Under the hood with tXtFL

A football simulator is only as good as its engine is, and experimentation with our simulator has revealed some areas that could use improvement. While the overall scores of games have been fairly reasonable and accurate compared to real-world games, sometimes the individual plays can prove unrealistic. For example, I realized that punts of 25 yards and kickoff returns of 40 yards were not altogether unusual in the simulator. And when the computer picked plays, it often "went for it" on 4th down even while backed up against its own end zone.

So I've been working on a few tweaks to the game engine, and in some cases completely new models for certain play situations. The changes mostly involve special teams situations, and here are some of the highlights:

Previously, you could choose a punt play with a preferred punt distance, and the engine would aim for that distance, adjusting based on punter ability and protection from the offensive line. The problem was that in real life*, the punt distance is usually determined by two simple factors: 1) punt as far as you can, but 2) keep the punt within the opponent's 20 yardline. Instead of aiming for a fixed distance, the simulator should instead aim to punt within these goals, with accuracy based on punter ability and protection. Now when you select to punt, you simply choose which side of the field to aim for (left, middle, right), and the simulator takes care of the distance. More skilled punters and better blocking protection means less "wiggle room" in achieving that distance, including less chance of punting into the end zone.

Kickoffs and rushing
Kickoff return yardage has been too far, and rushing plays too short. It turns out that kick returners had been enjoying heavy weighting of their ability, which rushing players were just a blip in the equation. That's been normalized now.

Automatic play selection and decision-making
The decision to go for it on 4th down is based on many factors. Most importantly, the pressing need to get a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal when your team is down as the end of the game draws near may drive a coach to bold play calling. But another crucial factor is simply the distance involved--hardly a coach would go for it on 4th down from their own 10 yardline, unless of course it were almost the last play of the game. The simulator finally incorporates the distance factor as well as the point spread.

Similarly, kick/punt returners are now more likely to make a dash for it rather than fair-catching if they catch the ball near their own end zone to avoid pinning their team in safety territory.

Another smaller matter is that now the simulator will automatically choose defensive formations based on special teams 4th down situations, such as punts or field goals. My goal is to take out just enough of the randomness of the "Random" button to make the automated choice a wise one.

These tweaks under the hood will hopefully make for a positive gaming experience over the hood as well. You'll find them in the upcoming tXtFL Mobile 0.99.7 release (to come), or you can check them out now in the desktop version pre-release.

Punt with impunity--even from your opponent's 33 yardline.

* speaking as a layman--feel free to correct me!


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