#5876: MrWint & Omnigamer's A2600 Dragster in 00:08.39

Submission Text Full Submission Page

Objectives (in decreasing priority)

  • Does not early start or blow up (disqualifications)
  • Aims for the fastest in-game time
    • Secondary goal: Aims for maximum distance
  • Aims for track completion with fewest input frames
    • Secondary goal: Aims for fastest in-game time
    • Tertiary goal: Aims for maximum distance

Introduction

I was very impressed by Omnigamer's excellent investigation into the mechanics of Dragster, suggesting that the fastest achievable time in the game is 5.57, in contradiction to Todd Rogers' claim of achieving a 5.51. It was well researched and even included a spreadsheet simulating the game making it easy to try it for yourself. However, the missing piece in the chain of evidence for me was that it was not clear that spreadsheet modeled the game correctly. Maybe you could perform actions outside what the spreadsheet allowed for a faster time? It started nagging at me, I had no choice: I needed investigate the game for myself. If nothing else, it is good science to replicate the findings to add more confidence to the results.
In some ways, I feel bad submitting this and potentially obsoleting Omnigamer's submission, with all the original research they did on this. On the other hand, this maybe more than any other category shows that no run is unbeatable, even when you think it's at its limit already.
This run ends up saving 1 frame compared to Omnigamer's run for both primary objectives, and completes the fewest input frames objective with a faster finishing time and greater distance.

Note on emulation differences

This submission uses BizHawk 2.2.2, which emulates slightly differently than BizHawk 1.12.1 used in Omnigamer's run. Specifically, this run is 5 frames shorter due to emulation differences. All 5 frames are in the initial startup phase, and you can add/remove them at the start of the input file and the rest of the input will sync fine.

Investigation

So I disassembled the game for myself. It only consists of about 800 instructions total, so it was fairly easy to do. Next step, figuring out what the memory addresses are used for. Omnigamer provided a very helpful list in their submission to get started.
The first thing that became obvious is that it's not at all about emulation accuracy. The game has a main loop which is executed once per frame, and within that loop it increases the in-game time and advances the dragsters. Since we use the game's in-game timer for timing, any emulation timing inaccuracies are irrelevant. As long as the emulator executes the loop instructions in order (and it does, there are no hardware interrupts), it doesn't matter when it does it, the result will be the same. We're trying to minimize the number of iterations of that main loop here, not the number of frames.
The overall control flow starts the game up into a disabled state (the same state is also entered when switching game modes), and from there starting a new game clears most of the RAM to reset the dragsters and starts the countdown. During the game, each player is processed on alternating frames, running through exactly the same code paths. Each player has their own set of variables, including their own in-game timer, the game basically runs two isolated instances in parallel, which can't affect each other.
The game mechanics themselves work exactly as described by Omnigamer. As far as I can tell, the spreadsheet they created is an accurate representation of what happens during a game of Dragster when only looking at one of the players.

