Guest post -My research with Isabelle, by Hidari

I hope this is a trend that continues on the Amiibo Doctor. This is our first guest post on this blog, written by the Isabelle trainer Hidari.

I suppose you could say that I’ve trained three Isabelle Amiibo, despite only having one Isabelle Amiibo.

Isabelle is largely a research and experiment/work-in-progress, but I’m pleased with how she’s currently growing. Here’s where I went wrong with my Isabelles, and where I went right.

Isabelle 1.0: The oldest method I used to level and teach Amiibo is one I now highly regret. I would fight her from level 1-20, then put her and several other level 20 amiibo into an 8-player Smash and just set it… and forget it. Most of the amiibo that went through this process turned out to be jumpy, dodgy, and fought primarily off the stage, with personalities of Reckless, Thrill Seeker, and Light being most common. After this, I would have her face off with a Level 9 CPU mirror match, with very little actual progress to show for it. Another problem I encountered from training other amiibo from 1-50 via mirror matches was that they usually wound up being Reckless or Enthusiastic. I imagine the reason for this is that low level amiibo don’t do much on their own, requiring you to get up in their face while they’re still learning from your actions, which was why I’d been discouraged from this method in Smash 4.

Then I got to thinking back to Smash 4, and I recalled that there was a way to create a Level 50 fighter that fell back on its default AI through manipulating stage creation. And then I realized that the same effect is present in Ultimate… kinda. Amiibo still accrue experience and levels regardless if Learning is set to off or on. This led me to creating my second Isabelle. Since I figured my first method was a wash, I started over from scratch.

Isabelle 2.0: There’s a few methods to leveling up an amiibo quickly, but one of the quickest methods I’ve found is to simply set up a Time Battle for 5 minutes, first to 5 wins. The opponents don’t matter: Learning will be off. This results in a Level 50 Normal amiibo that uses their default AI after about 25-30 minutes. The default AI isn’t exactly terrible either, since it’s actively trying to come to you and attack, so it’s something to work with.

I went for a more hands-on approach to training Isabelle via mirror match this time. One thing to note is that I didn’t really have a particular strategy. I just fought like I normally do. Isabelle isn’t a character I had considered using on the regular, so I didn’t bother to do anything strategic or tactical. Just Smash your opponent, right?

Isabelle became Reckless and Enthusiastic during this venture, which still wasn’t what I was hoping for. She still performed a bit better than Isabelle 1.0, but the results still left much to be desired.

Isabelle 2.5 (RingABelle): I had saved the .bin file when she was a Level 50 Normal amiibo with no special training, so I restored her to that point, and gave her a new name. I was frustrated with my lack of progress. She was beating me consistently as 2.0, but she still couldn’t hold a candle to other amiibo fighters and I wanted her to improve. It was time to research.

Lack of Amiibo training guides, even generalized ones, were a stumbling block for me. Nobody had done it yet. And with 70+ characters, most of which had Amiibo compatible with Smash Ultimate, finding a thoroughly-researched, Isabelle-specific guide just wasn’t happening. I was on my own. I hopped onto the Amiibo Dojo Discord for suggestions.

I learned that in general, a Level 50 Amiibo has nearly frame-perfect reaction times. That’s the biggest reason why Amiibo are generally the toughest AI to fight against: a lot of humans just can’t keep up. So why not slow things down? Special Smash does have a Slow modifier. While we’re at it, I’m noticing that sometimes Isabelle 2.0 would wait until the opponent was at 200% or more before going to KO, so let’s try the Light modifier, too, to help her notice that she can KO sooner than that under her present conditions, and therefore try to KO in normal Smash sooner.

Training under Slow and Light conditions was a bit of a pain, but it started paying enormous dividends almost immediately. After a few fights, she was trying to KO her opponent around 100%-120%, and she was behaving a lot more skillfully in normal conditions, too. She actually underwent a change in personality from Normal to Enthusiastic almost right away, but that wasn’t the personality I wanted her to have. Something else had to change: me. I needed to understand how Isabelle operates.

isabelle1

Isabelle has a particularly interesting kit at her disposal, and right away I noticed that she has two zoning options on the ground, one being horizontal and the other being vertical: her Side+B and Down+B, respectively. They are about the same distance, too, and having both active as frequently as possible forces your opponent to approach from a weird angle above you, unless they have projectile weapons, which Neutral B is your quick answer for most of these hazards.

