smaller. Smaller hitboxes also means it's probably easier to take Grumble Volcano rock hop style shortcuts with reasonable consistency.

    Does this mean that bikes will be overpowered? Probably not. The differences are minor, and may well be offset by low speed/accel/weight stats, or some other mechanic we haven't heard of yet.


    Heavy Days

    So, what will be the dominant combination? In almost all racing games, the dominant vehicle for online play is the one with the best combination of the following:
    - Speed
    - Handling
    - Agility

    Speed is exactly what it sounds like, Handling is the opposite of what it sounds like. Agility is pretty much a bullshit abstract term that I came up with five minutes ago. So, let's start with the easy one.

    As some of you might be aware, the player who wins is the one with the least amount of time between the start of the race and the moment they cross the finish line. Therefore, whatever gets you there faster is going to be important, and high speed is the most direct means of doing so. The faster you can go, the less time you have to make up with items; the more of that speed comes from your vehicle selection, the less work you have to put in as a player.

    Handling follows a similar logic: you want a vehicle that loses the least time around corners. However, it's not a simple matter of picking a vehicle with more handling. The time-based miniturbo mechanic means that a vehicle with low handling will charge miniturbos faster around any given corner than a vehicle with high handling. So, you need a vehicle that can take corners comfortably, while also having as low a handling stat as possible for more miniturbos.

    Agility, then. Consider what I said earlier about how MKW's karts are basically at the mercy of whatever happens to be occupying the same part of the track as they want to be (i.e. most of it), while bikes can just do a couple hops and a wheelie will keep them up with the pack, no trouble at all. This is a fairly logical conclusion; the easier it is to avoid items, the less time you lose to them, and therefore the faster you go.

    But it's what agility replaces that matters here.

    Acceleration is conspicuous in its absence. Consider that the Mach Bike and Flame Runner/Bowser Bike in MKW were the two slowest-accelerating bikes in the game. Yes, SMTs made that not really a big deal, but their speed and agility meant that, where a vehicle with faster acceleration (such as the Bullet Bike or Dolphin Dasher) might be less prone to multiple-hit combos, a player capable of avoiding items entirely and reaching the front of the pack would be unstoppable with one of the Big Two.

    The GameFAQs Pro Lounge was an interesting place for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons—in hindsight—was the way that vehicles trended. The top players in the Pro Lounge, early on, were Cef (Ev Shiki) and Crrrrrrr. Both of them mained the Bullet Bike for most of the first month or so after release, and both of them had winning records on essentially everyone else.

    The Flame Runner was well known as being the best vehicle for time trials, but even after SMTs were discovered, the Bullet Bike was still seen as the best vehicle for online play.

    However, by July, nearly everyone was using the Mach Bike or Flame Runner.

    You might be thinking this is the point where I say that the Bullet Bike fascination was unfounded and the product of a lack of knowledge of the game, and you'd be half right. The Bullet Bike, just like Accel combos in the early days of Mario Kart 7, was seen as the best vehicle because it was the best vehicle—no matter if, now, the best vehicle is something else.

    When you are racing against eleven other players of varying, but still relatively high, skill levels, without too much in the way of game knowledge, you are going to be hit an awful lot. You can't expect to avoid every item because you don't know how to avoid every item. You can't expect your racing lines to make up the acceleration difference because you don't have good racing lines yet.

    As players get better, so too does their understanding of the game. This has two results: first, the players themselves are better at avoiding items and playing defensively, and second, newer players will be forced into the back of the pack with increasing frequency. These two things mean that there's generally more order in the higher positions, meaning that high acceleration is no longer necessary.

    To use one final example, consider a random worldwide with, say, four good players and eight newbies. The top four will break away most races, sure, but if one of them doesn't get off to a good start, they will be constantly bopped by items, and their low acceleration will only worsen the matter.

    This brings us to my first wild prediction:

    Acceleration combos will be optimal in Mario Kart 8 for around a month or two, before a gradual shift toward speed combos when everyone starts to get better at the game. Furthermore, the eventual vehicle of choice will be one that has as much speed as possible with only the bare necessity for handling. Since heavyweights tend to have these stats precisely, you can expect to see mostly heavyweight characters (assuming they retain these stats) about a year out.


    So, what do you all think—in general—about competitive Mario Kart 8? What are you hoping to see (or not see)? How do you think you'll manage the switch?

    Check back tomorrow for the next part of this analysis, wherein we examine item mechanics in Mario Kart 8. What made lightning dodges so powerful, and will lightning remain dominant? How does the removal of item stacking change things? How much will items matter in Mario Kart 8? And, perhaps most importantly, how fucked are we for the fire flower being available in 2nd?
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2014
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  2. Usashi

    Usashi (・∀・)

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    Insightful read, Pyro. :D High Distinction.