Findings

So that's all good and well, we now have a disassembly of the game, and some more confidence. But there were actually discrepancies and improvements compared to Omnigamer's original investigation and movie.
The first is an oversight in Omnigamer's model. It's not in the calculations, but in the initial conditions. As it turns out, when you start a new game, only most of the RAM is wiped, but not all of it. Most interestingly, the Tachometer is not set to zero when starting a new game, you can actually carry over your tachometer value from one game to the next. That means, instead of only being able to start off with a tachometer value that is divisible by 3, you can start out with any tachometer number you want, providing more possibilities to find an even faster starting configuration. Sadly though, as it turns out, starting at other tachometer values doesn't seem to end up allowing for any faster times or more distance than starting from values divisible by 3, at least as far as I could find. Feel free to try it out in Omnigamer's spreadsheet though, just ignore the "Must be multiple of 3" part, the maximum valid value is 31. Maybe this has interesting applications for non-TAS speedruns as well, allowing for an easier-to-perform setup (I did not investigate this; I think it's unlikely though, considering you'd need to do the tachometer setup before every attempt).
The other findings are improvements to Omnigamer's published run. The fastest in-game time of 5.57 and the largest distance with 0x62 subdistance spare are optimal from my calculations. However, the second primary goal of using the fewest input frames is not. To achieve the primary goal of the fastest in-game time and largest distance, the frame counter offset needs to be exactly 12 or 13. Due to an unintuitive quirk in how the frame counter is updated though (the active player is determined before the counter is incremented, but the frame rule is only evaluated after the counter is incremented), the bottom player actually is the first player in terms of where in its cycle the frame counter is, so it gets to the necessary offset of 12 first. In other words, it's player 2's turn at frame offset 12 and player 1's turn at 13, not the other way around as previously thought.
Thus, by having the fastest in-game time goal achieved by the bottom player, both players can start a frame earlier (with the top player starting first and using the earlier frame rule). This saves a frame compared to the current movie, with the last input on frame 337, and also makes the input file overall a frame shorter, without sacrificing any distance for the other player.
Additionally, the player using the least inputs finishes the race 20 frames (0.33 seconds) earlier than in the current movie, shortening the overall run time. Note that this was not an objective officially listed in Omnigamer's run, but it's likely they optimized for it considering they ended up with the optimal values for the chosen frame offset. Also, it feels like it fits this category well, so I added it as secondary and tertiary goals to this submission.

Data

All data was generated using a program searching for optimal solutions based on a model of the game I extracted from the disassembly (which matches Omnigamer's model as far as I can tell).
