Sunday, August 6, 2017

MAC Approach

MAC Approach (Mindfulness Acceptance Commitment Approach)

I personally used to have a very very difficult time performing in tournament to the point that I developed a strong dislike for singles and rarely if even entered anything but doubles. Soft recommended TMGoP to me and it helped my conceptualization significantly but I still had lingering issues. I decided to research more and eventually came across the MAC model. I read the book, took notes, and completed a course through http://mindgames.gg/. Since integrating the MAC Approach my mental-game is my strongest asset. I use the principles every day and haven’t found anything else that approaches its usefulness or efficacy. It is, to my knowledge, the superior mental tool.

Following, I will present a summary of MAC principles. It’s necessary to stress that knowing the principles is completely different from internalizing them, but reading and seeing just how cohesive the system was very exciting for me, so an illustration of the model is merited.

The Psychology Context

In sports psychology it is generally accepted that personal superior performances are a product of total concentration marked by a “peak” or “flow” state. For this reason, it has been more and more common for athletes to undergo psychological skills training designed specifically to best achieve a peak performance state. Traditional psychological skills training in sports uses methodology including goal setting, imagery, mental rehearsal, arousal control, self-talk, and pre-competitive routines to enhance performance by attempting to reign in peak states to a replicable routine as well as reduce anxiety and negativity, psychological roadblocks. However, these approaches carry subtexts implying a) that negative internal states must be controlled or reduced before a positive internal state can take their place and set the stage for flow and b) that flow is a fickle mistress impossible to achieve without perfect preconditions. Neither of these hold up to recent research and these traditional methods have been demonstrated to have no or even negative empirical support (i.e. they don’t actually work lmaooo).

The MAC Approach, a development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for sports, is a program of psychological skills training designed to remove this subtext and teach relevant, empirically-supported skills. Rather than remove or control internal states, MAC aims to enable our control over focus and behavior despite internal states, that it is not the avoidance of negative states but the degree of experiential acceptance that enables peak performance states.

MAC has seen increasing use and study over the past decade, including in olympic athletes, tennis players, and professional basketball, volleyball, and even esports teams.


Mindfulness and Acceptance

It is tempting to identify our thoughts as our selves or our emotions as pervasive. But in reality, these are small events in a much broader landscape. Thoughts and emotions are just flashes of chemical/electrical activity not so different from other sensations such as sounds, touches, gravity, temperature, balance, vision, etc. All of these can be understood as Internal States. Internal States (including thoughts and emotions) are like water-bugs skirting over a much greater depth. They come and they go. They are inherently temporal.

Fixation on internal states can be disastrous for performance. Imagine that there’s a parade of internal states in front of you. If you fixate on one thought/emotion/etc even after it passes, you can’t respond to those that follow. You’ve created a mental traffic-jam between your focus and the new present. This is why it’s so easy to fall into a downward mental spiral.

If the goal for sports psychology is to maintain a high-focus present-moment/task orientation (i.e. peak/flowstate) then the foil is a self/future/past orientation. The emphasis of traditional sports psychology is to censor or to remove potentially harmful internal states so that they can’t interfere with your focus. But remember, the emphasis of MAC is to engender the skill of maintaining your focus despite internal states.

There is no reason to censor your feeling angry any more than there is reason to censor feeling cold or hearing someone talk. You’ve already experienced those things, they’re already there in your mind. This relates to my post on Tilting. It’s a bit ridiculous and small-minded to worry about censoring every little bump in the road. It's also mentally-taxing and actively turns our attention from the task to the self. If instead we see and accept temporal internal states for what they are then they have no power and there’s no need to censor them. This work is done primarily by dispelling cognitive fusion.


Cognitive Fusion

Cognitive fusion is the habitual act of treating thoughts as though they are what they say as opposed to treating them as the simple internal states that they are. Reacting to feelings as if reality is what you feel. Reacting to thoughts as if reality is what you think. When put this way it’s easy to recognize how inherently irrational cognitive fusion is. Thoughts aren’t reality, they’re just thoughts. Feelings aren’t reality, they’re just feelings. Now it’s just a matter of making it a habit to by way of mindfulness consistently recognize the onset of cognitive fusion and to instead perceive reality as it is. This is simply a less reactive and more accurate way to engage with the present-moment. Within MAC, you accept that emotions occur naturally and for the most part uncontrollably. Instead of wresting with your emotions in order to set the stage for your mental state in order to set the stage for correct behavior you simply commit to correct behavior.

It’s not “I feel/think __ SO I act.” It's “I feel/think __ AND I act.”

Ex: Thinking “I can’t work with this person” isn’t necessarily reflective of reality. Thinking instead “I am thinking that I can’t work with this person” is un-fused. It doesn’t buy in to habitual schema and instead allows you the opportunity to divorces your focus and behavior from mindless reactivity. The capacity to make mindful, reality/value-based choices rather than mindless ones is mental toughness or Poise.

“We define mental toughness as the ability to act in a purposeful manner, systematically and consistently, in the pursuit of the values that underlie performance activities, even (and especially) when faced with strong emotions that we as humans naturally want to control, eliminate, or reduce.”

Imagine yourself in a last stock last hit scenario. You feel psychological arousal, fear, excitement, anxiety. Now you’re going to make a choice between correct behavior (clutch) or letting your emotions dictate your focus and behavior (choke).


Commitment/Value Driven Behavior


If you aren’t basing behavior reactively on internal states or schema then what are you basing it on? In the MAC model, you base your behavior on a system of values. Values are distinct from goals as values are principles used to enhance experience and behavior whereas goals are end-points that direct experience and behavior in a direction but diminish the present-moment experience (This is basically a Destination vs Journey orientation).

In sports, the method is the body and the end. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
Similarly, how you use your time or effort determines the value of that time spent. Consider:
1) What do you want to get out of this time-spent? Why? (Why?)
2) What would you want someone to say in your obituary if you died tonight?
3) How do you want your effort to be remembered?
4) What matters to you about your sport/occupation?

The answers to these questions identify our individual values (what the Inner Game of Tennis identifies as the Inner Game). Engagement with these values not only makes our time and effort spent more gratifying, but also provides direction for behavior independent from internal states (including motivation!). Success in the inner and outer game is a measure of our commitment to our performance values.


Avoidance

The alternative to Commitment is Avoidance. When the going gets tough or confusing, it’s natural for humans to avoid difficulty. It's an evolutionary necessity. Just like I avoided entering tournaments to avoid feeling disappointed in myself, it is extremely easy for us to shy away from trying or painful situations and we often engage in avoidance without even realizing it. Every time we do we are coloring if not determining our behavior with avoidance.

But it is important to recognize that the cost of avoidance is growth.

It’s impossible for humans to learn without stretching their limits. We have to brush up against what we can’t do and extend into the impossible in order to grow. The mentally-tough athlete leans in to difficulty and embraces it— accepts it— not as problematic but as an opportunity. That’s exciting! It’s best conceptualized as akin to weight-lifting. The value of lifting weights isn’t in having hoisted something heavy, it’s in overcoming the difficulty in order to grow. By recalling our values, persevering through pain and difficulty and managing to do something at the edge of our capability our muscles get stronger. That’s the worth.

In MAC, difficulty takes an identical role. The bulk of MAC-training is done through open monitoring meditation. In this meditation you develop awareness and practice your capacity to direct your focus despite internal states without succumbing to the temptation to avoid them AND to recover that focus readily and with forgiveness when it wanders. You accept the states as they come and go and commit to the attention-training. Every time we overcome a bad mental habit, every time we redirect our focus and behavior from reactive to valued, it’s a rep and we get stronger.


Conclusion

By rooting itself in open monitoring meditation, the MAC Approach develops a lasting and pervasive utility not only for sports but also for life-goals and day-to-day experience. It takes and instructs the perspective that success is not a matter of what you are, rather, that what you are is a reflection of how you do, as informed and motivated (i.e. cultivated) by your commitment to value-driven behavior. This kind of approach is both liberating and empowering. It provides tools to make meaningful progress in the pursuit of excellence as well as fulfillment and does so with a model that is elegant, comprehensive, cogent, and enjoys empirical support. I for one have a fuller competitive and otherwise life for it.



Sources:
As mentioned, initially I got The Psychology Of Enhancing Human Performance: The MAC Approach from the library. It has since been uploaded as a pdf here.
I started to do things by myself based on the material contained but eventually shelled out $25 for Weldon Green’s arrangement of the program at http://mindgames.gg/. It was well worth it.
Additionally, http://headspace.com/ is built from the same model. The first 10 sessions are free. Afterward content is $5 a month. I haven’t used more than the 10, personally, but there’s a lot of content there and apparently it covers a wide range of focuses and it’s all very high-quality and similarly well-grounded in research.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

TIGoT Thoughts/Notes

I had a free afternoon, so I re-read The Inner Game of Tennis and took notes.

- - -

Thoughts:

I did not enjoy TIGoT. It seems like a transition out of a worse sports psyche but nonetheless I thought it was clumsily written and frequently misleading to the extent that any nuggets came across as accidental.

I have three primary gripes and two primary likes.


