Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Waitzkin Notes

art of learning

Read this book over the last week or two, very enjoyable, very insightful, damn near incoherent much of the time. Lots of valuable ideas to think about, unfortunately author's tone, unsuccessful vocabulary choices, and total lack of bibliography make a lot of them more difficult than need be to translate into meaningful and useful syntax.

raw notes:

1st thing in the morning
last thing in the day
creative output without input (checking email etc)
start and end with high quality, self-driven creative work

meditation and breath
tai chi form meditation
return to breath. When it races, return to breath
the objective isn’t perfection, it’s process based
the outcome isn’t important, (you can dwell on thoughts as long as you return to breathing, pay attention to breathing, don’t control thoughts)
don’t judge yourself, simply evaluate and optimize processes

diaphram is center
intake of  breath is affirmative, energizing form into the fingertips
then exhale is sinking into soft awareness while energy is distributed
this is like a wave coming onto the shore then retreating softly, the lapping physicality of rhythm married to sound
physical introspection matching the thought form (think “coordination” instead of “unity” of mind/body)

“Flow state”
it is not a mood or mind-state to be "achieved," it is better conceptualized heightened awareness and receptivity to intuition (like thomas merton on the diamond sutra)
flow can be cultivated.
We pick a relaxed, “serene” activity that we recognize as close to flow
then we do some exercises (breathing or yoga or whatever, but something physical and appropriate) preceding this activity
maybe pick a song or an easy meal as well. A chunk of time 30-60 min of easy routine.
Do it daily for 30 days. Should be all linked together in the brain and increasingly easy to work into.
Then can start reducing the time commitment.
Eventually it should all be so practiced and tied together that slipping into flow is as easy as doing breathing exercises.

turning it on and off deliberately
to better specialize, intensify, localize effort and focus in and out
cultivating your off and on is mechanically training your stress and recovery periods
cardiovascular exercise, you push hard to reach 170 then fall to 140 then up again then down again. The goal is to increase efficiency so that the strain to reach same level is lessened (meaning that pushing to 170 measure is now a new workload high) and teaching your body to rest and recover more readily.
The same with mental stress.
Results in more On when On, more Off when Off.

mind as a stallion to be tamed and used
mind relationships, cognitive biases etc are habitual addictions
depending on identity and context they are a boon or a hindrance
you turn and work with/from these relationships as you turn to use as material instead of things to avoid.
do not judge, simply evaluate and optimize processes.

learning with open pores—no ego in the way
no fear of loss and no playing out of comfortable habits that are mechanical reasons for losses
no need to be correct or to justify
minimizing repetition keeps learning dynamic, less predictable
learning makes you vulnerable
necessarily, that’s what it is, investing in losses
because it’s not possible to never make the same mistake twice
but the more open and aware we are the sooner we catch mistakes and awareness translates to overcoming them

complete mastery of simple, small exercises that are intimately linked to a fundamental aspect of the art
translates to intuitive mastery of the fundamental aspect
this is internalization
but this is not always competitively viable without learning to make ever smaller circles, applying with just as much force of emphasis on the fundamental aspect to tangental tactics with greater and greater specificity
this results in an increasingly complex gameplan of uniform subtlety and power, much of which will be invisible
it also increases our attention as we play it out
very ppmd
depth of mastery in the most important forms is 90% of mastery.
(the first thing to learn and master in any MU is the edgeguard. Then what to do when they are cornered. Then from center is easier to understand totally and unconsciously)

once a principle is defined and in the blood, tactics are easy to design and build in/on

the goal is to cultivate a Principle by engineering a handful of ruling habits, to enable the principle to come out in everything
how you do anything is how you do everything
if you don’t turn it on in the little moments then the big ones aren’t possible

Visualization, investing as much mental and emotional energy as possible to practice, makes it more real to the brain and more effective learning.

no one has trained as hard or as well as you
(then you win)

There is a distinction between learner and artist/performer, different goals, different processes, different execution

we have to be at peace with imperfection. Flexibility requires imperfection and flexibility is laughably more important.
We work with the material that’s available as it is available, allowing for grace and inspiration. This is impossible with rigid expectations.
Create and maintain “ripples” of awareness. (This word ripples is problematic but the ideation is important.)

