MTM: F-Zero GX

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Welcome once again to More Than Mashing. I’ve been busy for far too long, and I’m back to kick some ass and review some videos. This week, the topic is F-Zero GX. F-Zero is a series known for its speed and precise handling ever since its SNES incarnation. With F-Zero GX on the Gamecube, the series got taken to its peak and the fanbase has had a lot to compete over. These videos are from the Snaking bracket. There are a number of different unintended techniques that exist in F-Zero, some of which render others obsolete. On account of this, F-Zero players chose to break up their play into 3 categories: 100% Max Speed, Snaking, and Unrestricted, also known as the space flight category. In the 100% Max Speed Category, the goal is to play the game mostly as intended, with an emphasis on gaining speed, maintaining speed, and turning well on corners. Competitors in the 100% Max Speed bracket are required to set their acceleration versus top speed setting all the way in the top speed direction before each track. In the Snaking category, the goal is to use snaking, a serpentine motion, to gain ridiculous speeds and carve up the track. In the Unrestricted category, anything goes. Competitors in the unrestricted category take up space flight, leaving the tracks behind to fly across the various checkpoints the track requires, completely ignoring the terrain. By dividing up the game into these categories, racers are able to focus on different sets of techniques without invalidating any parts of the game. I’ve chosen to focus on the snaking category, because I feel it’s the most comprehensive one.

So what is Snaking, anyway? Snaking is an advanced movement technique that has become practically synonymous with F-Zero. F-Zero has the L and R buttons set up to enable slides and drifting. During normal movement these buttons will shift the car left or right without disturbing its velocity going forward. By pressing L or R and tilting the control stick in the same direction, one can slide around corners without losing speed: at least that was the intent. Because of its ability to move the car without affecting the normal forward velocity, the L and R buttons have an effect similar to straferunning in old first person shooter games like Doom, System Shock, and Thief. The car is moving quickly forward and also horizontally, independent of the forward momentum, so between those two it is actually moving even quicker in the diagonal direction than individually forward or horizontally.

The way this works is obvious for anyone who can remember the pythagorean theorem. The forward velocity is one side of a right triangle, the horizontal velocity is the other side, and the overall movement is the combination of these two, the hypotenuse.

By alternating between turning left and hitting L, and turning right and hold R to swerve to the right, each swerving the car across the track in an S shaped pattern, the car will accelerate at greater speeds than the speedometer indicates. This is because the strafe type of movement isn’t incorporated into the speedometer’s display. Additionally, the game is coded to go into a type of drift motion which accelerates the car when this is done. This was originally intended to only be used on corners, but players found it useful for accelerating across nearly any stretch of track. This drift boost effect is greater for higher acceleration cars, so the rules are that all cars in the snaking ladder must use 100% acceleration.

One of the most important thing for all F-Zero racers is dealing with Momentum Throttling, or MT. Like many racing games, each car in F-Zero has an acceleration mechanic and a predefined top speed. The way the acceleration mechanic works is not so much accelerating the car as actually regulating its speed relative to this top speed. If the car’s speed is over its MT point then holding the accelerator will actually sharply reduce the vehicle’s speed. The thing to do in these instances is actually to release the gas and let the vehicle move forward with its own momentum. The racer has to be careful to resume accelerating when they get back down to the MT point or they will continue to lose speed. This technique is especially useful after boosts, which make the car move a lot faster than normal. Releasing the accelerator is even useful for drifting on turns, where it helps sustain momentum during and after the turn is complete.

MTS, or Momentum Turbo Slide, is also crucial for F-Zero racers. MTS allows the racer to slide forward in a turn in such a way that they will greatly accelerate. It looks like the vehicle is zooming forward while the car is sliding on its side. It is performed by going into a turn with left or right on the control stick, pressing L+R+A at the same time to drift, then instantly releasing A and the shoulder button opposite the way you’re turning. So you may turn right, hit L, R, and A, then quickly release R and A so you are only holding the right direction and the L button. The opposing forces of the drift (triggered by hitting L and R at the same time) converted into the turn (after releasing one of the drift buttons) and the L button propel you forward, and releasing the A button avoids the speed regulation that normally happens. This effect can help cars gain a lot of speed.

Another big feature for F-Zero players in time trial mode is the suicide finish. In Time Trial mode specifically, it is possible to destroy your car and still finish with the wrecked car as long as it passes over the finish line. Incidentally, grinding the car up against the rail using the MTS technique causes a big boost in acceleration. This technique is called MTSR, or Momentum Turbo Slide Rail. Hitting the wall damages the car, so this is usually a waste of boost meter that could be better spent, because the boost meter is health for the car, but at the end of the race boost can be spent without any reserves. In many courses the optimal path is to destroy the car on the final lap, flinging it towards the finish line in the process. Because of the suicide finishes and boost power only unlocking after the first lap, each of the usual 3 laps varies a bit in F-Zero. Naturally, the faster the car going before it explodes, the faster the car will boost from the explosion, so it pays to speed up as much as possible with MTSR rail grinds.

On stages without railings, a similar technique to the MTSR can be used repeatedly to gain speed, called shift boosting. Empty edges exert a bit of force against the car which can be used to propel it forward by hitting L and R to move back and forth around the edge. In these cases the car can push against the resistive force at the edge to gain a small boost forward each time. This is risky however because pushing a bit too hard will force the car off the track completely, destroying any chance of a good time. Interestingly, even the staff ghosts exploit this trick on the Lateral Shift track.

A few smaller techniques exist to boost slightly faster in some areas. Dash plates positioned across most tracks give a bigger boost if hit on their edge for some reason. This can be combined with momentum throttling, same as normal boosts.

Jumping is also a common part of races with jump plates or certain angled parts of the track. Jumping is usually slower than normal driving though, so it’s disadvantageous in most situations. Tilting the nose of the car down will lead to high acceleration and landing sooner rather than later, but in some cases it’s better to not touch the stick so the car will fly furthest. The car has to be tilted up before it lands so it is parallel with the ground. This will minimize the speed loss from landing and prevent damage to the car. Clever jumps at high speed can allow the car to take massive shortcuts on many tracks.

I hope this gives some insight into the fast and dangerous world of F-Zero racing. More information on these techniques and others can be found here. More videos of world record track times are available in this thread. The F-Zero forums are also a great resource for anyone looking to get into F-Zero racing.

This concludes another More Than Mashing. For more great displays of video game skill please check out my YouTube playlists, here, here, and here. If you have a great video that you think demonstrates the limits of play in a game you love, please link it below. You know I’m always looking for more great videos.

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