Gripes:

1) The entire Self1/Self2 dichotomy is a super shitty model.
It’s an attempt to personify anything good or bad for mental game into one of two selves that you can then more readily accept or reject while maintaining a superficial surrender of control. But because this doesn’t hold up to any amount of scrutiny it’s simply a bad model. Sufficient maybe, until you actually think about it at all. Any attempt to reconcile with science or self-awareness requires tedious and stupid translation that reveals how ham-fisted this artificial and oh so convenient self-fissure is.

The better alternative is to identify a present-moment/task/experience-orientation as superior to a past/future/self-orientation for performance/learning/experience . This is a direct, demonstratable truth rather than a messy illustration. It would solve all of the same problems better.

2) TIGoT is not honest about what it’s actually about.
The structure of the book is pretty straight-forward. It decries a necessarily strawman traditional learning/performance approach but not because it’s ineffective, rather because it’s unsatisfying. Then it describes a more satisfying approach to learning with anecdotes. But because there is no evidence of efficacy, Gallwey is forced to move the goal-posts from peak performance to satisfying experience, implying that they are sufficiently the same. In support, he throws in a chapter about how the goal of tennis doesn’t have to be to actually win the game of tennis but to discover a new internal game to prioritize. That is problematic for a book that says “The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance” right on the cover.

The book actually describes an attitude for maximizing satisfaction. It does not necessarily involve (and thus doesn’t necessitate) the pursuit of excellence.

While it is possible for IGoT to lead to some improvement, its paltry methodology reveals that its primary goal is actually to change the subject from how good/bad you are to your direct experience. This is supported by the surprising number of scrubs that recommend it—the number of recommendations from people that are advanced remaining proportionate to the number that would have been without the book. Disproportionate are those that have a new-found satisfaction in learning and performing period (not at an escalated rate). That is valuable, but not in the way that it is portrayed.

3) TIGoT is inarticulate.

TIGoT is pocketed with powerful and valuable ideas that I recognize from my reading about CBT and cognitive science in education; Little truisms that started to reappear in writing and research in the 70s. But much like in The Art of Learning, none of these ideas are sufficiently expanded on. These writers have clearly experienced what they’re talking about but aren’t able (or aren’t willing) to organize that experience verbally. The lack of a clear context or expansion on these ideas comes across at best as vague and at worst as inarticulate. You could say that Gallwey’s coaching method of expanding as little as possible with words has evidently seeped into his writing.

MAC is a mind-bogglingly better organization.


Likes

1) Gallwey’s coaching model is very good.
He’s constructed a methodology that readily matches the intensity of the student’s motivation and is instructive without being overwhelming. By reconfiguring instruction to bolster experience rather than the other way around, he teaches a more total game of tennis at a clean and individualized level.

2) Gallwey’s description of the Inner Game as intrinsic motivation (chapter 8) is great.
It's completely different than the Inner Game described elsewhere in the book, but is a wonderful description of why games are worth playing. Obviously by better understanding our intrinsic motivations we can better fulfill them. Not everyone wants to be the best in the world and sometimes they need some direction or introspection to discover exactly what it is that they do want and how best to go about it.


- - -

Raw Notes


Self1 = Teller, Self2 = Doer
In a bad relationship Self1 doesn’t trust Self2 and uses up all the resources, preventing Self2 from doing its job. Improving the relationship between the selves is synonymous with translating instruction to action, but Gallwey finds it easier to emphasize dumping instruction as much as possible. Maybe that’s appropriate, I don’t know. Well, definitely for performance. For learning that seems a stretch. Or you could, you know, use a better model lol.
A cheat is to distract Self1 by focusing on breath, noise, looking at the seams on the ball, etc.

Self2 is like, “the real you,” a you that is disconnected from unrealistic standards.
Shifting focus to self 2 allows for real expansion/evolution of the real self (as opposed to an unreal self)

Is the reader really so unaware that the idea of unconscious competence is radical? I guess presumably he did teach a lot of people with different levels of competence/experience…

Identifying the body or the unconscious etc as a second self is in effect alienating. It isn’t a second self at all, it’s a part of a total self. That isn’t emphasized at all in this book. Misleading.

Anything outside of the model gets lumped in as the pseudo-mystical ability of Self2…..

It’s mostly to do with complexity. Simple tasks don’t get so convoluted because they’re simple. Something like a forehand, with 50 parts, is too much to manage consciously, so Gallwey identifies a way to instruct AND to accept the notion of intuitive learning and mastery.
Good form is incredibly complex. It’s /necessary/ that self2 be allowed to learn and to execute because self1 simply can’t handle it.
Self1 interferes with the complex intuitive wisdom of the body.
Instruction -> Action -> Result. If bad result and good instruction then we believe bad action and then place the blame on ourselves for bad performance.
But the error was in not trusting Self2 enough and relying on Self1’s control.
wtf kind of conclusion is this? Sure, micromanaging experience rather than accepting and experiencing it is to your detriment but how does it follow that it requires a revamping of learning itself? Sure, maybe learning needs revamped but this is just fallacious.

Rather than as opportunities, Self1 considers mistakes as signs of identity.
Lousy serve->I’m serving badly->I have a bad serve->I’m no good.
This is just cognitive bias! Not some methodological weakness! Not inherent to anything, it’s literally a bad mental habit that’s totally solvable!
“Then self2 lives up to it” But I thought self2 was supposed to be shut out.
How helpful is it to identify conscious thought/effort with cognitive biases and any/everything bad for mentality? That’s disingenuous.
Bad understanding or at least bad representation of psychological principle.

Explicitly identifying instruction with fear and doubt. Wow. Wtf kind of anti-intellectualism is this?
Over Control, Thinking/Trying too hard. Sounds like being back in public school….
Instead harmonize with your “natural learning process.” But there's minimal description of. Very bullshitty.
Ask why someone's forehand is good today and it apparently stops. Maybe if they aren’t self-aware. I guess that’s not unusual. But then the problem is their lack of awareness, not their awareness. Disagree with this assertion.

Should statements and expectation as distracting from current moment.

Compliments are the negatives of insults, they too imply judgement/expectation. Expectations are food for Self1.

Traditional Learning Structure
(total strawman, but whatever)
1. Criticism
2. Instruction
3. Effort
4. Judgement

IGoT Learning Structure
1. Observe Existing Behavior
2. Picture Desired Outcome/Process
3. Let it Happen
4. Observe Results

Instead of identifying what is wrong and giving instruction, Gallwey asks you to put your attention on where the racket head is and when the ball hits the net.
So: If the goal is to train the unconscious then train the unconscious. Rather than instruct the body, simply ask it to do what is necessary.
The obvious utility of “observe->let learn” is taking the attention from a goal or result and focusing it on process and experience.

Rather than “Hit the ball with your arm fully extended,” his instruction is “Notice the degree of bend in your elbow at the moment of impact.” No suggestion, just awareness. Any correction that will happen (is motivated) will happen. This is obv a more total method of teaching/learning. Won’t work without effort being matched/exceeded by the student, as it doesn’t teach anything directly but instead offers the opportunity to problem solve under direction (guided ground-up learning. Pretty powerful).
A good teacher, then, guides experiential discovery.
Instruction should not limit or define action, it should guide experiential learning. Marrying an intuitive level “why” and “how” rather than simply providing a “what.”
Rather than break habits, make new ones. But this is followed by a posit: to unlearn, identifying bad habits is irrelevant compared to awareness of process.
Clumsily written. Should be: prioritize process-engagement over correction-engagement.

Mirror. You need to see yourself. Need for experiential bottom-up learning.
Dwelling. The mind need not dwell. Move forward on pace with the present.
In this book “feeling” is sometimes a (bad) word for a more total, experiential or procedural knowledge. Introduces ambiguity.
Present moment orientation (Return to Breath)

! ! !
Removing Self1 to get to total Self2 immersion is identified with flowstate. TIGoT says that its goal is to approach flowstate, but it then says that flowstate comes when it will and is actually prevented by intention and thus can’t be intended… so the book can help you not help yourself which can but won’t necessarily help you. Nice.
This is just an untrue premise. Not sufficient understanding of flow, maybe because the book is dated. ! ! !

Relaxation of control, what’s the point? To avoid tightness. Judgement produces tightness. Tightening = choking. But this is better said as choking = diverting attention from the task and onto self or onto expectation and that tightening is a symptom. Don’t treat the freakin symptom, cure the disease.

Blegh. Visualize the result and let it happen. Then an anecdote (x_x )
There needs to be a distinction between visualizing process and visualizing results. Obviously imagery/visualization is amazing for learning. It’s more total and literally more real than words. But there’s a big difference between visualizing the process as a learning tool and visualizing a trophy. The first is task-orientation, the second is expectation.

1) clearest picture of a desired outcome
2) learn how to trust self 2
3) learn to see non-judgementally, “what” rather than “how well/badly.”
all subsidiary to relaxed concentration, a state of being and of doing in the moment.
Yes. This is Centering.

“thought intervenes with original unconsciousness.” No. This is Stupid Zen.
There’s a difference between not thinking and non-verbal thought.

stupid note about the expanded self by adopting the opposite “style”
there are a lot of strats here that seem best NOT for improving performance or even learning but to increase the perception of, the amp up the FEELING of improvement/enjoyment NOT the results. This necessitates the inclusion of the chapter at the end about NOT playing Tennis, but an Inner Game.

someone that needs IGoT and actually improves is the exception. What improves is their self-preception. Even without improved results people often feel improved with the IGoT method because it is forgiving and experience-oriented so it’s more/differently satisfying. It cuts out tying results to self-worth, which is liberating.

the impulse that a loss “doesn’t count” if you didn’t try etc. This implies that something matters more than the result itself.