Solving for a Downward Mental Spiral
in blogpost, woman and bicycle

anger and indignation is a response to something that we don’t like, which normally is something that we aren’t comfortable dealing with and/or lies outside of our self-imposed rules (someone that camps the shit out of you, someone that talks during the game, etc). It’s silly to be indignant when faced with adversity. There will always be adversity. Our job is to recognize the mechanical solution and to deal with (not necessarily try to overcome or dismiss, but to keep under control) our emotions. It’s ok to play imperfect. Perfection is never the goal. Perfection is an idol that’s made up of your self-imposed rules. Perfection does not exist. The solution to this is to grow bigger than the opponent’s gambit, which has much to do with your actions, little to do with your ego.
Rather than try to put them out you can use your emotions as fuel to play inspired, provided that you are up to the mechanical/technical challenge. They have poked the sleeping bear. But the technical challenge is the most important bit. Once you have mastery over whatever the countermeasure is then it’s not very difficult to rise to the challenge.
With competence, what was disorienting is usable energy.

shutter speed
the throw that is at first experienced as a blur is 6 steps
with familiarity it is perceived as 6 steps in the brain with so many variations in each step
and you have the time, when worked into intuitive process, to perceive, process, and decide on a course of action in response to these as if time slows down, but mechanically it is because of focussed awareness that was not present before (when the entire throw was experienced as a blur) by way of clusters, grouped data in the brain
this concept expands to more abstract position recognition etc
I mean, it’s pretty much how the brain works lol but still good illustration

If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.
At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.

If we want to be among the best then we have to take risks that others would avoid
optimizing and learning the potential of the moment and turning adversity into advantage
you should always come off of an injury or loss stronger than you went down
excellence cannot be cultivated or attained through non-presence in routine
adversity is a source of creative inspiration
like muscles tearing to rebuild stronger vs atrophy

The strongest competitors and performers are not well-rounded
(in fact, trying to round out ourselves often leads to little more than frustration and colvultion, perpetually moving the mental goalposts around trying to identify what is Perfect. Perfect is unattainable. Perfect is a horrible, unreal goalpost. Best is a bad goalpost. Best Self is much more realistic and useful. This is the location of the distinction between Optimal and Unattainable.)
they are masters of navigating their own psychology, intuitively and by design.
they are masters of fundamental principles.
their gameplans are effectively without exception specifically designed to enable their strengths and make their personal weaknesses non-fatal. There is no need for them to play perfect in every aspect. They play better than perfect in their element, when the game takes on the complexity and color of their personal logic. This is “expression.”
at the highest level, the winner dictates the tone of battle and the loser struggles to adapt and hold ground

Friday, May 20, 2016

Solving for a Downward Mental Spiral

Paraphrasing from The Art of Learning.

Many times matches are lost after a failure to maintain clarity of mind after making a serious error. This error is rarely disastrous, but the downward spiral culminating in a whole series of mistakes brought on by a loss in focus and attention may be. In competition, negative momentum is real.

Imagine a chess player that has been slowly building an advantage over the course of a few hours. He makes a small mistake, after which his opponent is able to equalize. From here, it is difficult for the first player to keep his clarity and regroup. He has formed expectations about the game that are no longer real. He is tempted (he has conditioned himself) to press an advantage that no longer exists and is frustrated when what “should” be is not. The key to avoiding a downward spiral and regaining composure is to break from the tide of thoughts and emotions that preceded the mistake and accept what is as what is in the moment. It’s a new game from there out with new forms and new possibilities.

