An important skill in Rocket League is the ability to precisely estimate how long it will take us to reach a certain destination. These time estimates let us answer useful high level questions:

The answers to these questions determine the decisions we make, so it is essential that our time estimates are as accurate as possible. This article considers how to analyze a particular drivable path in order to answer the questions above.

This analysis does not consider powersliding.


Let's say I have a curve c(t), where the parameter t is not necessarily time, but just a number ranging from 0 to 1 (0 being the beginning of the curve, and 1 being the end).


In order to calculate the time to traverse a curve, it is helpful to first figure out the length of any section of the curve. To get started, let's zoom in on an arbitrary section of this curve corresponding to the parameter values (tΔt2,t+Δt2).

In blue, we have the actual curve segment, whose length we would like to know. In red, we use c(t) to construct a line that locally approximates the curve. Observe that the actual length, Δs, is pretty close to the length of the red line segment:


Simplifying the righthand side of the above gives us:


Now, since this approximation gets better and better for smaller values of Δt, we consider the limit when Δt0, in which case the Δ's become d's, and we turn the into an equality:


With this in mind, we can use calculus to add up all of these infinitesimally small lengths. Let s(t) represent the arc length from the start of the curve until it reaches the parameter value t:


In general, this integral cannot be evaluated in closed form, so we have to integrate numerically. This might sound complicated at first, but it just amounts to sampling points along that curve and calculating distances between adjacent points. Note: the total length of the curve is L=s(1).

It is more convenient to reparameterize our original curve in terms of arc length, since that directly tells us how much distance we have covered already and how much we have left. We denote this arc-length-parameterizated curve by c¯, and observe that it relates to the original in the following way:


Now that we have a grasp on the arc length of different sections of the curve, we can calculate the time it would require to traverse a small section of it:


where v(s) is the speed of the car after having travelled a distance s along the curve. Like before, when we make this small section of the curve infinitesimally small, we replace Δ's with d's, and integrate both sides to add up all those small time contributions into a total time:


All that remains is to determine v(s) such that it is as large as possible, so that the total time will be minimized.

Aside: Curvature

The curvature, κ, at a point on a curve is related to the radius of the osculating circle at that point (shown below in red).


The relationship between curvature and radius is a reciprocal one: κ=1r, where r is the radius of the (red) osculating circle. This definition is consistent with our intuition that straight lines should have zero curvature, and large curvature implies a tight turn.

In 2D, it is also common to associate a sign with the curvature value, to indicate if the curve is bending to the left (positive sign) or to the right (negative sign).

If we have an expression for c(t) directly (e.g. for the case of Hermite curves, Bezier curves, Lagrange Interpolating Polynomials, etc), then the following formula can be used to calculate the exact curvature:


If our curve is described by a sequence of points, then a finite difference stencil can be used to approximate the expression above, but I recommend one of the two beautiful constructions from this paper, with the relevant excerpt below (note, they use k instead of κ for curvature):

Approximating v(s)

The shape of the curve imposes constraints on how fast the car can be travelling instantenously. In another post, we showed that the maximum curvature, κmax(v), is related to the speed of the car in the following way:

With this in mind, a reasonable first guess for the optimal speed plan, v(s), is one where we set the speed to the maximum value allowed by the curvature of the path. Mathematically, we can express this constraint as:


Let's see what a simulation of this assumption looks like, when applied to the example path from earlier (using actual the actual curvature data from Rocket League):


From the plot of v(s), we see that the car can travel at maximum speed along the straightaways, and it must slow down to take the sharp turns. Although this is a good first guess, it has some problems. Most notably, look at how abruptly the speed changes when the car reaches the sharp right turn. The car in Rocket League can't actually follow this v(s), because its requires accelerations greater than the ones the car can achieve by boosting and braking.

So, let's go back and modify our model to try and include these acceleration constraints from the dynamics of the car.

A Better Approximation for v(s)

In this post, we showed how different controls affect the car's acceleration when driving. For this analysis, we only care about braking and boosting, since those are the optimal ways to change our speed the fastest.

For a straightaway, the plot below shows the relationship between speed and distance traveled when boosting (yellow) and braking (blue):

We can use this information to improve our estimate of v(s), by asserting that the slopes of v(s) must be bounded by the values from these curves. This will guarantee that the updated estimate will respect the acceleration limits of the car. Below is a comparison of the original v(s) in blue, and the slope-limited form (in yellow):

By reading this plot, we can see that the optimal time of traversal involves boosting for the first ~750 units, braking, and then accelerating again once the car is past the turn. So, performing this analysis has found the exact point along the curve where we need to start braking, so that we can still meet the speed requirements of the curve. Additionally, it tells us the maximum possible value for v(L) (the speed of the car when it has reached its destination).


In this post we showed how to understand and calculate the arc length, curvature, and maximum speeds attainable by a car with speed-dependent turning radius and finite acceleration. The entire procedure is applicable to almost any curve in space, and we can use these quantities to numerically evaluate the integral that estimates the least time to traverse that path.

The planning problem (which path to take) is still an open question, but the ability to analyze a particular path is an essential step toward being able to determine what the optimal path should be.

Additional Considerations

Other accelerations experienced by the car can also be considered with this approach, by generalizing the slope-limiting process for v(s). If we also consider the instantaneous direction the car is facing and the curvature of the path, we can model the effects of gravity and turning friction to update our range of possible accelerations the car can experience!