Games People Play on the Court. Fantastic Chapter.
Winning the Inner Game (intrinsic motivation)
but funnily at odds with the rest of the book
Gallwey identifies the value of winning as largely vitalism. Means he’s a vitalist? lol

actually he describes two Inner Games
the first is a palty and weird mentality guide
the second is an examination of intrinsic motivation

That is, that when you enter into a game of tennis or melee etc you have a certain intrinsic motivation. The mental game is subservient to the game of tennis which is in turn subservient to but independent of the intrinsic motivator. Thus, you can lose the game of tennis while still satisfying your intrinsic motivator. Naturally, this makes playing tennis more fulfilling by virtue of engaging the real underlying why.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

FAQ: Falco

FAQ: Falco

Thus far I’ve all but refused to make matchup guides in short because I think it’s a fool’s errand and resent the format. Because the web of knowledge contained in a MU is complex and often situational, any summary guide is doomed from the start to be insufficient and misleading. Answers without the right context/questions are just exploitable limits. That being said, there are common scenarios that get asked a lot about and it’d be totally appropriate and helpful to expand on them in order to point the questions in a more productive direction.


1) Dealing with lasers

In order to mitigate laser effectiveness you need to identify what their goal is and how he’s setting them up. A FH double laser =/= close range SH laser =/= full screen SH laser etc.
Falco’s lasers are used primarily to
a) momentarily interrupt your movement so that falco can safely assume a better position
b) build damage slowly/incentivize you to approach
c) lock you in place/hit confirm into an approach of his own
Highest SHL http://puu.sh/wife4/cba63758f7.jpg
Lasers are out on frame 13, every laser is at least a 26f commitment including jumpsquat and landing lag.

Some key anti-laser points:
• if you aren’t moving as soon as possible out of hit/shieldstun then you’re making lasers better than they really are. Practice.
• Falco can’t reliably laser the first 20f or so of puff’s crouch. This also makes powershields much easier IF you let go of crouch just before shielding (by raising the center of the shield).
• A high SH laser will hit a jumping puff but not a standing/running/crouching one. A lower laser will hit a standing/running puff but not a jumping one.
• As puff, it’s easier to deal with lasers from the ground by waiting to jump until you have enough frame advantage to get over the laser before it comes out, that way you don’t have to guess if it’s high or low.
• Much like how peach can float above SH lasers to avoid them, Puff can use the side platforms. This is the primary anti-lasers strat and tends to make neutral extremely simple/tedious.
• Lasers do very little damage. It’s much better to take laser damage or get shined than to get uptilted/baired/etc.
• Because their frame data on aerials/laser is similar, generally, if both characters jumped at close range at about the same time then whichever character jumped first wins the exchange.


2) Getting comboed

Usually wank DI away or SDI away is best, but not always. The goal is to make it as hard as possible for him to follow up and that can vary depending on what move he uses. Very labbable, though.


3) Being shieldpressured

means that you’ve already soft-lost the situation. Usually hitting you or hitting your shield is a win for falco. However, there are some outs. Because falco’s shine is relatively small you can use shield DI to make it whiff. A whiffed shine is a free grab for puff. You can also use a lightshield to the same effect, though it will of course has a visual tell. A high aerial on shield (or a rising one) is a rest OoS. You can also often trade aerials with upsmash, WD out of the way, or roll away, but all of these are relatively high risk.
Keep in mind that getting hit by shine is preferable to getting hit with anything else that might happen in the pressure. Likewise, falco dairing Puff is his best case scenario because it easily combos into more dairs/massive damage


4) Getting downthrown
GTO: 50/50 DI up and in (loses to uptilt/upsmash) OR tech behind (loses to preemptive SH dair)
(you can can DI up and in and if you miss tech then that’s what you get)
If falco is late to do his fsmashes then you can exploit by neutral tech shield but that’s a hefty risk.


5) Getting upthrown
Wank DI the lasers up
depending on % falco may still be able to follow up but this makes it the most difficult.


6) Punish game on falco
It’s almost always exactly like vs fox (+1%)
refer to https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WOSYc6yx8cSp7oFrfTYpwZcBZEoGTy1dO5bpaY-O4AY/pubhtml#
You can easily lab out the best followups vs different DI in the most common situations. The biggest distinction is pre/post-36% (bair knockdown)
. The better your punish game the more impact winning neutral has.


7) Edgeguarding Falco

The biggest deal here is Falco’s double jump. Because Falco goes so high so quickly it is not usually possible to cover a double jump side/upB with other options on reaction. For this reason edgeguarding falco is usually a 50/50 in which you either cover the ledge with a fair/dair right away or you jump above the ledge empty and then react should he have done something tricky like a shinestall or an early double jump. That being said, there are some situations (including from a backthrow) that can be labbed to cover everything (except shorten lol) on reaction. Keep in mind that falco’s sideB is too fast (5f faster than fox) to reliably bair on reaction but other aerials are possible.


8) Approaching Falco/Hbox Strats
Hbox’s strat for approaching falco is almost based largely around descending with frame advantage on top of a him to draw out a a) shield b) dash away (and lose stage) or c) uptilt. All of these lose to well-spaced bairs. After poking at about head-height, Hbox will drift away outside of counter-attack range. He then whiff punishes any counter-attacks and re-initiates pressure with a rising FH bair. To avoid being predictable with his timing he will occasionally delay the FH or WD away first. This isn’t foolproof, but it is foundational.


9) Falco AC bair/uptilt/laser/dair
bair is active 4-19 (after 5f jump squat), ACs at 24
uptilt is active 5-11, IASA 23
dair is active 5-24 (after 5f jump squat)
earliest laser/ff is active on 13 (after 5f jump squat), ACs at 19

Falco's bair and uptilt are used similarly (to wall out an approaching puff). Uptilt is easier to punish because it can't be faded back but it has a higher reward (can combo to a kill). Both of these are beaten most reliably by spacing just outside and then whiff punishing with a bair. That is, if you are losing to AC bairs and uptilt that means that you need to space your bairs better.

Falcos will mix up bair/uptilt with retreating lasers or advancing dairs specifically to punish you for zoning to punish bairs. The primary answer to dair/laser is to give up the opportunity to punish a potential bair/uptilt and back a little further away.


10 )Falco on ledge with inv
I don’t like this situation lol. His options are very good and cover each other well. I think that the best practice in lieu of a read is to jump outside of ledgedash nair range and then try to punish whatever he does /after/ his ledge option on reaction. But this gets more flexible if his inv runs out.



Wednesday, June 28, 2017

10 Different Bairs

10 Different Bairs

Puff’s bair has decent frame data (hits 9-12, IASA at 31, AC at 25, 10f Lcancel lag) and good range (I know I know, it looks ridiculous when isolated but honestly that’s pretty standard for a good move in melee). But when you combine the raw frame data with Melee’s 1f of hitbox drag and Puff’s aerial mobility you end up with a move with great utility/flexibility.

In years past, Hungrybox would usually answer questions on smashboards with “Bair more.” The phrase wasn’t exactly wrong, but it was definitely unhelpful and contributed to a bad culture for learning. In order to bair better (or as Puff’s opponent, to punish bairs better), it’s important to recognize the different tasks that bair is used for.

To that end I’ve compiled a list of 10 fundamental uses for bair in neutral and attached a brief description to each.


1) retreating AC bair
This is basically a quick retreat that drags a huge hitbox behind you. Puff can choose mid-jump how much stage to give up based on risk-assessment. It is difficult to punish on reaction, but carries a stage cost. It can be punishable with a read. Note that with practice Puff can SH bair DJ bair. This makes it a little bit better on defense and offense.

2) advancing AC bair
This is a quick and flexible poke. Because Puff can be active as soon as f18 after hit (or SH bair DJ bair), it is particularly great for combos past a certain %. Puff can choose whether to continue to fade forward or begin to retreat as the hitbox comes out. Advancing AC bair is easily punished with FHs, CC, some OoS options, etc.

3) neutral rising FH bair
This is a flexible, relatively noncommittal poke. It’s generally used as a method to protect the ascent to FH height from an immediate attack from the opponent, at which point puff has more mobility (can immediately choose to go up, down, left, or right). It is difficult to punish, but can be blown up with by preemptive FH dair/nair or by running forward after the bair and pressuring Puff to retreat.

4) retreating rising FH bair
This is a quick retreat that is safer than an AC bair with a bit higher stage-cost and a different end position (puff at FH height rather than grounded). It is very difficult to punish directly but very easy to punish indirectly (just walk forward and take the free stage).

5) descending low bair
A spaced, low-as-possible, L-canceled bair is a great poke because it is almost never directly punishable except out of CC. It carries low reward until the % at which bair forces tech, at which point it earns at least hefty stage on hit. On some characters a low bair is safe on shield even when non-spaced provided that puff buffers a crouch. A descending bair is punishable with a preemptive attack/FH (think: dtilts), CC (difficult), or an indirect threat (example: Puff tipper low bairs Fox’s shield. He can’t get anything immediately OoS, but he can WD or SH and force her to shield/jump away/etc).