    On this matter of competitive MK8 (I say this all with a grain of salt, of course) : I certainly hope there's an equilibrium of sorts between the three vehicle types, but that won't be likely. Since you bring up bikes and their smaller hitboxes, it does raise a concern for the other vehicle types' perks. Speculatively, buggies are likely to have a niche in off-road tracks, and should MK8 reintroduce the Mini-Turbo stat, I assume karts will boast greater stats in them, compared to bikes. Therefore, while bikes may have an advantage on wi-fi, karts may be the vehicle of choice for Time Trials. Consequently, that would mean there is no dominant vehicle type, and a bit more variety in combos were lacking in MKW, less so in MK7.

    While unlikely, I do hope to see online races with not just one character used, but many. With the assumption that character stats are exclusive to weight class, perhaps wi-fi races will be more than Metal Marios, or Funky Kongs. Please don't let it to boil down to who has the smaller hitbox D:

    Also, I also think those switching from MK7 to MK8 will be advantageous from day one because they are attuned to the drifting style. MKW players shifting to MK8 will adjust in due time; I do not see benefits to practicing outward drift in MKW now. On the contrary, my claims presuppose that this 'hybrid drift' mumbo-jumbo is not a thing; we will all have to wait and see about that.

    With that said, the dramatic change everyone will need to adjust to are the new item mechanics. The absence of keeping an item in reserve will reframe how, when, and what should we do with them. While it is akin to MKDD's item mechanics, I think it is one of the gamechangers (if I were to speak in a competitive context to which I am, lol.) Personally, I am going to have some initial frustation, but all in all, it will work out in the end.

    In response to your prediction, it's only natural to adjust our vehicle combos in the first few months of the game. It was like that in MK7: everyone used B-Dasher + Mushroom wheels, and nowadays it's the former but with Red/Monster wheels. As we move our way up the learning curve, the 'fast combo' will be established, and eventuates to the norm in the competitive environment. I feel like I just paraphrased what you said, oops.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
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  3. Toasty

    Toasty

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    I also have the feeling that it'll play a lot like MK7 at first. At least the karts will, so I'm happy that the snaking stuff won't be around as much as I first feared. The Mini-Turbo doesn't seem THAT fast.

    I'm really interested to see how this plays out. That is one of the points I would've liked to elaborate, but item usage will be so much more important now. Well, unless the heavy-hitting Red Shells are still a thing... I just hope a triple version won't be obtainable in 2nd as the Fire Flower already is.. xD MK7 really turned me off in that regard; the item distribution seemed a bit unbalanced. But mabye that's just me? Experienced MK7 players will probably disagree. ^^;
    Either way, I'm actually happy that you can't camp items anymore. This, however, is just a cosmetic argument at first: You don't necessarily have to look at the map/GamePad to see what item your opponents carry as a backup. *lazy* Even though I can see fights for good positions getting more intense when you're able to steal a shroom. But then again, being afraid of them getting stolen might lead to a fast-paced gameplay.. Yeah, one way or another, racing vs. one another will be rough - different from MKW, yet in it's own ways.
    Ultimately, that is what will make this game competitively attractive for me.

    The bikes losing their inside-drift-ability is a good thing in my eyes. MK7 was a refreshing game to play "back then" (taking the handheld-factor aside) and seeing bikes getting a lil' nerf seems fit. That and the (hopefully) weight-assigned stats will lead to more variation in WWs.
     
  4. Rael

    Rael

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    Triple reds seems to still be a second place item: http://www.gamereactor.it/news/109594/Mario+Kart+8:+Un+nuovo+video+di+gameplay/#autostart

    But anyway this is still a demo. There are many things that could change in the final version. For example in the Koopalings trailer there were many removed oddities, such as Roy losing his item while tricking, Yoshi losing it when hit by a red shell and Luigi not having the underwater propeller on his kart. Item placings may be something they still have to work on (at least, I hope!)
     
  5. Agosta

    Agosta

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    You mention the reasons why Bikes were leagues above Karts but you forgot to mention: track design. Tracks were tailor made for inward drift, which Karts suffered for. Every course had very long straightaways, and almost every course had right angle turns 90% of the track. This played into Inward drifts strength because your miniturbo would be charged by the time you've straightened out.

    Mario Kart 8 is a very different animal, as many of the tracks seems to have much better curvature on turns to support holding your turbo instead of releasing it immediately into a wheelie, as seen in MKW. They also compensate straightaways with gliders and anti gravity. Many competitive players will dislike this change, but I welcome the new design philosophy. There will be MUCH better balance.
     
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  6. Eric

    Eric

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    Judging by how fast characters recover after getting hit/falling off, I have a feeling speed is going to matter more than ever.
     