Waitzkin shares the following andecdote:
“It was my habit to walk the two miles to PS116 every Wednesday, planning my class and enjoying the city. One fall afternoon I was strolling east along 33rd Street, lost in thought and headed toward the school … There I stood, within the maelstrom of the midtown rush, waiting for the light and thinking about the ideas that I would soon be discussing with my students. A pretty young woman stood a few feet away from me, wearing headphones and moving to the music. I noticed her because I could hear the drumbeat … Suddenly she stepped right into the oncoming traffic. I guess she was confused by the chaotic one-way street, because I remember her looking the wrong way down Broadway. Immediately, as she stepped forward, looking right, a bicycle bore down on her from the left. The biker lurched away at the last second and have her a solid but harmless bump. In my memory, time stops right here. This was the critical moment in the woman’s life. She could have walked away unscathed if she had just stepped back onto the pavement, but instead she turned and cursed the fast-pedaling bicyclist.
I can see her now, standing with her back to the traffic on 33rd and Broadway, screaming at the now-distant biker who had just performed a miracle to avoid smashing into her. The image is frozen in my mind. A taxicap was the next to speed around the corner. The woman was struck from behind and sent reeling ten feet into the air. She smashed into a lamppost and was knocked out bleeding badly. The ambulance and police came and eventually I moved on to PS 116 hoping that she would survive …
I felt compelled to share a version of the story with my students. I left out the gravity of her injuries but I linked life and chess in a way that appeared to move them—this tragedy needn’t have happened. I explained how the woman’s first mistake was looking the wrong way and stepping into the street in front of traffic. Maybe wearing headphones put her in her own world, a little removed from the immediacy of the moment. Then the biker should have been a wake-up call. She wasn’t hurt, but instead of reacting with alertness, she was spooked into anger, irritated that her quiet had been shattered. Her reaction was a perfect parallel to a chess player’s downward spiral—after making an error it is so easy to cling to the emotional comfort zone of what was, but there is also that unsettling sense that things have changed for the worse. The clear thinker is suddenly at war with himself and flow is lost… And then comes the taxicab.”
This is a powerful illustration, no?

Neutral and Frame Advantage

Neutral and Frame Advantage

When I was writing my initial brain-sorting on neutral and positioning (that this document is in spirit an addendum to), I was intrigued by the primacy of positioning but frustrated by its incapacity to describe mixups beyond generalized footsies. There’s an additional timing/movement-based decision mechanism that was a struggle to identify but I believe that Relative Frame Advantage reconciles Melee movement with FGC footsies.

- - -

Frame Advantage/Traps

In Street Fighter frame advantage refers primarily to the relationship of blockstun to endlag. If you hit a blocking character with a move with enough blockstun and little enough endlag, you can perform an action before they can. The greater your frame advantage, the better your options to combo or counter an opponent’s action out of blockstun. Naturally, a move that is negative on block can get you punished. Shieldstun and endlag work very similarly in Melee. Very few moves are positive on shield in Melee, but because our possible actions are restricted to a handful, we tend to look for things that are better or worse than -7, the threshold for a guaranteed shield grab. Anything better allows for a mixup with a jab/dash/crouch etc. designed to beat the grab.

Due to differing game mechanics not worth divulging here, these post-hit mixup scenarios work a little bit differently in Street Fighter but are called Frame Traps. Frame Traps are normally straightforward mixups based on how positive a move is on block. Generally speaking, the greater the frame advantage the greater the potential punish off a correct read. That being said, there is some amount of nuance to the system and this is where things get interesting. Some moves or spacings push the blocking character too far away to punish out of block directly. Let’s take for an example Yun’s light shoulder in SF4. Even though it is technically negative, it is safe on block because the spacing creates an interesting scenario where any immediate punish attempt will whiff. If the extra space/time for a slight walk forward needed to punish a poke exceeds its endlag then it can be considered to have effective/relative frame advantage. Although this advantage is indirect it is very real. After a light shoulder Yun can basically do whatever he wants (normally to wait and punish a potential whiffed punish or walk forward/jump) as if he had a frame trap himself.

This setup is very interesting but it isn’t actually that unusual. The only change from a normal frame trap scenario and this backwards sort of one is the additional space.
This space keeps Yun safe by artificially subtracting frames from his opponent’s relative frame advantage by requiring that it be used for movement.

