Zwift Tests “New AI” Pack Dynamics

Zwift Tests “New AI” Pack Dynamics

Since sometime in December, astute Zwifters have noticed a “New AI” tag appearing on a small number of events. Then a few days ago, ZwiftHQ confirmed (via this FutureWorks forum post) they have been testing new pack dynamics in certain events indicated with this tag.

What’s different about the new pack dynamics, and how you can test it for yourself? Here’s what we know…

Why “New AI”?

The “new AI” tag is interesting in itself. Have you ever pondered that, without users doing the steering, Zwift has to use artificial intelligence to steer for us?

Even without the “new AI” tag, your avatar will veer around riders, and veer into their draft. Sometimes the AI isn’t very smart – it famously takes terrible lines in corners, for example! But overall, it generally puts riders in a sensible place.

Digging Into the New Pack Dynamics

Here are excerpts from Zwift’s forum posts on the new pack dynamics, explaining how they’re different from what we’re used to:

Experienced Zwifters may have noticed changes in the way your avatar moves around other avatars.

In Bike group events with new pack dynamics enabled – it affects the shape of the blob, and avatars don’t pass straight through each other like ghosts. They move around each other a little more realistically most of the time. You’ll see it happen still – it’s not perfect yet.

Game physics more accurate, including the positioning of the bikes on the road.

The movement and shape of the pack smoother and more human-like.

We didn’t change the math behind drafting, but the draft effect should be more realistic because avatar positionings are more accurate now.

That accurately describes the new pack dynamics, as I’ve observed them. I’ve noticed it causes groups of riders to be more spread out, and your avatar rides through other riders much less.

With riders more spread out, the draft effect seems to be reduced somewhat, which causes the packs to stretch out more, front to back.

Comparing the Old and New

Here are three short recordings made today, showing the new and old pack dynamics.

New pack dynamics, video 1:

New pack dynamics, video 2:

Standard pack dynamics:

How would you describe the differences between the first two clips and the last one? I would say riders seem more “jumpy” in the first two, as well as more spaced out. And there’s definitely less riding through other avatars in the first two clips.

Is It An Improvement?

Are the new pack dynamics better than the old? My take on it is: yes and no.

Not riding through other riders is a good thing, obviously. It makes the visuals feel more realistic. And having riders spaced out a bit more left to right feels better as well.

Although I haven’t been able to test/confirm this, I have a theory that the new dynamics may reduce the “churn” at the front of the blobs somewhat, because riders will veer around the front rider and into the wind earlier than they did previously. So instead of slingshotting off the front and continually bumping up the pack speed, the new pack dynamics may result in more realistic group speeds. Maybe.

Rider movements can be a bit erratic with the new pack dynamics, though. Riders will (seemingly) randomly veer left or right in the pack, like some sort of Cat 5 racer with a flat. It’s possible these are Zwifters running an outdated version of the game, but it’s also quite possible this is just the new pack dynamics needing a bit of fine-tuning.

While the “new AI” may not be perfect, I’m excited to see Zwift attempting to improve the pack dynamics. If this eventually makes our avatars’ movements more realistic and reduces the blob-accelerating “churn” at the front, that’s a major upgrade.

Experience It For Yourself

Want to test out the new pack dynamics for yourself? All of the Tour de Zwift make-up events are using the “New AI” tag. There are also some non-TdZ events using it – click here for that list.

Your Comments

Have you tried out the “New AI” events yet? Share your thoughts below!

And, more importantly, share those thoughts on the Zwift FutureWorks forum thread so Zwift sees your feedback.