6) descending high bair fadeback
If puff chooses to bair at head-level as opposed to feet-level then she has time to mix up her drift pattern before landing. This kind of bair is especially strong against many character’s shields and can often shieldpoke, but because of the extra endlag from falling farther it is very bad against CC or on whiff.

7) descending high bair crossup
This bair is identical to the above but instead of fading back puff does a crossup. It is universally less safe and you normally don’t see it unless the puff player is a) bad or b) cutting corners because they’ve conditioned a level of respect. It’s worth noting here that a descending upair works in a similar way.

8) in place aerial DJ bair
When Puff is in the air, she can use a DJ bair to protect her air-space from attack. This is whiff punishable and can often be traded with.

9) fadeback aerial DJ bair
When Puff is in the air, she can use a fadeback DJ bair to protect her air-space from an attack more safely at the cost of a little bit more stage. The fadeback makes it effectively immune to trades and very difficult to whiff punish without a read on the drift.

10) low DJ bair
If Puff is descending (from any position, be it a FH, SH, or otherwise), she can DJ and bair at the last moment. This creates a situation very similar to a rising FH bair, with a couple notable differences. First, the bair does not hit as low. It won’t hit many crouching characters and will whiff completely vs shorter characters. Second, it comes out faster by virtue of not having any jumpsquat. This bair is often used to the FH effect and/or as a read on an opponent's FH, especially in the corner.


The next time you play or watch Puff, keep an eye out for these techniques and watch how they accent puff’s other options. Additionally, watch for any opportunities that her opponent takes or loses to punish any obvious bairs via option coverage or reads.

Friday, June 23, 2017

How to Combat Puff Planking (and Save Melee Kappa)

How to Combat Puff Planking (and Save Melee Kappa)

In order to promote understanding, jump-start meta development and accurately demonstrate planking’s strengths and weaknesses, I’ve put together the relevant frame data for Puff’s ledge options and outlined a methodology for creating counter-play.

First, we need to examine Puff’s options.
All frame data assumes perfect execution with ledge invincibility, thus any vulnerability listed is minimum.
Keep in mind that melee is programed with a mechanic that prevents characters from regrabbing ledge before f29 after letting go (with some exceptions), guaranteeing Jigglypuff a minimum of 8f of vulnerability.

• Empty Refresh (with or without sing), not active, vulnerable 30-38
• Fair Refresh, active on 9, vulnerable 30-42
• Bair -> Sing Refresh, active 15, vulnerable 30-50
• Ledgedash, actionable on 21, vulnerable 30+
• Poke w/ Fair L cancel, active 9, vulnerable 30-44
• Poke w/ Bair L cancel, active 34, vulnerable 30-44
• Poke w/ AC Bair, active on 16, vulnerable 30-44
• Poke w/ Pound, active 14-29, vulnerable 30-47
• Poke w/ AC Upair, active 11-14, vulnerable 30-47
• Poke w/ AC Dair, active 7-29, vulnerable 30-47
• Ledgejump, actionable on f40, vulnerable 30-39+
• Hax/Softdash (Let go, DJ, hold forward to grind up against the stage until you pop over, waveland backward, buffer a FF. Multiple frame perfect inputs, not tournament viable), not actionable, not vulnerable, regrabs on f30
• <100 Getup Attack, active 20-24, inv 1-30, vulnerable 31-56
<100 Roll, inv 1-29, vulnerable 30-49
• <100 Empty Getup, inv 1-30, vulnerable 31-33
• >99 Getup Attack, active 43-59, inv 1-39, vulnerable 40-69
>99 Roll, inv 1-53, vulnerable 54-79
• >99 Empty Getup, inv 1-55, vulnerable 56-59
• Let go->DJ->delayed attack, variable frame data
• Nothing, actionable at any point after first 8f, vulnerable on 38+

As is clearly demonstrated by the above, puff has a large number of options from the ledge with similar levels of viability. However, as her opponent, the number is not actually overwhelming because the principles (when/where she can attack and when/where she can be punished) are very similar. Most of these options are slight variations on each other. The options themselves are not especially good or tricky, it’s her potential to change the timing. Let’s say that you decide to put an attack over the ledge area at frame 31. Fantastic, that can punish most everything. However, Puff’s aerial mobility is profound enough that she could be in any of several places and depending on what you’ve committed to this could avoid or change your punish. Additionally, with an empty let-go -> double jump, Puff can sacrifice invincibility in order to alter the timing of her attack. She can burn her 29f, stay out of the way, then should you attack where she would have been on frame 31, she can whiff punish you by delaying the attack until let’s say f40. This is the primary sense to the mixup. It’s not What so much as When.

Thus, there are three main timings of vulnerability to attack
1) Just before Puff grabs ledge (not possible for her to be inv or to have a hitbox out and grab)
2) About 30f after Puff’s commitment from ledge (whiff punish)
3) 38f after Puff grabs ledge (start of vulnerability should she do nothing)

So the question for the opponent to consider is: what are the primary tools that the character has to engage with the above three timings? What are the options that have a high enough reward attached to a low enough risk to make this very simple version of the neutral game unprofitable for Jigglypuff? Are there options that will straight up win? It is also important to consider how much cheating you can do via reactions. That is, if this is like a game of rock paper scissors, can you use an approximate human reaction time of 20f and delay your throw enough to win without guessing? Can you cover multiple options at the same time or stagger them (i.e. if A whiffs then immediately do B and it’ll cover a second option).

I’m not going to do this work for you 'cause it's a time investment, but I will say that finding the solutions is as simple as making a list of proposals, checking to make sure that they can collectively cover everything, then eliminating any needless crossover until you end up with a group of 3-5 or so that will cover everything with the best risk-reward. Generally, any angled projectile invalidates planking on its own. Long range pokes work well for 1 and 3. FH aerials work well for 2. Additionally, you can use shield/CC/WD to space around attack timings and threaten to grab ledge and eject the Puff into an invincible bair of your own. There's a lot of flexibility.

Here is a group of non-character-specific counter-play ideas


• Shoot projectiles timed to beat regrab.
• Wait on side plat, react with fall-through bair.
• Wait on side plat, fake SH fallthroughs until you can react with fall-through bair.
• Run up CC.
• Run up shield.
• Run up shield pivot, WD onto ledge.
• Walk up f/dtilt.
• Backwards FH, wait to DJ or bair or grab ledge on reaction.
• Run off double jump aerial.
• SHFFL ledgecancel -> DJ

Again, none of these or any additional, character specific options will be enough by themselves. However, in every MU a group of 3-5 should be more than sufficient to turn an irritating stalling tactic into a high risk high reward scenario, if not a more winning low risk medium/high reward one. At that point, beating a specific Jigglypuff is just a matter of matching the ratio of your mixup to the ratio of her refresh options and/or practiced execution.


Notes:
• Although it is pretty frame-tight, Sing regrab can sweetspot under spaced fox dtilt (but NOT mid dtilt).
• Punishes don’t always have to be direct. Taking center may be just as valuable as getting a hit. It depends on context/priorities.
• Remember, with the new 20xx replays it is extremely easy to practice scenarios exactly like this one.
• 8 minutes = 686 puff fair ledgegrab refreshes. There is no reason that puff should give you hundreds of opportunities to punish any of three timings without your engaging and profiting from the situation. Rather than a pain in the ass, look at this as an opportunity to gimp the ungimpable character or at least to get good damage after forcing her off.
• Obviously combating marth or sheik or another character’s planking will have different frame data, but the process for developing the best mixup will be the same.
• As the Puff player, the same process should be gone through with an eye not for sustaining the situation but for getting stage control or a nice punish. Puff's planking is a gimmick. It relies on an opponent's bad understanding to work. Puff can do better.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Flow/Peak

Flow/Peak

Flowstate is a name by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (a chief creativity researcher) for what is popularly called “being in the zone.”

Flowstate is characterized by high levels of focus on the task at hand and low self-consciousness. It’s that state where you get sucked into the task to the degree that you lose track of self and time and experience your highest performance. For this reason, achieving flowstate is the goal of traditional sports psychology.

Contributors to flowstate:

• Structure
• Realistic, achievable goals
• Unambiguous progress-markers
• Task-focus
• High challenge level
• High skill level
• Intrinsic motivation
• Feeling in control

Detractors:
• Anxiety
• Self-focus
• Feeling out of control

Checks:
• Intense focus
• Little to no self-reflection
• Merging of action and awareness
• Don’t care/notice time passing
• Could you hold a conversation? If so you're not even close.

While similar, flowstate is sometimes distinguished from what we’d call “total absorption,” in which your awareness of everything but the task fades out completely. The easiest way to tell the difference is whether or not you feel like you’re coming to your senses when leaving the state. If you were so unaware of your senses that they seem come back to you as if to fill a void, that’s absorption. If you were aware of them but they weren’t as central as your hyper focus, that’s flowstate. At first this distinction seems like hair-splitting, but consider the following: Who is more likely to succeed? 1) A competitor that is focused on the game and his mind is committed to thought/the screen or 2) a competitor that is focused on the game while 100% present in the moment. Different question: Who is more likely to get hit by a car? A car crash isn’t likely, but surprises are all but guaranteed. Being mindfully focussed rather than totally absorbed preserves your capacity to deal with them.

All this being said, flowstate as a concept is a somewhat problematic because, to my understanding,
a) its theory and research is nascent.
b) its chief context (traditional sports psych) is largely badly conceived.
c) cognitive science isn’t developed enough to provide mechanical answers to the pragmatic questions. Flowstate itself is too nuanced.