It’s not really any different than had the two arrived at this timing variation from full screen as opposed to a block. What is important is that we are beginning to consider movement as a time commitment as vital as startup.

Druggedfox has previously expanded on frame advantage as it applies to playing neutral beyond whiff punishing laggy fsmashes. In an option vs option scenario, say Falcon’s nair vs Shiek’s ftilt, Falcon requires a certain amount of frame advantage in order to protect his movement to position, jumpsquat, and nair startup (a minimum of 11f for nair vs Shiek’s minimum of 6 for ftilt, so at least +6). In order to land a nair without fear of it being beaten by ftilt, Falcon must anticipate Sheik’s committing to some kind of lag (be it a whiffed move, a WD, a dash, etc) that will provide him with at least a 6f head-start but as soon as he recognizes it the nair is guaranteed to beat an ftilt*. Naturally, if Falcon does not have relative frame advantage then committing to the nair is unreasonably unsafe given the risk/reward.

*At this point it’s important to note that while it is impossible to discern exact frame advantage in the moment as competitive players we are very very very good at approximating it. Over the course of however many ungodly number of times we’ve experienced it our guts have learned to recognize when a shieldgrab is guaranteed or when a nair is unsafe. Examining the specifics will not only help us fine-tune our impulses but to use them to our pronounced advantage.

Consider how this relates to Opportunity Cost. If Falcon thoughtlessly dash dances, WDes in place, retreating nairs, or whatever other unhelpful rhythmic habit he’s picked up then the opportunity to recognize and to seize his +6f relative frame advantage to get a nair will pass him by.

Relative frame advantage gives us ways to reliably win even unfavorable option vs option fights. It should be the chief methodology in neutral after accounting for stage position. But relative frame advantage applies beyond specific move vs move scenarios. I will expand on two related concepts, Scrambles and Tempo.


For the purpose of this conversation, scrambles are situations that are a) unreactable and b) that neither player has prepared for. They are often accompanied by a harried feeling. One more common scramble is Fox accidentally undershooting a nair outside of grab range. The opponent can’t directly punish the nair but can make one decision at the same time that fox comes out of his landing lag. This is of course reminiscent of Yun’s backwards frame trap, but in this instance the relative frame advantage is not deliberate. Because scrambles are unreactable and unintentional any decision made within it will be made on impulse. You can look at scrambles with the impulse guidelines below, which should prove revelatory on several counts.

1) What a player does first he will do most often.
2) If you directly punish something, they will not do that again in the next instance (if the event passes unrecognized then ignore this rule).
3) Players will use ~3 options at most in any given situation.
4) Decisions are prompted by position/relative frame advantage.

This is exactly how Samus players get those magic grabs out of nowhere. Because the grab beats spotdodge (a common habit in scrambles) and dashing away might be restricted by timing/stage position a Samus player just has to confirm that their opponent does not jump out of scrambles. As long as jump is off of the table grab will beat most other options. Its success rate goes through the roof.

#4 is the real kicker, though. This is an observation that due to its nature isn’t precisely provable but I’ve paid very close attention over the past month or so, watched videos, and asked a few good players to confirm. I am now confident in stating that actions out of scrambles are impulsive and based on frame (dis)advantage, not the situation itself. A scramble is a scramble because it is a strange, unintentional situation requiring an immediate, habitual decision. This makes it difficult to recognize, so guideline #2 rarely applies and he’s very unlikely to mix up between prepared options. Yet we recognize that actions out of scrambles do vary. In minor scrambles maybe the Fox player will dash back, in major ones maybe he spotdodges. The decisions that are being made are responses to the amount of danger unconsciously assessed which we can measure in frame disadvantage. Usually the bigger the disadvantage the more dramatic the decision (e.g. light frame disadvantage = dash back, heavy frame disadvantage = spotdodge) but there is no difference between similar frame counts. If fox makes a habitual decision to spotdodge at an about -18f relative disadvantage after a shallow nair then he will make the exact same decision to spotdodge at an about -18f relative disadvantage after a whiffed dash attack. It’s important to note what that decision is (the punish on a Fox that habitually shields when very nervous is completely different from the punish on one that spotdodges) but understanding frame disadvantage, not the situation itself, as the motivator for the decision dramatically decreases the complexity of perceiving and punishing Fox’s habitual decisions out of bad situations.