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Eric Fernstrom
Eric Fernstrom
8 months ago

Ah-hah! Did a TDZ makeup this morning and a number of riders kept surging and falling back very quickly, just a few yards up and back in less than a second. I wondered what was going on since I never saw this before. Nothing else seemed very different; the churn seemed about the same: if I got to the very front and took the wind, I’d lose tons of speed and have to go hard to get back up to pack speed like normal. I guess I did not fade through as many riders as usual though. The bizarre surging… Read more »

Keith
Keith
8 months ago

The new AI vids definitely look better… good to see

Mark C
Mark C (@rdcyclist)
8 months ago

I posted this on the Zwift Forum: Rode the TdZ Stg8 MakeUp at 545am PST as a warm up for the Chasing Fabian TT (aka The Bloodbath) this morning. I will say it is different but ZwiftHQ still has some work to do, IMHO. It seemed like the pack in places was more like an outdoor ride with my buddies and we’re talking about what we’re going to do this evening. In other words, not tight enough for a good group draft like we would be if we were racing. Literally at places the group was spread out across the… Read more »

Mark C
Mark C (@rdcyclist)
8 months ago

Hope you’re doing better after your moment the other day, Eric.

Abraham Lawrence
Abraham Lawrence (@lawrenceabe)
8 months ago

Did the TGIF group ride last night and noticed riders surging and jerking. Many people commented that they saw the same things. It wasn’t a very smooth ride. I’ve got a high end gaming PC so it wasn’t anything on my end. I hope they get it fine tuned soon.

JimHansen
JimHansen
8 months ago

I spend a lot of time with my BFF C. Cadence. I was wondering of some changes had been made to pack dynamics recently. IT seems like the bigger the blob gets the more jittery riders seem to be, and there is some very strange behavior with momentum or blob drag. It seems to be exaggerated the large the blob. I thought these might have been changes made to mechanics to drafing for the TTT events, but now I’m wondering if it was these adjustments you are referring to.

Hobbanero
Hobbanero
8 months ago

Perhaps they are worried about liability from riders who finally get IRL thinking they can just ride through others on the group ride. 😋 Next up, “no, you can’t actually pedal full blast through hairpins”. Hopefully this change reduces the “tyranny of the pack” that makes Zwift racing less interesting.

Nate
Nate
8 months ago

TDZ Make-up Stage 8 this Morning and every time I used a drafting power up my avatar would shoot out of the bunch to the right side of the road and I’d get the prompt to close the gap negating the usefulness of the power up. I think this still needs some work.

Aaron Laing
Aaron Laing
8 months ago

Maybe it’s just me, but since Day 1 on Zwift (caveat – less than a year ago), I’ve wondered why one of the most basic parts of the game physics wasn’t that riders are solid?!?

It doesn’t have to require perfect modeling of all the bikes, etc., just assign every rider a long, narrow, oval or kite-shaped (as seen from from above) area in space that no other riders can occupy. Period.

Am I missing something?

Charles
Charles
8 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Laing

I’m interested to see how the new algorithms play out. The good thing with being able to move through people is that if you want to progress through a pack you simply increase your w/kg. If however you are in the middle of a big pack and you can’t ride through other riders then you might be stuffers and unable to go anywhere. In one regard this will mean you can conserve some watts but more importantly you could miss a break. On a positive for lighter riders I wonder if this will make them more effective in a big… Read more »

Rad
Rad
8 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Laing

I think that would lead to situations where you are unable to pass. Riders would occupy full width of the road and no passing would happen. To me the re are two annoying issues. One being silly behaviour in crowded places when avatar tries to steer left and right to pass like lost soul in the fog. Second one is workout when you ride low watts and come to a climb and you’re going nowhere.

Aaron Laing
Aaron Laing
8 months ago
Reply to  Rad

Yes, you would potentially get the situation like in IRL road races where the leading teams spread across the road and nobody gets by … except the breakaway up the road that contains their team member, or someone they don’t consider important. Maybe there could be a way to “shove” through the pack by putting out >X w/kg more than the surrounding riders. Or maybe if we all had steering, you’d have to get to the outside to pass. Not sure what a solution would be, but I would certainly like to see solid avatars, and I don’t think that… Read more »

Roy F.
Roy F.
8 months ago

Very interesting . . . I noticed on a TdZ makeup event this morning that I was having a much harder time drafting off a single rider (or in small groups). I was getting pretty good at that and was a bit frustrated this morning that I wasn’t able to draft for more than very short periods of time (again, only in very small groups). Thought my internet wasn’t working well but guess this is an effect of the new draft.