The primary problem with the flowstate concept is the subtext that it is outside of your control. The belief is that you cannot control the state itself, you can only lay out the conditions as best you can and then trust that it will show up. This is easily illustrated by describing the primary problem with traditional sports psychology in general. In summary: the primary purpose of sports psychology is to provide psychological skills training that will achieve flowstate on game-day. Because flowstate has been thought to be impossible to achieve with anxiety, these psychological skills usually involve a huge amount of self-correction i.e. self-monitoring. As a result of trying to eliminate anxiety, they actually introduce a secondary flow detractor, self-focus. Traditional sports psychology has been demonstrated to have very weak efficacy. That is to say, if conditions are perfect then the athletes go straight to flow. But should conditions be any less than perfect the athletes are just as distracted by their self-corrective focus than they would have been on their anxiety and while they are better able to handle themselves psychologically on the long-term, they show NO performance increase, sometimes even showing a decrease. This matches my personal experience with traditional sports psych skills.

There is an alternate perspective that rejects the notion that flowstate is uncontrollable; peak. Peak and flowstate are effectively interchangeable terms, but the circles that use peak tend to be less micromanagey. They do not subscribe to the methodology in which you control conditions in order to prime for the optimal mental state in order to prime for the optimal behavior in order to prime for optimal performance. Rather, they choose to skip first few steps and focus on optimal behavior or things directly related to it. Chief among these is MAC, a method increasingly used by olympic athletes and champion sports teams. In the MAC model, psychological skills are used not to eliminate anxiety, but to instruct athletes on how to avoid changing their behavior if anxiety is present. This is obviously more consistent than the alternative. In this way, peak is controllable and, should the skills be effectively learned, very consistent. It becomes an artificial or approximate flowstate that may or may not bleed into a deeper flow/superfluidity, but always has a very high baseline.

The takeaway here should be that a high-performance state is not up to chance. It is not reserved for experts or geniuses. Rather, where and how your focus rests can be easily cultivated just like any other skill or habit. The smallest effort to that effect will go a long way!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Legality and Controllers

Legality and Controllers

In the following article I will be laying out a rational examination of the issue of legality concerning Melee controllers. I say rational (not objective) intentionally, for reasons that will be expanded on below.

While I’ll try to be brief and clear, I also want to be comprehensive. If you take issue with a line of reasoning or have an issue or solution that I didn’t think to add to a section, please email me. I always sincerely appreciate corrections/discussion.


Contents
:
Function and Fairness
Dashbacks/PODE
Notches
Arduinos
Box Controllers



Function and Fairness

Before talking about controllers, it’s important to frame the conversation with two concepts; Function and Fairness.

First, what is the function of a controller? As was laid out in Mental Game and Execution, the performative aspect of Melee as an esport concerns translating our ideas into the game itself via execution. Essentially there’s a clean progression from our conception of the game to our strategy to our mental performance to our physical execution to our controller/hardware to the software to the results. If any one area suffers then results suffer. As competitors, our want for hardware is simple; ideally, a controller should seamlessly translate our fingers’ commands to the game exactly as they were input. We want any blame to lie on us.

This demand is a reflection of our need for fairness. Fairness is a competitive hallmark.
If a game isn’t fair then it isn’t competitive.

Fairness requires that
i) the only meaningful variable between competitors is the skill being measured.
ii) other differences are either negligible or irrelevant.
iii) rules are maintained to preserve fairness.*
Basically, “Anything that you can do, I can do too.”

Competitive games measure skills objectively, but which skills they mean to measure is a subjective judgement shaped by rules. Frequently, difference in subjective judgements is at the heart of a rule disagreement. In these cases there is no right or wrong answer. Either position can be defensible, depending on your personal priorities. But subjectivity does not imply irrationality. The two are not identifiable.

Any discussion on the legality of controllers needs to primarily (if not exclusively) address this framework in order to be relevant or productive.

Throughout this post I will make frequent reference to the relevant competitive hallmarks as well as subjective judgements because I think it is the only to make clear, rational, and responsible arguments. I read recently that for humans, a contrasting idea is processed in the brain exactly like a physical threat. We experience an impulsive, emotional reaction/rejection. But it’s definitely possible and necessary to examine ideas (especially our own) rationally for coherencethat is, examining them outside of that emotional reaction even when they’re subjective/value driven. My opinion on several of these topics changed as I examined them against the context, and I hope that you can be as forthcoming while reading/reflecting.


* One blanket statement that follows from the third fairness principle, the rational NEED for rules. Rules that don’t exist can’t be followed. While I am in no way advocating for needless bureaucracy, it is an inherent responsibility for TOs to address issues of unfairness. TOs ABSTAINING FROM MAKING RULINGS IN THE FACE OF A FAIRNESS ISSUE IS A DISSERVICE TO COMPETITIVENESS/COMMUNITY. Those rulings need not and should not be impulsive or immediate. A rational, well-reasoned, well-documented, as-scientific-as-possible explanation is of course the top priority. But refusing to engage with a (meaningful) issue by definition damages fairness and competitiveness. That being said, the word “meaningful” can be a bit fuzzy can’t it? Hence the difficulty and the need for cogency.



Dashbacks/PODE

Dashback is an in-game mechanic that interacts inconsistently with controllers because of how they are manufactured/break in. Having good dashbacks in game is low in skill and high in dependence on luck/controller. This hardware issue is competitively highly undesirable as it introduces variance as a small, additional layer between your understanding and results. If everyone had access to good dashback controllers or some method to consistently create them this would be a non-issue because it’d be an even playing ground. However that’s not the reality. The playing ground is decidedly uneven. Reportedly, only some 1-3% of controllers are top performing dashback controllers, and only after some amount of use. Finding one essentially becomes a controller lottery that hugely favors top players that are popular enough to utilize better resources. Thus, good dashbacks are not a reflection of skill at all, they’re a reflection of luck/resources. They are by definition unfair and hurt competitive validity.

So the relevant question is how relevant dashbacks are. Traditionally, the answer would be “somewhat.” Good dashbacks have historically been a small advantage enjoyed by a handful of players, but not an advantage that is overly influential OR (and this is important) one with a clear solution. However, opinion and circumstance has shifted recently. Dashback controllers have become a hot topic in part due to Armada dropping out of Dream Hack Austin “because his controller was not properly malfunctioning.” While a resource detailing a statistical advantage enjoyed by dashback controller users does not exist (and would be overly difficult to make), Armada for one considers this mechanic to be important enough that he refused to compete without said advantage. Mew2King, Hax, and other top players have expressed similar sentiment, and this is not unreasonable.

The biggest recent change (besides awareness) to the dashback issue is that it can be solved with software. However, individuals have taken issue with the idea that solutions create a new controller disparity, the means involved, and over the integrity of the game.

Disparity: When the smashbox was announced, some individuals claimed that the advantage offered by created a new controller disparity in which players will have to purchase a special controller or mod for good dashbacks. This particular argument against special controllers does not hold water simply because as described above the disparity already exists and is exactly the fairness issue in question. If anything a new market of dashback controllers lessens the disparity.

Means: This is a somewhat relevant concern. Dashback can be solved for by making certain that the stick doesn’t register on its way to smashturn from center, but how this is done could be potentially problematic. Creating software on a per-controller basis with Arduinos is a viable solution, but arduinos are problematic for other reasons (detailed below). Arduinos radically lessen but do not totally solve the disparity problem. The more complete solution would need to be implemented through the game itself via a Magus Code or similar variant. Currently, the resources exist to run a tournament in which each console has code running to universally equalize dashbacks. This cleanly eliminates the disparity for all participants. However, some individuals dislike this solution as it alters the game that we play.

Integrity: Part of the appeal to Melee is that it’s an older game that hasn’t had any patches. Every issue that’s come up has been solved for by the meta or lived with. Software fixes (namely 20XX:TE) exist, but haven’t found widespread use in tournament. Melee = Vanilla Melee and always has. For someone that subjectively values that integrity more than competitiveness, running a code (that would be considered a small software patch to compensate for hardware inconsistency) to equalize dashbacks is undesirable. For another individual that subjectively values competitiveness more than the integrity of the game, that trade is acceptable. Thus, which side of the fence you’re on depends on your priorities, including how big of a deal you think dashbacks are.

Personally, I value the game’s fairness regarding to dashbacks more than I value the game’s integrity. Were I still actively TOing I would implement the Magus code, as the integrity issue is the only argument against the code that I am aware of.



Notches

Similarly to dashbacks, manufacturing inconsistency renders some controllers better than others at shielddropping with consistency due to the angle of the gate relative to the stick box (this is not as well-known, but the upward 45s are similarly inconsistent at upB without double-jumping). While good shielddrop notches ARE a distinct in-game advantage, unlike dashbacks, getting them is not prohibitive. The problem is easily remedied by filing your controller gate to the desired value.
I’ve personally filed give or take a dozen controllers. It takes a file/exacto knife, one of the two most recent versions of 20XX or a Magus ISO, and 10 minutes (alternatively: a friend that has these). For this reason shielddrop notches are not meaningfully unfair because by way of notching their controller, everyone has reasonable access to them. The playing field is effectively even. There is some talk of implementing a software fix and while that change would also be viable it is not especially necessary.

