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Leaderboards

Currently Leaderboards can be edited by developers on the website. It's a pretty hefty interface and a difficult job to get a leaderboard working just right. It genuinely takes some care and attention to get a good leaderboard working, so in this doc we'll try to understand how it works.

Overviewlink

This is how a game's Leaderboard List looks like on the website:

leaderboard_list

In the center you can see every already made Leaderboard, and in the right column you can see the Code Notes for the game. The Code Notes are here to help with some conditions we'll see below.

Here's a brief explanation of each field of a single Leaderboard:

  • Title: the leaderboard's title.
  • Description: the leaderboard's description.
  • Format: specifies how the value should be displayed.
  • "LowerIsBetter" checkbox: determines how the list should be sorted. When checked, lower value appear as higher ranks in the leaderboard. Time-based leaderboards usually honor faster times (lower), whereas score-based leaderboards favor higher values.
  • Start: start conditions, aka STA.
  • Cancel: cancel conditions, aka CAN.
  • Submit: submit conditions, aka SUB.
  • Value: a value interpreter, aka VAL.

Note: A valid leaderboard MUST have all four of these conditions, even if they're set to always be true (1=1) or always be false (0=1).

Those last 4 fields are really important and LOTS of care must be taken over the entry of any characters into these strings. That's why they deserve a further explanation:

The Start (STA) condition is a series of values, like an achievement, that must be true in order to start looking for a leaderboard submission.

If a Cancel (CAN) condition is true, then it will cancel the leaderboard and no score will be submitted. NOTE: Cancel is given priority over Start. If both become true in the same frame, the leaderboard will not start.

If the Submit (SUB) condition is true, then the leaderboard score will be submitted. NOTE: Cancel is given priority over Submit. If both become true in the same frame, the score will not be submitted.

Finally, the Value (VAL) is a special case, and will be taken from memory using the formula stated in the memory box. This is the score that gets displayed while the leaderboard is active, and the value that's submitted if SUB is true.

Memory addresses for STA/CAN/SUB/VAL have the format defined here.

NOTE: Once an active leaderboard is cancelled or submitted, it cannot be reactivated until the Start condition becomes false, then true again. This prevents the leaderboard from immediately reactivating after submission/cancel.

Pro-tip: STA, CAN, and SUB support all logic available in the achievement editor. The easiest way to make sure you get them written correctly is to create local achievements that capture the events, then use the Copy Def button to copy the achievement definition to the clipboard so you can paste it into the editor on the website.

Examplelink

The best place to start is to look at one of the existing leaderboards https://retroachievements.org/leaderboardList.php and break it down to see how it works. We're going to use the Green Hill Act 1 (Sonic the Hedgehog) Leaderboard for this purpose. Then let's see how it looks:

new_leaderboard2

The Title/Description fields are quite obvious.

The Type is "Time (Frames)". The value we're tracking updates once a frame, and the Genesis runs at 60 frames per second. (see not below for systems that run at other speeds)

The Lower Is Better flag is checked, then the one who makes the shortest time will be the #1.

Now we're going to break down the most important parts.

Start Conditionslink

STA: 0xfe10=h0000_0xhf601=h0c_d0xhf601!=h0c_0xfff0=0

  • 0xfe10=h0000: If 16-bit RAM address 0xfe10 is equivalent to hex 0000,
  • _: AND,
  • 0xhf601=h0c: If 8-bit RAM address 0xf601 is equivalent to hex 0c,
  • _: AND,
  • d0xhf601!=h0c: If the previous 8-bit RAM address 0xf601 is NOT equivalent to hex 0c,
  • _: AND,
  • 0xfff0=0 If 16-bit RAM address 0xfff0 is equivalent to 0.

This might seem daunting, because we don't know what these addresses mean. That's why the Code Notes in the right column are pretty handy! You can see how these addresses are labelled in memory. In our example we have:

  • 0xfe10 is the level, and is expected to be 0 (the first level).
  • 0xf601 is an 8-bit memory address, and we use the prefix 0xh instead of 0x to signify this. The 0xf601 is the screen mode. The second and third parts of the start statement are saying "the current mode should be ingame (0c), and the mode on the previous frame should NOT be ingame". Note: that d prefix on the address represents delta, or "the previous frame's value". Summing up: trigger this if we've JUST arrived in a level (the start of the level, when we want to start testing their time).
  • Finally we also expect 0xfff0 to be equivalent to 0, because this address is used for demo mode, and we don't want to award a leaderboard entry when the demo is active!