Naturally, these instances of certainty will decrease in frequency as a player increases in skill i.e. familiarity with situations. It does however have incredible benefits beyond the occasional punish out of a scramble. Because relative frame advantage includes the amount of space that a character can travel in x number of frames, you can use these principles to track and to anticipate decisions made in neutral exchanges on the borders of reactable (~20f, which in terms of space varies dramatically by character). You may notice and even compel responses to soft/hard frame advantage by intentionally changing your levels of commitment. If they dash back every time then do it on purpose and take the stage. Etc. This points to a very interesting methodology for punishing not just a move choice but a timing and movement choice.


Tempo is a chess term that I’ve seen referenced in a Smash context but never sufficiently expanded on or married to melee outside of a few personal conversations I've had with Frootloop that inspired this entire exercise. In chess, every move costs exactly one turn unit of in-game time. If by way of some tactic you can achieve a desired effect in two fewer turns than with another tactic then you reap the benefit of having two extra turn’s worth of time, which is obviously incredibly valuable.
In Melee our commitments vary in duration, but they are all still time commitments. I’ve written about the how even a safe move can be costly in terms of opportunity. A retreating bair might go unpunished, but it costs so much time (jumpsquat+startup+endlag+landing lag) during which you cannot do anything else that you might be giving up an opportunity to grab etc. In addition, there’s a spatial cost. A retreating bair surrenders space to your opponent. This is space that they can use to dash dance as well as space that will take even more time for you to cross over again, should you need to in the future. Situationally, a WD away might achieve the same defensive objective as a retreating bair with a very small fraction of the time commitment. Managing your time commitments relative to your opponent (Including in relation to the space between you) is Tempo. In this way it is another iteration of relative frame advantage.

Using a tempo advantage to pressure the opponent into acting first is sometimes called initiative. In a way you could see it as forcing them to throw in RPS on “scissors” while you have the space/time to wait until “shoot.” The clearest examples in Melee involve severe stage advantage being used as a resource for frame advantage. Consider Puff’s edgeguard on Marth below the stage. Puff sits on the ledge and simply reacts correctly to Marth’s recovery options. Because his options are limited to DJ, sideB, and upB, none of which are in this case very threatening, it is not very difficult to flowchart a series of reactions out of ledge invincibility to ensure a 100% edgeguard rate off of Marth’s compulsion to act first (i.e. before he falls too low and dies). Positional advantage manifests very similarly as initiative by restricting options and compelling the opponent to act first. With stage/frame advantage many mixups dramatically favor the center by way restricting/enhancing access to space to retreat. That is, if they need be played at all.

Many situations in Melee are flowchartable. Picture again Yun’s light shoulder. Yun gets effective frame advantage for connecting a light shoulder even on block. He can potentially use this opportunity to force his opponent into the corner, limiting their options and perpetuating his tempo advantage as initiative. If Yun plays well then his light shoulder can = initiative. Similarly, any situation that nets Yun a light shoulder on block can = initiative. Yun doesn’t have to wait around for initiative to be given to him, he can actively pursue it with light shoulder on block and confidence in his ability to consistently convert from there! Maybe he uses light frame advantage from waiting out of range of a poke instead of getting scared and whiffing an attack to then walk forward and force a block. It could be that simple.

