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Mario Kart 64 analytics
JavaScript C Shell CSS
Branch: master


kartlytics is a web app for browsing records and statistics of recorded Mario Kart 64 races.

kartvid (the underlying engine for kartlytics) is a program for processing Mario Kart 64 still frames from a screen capture video. The goal is to take a video of a session and extract information about the courses played, the characters in each box, each character's position at every point in the race, the final lap times, and item box information.

Visit to see this in action.


Because we play a lot of Mario Kart at Joyent. Besides keeping track of long-term results automatically, kartlytics helps answer long-standing questions about strategy and game quirks, like:

  • What's the distribution of weapons based on a player's position?
  • How much does first lap performance matter?
  • How often does a "Billing" occur? (spending most of the race in 1st and falling to 4th in the final seconds due to a weapon)
  • How often does a "Keithing" occur? (going from 1st to 4th in a few seconds)

See the Roadmap below for more examples.

In this repo

There are several pieces in this repository, and it's still a bit disorganized. From the bottom up:

  • "kartvid", an ffmpeg consumer that takes raw video files and produces a sequence of JSON objects describing the state in key frames of the video. kartvid also extracts PNG images of key frames.
  • "js/kart.js", a Node program for transforming "kartvid" output into a higher-level object describing the races and race states found in a video.
  • "jobs/*": a bunch of scripts intended to be run inside Manta to run the whole pipeline on videos stored in Manta.
  • "js/kartlytics.js": a Node-based web server that serves a site like, which provides a web-browsable view of all the data

The end-to-end pipeline (starting with raw video + JSON metadata) also extracts PNG images of key frames and web-quality webm-format videos of each race that are shown on the web site.

How it works

The basic approach relies on the fact that most objects in the game are either 2D objects (like text) or 3D objects (like characters) rendered using a series of 2D sprites, which means you only ever see a few different shots of them. The simple approach we're taking for now is to create "mask" images for every object we want to detect that consist of only that object, in the precise position where we want to look for it, and all other pixels black. The program can then check all possible masks against a given frame to identify the objects in it.

To create each mask:

  1. Capture a high quality still image (in BMP format) of the object on the screen.
  2. Open it in an image editor. (I'm using Photoshop CS5.) Select only the object you want (using the magic wand or magnetic lasso tools, for example), invert the selection, and delete the selection.
  3. Save the image as a portable bitmap (P6) file. (You can also save it with some other lossless format and use the "convert" tool to convert it to PBM.)

Object variations

Most objects appear in different sizes depending on whether it's a 1P, 2P, or 3P/4P game. For now, we're focusing only on the 3P/4P case, and we're assuming that a given object is always the same size. The only objects that change size are the characters themselves, depending on whether the player is zoomed in or not, and we can work around that by checking two masks for each character (one for each zoom setting).

We also assume a given object only appears in exactly one position on the screen, which allows us to compute mask matches pretty efficiently (rather than trying all possible positions on the screen). This means we need a mask for each object in each of the 4 boxes on screen. For characters, these are automatically generated by the build process based on the Player 1 masks. Tracks only ever use the Player 1 mask.

Importantly, we know we're analyzing a whole video, not just individual frames. We don't necessarily need to identify all objects in all frames. We can get away with only having a single view of character as long as we know that we'll always see that view at least once in each race. We use the back view, and we assume we'll see that just before the race starts. We don't bother handling any of the other views of each character.

Analyzing a race

We identify the start of a race by looking for a special Lakitu object. (He's the guy holding the stoplight at the start of the race.) When we see him, we should be able to reliably identify the current track and the players in each box, which are all pretty fixed at that point. We can also start the race clock at this point.

While the race is going on, we only monitor the position and lap number for each player. This allows us to see all position changes as well as lap times for each player, up through the 3rd lap. And these are relatively easy, since they're just simple text objects. (The only problem is that the lap counters are turned off if the user switches to the alternate view. If this becomes a problem, we could look for another way to detect lap completion (perhaps by looking for another Lakitu object).)

We detect when each player finishes the last lap by looking for the large flashing number indicating their final position. From this we have the final results and the final race times.

Identifying the track

Obviously, to identify the track, we'll want a mask to represent the way the track appears in at least one of the boxes. Since different players can have different zoom levels, which would cause the track to look different in the initial screen, it would be impractical to try to match the track based on any combination of player boxes. So for simplicity, we'll just create masks for the 1P box's zoomed-in and zoomed-out views. (The rest of the mask will be black.) We do this using a track mask generator, which can be applied to a screenshot of a track in the starting position to generate the track's mask.

Running kartlytics

Running kartvid directly

Recommended prerequisites

kartlytics runs on SmartOS and Mac OS X, and should run anywhere else its dependencies are available:

  • ffmpeg. ffmpeg is used to decode screen capture videos.
  • libpng, which is used to read individual frames and masks.
  • imagemagick, for the command-line "convert" utility.
  • Node.js 0.8.x or later for the web server and some of the tools.
  • cscope for source browsing.

The ffmpeg libraries change incompatibly with many releases. The current version of kartlytics is known to work with version 1.2.

On SmartOS, you can install these in a "base" smartos 13.1.0 zone with:

pkgin -y install nodejs ffmpeg png ImageMagick cscope

On MacOS, I suggest first installing XCode and homebrew. Then you can install the dependencies with:

brew install ffmpeg
brew install imagemagick
brew install cscope

An old version of libpng is shipped with OS X in /usr/X11.

Build and run

Run "make" to build kartvid, generate masks, and install the required Node packages. It assumes your compiler, ImageMagick's "convert", and Node's "npm" are in your path.

You can run out/kartvid directly to see its usage information.

Running Manta jobs on public data

You can use the large collection of raw videos that's available publicly at You can use Joyent's Manta service for running kartlytics directly on these videos without having to download them. The "bin/" script inside this repo will run through the whole pipeline. You may want to tweak this to run only on some videos.

Running the web site

If you just want to run a copy of the web site (e.g., if you're playing around with your own data), just:

  • "npm install" to install the required modules,
  • tweak the port and authentication configuration in js/kartlytics.js, and then
  • run "node js/kartlytics.js" to start the server.

To run kartlytics as an SMF service on SmartOS, modify the paths in smf/kartlytics.json as desired, regenerate the SMF manifest with smfgen, and then

svccfg import yournewmanifest.xml

Working with images

I use Photoshop (but you could use the GIMP or some other image editor) for creating masks and debugging (see below). You'll want support for portable bitmap (PPM or PBM) images. For PS, you can get that using the CartaPGM plugin.

To capture stills and video, I'm using an iGrabber device with the stock software.


This project is just a prototype. On most input, it's able to identify the start of the race, the characters playing, the positions of each player during the race, the end of the race, and item box information. It emits both plaintext and JSON, and reads PNGs, PPMs, and raw videos. There's also a primitive Node server that processes video uploads. Remaining items include:

  • handle aborted races better. (kartvid detects this, but doesn't emit events very nicely.)
  • detect pause screen.
  • Detect lap completion (to show lap times).
  • Position along the track for detecting "hot spots" where people tend to get slowed down.
  • Detect a "Billing": spending most of the race in 1st place, but losing due to weapon usage late in the race.
  • Average, median, Nth percentile race and lap times, per player per track (per racer?)
  • Banana-saves: times when someone saves themselves from a banana spin-out
  • Rescues: times when Lakitu has to come fetch you
  • Impacts-by-shell: use explosion or "crash" to detect getting hit by something
  • Impact of bomb?
  • Power slides, boosts, and boost attempts?
  • Real-time commentary by piping the iGrabber output through kartvid, and the results to the OS X "say" command.
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