C.L.F.
C.L.F.
8 months ago

Almost looks like two pace lines in the first example video. So with improved draft dynamics and steering, it almost seems all is set to implement cross wind soon, isn’t it? Put those wind turbines in France to some use 😉

Mat
Mat (@m77-fortier)
8 months ago

Ah! I was wondering what was happening this pm… I must say that I really did not enjoy seeing riders more all over the place. I was dizzy

MarkE
MarkE
8 months ago

I wonder if it’s related, but draft feels stickier than it used to, like getting stuck behind someone doing a full w/kg lower. I’ve noticed speeds, especially on Tempus going from 41-42 to 33-34 mph because if this, or getting dropped from a small pack as we pass through other groups.

Travis
Travis
8 months ago

Yes, exciting to see the effort. More progress needed but a step in the right direction. How can I find the new AI tag to register and try an event?

Rodger Tellis
Rodger Tellis
8 months ago

I wonder if this will stop me me from swinging out wildly to “draft” on an innocent cyclist who’s just sitting there minding his or her own business.

Toby
Toby
8 months ago

TdZ make up ride today, I did myself losing the draft more than usual swinging out to the side to much, IRL you focus on sticking to a wheel as much as possible, only moving away when training to move up the group. Hard to replicate this without steering, sticky draft helps keep you in the right place but if a pain when you don’t want it

Fritz Hartman
Fritz Hartman
8 months ago

I wonder if this won’t make a difference for new riders to the platform.

Fritz Hartman
Fritz Hartman
8 months ago
Reply to  Fritz Hartman

Sorry … I should have said this might make a big difference to new riders to the platform. Explanation… it has been my experience that new riders (understandably) shoot off the front and get shelled off the back of the pack so much easier than IRL. It looks like they reduced the number of available spots on the road your avatar can go OR (more accurately) made it harder for you avatar to get to a spot that is “soon to be” occupied by another rider. Interesting.

Rob
Rob
8 months ago

No I know how a Tetris block feels. 2 steps back again.

Lukas
Lukas
8 months ago

Did a TdZ Makeup Ride this morning and the Pack Dynamic was awful, riders stretched across the road and with all people pushong around the same, some rider always got spat out the back like crazy, happened to me a few times as well..
A lot of work still ahead, nothing smooth or realistic about it.

John
John
8 months ago

If you lose contact at the back – even briefly, you’re going to get dropped like a hot potato. Zwift devs have taken away seeing the inside of other riders’ skulls while passing. Mostly. In return, however, you now have to make much harder than real-life effort to stay on someone’s wheel, with very little to no control over your side to side movement while on said wheel. Doesn’t seem like a particularly desired trade-off, especially since, there are lots of other realism issues out there: I still never get wet when it rains, my wheels still appear below below… Read more »

Alex
Alex
8 months ago

If this affects drafting the way people say it does, that might switch the balance of power from 1-5min power riders to 20min/FTP power riders in a decent amount of races.

Darren
Darren
8 months ago

I’d like my avatar to just stop swinging wildly from left to right and back again, like his stopped off at the local pub before I loaded the app up! Good think there aren’t any police riding around, I’m sure my avatar couldn’t walk in a straight line.

Colin Peerman
Colin Peerman
8 months ago

I rode Innsbruck yesterday, in an event with it on. I thought it provided a more realistic experience in the 15 man group I was in. Top marks

Richard
Richard
8 months ago

TDZ yesterday. As a bigger rider not as easy to just sit in the bunch. Needed to pay attention and more “mini efforts” to stay in the group.

Francois
Francois
8 months ago

My humble opinion on the new beta drafting algorithm: not good, really not. I tested it today for the first time in a TdZ event. We were a small front group of about 6 with one guy pushing hard all the way. So, well, other riders were very quickly jiggling back and forth most of the time, by about one meter, or suddenly accelerating; riders were going out of draft with no apparent reason and staying there, or just not following the wheel in front; someone coming too close at the back almost always pushes you out of draft; some… Read more »

Sebastien
Sebastien
8 months ago
Reply to  Francois

Exactly same experience for me; a step in the wrong direction.

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