Actively playing with tempo is managing your active threats, your active range as potential, and your vulnerable lag to engineer stage and frame advantages. While it is impossible to avoid commitments completely it is possible to orchestrate their placement. If you land further away than fox can run during landinglag + dash etc then you are safe to land. However, if you land in a space that fox can actively threaten then you land with frame disadvantage. If an approach is spaced such that a WD can avoid it then WDing saves valuable frame advantage relative to jumping. Avoiding habitual or superfluous movement rhythms allows you to better look for and take advantage of overcommitments. You can use a small amount of space to protect the startup of a jump+bair in order to use it to purchase more space. You can jump empty to use the threat of bair to purchase space without actually committing to a bair. All of these are active uses of time commitments and ranges to engineer ever greater advantages.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Impulse and PvP

Impulse and PvP

Tapion, a very read-dependent Falcon player of lore, gave me two tendencies to note in the PvP. I have added two additional rules of thumb for a list of four.

1) What a player does first he will do most often.
2) If you directly punish something, they will not do that again in the next instance (if the event passes unrecognized then ignore this rule).
3) Players will use ~3 options at most in any given situation.
4) Decisions are prompted by position and/or relative frame advantage.

While this methodology has it’s most direct application in tech-chasing, high-level players actively use these guidelines to predict DI, double jumps, exit routes, etc.

Let’s look at these tendencies individually.

1) What a player does first he will do most often.
This is pretty straightforward. With no information to go off of, a decision is made impulsively or because it is comfortable. This means that whatever action is taken is impulsive or comfortable. In a game as cut-throat as Melee no one opens with intentional risk.

2) If you directly punish something, they will not do that again in the next instance (if the event passes unrecognized then ignore this rule).
Unless a player is oblivious to the interaction, they attempt to learn from and control their previous decision. For whatever reason (I’m not up on the psychology enough to say exactly) this means that they choose something else the next time they recognize the decision. However, if they do not recognize the decision as a choice then Rule #1 stands. Humans are profoundly terrible at randomizing their behavior. Every decision has a source and you probably just located it.

3) Players will use ~3 options at most in any given situation.
Normally your character will have one or two options that are clearly, mechanically better than then alternatives. These decisions are reinforced every time you make that decision. As it plays out over and over it becomes a habit. I noticed this while I was researching Puff on Shield. No player uses every option from shield. Even in the cases where they attempt to mix things up they are just going to commit to 1 of about 3 that they've internalized as "sufficiently good." This is a general trend that goes beyond techs and OoS options and into various positions etc and allows for massive adaptation by a mindful player. Obviously you can net a clean stock off of a clean read (especially as Jigglypuff) but often times knowing what an opponent won’t do is exceedingly useful. There are only so many other options that they can or will commit to. A player afraid to tech roll in will stay in the vicinity of tech in place/out, a much smaller and normally reactable range. A Fox that won’t FH nair enables a number of Puff’s otherwise overly risky nair/fair patterns that can consistently beat out many of his other options.

4) Decisions are prompted by position and/or relative frame advantage.
People will react differently to you standing in front of your shield vs behind it. They techroll differently depending on where they hit relative to center stage. Generally, impulsive decisions are all directly related to the perceived threat more than the moves etc involved.
For frame advantage refer to

Obviously this is not an exact science. It only brushes against conditioning or confusing non-zero-sum theory that I don't intend to read (lol). However after careful thought and testing I believe that these guidelines are simple and comprehensive enough to have massive net gains over time that can supplement a strong gameplan.

If you can react then don't bother with this shit and take your guaranteed stuff

Saturday, May 14, 2016

How To Look At Jigglypuff

Intro to how this godlike/pitiful little balloon pokemon works in SSBM

For a lot of players it is difficult to look at and understand Jigglypuff. I only half-jokingly say that it’s because her big plays usually have to do with jumping at the right time or drifting at a steeper angle instead of screaming or flashing neon lights. That is understandably a bit subtle for newer players but unfortunately the ambiguity and confusion persists even in many veterans. Such a beautiful, interesting character is so poorly represented that “bair and rest” is not a meme, it’s to some degree a popular misunderstanding.

In the following paragraphs I will address a few important to recognize properties that come together to make Jigglypuff a unique threat as well as outline how the better Jigglypuff players pull from these to create dynamism.