Here's a table of the best achievable times and (sub)distances for each tachometer and frame counter offset value.
tach\offset 0-1 2-3 4-5 6-7 8-9 10-11 12-13 14-15
0 5.64/96 5.64/ef 5.64/62 5.64/7b 5.64/da 5.64/d9 5.64/5a 5.64/bb
1 5.64/d4 5.61/46 5.64/fc 5.64/c1 5.64/e8 5.61/34 5.64/a6 5.64/c1
2 5.61/67 5.61/7e 5.61/13 5.61/2a 5.61/2f 5.61/9a 5.61/8d 5.61/58
3 5.61/6d 5.61/80 5.61/ef 5.61/2c 5.61/4f 5.61/9c 5.61/9b 5.61/5a
4 5.61/7b 5.61/86 5.57/10 5.61/b6 5.61/c1 5.61/a2 5.57/34 5.61/68
5 5.61/f5 5.57/03 5.57/16 5.61/bc 5.61/cf 5.61/d0 5.57/3a 5.61/6e
6 5.61/f7 5.57/11 5.57/18 5.61/ca 5.61/d1 5.57/4f 5.57/3c 5.57/3f
7 5.61/fb 5.57/13 5.57/24 5.61/d0 5.61/d5 5.57/51 5.57/58 5.57/45
8 5.57/06 5.57/15 5.57/26 5.61/d4 5.61/dd 5.57/53 5.57/5a 5.57/49
9 5.57/08 5.57/17 5.57/28 5.61/d6 5.61/df 5.57/55 5.57/5c 5.57/4b
10 5.57/0a 5.57/19 5.57/2a 5.61/d8 5.61/e1 5.57/57 5.57/5e 5.57/4d
11 5.57/0c 5.57/1b 5.57/2c 5.61/da 5.61/e3 5.57/59 5.57/60 5.57/4f
12 5.57/0c 5.57/1b 5.57/2c 5.61/da 5.61/e3 5.57/59 5.57/60 5.57/4f
13-31 5.57/0e 5.57/1d 5.57/2e 5.61/dc 5.61/e5 5.57/5b 5.57/62 5.57/51
And a table for the earliest (in-game time) you can end the input, and their corresponding best finishing times and (sub)distances.
tach\offset 0-1 2-3 4-5 6-7 8-9 10-11 12-13 14-15
0 2.93/8.08/27 2.90/8.18/13 2.87/8.35/1c 2.83/8.65/15 2.87/8.75/03 2.90/9.05/00 3.00/7.88/10 2.97/7.91/1a
1 2.93/8.01/24 2.90/8.11/1a 2.87/8.24/1b 2.83/8.48/0f 2.83/8.98/06 2.87/9.01/03 3.00/7.84/29 2.97/7.91/20
2 2.93/7.94/25 2.90/8.04/25 2.87/8.21/0c 2.83/8.35/03 2.83/8.58/14 2.83/8.85/01 2.97/9.21/00 2.97/7.84/0e
3 2.93/7.94/2b 2.90/8.04/27 2.87/8.14/13 2.83/8.35/05 2.80/8.61/15 2.83/8.85/03 2.93/9.11/01 2.97/7.84/10
4 2.93/7.91/0a 2.90/8.01/02 2.87/8.08/0c 2.83/8.28/18 2.80/8.45/0f 2.80/8.95/06 2.83/8.98/03 2.97/7.84/1e
5 2.93/7.88/11 2.90/7.98/1c 2.87/8.08/12 2.83/8.24/08 2.80/8.41/02 2.80/8.68/0a 2.83/8.95/00 2.97/7.84/24
6 2.93/7.88/13 2.90/7.98/2a 2.87/8.08/14 2.83/8.24/12 2.80/8.41/04 2.77/8.58/15 2.83/8.95/02 2.97/7.28/33
7 2.93/7.88/17 2.90/7.98/2c 2.87/8.08/20 2.83/8.24/20 2.80/8.41/08 2.77/8.55/01 2.77/8.91/06 2.97/7.28/39
8 2.93/7.88/1f 2.90/7.94/01 2.87/8.08/22 2.83/8.21/02 2.80/8.41/10 2.77/8.55/03 2.77/8.91/08 2.97/7.28/3d
9 2.93/7.88/21 2.90/7.94/03 2.87/8.08/24 2.83/8.21/04 2.80/8.41/12 2.77/8.55/05 2.77/8.91/0a 2.97/7.28/3f
10 2.93/7.88/23 2.90/7.94/05 2.87/8.08/26 2.83/8.21/06 2.80/8.41/14 2.77/8.55/07 2.77/8.88/01 2.97/7.28/41
11 2.93/7.88/25 2.90/7.94/07 2.87/8.08/28 2.83/8.21/08 2.80/8.41/16 2.77/8.55/09 2.77/8.88/03 2.97/7.28/43
12 2.93/7.88/25 2.90/7.94/07 2.87/8.08/28 2.83/8.21/08 2.80/8.41/16 2.77/8.55/09 2.77/8.88/03 2.97/7.28/43
13-31 2.93/7.88/27 2.90/7.94/09 2.87/8.04/01 2.83/8.21/0a 2.80/8.41/18 2.77/8.55/0b 2.77/8.88/05 2.97/7.28/45
It is quite a nice coincidence that the best possible configurations for these two sets of objectives align in a way that allows showing them off in the same run. Note that the absolute fastest frame you could end the input and still finish (ignoring any other objective) is a single frame faster than shown in this run, and can be achieved by using the bottom player instead of the top player, with the exact same inputs.