The trickier problem comes from additional notches, such as those for perfect wavedash/firefox angles etc. These are also a distinct competitive advantage via consistency. Additionally, these mods are utterly intentional. Unlike dashbacks or shielddrop notches, no controller has them from the box. But while you can pay someone to do these mods for you, in this case disparity is actually irrelevant because reproducing them is relatively easy for anyone with a file and 20XX. I’ve done 4 myself. They take considerably longer than shielddrop notches because it’s more involved but the process is not really any more difficult. In this case, the question is whether the competitive advantage offered by the boon in consistency performing very valuable and otherwise difficult tactics (perfect wavedashes/firefox angles) is dramatic/relevant enough to merit a ban. The answer depends on the degree to which you value precision as a skill compared to consistency of execution. For some individuals, the left-thumb techskill involved in locating precise angles without the help of additional notches is a highly valued skill. For others it is not.

Personally, I do not have a problem with additional notches specifically because
a) the in-game advantage is not severe. It offers consistency, which I value, not anything that is otherwise impossible. It does not overcome decision-making. I personally come from the perspective that muscle-memory related techskill is more like an arbitrary barrier/time-investment than a valuable skill to test. I don’t devalue techskill, but I wouldn’t prioritize it over creativity or consistency.
b) it is easy to do yourself should you desire it.



Arduinos

Arduinos create software solutions on a per-controller basis. By virtue of being cheap and relatively simple to install, they are not a disparity issue. The interesting problem with Arduinos is that they force two issues: how much we value techskill as execution and cheating.

Arduinos can fix a controller’s dashback, 1.0 value dash, and shielddrop inconsistency in one fell swoop. They level every playing field and are in that way very good for fairness.
However, as mentioned in the section on dashbaks/PODE, dashbacks, 1.0 dashes, and shielddrops by a memory card or like game-bound software patch (as opposed to a controller-bound patch) is cleaner and inarguably better in terms of fairness. The only reasonable argument in support of Arduinos but against a Magus-like code is inherently sentimental in that it rejects the cleaner solution with more universal results in order to preserve the game’s integrity.

Beyond fairness, though, a few Hax Arduino functions (those for easier perfect firefox/WDs as well as for the downward) are described as effective input-map alterations. These are philosophicallythough not pragmaticallyproblematic in comparison to any mods mentioned so far because they go beyond patching for hardware inconsistency and instead aim to address in-game consistency, to the degree that it is a pronounced competitive advantage somewhere beyond notches. It seems to me that Hax is using the input-map alterations to intentionally push boundaries, most likely to justify some of the B0XX’s functionalities.

Then there is the issue of cheating. The biggest problem with an Arduino is that it can do anything. It doesn’t have to only have dashback etc fixes, it could just as easily have perfect multishine/waveshine/angles/SHFFLnair/etc macros programmed to a specific button or combination of buttons. You could easily program instant ICs jump or tilt desync to X, for example. That kind of abuse is why macros have always been banned. While the use of Arduinos does not make macros legal, their use does bring macros as well as some gray areas to the surface by virtue of being difficult to detect/distinguish from more legitimate use.

In my opinion, Arduinos with the proposed changes are not necessarily ban-worthy. They mean to patch for consistency (level the playing field) and buff angle consistency (which, again, is fine unless you value left thumb techskill more than consistency). However, as a preventative measure, it would be better to ban Arduinos categorically and implement the hardware consistency solutions through an alternative means (i.e. Magus code).



Box Controllers

Note: everything written here on this topic pertains only to the Smashbox. I cannot comment on the B0XX because it has different design principles and is rumored to have some drastic divergences. Without more detail it is not possible to review its competitive validity.

Box controllers have been a huge source of controversy almost solely because of Analog -> Digital inputs. Because the Smashbox replaced an analog stick with a group of digital buttons, the team had to design a method to achieve precise angles. That system is interesting, but like the Hax Arduino raises the issue of extreme software consistency because with digital inputs far beyond being less likely (like a notch) it is not actually possible to miss an angle. As a consequence of its design, the problem with a smashbox is identical to that of notches/angle consistency. How much do you value left-thumb techskill compared to consistency? If you think that left-thumb techskill is a very meaningful skill then the smashbox, which doesn’t require said skill in the same way, is undesirable. If you value consistency over left-thumb techskill, then the smashbox’s digital inputs are desirable. In fact, if the precise control offered by a smashbox is severe enough then like a dashback controller it creates a disparity that is unfair in proportion to its prohibitive cost (but to be fair relative to other games $200 is not especially prohibitive).

In my estimation, advantages offered by a smashbox are not severe enough to merit banning. Once more, the design is to offer consistency, not anything that is otherwise impossible. The other advantages (dashback consistency/1.0 dashes/shielddrops/etc) are obviously not unique to the smashbox, so it would be disingenuous to ban it for those reasons. The only defensible reasons to ban the smashbox are 1) if the community values left-thumb techskill over consistency (as well as in this case accessibility) or 2) if the smashbox offers some other competitive advantage that breaks the game.

Because smashboxes are not yet readily available, tests for game-breaking smashbox tech are not possible, but the most frequently referred to is broken burst MSDI. On that note: I cannot cite it because as far as I know it was not published, but I read of a comparative test between keyboard MSDI and practiced Wank DI that got effectively identical results. Wank DI is actually preferable, as all of its inputs are approximately in the same direction. It will be interesting to see what tests surface after release.

To prevent abuse from smashbox-based variants, I was briefly consulted by Smashbox Dustin re: a ruleset. Using one discussed by a group of content creators/frame data nerds as a basis, I gave him the following:
• No Macros.
• 1 to 1 mapping only (This means that you can only have 1 A button, 1 B button, 2 jump buttons, etc).
• Analog may be converted to Digital BUT it must include only ONE North, South, East, West set attached to ONE stick OR wasd. NO additional 45 degree buttons. Modifiers are acceptable.
• No Digital to Analog Conversion.


In my opinion the Smashbox is a very interesting and potentially hugely beneficial development. I personally value its offer of consistency and accessibility to currently alienated players (including FGC members as well as those with hand issues etc) more than I value left-thumb techskill. Should any tech appear that is game-breaking then a ban can be discussed but a preemptive ban would be lazy and sensationalist rather than well-reasoned.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ruleset Development as Related to Melee

Ruleset Development as Related to Melee

Contents:
Rules and Hallmarks of Competition
Bans in the FGC
Culture and Subjectivity
Rulesets Cannot be Perfect
Melee Community
TLDR



Rules and Hallmarks of Competition

Games are played with certain inherent limitations. For a traditional sport, these mostly include physical limitations such as laws of physics, human endurance, and the like. For an esport, these include the limitations of the game such as programed physics, character limitations, and the like. Sometimes these limits can be bent to our competitive advantage. Other times they need to be bolstered in order to preserve fairness or competitive validity. This is the purpose of a ruleset.

Rules are artificial, additional limitations that we put on a game so that it will be a better measure of competitive skill. Skill can be understood as expertise or ability. It can be very clear-cut (running fast in a footrace) or more inclusive (using teamwork, strategy, tactics, and other practiced physical and mental sub-skills to beat another team in basketball). The word Competitive, though, is a bit loaded. To better understand it we need to consider the following hallmarks of competition, which are well articulated here.

To paraphrase, in competitive games

1) Skill is measured fairly.
All variables are constant except the skill being tested are constant. You are allowed to do everything that your opponent can. Any difference in conditions other than skill is either negligible or considered inconsequential in comparison. In a footrace, every competitor runs the same distance in the same conditions. Although they may wear different shoes, shoes are not generally consequential in comparison with the skill of running fast.

2) There are universal rules designed to preserve fairness.
These rules will emphasize rather than change what the game measures. This may be a fine line. Swimsuits are all fair game until their sole influence adequately determines results, at which point they are bannable. In a less ambiguous example, doping is banned as it effectively eliminates the skill being measured and substitutes it with “access to steroids.”

3) Results are unambiguous.
The more skillful player wins. The less skillful player loses. Any draws contribute to rankings by way of a ladder etc or are solved by sudden death etc.

Some games are naturally very competitive. Others are not. There are two main indicators of natural un-competitiveness. First, if a game is overly simple and the skill-cap too low, its competitiveness suffers. TicTacToe is so easy to play perfectly that it is not competitive. Second, a game can be too high variance. A game where luck determines results more than skill is not competitive. Uno is not a competitive game. That being said, there are some games (including Poker) in which variance does not outweigh skill so much as accent it. Generally speaking, a game that is high in luck and low in skill (Rock Paper Scissors) can be competed in but is at least not a good competitive game. By default settings, Melee is such a game. However, over its competitive lifespan, the Melee community has used an evolving set of rulesets/bans to all but eliminate variance and emphasize skill. It is now a very competitive game.