Her air moves are decent, as well: Up Air and Down Air come out quick, and both seem to have a sweet spot that, when it connects, can really launch your opponent. Her Forward and Back Air options give her a horizontal, medium range projectile that comes out faster than her Side+B. Neutral Air covers pretty much all the angles that Up/Down/Forward/Back Air can’t, though it’s a slightly shorter radius than her Up/Down options. Isabelle will normally default to Neutral Air, so teaching her how to use her other aerial options is going to be important.

On the ground, Isabelle has a few strong options. Her dash attack is fairly average at first glance, but it does have one unique property in that it creates a projectile that breaks on contact with the ground or the opponent, making it a somewhat unexpected edge guard utility. Nailing the arc is difficult, however. Side Tilt has a decent launch factor, and Up Tilt combos well into itself and Up Air, depending on enemy health. Down Tilt has edge guard utility and a surprisingly good launch factor to it, as well. Her normal attack, however… Well, it’s a bit underwhelming. It does have one niche use, though. More on that later.

Isabelle has outstanding recovery options in her Side+B and Up+B moves. When you’re close enough to the ledge, using Side+B has her rod auto-target the stage for an immediate, ranged ledge grab. It doesn’t interfere with others actively grabbing the ledge, which you need to be aware of. Her Up+B is a bit… different. The initial momentum is pretty significant, and with every press of the button, she can propel herself a bit further in the desired direction. Unfortunately, if you hesitate, you can lose that momentum and find yourself plummeting to your demise. The other thing to get in mind is that if the balloons are popped, you’re sent into a freefall, so getting your balloons spiked is a thing to avoid. Most of the time, though, Side+B is more than enough to make your way back.

Training Regimen: I had to put together a plan for Isabelle that would be both practical and tactical, while teaching her what I expected from her. Since a lot of opponents are close-ranged, they are going to want to get in her face, which is gives her a hard time. Even more worrisome are opponents with ranged options, but seeing as how Isabelle has very little in the way of projectile weapons, that will have to wait.

Every mirror match, I did the following:

-Always make sure to place a rocket with Down+B, and refresh it when it disappears/explodes at the first available opportunity. Always fight near where your rocket is. If Isabelle starts mimicking the frequent Down+B, you know she’s catching on.

-Make liberal use of Side+B to limit your opponent’s options. Reel it back in when they get close to rocket range. At this point, you have options based on proximity: pressing Down+B to launch the rocket may force a Neutral B response from the Isabelle amiibo, but a shorthop Up Air will generally connect. The problem here is that at lower health percentages, Isabelle will recover quickly enough to respond with a Down Air, so save the Up Air response for higher percentages. Up Tilt will work, but you may have to adjust your position since Isabelle’s Down Air has slightly more range (but a narrower hitbox) than her Up Tilt. Whichever option you go for, once you start, you’ve committed.

-If you happen to land a Side+B, you have four options. It as acts as a grab and throw; just hold the analog stick in the direction you want to throw them before your opponent is fully reeled in. While the obvious option is to throw an opponent off the stage, there are a few combo ideas to keep in mind. Remember how I said to always fight near where your rocket is? Up/Down tossing after a Side+B can sometimes trigger the rocket to fire off, depending on your foe’s relative proximity to it, and if it doesn’t go off, you can still manually set it off, yourself. This can rack up a good 40-60% in damage in a single go. If the fight strays too far from your rocket, fling your opponent either towards the rocket, or towards the blast zone. If your opponent is at 130% to 150%, simply toss them upwards with a Side+B for an almost guaranteed KO on Omega stages. If they aren’t KO’d, you are using Side+B too much and the move has gone stale.