  7. Manny Toons

    Manny Toons

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    All I'm hoping for, is that it's not specifically Heavyweights in their entirety that are "the better characters" to use.
     
  8. Agosta

    Agosta

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    It's the pros/cons of weight classes. If any lightweight character has even speed with a heavyweight, they will most likely have higher acceleration, which would make them overpowered. Balance is a slippery slope, especially in racing games. Judging by piranhas, boomerangs, the larger shells, and 12 player rooms with the chance of fire flowers everywhere, I doubt the meta will go above medium with weight class.
     
  9. Ryuji

    Ryuji (`・ω´・)

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    Most importantly, all this means is that players should carefully consider their options before using their items. Do they fire a red forward to hit a player ahead and risk getting hit themselves by an oncoming red/green/boomerang to which they have no protection against? I don't think it will be quite the spamfest that was MK7 where you could use items extremely liberally because of this(those infernal fireflowers and tanuki tails!). Even so, players holding fireflowers and trip reds/greens will probably be scary to try and pass. Shells because anti-gravity will give boosts if players ram each other. Players holding 3 shells can not only ram others, but they'd also get a boost and deny the victim of getting the same benefit, as the shells would ensure that. Fireflowers will still be thrown quite alot, but perhaps to a lesser degree than in MK7.
    It should also be important to note that items can still be chained, and with the removal of items in reserve, will happen much more frequently. Players in good positions will probably opt for protection over backspamming/hitting players in front, though with items like triple reds or fireflower there can be little one can do to defend against these items, depending on how they can be dodged, if they can at all.
    I'm surprised nobody mentioned coins yet, since they seem to spawn faster than in MK7. This gives everyone a chance to collect them and not just have the first person steal them and halt any opportunity for other players to get some, leveling the playing field. All told, I think MK8 will be definitely be chaotic, just not as much as in MKW.
     
  10. flc

    flc Professional Site Breaker

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    I agree about karts vs bikes, but that won't last. If karts have higher stats than bikes, someone will figure out how to use karts to their full effect in a worldwide, and once that's happened, there will be little reason to use bikes anymore. It's like how people used to use the "tard combo" (as I used to call it) of Metal Mario/B-Dasher/Red Monster. Now, it's all you ever see on MK7. But when the game first came out, people used it and weren't very good. You'd see one come into a worldwide and repeatedly get bottom 4 while a bunch of Shy Guy/Bruiser/Mushroom took top spots. That's what happened in MKW as well when people tried the Flame Runner (and to some degree the Mach Bike).

    Regarding hybrid drift: I'm talking from the perspective of MKW -> MK8 rather than MK7 -> MK8. MKW's outward drift had a distinctive outward kick, followed by an oversteer drift. MK7 kept the oversteer drift, but the kick was more or less removed; MK8 seems to have removed it entirely, at least for bikes. It's still outward drift, but it's also got one of the main advantages of inward drift (no outward kick).

    Right, but even with twistier tracks, bikes would still have an advantage for the reasons I mentioned. Track design is a big part of it, but the best Kart tracks in MKW still had them at a significant disadvantage. The RR shortcut saves like a second per lap, and bikes still have a better potential time, and RR is one of the best kart tracks in the game.

    I do agree about the balance though.

    That's the thing, though. High accel won't save you from that. You'll accelerate faster after being hit, but you will have lost your coins and you will have lost several seconds (and you had few to spare to begin with). High speed, on the other hand, will get you into the lead much more easily, and the lead is safe aside from blue shells (or is it?). If you get hit, you'll lose more time, but then that's what separates good players from top players already.

    Assuming that heavyweights get some sort of +speed, +weight, -handling, -accel stat spread (which is basically ideal), we can at least expect to see a similar situation to MKW's. Mach Bike is better at handling item play, but the Flame Runner is faster and heavier and easier to use.

    While I'll address both of these points in more detail over the coming days (items today, coins probably either tomorrow or the day after), I will say that chaining is essentially pointless now, aside from with stars. The idea of chaining is that you use an item as late as possible so that you're in a lower position to grab a second item (chain lightning, get box in 12th; use lightning later, get box in ~9th, as an example). Since grabbing a second item isn't actually a thing anymore, you'll see a lot of stars at item boxes and that's about it (since they're the only items you can chain--more on that another time too).
     
  11. Mecha

    Mecha Banned ;_;

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    The similar thing happened to Mario Kart 7 when its metagame had a shift in 2013. You see nothing but speed combos and Metal Mario (a heavyweight) in clan wars and subsequently high-VR worldwides. I expect the same in MK8 eventually. Good read in any case.
     
  12. Betelgeuse

    Betelgeuse o mai gah

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    Yeah pretty much my thoughts exactly.
     

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