I had a lot of arguments over Mario Kart when I was a kid. Sometimes they were settled by race-offs (best of three, naturally), sometimes they were settled by fists and thrown controllers—but not once were they ever settled by math. But now, thanks to a data scientist’s extensive dissection, feuding Mario Kart combatants have a better way forward. Writing for Civis Analytics, data scientist Henry Hinnefeld dove into the math to analyze the trade-offs for every character in Mario Kart 8 depending on choice of kart and tires.
The result is a fascinating graph and a concept that I was unfamiliar with: Pareto efficiency, and the accompanying Pareto frontier. Each character in Mario Kart has essentially the same stats, they’re just allocated differently. Do you want a small character with zippy acceleration, or do you want a big character with a higher top speed? Turns out, data scientists actually have had an answer for this question since Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian engineer, sorted it out in the early 1900s.
Graphing all of the speed and acceleration values in Mario Kart generates a lot of data points, but they sit within a curve—the “Pareto frontier.” Beyond that curve, it’s impossible to get more acceleration without sacrificing speed, or vice versa. Any point along the frontier could arguably be the “best,” depending on a player’s preferences. The result?
Wario and his different kart/tire options account for about half of all the best possible configurations in the game. The best kart by far is the Biddybuggy, followed closely by the Sports Bike. And true to its name, the Badwagon is just the pits.
Hinnefeld also created an interactive version of his chart, so you can dive in and see exactly how inefficient your favorite character/kart combo really is. Like all great efforts in data science, this information should never be shared, and must instead be used by you to brutally destroy your friends and loved ones.
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