Tip: the most common mistake when creating leaderboards is forgetting the h when trying to reference an 8-bit memory address.

Note: You can use HitCounts in the Start/Submit/Cancel triggers, but you are responsible for resetting them. These triggers are evaluated every frame, and the state of the leaderboard is dependent on which ones are true. As such, the HitCount will increment even when the leaderboard is not active unless you have an explicit ResetIf condition.

Cancel Conditionslink

CAN: 0xhfe13<d0xhfe13

  • 0xfe13 is the number of lives.

The cancel section checks if the player's LIVES counter ever becomes lower. Literally, it says "Cancel if the CURRENT value at 0xfe13 is less than the PREVIOUS value at 0xfe13". We want to do this because you could reach the final checkpoint and run out of time, resetting your timer to 0:00. We don't want to allow this, because it's not the correct way of completing the level. So if the player dies, we reset their leaderboard progress. Finally, if you connect two cancel conditions with s, the leaderboard will cancel when either one of them are true.

Submit Conditionslink

SUB: 0xf7cc!=0_d0xf7cc=0

  • 0xf7cc is the endlevel flag, non-interactive.

The submit section checks if the current frame has the 'endlevel' flag set to true (or !=0, 'nonzero'), and the previous frame (delta) has it set to false (or =0, 'zero'). This suggests that the player has reached the end of the level, and has proven to be a fairly sturdy benchmark.

Tip: it can be useful to watch these values in memory to see how they perform, and what sort of values they end up at in different circumstances.

Valuelink

Finally, value. Once the player has reached the start condition, they will be shown a popup which remains on-screen, showing their progress so far. If it's a time leaderboard, it will be a clock, and if it's a score, it will just be the value. If they fulfill the cancel condition, they will be told that they have failed, and the popup will be removed. If they successfully reach the submit condition, the current value will be taken and submitted as their score, and on successful submission, an in game popup will inform the player of the leaderboard so far, and their position in the leaderboard.

For more information on the value format, see Value Definition.

NOTE: The value calculation is performed using 32-bit signed integers. As such, the maximum value is 2147483647 and the minimum value is -2147483648. Values above the maximum will wrap around and register as very negative numbers.

Value Formatlink

'Format' can be any of the available formats, but the editor currently only provides Score, Time (Frames), Time (Milliseconds) and Value. Time (Frames) is the most common one, and represents a time derived from a value that increments every frame. It does this by multiplying by 100 (to convert to hundredths of a second) and dividing by 60 (the number of frames per second).

NOTE: If you're using a system that doesn't run at 60Hz, you have to use "Time (millisecs)" and multiply by some value to do the conversion yourself (50Hz = *2 [100/50], 60Hz = *1.666666 [100/60], 75Hz =*1.333333 [100/75]).

NOTE: Time (Milliseconds) is actually hundredths of a second, not thousandths of a second. i.e. a Value of 6234 would be 62.34 seconds, not 6.234 seconds.

Further helplink

There are unfortunately MANY ways to get this process wrong, so if you are having any trouble feel free to ask for help in our Discord server.

If you want to practice, it's highly recommended to create your own leaderboard and attempting something on a new game, rather than using an existing leaderboard.

Please remember that these files are pulled directly into someone's game if they decide to play it, and a badly formed memory address or string could cause their emulator to crash, so please test your leaderboard code!

Changeloglink

Last 10 changes on this page:

  • [2022-02-04 17:36] Jamiras: extract memory sizes
  • [2022-02-04 16:47] Jamiras: extract Value Definition to separate page
  • [2021-10-23 12:28] Jamiras: Updated Leaderboards (markdown)
  • [2021-06-08 10:07] Jamiras: Updated Leaderboards (markdown)
  • [2021-04-26 13:35] meleu: fix link
  • [2020-11-13 16:36] Jamiras: Updated Leaderboards (markdown)
  • [2020-02-07 20:19] Jamiras: add note about value range
  • [2020-01-09 22:56] Keltron3030: Added 24-bit to address format table
  • [2019-12-24 15:27] Jamiras: add Value from HitCount section and note about using hit counts in STA/SUB/CAN
  • [2019-05-15 17:53] meleu: recover