Noxxa: Judging.
Noxxa: It's interesting to see how even one of the most thoroughly researched, dissected, and optimized games still has a small optimization (be it not in-game time) left in it. For the Vault, this technically counts as an improvement - as such, accepting as an improvement to the published movie.
feos: Pub.

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This topic is for the purpose of discussing #5876: MrWint, Omnigamer's A2600 Dragster in 00:08.39
Memory
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The Dragster saga will never end.
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You forgot to put the human element. No vote. Kappa
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Memory wrote:
The Dragster saga will never end.
THE RIDE NEVER ENDS As for my vote, I'll leave it with a yes. Good improvement on the shortest input work. Gave some of us a heart attack when we saw it with a "Did 5.57 somehow get beat?" Thankfully, that's not the case, and instead a welcome improvement to early input.
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Is it what I think it is? Sorry, unable to read because my eyes popped out.
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feos wrote:
Is it what I think it is? Sorry, unable to read because my eyes popped out.
It's still 5.57, just with an input frame shaved off at the start (plus a few more frames saved on startup due to emulation differences).
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For clarity, could you list the frame that input ends for the "fewest inputs" goal between my submission and this one? I think it might be a little misleading to some folks when you mention a 20-frame improvement, but the actual difference in when the last input was entered is only 0-2 frames. Good job! You might also consider using the tool from Benoit Esnard to double-check your program outputs: https://github.com/esnard/dragster
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I have a HUGE amount of respect for the work that went into this run...unfortunately this is simply a boring game to watch. Meh vote for entertainment.
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At the moment I only have the ability to console verify a single player's input using true's multireplay board so just like my earlier console verification of Omnigamer's run I would only be able to verify the run with one of the two cars and I don't know if it's possible to get the same result that way. That limitation is also why I held off on marking Omnigamer's run as fully console verified. Because there is substantial work required to set up a two player configuration with the hardware I have on hand I'm probably not going to attempt to verify this run but I have every confidence based on what we know about the game that a console verification attempt would eventually succeed. Great work on this!
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Omnigamer wrote:
For clarity, could you list the frame that input ends for the "fewest inputs" goal between my submission and this one? I think it might be a little misleading to some folks when you mention a 20-frame improvement, but the actual difference in when the last input was entered is only 0-2 frames.
Sure. It's a bit difficult to talk about absolute numbers, because of the emulation differences. The last input frame for the "least input frames" player is 337, whereas in your run it was 338 (when transferred to BizHawk 2.2.2), so the difference is exactly 1 frame. The same goes for the overall input length (i.e. the last input from the "fastest in-game time" player), exactly one frame. What is 20 frames faster (actually 21, because of the top/bottom switch) is when the "least input frames" player finally reaches the finish line, long after the input file has ended. I tried to make this distinction clear in the submission text, but I agree it's hard to understand just from watching the runs.
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DrD2k9 wrote:
I have a HUGE amount of respect for the work that went into this run...unfortunately this is simply a boring game to watch. Meh vote for entertainment.
Basically this. Absolutely yes, I find the research and work that went into it to be really fascinating. But watching it, it's a meh 13 second encode of a game that came out when I was negative 14 years old that I never played.
Somewhat damaged.
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Wow...I'm impressed. As with Omnigamer's effort, the disassembly of this game takes it a new level. I was about 7 when the Atari came out and never realized it would still be reversed engineered to this day. This was back in the day when Machine Language / Assembly writing was just about he only way to take advantage of small "On-Board" memory and slow processing. Most of these older Atari games don't entertain me much, but the effort for invalidating Todd Roger's 5.51 through TASing, has absolutely entertained me. YES YES YES! P.S. My opinion of Todd's WR run: I originally was thinking it could have been a hardware burp, but his demonstration in front of Activision (on another machine, I believe) should have proved that it wasn't. With the level of TASing Mr Wint has shown over his past submissions, this submission is enough to make me start believing that the human WR is a hoax.
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nymx wrote:
P.S. My opinion of Todd's WR run: I originally was thinking it could have been a hardware burp, but his demonstration in front of Activision (on another machine, I believe) should have proved that it wasn't. With the level of TASing Mr Wint has shown over his past submissions, this submission is enough to make me start believing that the human WR is a hoax.
I'm not sure how much you have been in the loop on this one, but even TwinGalaxies is already months ahead of you in declaring Todd Rogers' Dragster record a hoax and erasing his scores.
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Doesn't beat the existing WR no vote! Just kidding
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Mothrayas wrote:
I'm not sure how much you have been in the loop on this one, but even TwinGalaxies is already months ahead of you in declaring Todd Rogers' Dragster record a hoax and erasing his scores.