Bans in the FGC

Traditionally, FGC rulesets (best of 3, 90 seconds or what have you) are simple and in the game itself. Those kinds of rules are in place already and rarely need to be altered. The purpose of a rule-change or ban is to make the game more competitive than it is natively. To avoid abuse, rule-changes are treated seriously and their reasoning is well-documented. On occasion a tactic or character appears that changes the competitive landscape enough to warrant banning. The guidelines in place for bans are spelled out in Playing To Win.
PtW says that any ban must be
• Enforceable (detectable)
• Discrete (completely defined/unambiguous)
• and Warranted (dominates the game)

Because these criteria (particularly Warranted) are so strict, the FGC rarely bans in-game techniques or characters that don’t make the game unplayable. Rather, they accept that strong tactics are strong tactics. As long as it is possible to beat a character without the exclusion of other tactics, that technique, while strong, does not break the game. If it makes the game unfun or uninteresting then in truth the game was always unfun or uninteresting; you just didn’t know before. But more often the rampant use of a strong tactic drives the development of counter-tactics and counter-counter tactics, actually radically deepening the level of play. For this reason preemptive bans are unacceptable. They will not ban anything reflexively before it is demonstrated to be meaningful, dominant problem that breaks a game’s competitiveness. This approach is very fitting with the FGCs harsh, Get Good, adaption-centric culture. It is also quite reasonable, considering that any tactics that are not clearly bannable are likely to disappear with time, be it through meta-evolution, update patches, or a new title in the series.

Interestingly, in the same chapter PtW describes a concept it calls a “Soft Ban.” A soft ban is a sort of social stigma against using “unfair” characters or techniques. In the book, it describes top players in Japan refusing to use Akuma or Old Sagat, despite their being borderline bannable. Because they weren’t used except by uppity players that were quickly humiliated by veterans, these characters never dominated results and thus a ban wasn’t warranted. Relying on a social taboo wasn’t necessarily perfect, but in this case it was sufficient to keep the game worth playing and preserving the potential for meta-development. It is interesting to see this anecdote in a book called Playing to Win, a book that places extreme emphasis on removing moralistic judgement from your approach to games. It reminds us that these games are not played in a vacuum. They exist within a culture of players with complex value systems. In the smaller, insular communities that PtW was written for, soft bans are not just acceptable but preferable to hard bans. They are, for the time being, good enough. When they aren’t good enough then presumably a hard ban comes into effect OR the game is patched/updated at which point the problem vanishes.

Note: I do not think that the FGC criteria as defined by PtW is the best system, but it is definitely foundational.


Culture and Subjectivity

Ultimately, competitive games are an objective measure of skill. However, what skills they are designed to measure is a subjective judgement. This is easy to demonstrate with SSBM. As a community, we have decided to play with 4 stocks, 8 minutes, and no items. This is a radically different set of in-game rules than the default 2 minute time match with random items. Some casuals complain that competitive melee is not a measure of “real” skill because it does not account for other aspects of the game such as the situational awareness that comes from coping with items or some stages. That opinion seems scrubby to us, but it is not untrue. The current competitive ruleset does measure specific skills at the necessary exclusion of others. It measures a smaller set of skills that we collectively decided to be more desirable. In particular, we reject most variance. Most of our ruleset is specifically designed to root out randomness in favor of consistency. But in an alternate universe, a competitive melee scene based on an alternate set of values could exist. In universe B where competitive melee is played out in coin battles there would be an entirely different culture that develops entirely different rulesets that give rise to entirely different strategies, tier lists, and rankings that are all still highly-competitive. That would be fine. The difference between universe A and B is what skills we prefer to measure, what we value seeing and experiencing, what we think is good. While not quite arbitrary, this is obviously a subjective judgement.

It is also important to recognize that Melee is unique game with specific and individualized possibilities. Those particular possibilities excite and inspire the community that is drawn to it. If you ask competitors what they love about melee you will receive a number of different responses, but all of these will be particular to the game and are the basis of the culture that surrounds it. Melee, like any expressive medium, becomes a meeting point for people, their values, their experience, and the particular idiosyncrasies and limitations of each. The best possible ruleset is the best possible catalyst for this meeting as competition. It is not just possible but probable that its subjectively valued skillset will have a different identity than those of other games and subcultures. Which is all to say that melee is a unique game that attracts a unique culture and that its ruleset requires unique consideration. Furthermore, the creation of its ruleset is synonymous with the identification of values.



Rulesets Cannot Be Perfect

Very competitive games demand constant evolution. In order to get an edge, players constantly push the boundaries of what is possible. Consequently, there is a huge amount of uncertainty as to what techniques or strategies will remain at the top and rulesets can no more predict this than the people that make them. Rulesets cannot be perfect. The relationship between the game's rules and the community is at least as fluid as the meta. Sometimes bans (soft or hard) are appropriate, sometimes they aren’t. Because the skills that we choose to measure are subjective, any elaborations that we make upon the game’s limitations (i.e. rules/bans) are also subjective. In the FGC there’s an implicit understanding that rulesets are not perfect so much as serviceable. They are free to evolve and likely to fall into disuse as new patches or new games come out. Because Melee has been around for so long, we tend to forget this.



Melee Community

Because Melee is not a traditional fighter, some of the guidelines to traditional fighter rulesets do not apply so readily. In particular, liberal stage bans in the smash community have undoubtedly been positive, as have the other format changes that FGC criteria would have a hard time justifying. It is important to recognize that while a traditional fighter can rely on the meta, patches or new games to clean up its messes before any rule changes, Melee can only rely on meta and rule changes. Luckily the game has been able to sustain an astonishing amount of counter-play development, but some rule changes have been beneficial. The strict PtW guidelines are are fantastic, but certainly not unassailable gospel. Rather, it would be to our benefit to better identify in hot topics the exact points of disagreement as they relate to competitiveness and skill assessment while recalling the usefulness of soft bans.

Many disagreements over rulesets are disagreements over what skills or priorities you value. If the skill that we mean to measure is subjectively determined (but remember, objectively assessed) then that means that the ideal boundaries (rules) of the game are potentially different per individual. There are those subjective skills as represented in the current ruleset, then there are competitors that just want to win, competitors that want the game to measure different skills, spectators that want the game to measure the same or different skills, and spectators that just want their guy to win. All of these individuals have different priorities, articulate or not, rational or not. For example: how much emphasis should be placed on which sub-skill? How much of melee skill is physical execution vs tactics (controller controversies)? How much is conventional vs unconventional win conditions (timeout controversies)? Etc. But as should be clear by the groundwork laid out in this article, all disagreements can be better argued if not outright resolved if they can be better articulated in relation to the above.


TLDR:
• Rules are artificial limitations that we put on a game so that it better measures what skills we subjectively value while preserving fairness. (Swimming suits are legal until the impact of suits overtakes the swimming skill, but racing cars is different because developing driving and developing cars are both subjectively valued. Different sports use different criteria.)
• There are hard bans (rules) and soft bans (social taboos). Both are effective, but hard bans (PARTICULARLY PREEMPTIVE BANS) are undesirable because it likely impedes unexpected meta-development.
• By applying rules to a game you make it an objective measure of a subjectively determined skillset. That is ok and actually really cool when done well because it creates a meeting point for people and their individual values/experiences.
• Because the players push boundaries there are always unknowns that the community can't be ready to make a judgement about. Thus no ruleset is perfect. It is an approximate and flexible set of limitations.
• Disagreements over rules are disagreements over values. They are best resolved when those values are clearly articulated in a specific-as-possible context.



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tilting

Tilting

I have found that the simplest, most effective abstraction for dealing with emotions is the idea that poker players call tilting. It contains a few topics, but isn’t overly complicated and is extensively helpful.
You should understand going in to this though that the illustration is a heuristic (an idea that is not perfect, but is sufficient for immediate goals). Because there are so many different emotions that have so many different neurological ramifications, it’s not possible let alone practical to have the perfect analogy or plan for each possible emotional experience. Instead, by painting emotional experiences and how they work with broad strokes, this illustration should demystify them enough that they become workable through experience.


What is Tilting?

Imagine a meter that measures your mental state. As an emotion accumulates that meter tilts over from vertical toward horizontal, as if it was measuring pressure. Let’s say that something is making you mad. Normally, every time it happens your needle moves a bit and you lose a little bit more of your cool. The significance of tilting is that this experience is exponential. In the case of frustration and related emotions, as you get more upset that same experience gets more upsetting. Something that is a mild irritant when you’re level-headed is positively infuriating when you’re tilted. Interestingly, it can accumulate over a long term! For as long as the root problem isn’t addressed, the strength of the trigger needed to get you from 0 to 100 will gradually decrease.



Why Does Tilting Exist?


In order to start to tackle tilting, we have to understand a bit more about why it happens. This is simplest in two parts.

The first has to do with what emotions are for generally. Why do emotions exist in the first place? Let’s imagine that you’re a hunter-gatherer and you stumble into the path of a saber-tooth tiger. This is a high-stress, high-stakes situation. Your body pumps you full of adrenaline, neurotransmitters, anything that will help you survive. Your body needs the fastest, most effective way possible to motivate you to act, so it builds up an emotion. At the fundamental level, an emotion is your brain’s evolutionary assessment of the situation and its unmistakable suggestion as to what you need to do. In the case of the saber-tooth tiger you need to fight or you need to flight and you need to do it now. Emotions are designed specifically to suspend or overwhelm analysis/meta-cognition and drive your behavior-- to force the priority, force the response, and make you run.

The second has to do with what triggers the kinds of emotions that typically correspond with tilt. These tend to center around cognitive dissonance. The human brain is an amazing thing, but it has a big weakness in that it hattttttes being wrong. Can’t handle it. It hates being wrong to such a degree that it actively warps our perception of reality just to avoid having to consider that one of its truisms is flawed. As a biproduct of how it digests information, an opposing idea is perceived as dangerous (and emotionally driving) as a physical threat. When the brain runs into an experience that contradicts its beliefs, it will go to great lengths to avoid or reject having to change those beliefs, including inventing false narratives/justifications/moralizations (exactly like these) or by triggering a debilitating emotional response.