First, let’s talk about Street Fighter. In Street Fighter and other traditional fighting games, much of the player vs player interactions start with Footsies. Footsies is basically an intricate mixup system in which Pokes lose to Whiff Punishes, Whiff Punishes lose to Movement, and Movement loses to Pokes. This triangle of options necessarily permeates how fighting games are played and designed, even Melee. One of the implicit boundaries that keeps this system in check is the fixed length of the stage. In order to maneuver out of the range of a poke, a character must have enough space behind them to do so. The more liberally they give up space for the chance to whiff punish, the less space they have left to give up. Eventually, their back will be against the wall, removing the option to whiff punish altogether and putting them at a severe option disadvantage.

This concept translates directly to Melee. You could feasibly say that because Marth’s conversions off of grab are stronger than his conversions off of his traditional approach options (probably dtilt or fair), marth’s whiff punishes are stronger than his pokes. He’s more likely to throw rock than scissors because he nets more off of rock. Playing against a Marth, you can anticipate this by throwing paper and collecting significant stage gains. Once Marth loses enough stage control not only can he not dash dance around your approach, but he is close to an easy edgeguard situation.

Jigglypuff breaks this pattern. Jigglypuff does not need ground under her feet to be effective. Her multiple jumps and incredible drift control translate to aerial prowess and a near immunity to edgeguards. This makes stage control a less valuable asset to her. She doesn’t need the stage to move, nor is she immediately threatened by its loss. Generally speaking, throwing rock won’t net Puff much of a gain but neither will it cost much. It is a softer throw than for other characters (At this point it is important to note that while the comparison is useful, mixups are not exactly RPS situations. The timing element means that you can to usually bait, postpone, avoid, or react to commitments).

But while Puff’s walk back is significantly buffed by having a much less direct relationship with the stage length, it is not infinite. There are several balance mechanics in place. First, like everything in melee, with a hard read on drift timing you can just kill her outright. Second, for many characters, stage control can be used to indirectly threaten Puff with projectiles, forcing her to turn her butt right back around and use high-commitment approaches. Lastly, every time Jigglypuff jumps she is committing to landing eventually. She can postpone that landing as many times as she has jumps left but she will eventually have to touch ground, at which point she is extremely vulnerable. Forfeiting the stage limits the amount of space she has to keep that landing ambiguous, making landinglag punishes significantly easier. These responses and the risks involved to both players deepen rather than simplify the gameplay.

Thus far, we’ve only discussed Puff’s Walk Back. This is what people see, recognize, have a hard time articulating, and generally don’t like because it’s pretty 1-dimensional as a holistic gameplan. If that was all there was to Puff, every match would be solely a “war of attrition” that she would usually lose at the end. Thankfully this isn’t the case. Remember, Puff doesn’t lose much at a time from walking backward, but neither can she gain much. Retreating bairs just don’t combo. Time spent jumping away is time that can’t be spent on a reaction punish. These are judgements to be made in the moment. We recognize that Puff’s got a sick nasty punish game off of reads/reactions. If she gets a grab, uptilt, pound, upair, bair, dair, nair, etc in the right conditions you might just die to a 1f kill move from nowhere. Her combo potential is great and her edgeguard potential is even better. When Puff isn’t walking back It’s not a “war of attrition,” it’s a balancing act by both players. If you slip up in front of Hbox you will probably lose your stock. The same could be said for any other top player. This is to say that while Puff’s walk back is definitely strong, it is clearly not her only dimension nor is it in actuality her most important dimension. Much of hbox’s recent success has been a direct result of fine-tuning his impulses to round-out his approach and better enable his punishes.

But beyond the latent threat of reaction punishes on mistakes and overcommitments ("backair and rest"), Puff has additional kill potential in her frequent mixups. This is where puff gets even more cool and even more complex. Let’s take for granted that outside of reaction punishes Puff always has the threat of a high-reward opportunity off of a movement read. Melee has blessed her in that they exist but are usually difficult to identify and risky to go for.