Thanks Moth for that article. Seems I have missed some information, but wasn't sure that their was a definite statement on considering it a hoax. When I first started looking into this...I wasn't sure either way. But this TAS (and previous submission) is surely putting that to rest as a hoax.
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Neat, I'll give it a yes. If you are interested MrWint, you might want to try to get 32.67 in Barnstorming. It's another legendary Todd Rogers time but this one is probably possible, although no one else has reproduced it yet. Should be kind of straight forward from a bot perspective though.
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Alyosha wrote:
Neat, I'll give it a yes. If you are interested MrWint, you might want to try to get 32.67 in Barnstorming. It's another legendary Todd Rogers time but this one is probably possible, although no one else has reproduced it yet. Should be kind of straight forward from a bot perspective though.
Yes please!
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I don't want to be "that guy," but it's been bugging me so I'll ask: What are the typical conditions for co-authorship on improvement submissions? I don't want to take anything away from MrWint, who has done a lot of his own investigation into the game mechanics and developed his own programs to verify results. However, I can't shake the feeling that this is still basically the same as my original submission. The major improvement is swapping players to gain a one-frame advantage due to processing order. I admit this was an oversight on my part in the original submission; I had it in my head that I wanted P1 to show the primary goal, and P2 to show the secondary goal. Other than this difference though, the inputs for the primary goal still exactly match my submission's. The other original contribution in this submission is the reworked strategy for the secondary goal. This is a side-effect of being able to move the initial reset earlier due to the primary goal being on a different frame counter "boundary" than before. As such, it is original compared to my submission. The new tertiary goal is not something I considered, but is fair to serve as a "tiebreaker" of sorts. The one-frame advantage on this goal would have been a one-frame disadvantage if my submission's inputs simply swapped players. It is lucky that between both input sets, they end at the same point in game time. Again, not trying to detract from the additional work the MrWint has put into this, and I'm not trying to raise a stink. I'm not familiar with a lot of typical practice for TASVideos submissions, so I don't know the situations and scenarios that merit co-authorship. I just can't shake the feeling that a good chunk of this new submission is essentially the same, only changed by a technicality.
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Optimal input has no authorship, entertaining decision has. Reusing someone else's input that's known to be optimal doesn't require co-authorship, because there's a limit on how different it could be. But when one copies someone's playaround segments, it's clearly a copy, and deserves credit. Also there are frame wars. When new submissions keep arriving that beat each other, we don't demand that each of them lists all the competitors. But after the frame war is over, and a new run that contains all improvements is made, then we add all the contributers, since they start working together in the end. That's why DTC resulting runs have so many authors.
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I'm all for adding Omnigamer as a co-author to this submission. My research has been significantly helped by Omnigamer's original research, and I agree that it is mostly confirming Omnigamers results and doesn't actually add anything to the run itself, it's a frame saved due to cheeky frame optimization before the start. I was considering not submitting this at all, to avoid the obsoletion, and instead add it as a footnote somewhere. So if there's nothing in the site's rules against that, I'd propose to add Omnigamer to this submission's author list (not sure if I can do that myself after the fact).
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The rules don't ban that, and you can edit your submission right away.
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Thanks for the offer MrWint. I understand feos's points, though. It's not a big deal one way or another, so it's probably best left up to a decision of the publishers/editors. Do what's consistent to the rules and goals of the site.
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NES TAS of 2011
I don't think publishers/editors can make such decisions. It's usually the author's choice, and then it's approved by a judge (or not).
Warning: When making decisions, I try to collect as much data as possible before actually deciding. I try to abstract away and see the principles behind real world events and people's opinions. I try to generalize them and turn into something clear and reusable. I hate depending on unpredictable and having to make lottery guesses. Any problem can be solved by systems thinking and acting. If TASing is meta-play, TASVideos Movie Rules are meta-meta-play!
Dwedit
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Is this basically Omnigamer's TAS but with the players switched, and one frame removed?
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feos wrote:
The rules don't ban that, and you can edit your submission right away.
I looked at my options for editing the submission but didn't see the option to add authors. Maybe I'm just blind though. Can somebody with the right permissions do that?
Omnigamer wrote:
Thanks for the offer MrWint. I understand feos's points, though. It's not a big deal one way or another, so it's probably best left up to a decision of the publishers/editors. Do what's consistent to the rules and goals of the site.
By all means, it was my fault not thinking about this option, I'm sorry I even put you in the position where you need to ask. I completely agree with you, and my goal is by not to take anything away from what you have done for and achieved in this game.
Dwedit wrote:
Is this basically Omnigamer's TAS but with the players switched, and one frame removed?
Sort of, it's a bit more nuanced with the different possible frame offsets, and all the inputs are mine, but it achieves the same thing, so if you boil it down that's basically it.