That’s all a bit dramatic, but then, we’ve probably all seen how dramatic tilting/rage can get even over something as silly as a children’s party game.


How is Tilting a Problem?

Next, we want to take a step back and reexamine the usefulness of emotions. As has been mentioned, experiencing emotions is not a bad thing. They are meant to provide crucial chemical resources and/or direction in a time of need. It’s totally natural. Biologically, emotions are there to serve as warning signs, quick, automatic notifications that something is up, that something needs to change. And that’s great! How useful! On a more meaningful level, emotions obviously enrich our lives. They give color and depth to our experiences by shifting our mental processes enough to see things from a different perspective. Not only is self-censoring emotion unnecessary and largely a fool’s errand, it would be a real shame.

So outside of being socially in-palatable what exactly is the problem with tilting? If you look back at Mental-Game and Execution, we demonstrated that mentality is just an execution tool. It’s only a weakness if it prevents you from executing your strategy. The real issue with tilting (as far as gameplay is concerned) is not how we feel but what we do.


So:

The onset of an emotion is not something that we can or should control. Remember, many emotions are chemical changes/accumulations within your brain. It’s not immaterial, there’s something measurable going on in there. This is partly why suppressing your emotions is ineffective. If you’re getting angry, you can’t just decide not to be angry anymore because that’s a lie. You are angry. You have the chemical signals for angry coursing through your body. You have increased heart-rate, blood pressure, and perspiration. Your nostrils may flare, your posture may change. Your risk-assessment shifts, etc. Anger is already neurologically, chemically, physically present and trying to censor your emotions won’t change that, it’ll just contribute toward a ruthless downward spiral of frustration when your anger dissipates at its own pace rather than at yours. Instead of controlling the emotion itself, we should strive to control our interaction with them, namely to accept them for the temporary signals that they are and to commit to deliberate behavior. The distinction is subtle, but profound.



Two strategies for dealing with tilting:


Short Term (in the moment)

1) Is this worth getting any more upset over?
2) What am I feeling? That’s ok.
3) Make decisions consciously.

First, identify what’s going on. Sometimes getting upset is appropriate but we have a tendency to overreact and lose perspective. Mentally acknowledging a rational perspective cuts the fuel supply to a renegade emotional response. Choosing to actively engage with the situation rather than the emotion allows you to acknowledge it without giving it power.
Once you’ve given yourself that quick reminder of what’s real, take stock of your emotional state. Whatever it is, that’s what it is. And that’s ok!
Finally-- and this is of superlative importance-- make a conscious decision. This is the red pill/blue pill moment. You’re either going to execute your strategy or stray from it. You get to make a choice between rational and irrational, between deliberate and manipulated, mindful and mindless. But if you’re in the position to make that choice consciously then you’re already in a fantastic position to make it well!

Consider: What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t have to worry about a saber-tooth tiger. The worst thing that can happen is that your strategy was bad and you lose. Would making the impulsive choice and stalling at the ledge because you feel fear, random f-smashing because you feel desperation, or rushing in because you feel irritation really do you any better? Do you recognize how pervasive these emotional situations are? Tilting is just the extreme version. The more tilted you are, the more mental muscle it takes to hold your decisions up. But here’s the kicker; every time you make a conscious choice rather than an impulsive one, even if it’s small, even if you’re relatively level-headed, your mental muscle gets stronger. That’s a rep. If you’re starting to tilt and you can manage to make a mindful decision despite it then that’s a bigger rep! With practice, your mental muscle gets stronger and stronger and you’ll get better and better at making choices. And that’s the goal, making active choices rather than being led around on an emotional leash. There’s no reason to censor emotions if they don’t control your behavior. It may or may not be easy but it is pretty simple.

If you feel overwhelmed then you feel overwhelmed. That’s fine. It’s ok to fail. Failing often is actually the best possible way to learn. Every choice is a new opportunity to make another rep. I personally think this perspective is exciting.


Long Term (after the moment)

Tackle your cognitive dissonance. Tilting always means that you believe something that isn’t true. You should figure out what that is. This isn't some arbitrary trial, it's the perfect chance to improve by weeding out false beliefs! What’s setting you off? Why are you experiencing an emotional reaction there? What is the disconnect between your brain and the rational reality of the situation?

It could be as simple as “Oh, I get mad when I trade with falco uptilt because I thought my nair hitbox was better than it really is.” Many fixes are exactly as easy as identifying the problem.

Other fixes revolve around what we'll call Should Statements. "I shouldn't have lost that match." "That should have worked." "I should be able to do that by now." "Why would he do that?" "He only won because I messed up my techskill." "I should be able to control my emotions." Etc. Should Statements are obvious protests against reality and are thus easy indicators for cognitive dissonance. Similarly to the presence of emotions, you can simply accept that things are what they are for a reason. Not a mystical reason but a real one. "I should have won that match," Maybe you want to have won, but you lost because you made the exact mistakes that you did. If you want your results to change then you need to change! That's easier to do with mindful acceptance as opposed to defiant protest against reality lol.

Identifying and fixing these or similar bad mental habits is exactly like unshackling your brain. It feels amazing and makes such a big difference!



Conclusion

Some things (like the onset of your emotions) are outside of your control. Other things (like your decision-making) are controllable. Either way and no matter what happens, the key to making progress is accepting reality for what it is. Maybe you get upset. (Short Term: Ok, now what? Long Term: Ok, why is that?) Maybe you make a mistake and lacked discipline. (Short term: Ok, now what? Long Term: Ok, why is that?) It's not really good or bad, it's all just information/material/opportunity that you can use to learn from and continue to make growth-oriented choices in the new present moment. In this way, the mental-game process can be seen as elaborations on a fundamental process of Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Commitment, a psychological skills-training model that I'll expand more on at a later date.



Afterword

For more on the topic of tilting I highly recommend The Mental Game of Poker, recommended to me by S0ft. It goes further into the specifics of different kinds of tilt.
I personally had a lot of trouble with tilting (not with anger but with debilitating disappointment and anxiety) despite having studied all of this until I started specifically practicing accepting my internal states as they are and avoiding self-censoring in meditation. I have used http://headspace.com/ and http://mindgames.gg/ This is of course anecdotal but in addition to getting a firm handle on tilting I enjoy myself much more and feel much more confident.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mental-Game and Execution

Mental-Game and Execution

The following (and all of my my writing on the topic of mentality) is based on research, the most useful/impactful of which can be found here, here, and here.

Today we’re going to look at how the mental-game relates to the game itself.

Review the following flowchart.


















(Understanding -> Strategy -> Execution -> Hardware/Super Smash Bros Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube -> What happens/Results)

We have some ideas about Melee and how to play it. Those ideas may or may not be accurate, but they influence how we play the game. Those ideas, through thought and practice, get integrated into our in-game strategies, tactics, and playstyle. But however good or bad your strategy, it won’t matter if you don’t have the techskill or execution to input it into the game with your controller. The game reads your inputs, then outputs actions. Those actions either work or don’t and eventually you either win or lose.
This is a simple way to look at how our understanding of the game gets translated to our results. If one area has some kind of fault or error then the others suffer as well.

So where does the mental-game fit into this flowchart? You might be surprised to realize it’s actually part of the Execution step! If Execution is located between your strategy and your controller then there are only a few important subcategories.
  1. You must have the techskill necessary to execute your strategy. Techskill is simply a matter of rote muscle-memory. That being said, we play a complicated game so there are a huge number of small skills to learn.
  2. You must be physiologically able to execute your strategy. If you are inebriated or overly tired or aren’t wearing your glasses or have cold hands having just come inside from the snow etc then you have a problem. Luckily, esports are not especially physically demanding. It’s still important to be healthier than not but not to the same degree as say, rugby. Different games emphasize different things to different degrees.
  3. You must be mentally able to execute your strategy. You can’t get overwhelmed by your emotions or the perceived pressure of the match or wandering thoughts or the noise of a crowd or a whole range of other mental experiences. If you do then your execution will suffer as you use mental resources on yourself instead of on the game. Your reactions will suffer. Your inputs will suffer. Your character’s actions will suffer. Your results will suffer.
Mental-game is NOT about motivation.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling your mood.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling or censoring your emotions.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling the conditions in which you play.
Mental-game is NOT up to chance.
Mental-game is NOT incomprehensible or even especially complex.
Mental-game is NOT about avoiding mistakes.

Mental-game IS about directing your FOCUS and your BEHAVIOR.

It might not be easy (it will almost definitely take practice and strategies of its own) but it can be that simple.

Currently, a better Melee player (or even a top Melee player) is set apart from a worse one by some degree of understanding, some degree of strategy, and such a large degree of execution that it can’t overemphasized. In this game improving your execution is the quickest way to make the biggest difference. You may have heard it said that Melee at the top level is “all mental.” Once you’ve reached a certain techskill/physical fitness threshold, mentality is all that’s left to differentiate your level of execution from your opponent’s. In this way, the mental-game IS execution.


I will be writing posts about more specific mental-game issues (including the ominous topic of tilting) in the near future.