Edgeguarding Fox is a good example. Puff has an edgeguard opportunity vs Fox. It feels like there are a group of 50/50s in a row but there’s just one that we need to look at because the principle translates to the others. First, depending on how far Fox was thrown, he can recover high or low. Puff cannot normally cover both on reaction. She must choose. Most of the time Hbox is going to prioritize his stage control, let Fox snap to ledge ledge, and hit any high side/upB should it happen. This has the lowest net cost because should Hbox fair in front of the ledge to prevent fox from sweetspotting and the guess was wrong then Fox regains stage control at the very least. A good Fox knows this about Puff and about Hbox, so he’s more likely to sweetspot the ledge. But both players understand that as soon as they both commit to that ledge Fox loses his stock at any %. They’re both weighing the evolving risk at every instance. Eventually Hbox will strike. This principle is relatively constant throughout edgeguard situations in the MU. Most of the time Fox is going to make it back to ledge/stage and Puff will preserve a soft advantage via stage control, but if Puff makes a power play and jumps into a read commitment, one of them is probably going to die because of it. This is difficult to spot without knowledge of the situations but permeates Puff gameplay from edgeguarding to predicting jumps/shields/etc in neutral.

Picture Soft or Tekk choosing to land in front of a grounded Shiek. This situation is extremely high risk high reward for both characters. If Sheik grabs and puff crouches then Sheik dies instantly to rest, but if Sheik dsmashes instead then Puff takes crucial damage (keep in mind Sheik starts to breaks Puff's CC at ~50%, at which point converting hits into a kill is relatively easy for her). However, if Sheik dsmashes and Puff shields, Sheik can get rested OoS. Naturally if Sheik grabs and Puff shields/jumps then Sheik gets at least damage and stage position, potentially a kill of her own. Puff’s punish game, especially in regards to rest, creates high-risk high-reward mixups in a number of micro-situation.

The dichotomy between these extreme high-risk high-reward scenarios and the aforementioned low-risk low-reward footsies principles largely defines Puff as a character.

Granted, many Puff players will avoid high-risk scenarios out of discomfort and often times rightly so. Eliminating risk wins tournaments. But historically the Puffs that see high level success have all looked carefully to identify and exploit these scenarios by breaking down the dichotomy as non-exclusive. If anything at all this is what I want to impress on Puff players.

Soft has said that constantly attacking isn’t cool or aggressive, it’s as predictable as always throwing scissors. Likewise, constantly retreating is just as effective as always throwing rock. Puff can and must balance her spacing and tendencies to avoid being predictable or her patterns will be exploited. That being said, if the Puff player is attentive, they can actively use the opponent’s reactions to net much higher rewards or more favorable situations on prediction. This is the entire basis of MangoPuff. Mango’s Puff was built specifically not just to keep track of, but to condition and encourage certain reactions that could be taken advantage of at a later time. You might notice the prevalence of nair. Nair in itself is very ineffective. It’ll do 9%. Low-risk low-reward, just like retreating bairs. But no one wants to get hit with nair 4 times in a row. Eventually they stop running forward and if you can predict/encourage someone letting up then Puff gets to take stage with something akin to the other MangoPuff special, FH fair (or very low DJ fair) into a descending drift mixup. Stuff like that. In this way MangoPuff uses his low-risk low-reward commitments not just to keep herself safe but to gather valuable data and color his high-risk high-reward plays. This is not to say that Hbox does not. Hbox is doing the same kind of thing to greater degrees all the time and in the context of both more specific situations and a much more polished holistic gameplan.

Jigglypuff’s unique drift/jump mechanics and brutal kill setups combine to allow her the freedom to condition, adapt and punish in ways slightly outside of the methodologies applied to the many other Melee characters. This is what it means to play the game with Jigglypuff: balancing options, playing footsies, and predicting a strong opponent. Far from a one-dimensional gimmick, high-level matches with and against Puff can display and even amplify core fighting game mechanics.