-Try to keep your opponent as occupied as possible. Up and Side Air are going to be your staple air battle options, but toss in a Neutral Air from time to time to keep them guessing. Dash attacking and Side tilts are good punishers for bad Isabelle behavior, such as overusing Side+B and not reeling in soon enough.

isabelle2

-Neutral attack? Okay. Remember how I said it has a niche use? Also, remember how I said to fight close to your rocket? In the event that your fight gets close to your rocket, but is just ever so slightly out of range to set it off, spam that neutral attack. The tiny amount of knockback will be enough to push them to the rocket for a fun ride into space. Squeaky hammer for emergency use only. Using it only in these very rare circumstances will help her realize she’s not Marth or Ike.

-Guard the edges. Punish poor recoveries by planting a rocket near the edge, and casting your Side+B off the side of the stage. If your opponent gets too close to the hook, reel them in and throw your catch back off the side, or upwards if their damage is high and you’re feeling cheeky. If you fail to catch them before they grab the ledge, you can use Down Tilt if they’ve been grabbing too long. Failing even that, your rocket stands a good chance of taking them higher than intended; just be sure to manually set it off if they jump to try and avoid it.

-Most importantly: wait your opponent out. Be patient. Bait them into trying to punish you for using Side+B. If you act tactically, your amiibo will, too. If your Isabelle turns into Logical, Laid Back, or even goes back to Normal personality, you’re molding your Isabelle into being your cute little trap mastermind. For foes that haven’t fought against Isabelle before, they will get completely wrecked, but she’ll need a bit more experience before she’s ready to tackle the likes of projectile spam-heavy opponents such as Samus, Link, and Megaman.

Perhaps the hardest part of training is fighting against your amiibo as other characters to give her adequate experience against those foes. While I haven’t yet fully discovered what options work best, I am conducting ongoing research to try and figure things out.

Ideas I’ve had in order to accomplish this include:

-Borrowing a friend’s fully-trained amiibo to spar against. With permission, of course.

-Doing a team battle as Isabelle with Isabelle on your team against your foe of choice.

-Using Spirits to allow me to have more of an edge against the clever girl when I’m using characters I’m only so-so with.

isabelle4

PART TWO

After a few days, I’ve finally came to a breakthrough in improving Isabelle’s behavior.

Finding a buddy who would let me borrow their “secret weapon” was a no-go, and I was honestly looking at Team Battles with a measure of skepticism in regards to an amiibo I had already trained so much with—I still intend to research how that works, but not with Isabelle.

This left me with attempting to use Spirits. Other than my dip through the World of Light adventure, I didn’t know a whole lot about them. I poured over my library of spirits, in search of something that would allow a Level 9 CPU to have the upper hand and not give Isabelle a fair fight, which I hypothesized would lead to new behaviors as she figured out how to get KOs despite being the (literal) underdog.

Full Armor X: This spirit has relatively weak stats, but it gives Super Armor and a single support slot. Attaching a support that improved the window of Perfect Shielding, I decided to equip a Level 9 Captain Falcon CPU with this setup. Why Falcon? Well, she got creamed by him in an amiibo tournament and she wanted revenge.

When I tried it, Isabelle got wrecked. She couldn’t do anything productive to adapt; Captain Falcon gave her both boots and a punch or two. Back to the drawing board.

Absolutely Safe Capsule: I had noticed I had a copy of this spirit in my inventory, and my initial impression was “well, I guess it’s a dud. No skill and no slots to speak of.”

Boy, was I wrong.

It was only after giving it a second real glance that I noticed that it had 4.8k defense at level 1. A lot of my favorite spirits didn’t even come close. There is also 0 attack on it, which is what caught my eye in the first place: I didn’t want Isabelle to get pulverized, just have a hard time doing things the “normal” way.

So I went ahead and spent the SP to level it to 99, giving it a whopping 10,000 defense—the highest in the game. Equipping that to Captain Falcon, I dove in for a test run.

Just eyeballing the numbers, I’m guessing that the amount of damage negation with 10,000 defense is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90%.

That’s not a typo. Ninety freakin’ percent. Isabelle wasn’t instantly KO’d either, so that was a plus.

So, how to go about the training, then? Well, at this point, I had spent a cumulative four hours on training Isabelle by hand via mirror match, which I felt was adequate for cementing her now favored attack pattern. I decided to save her data to a file just in case. You know, for science.

Training Regimen 2: The Falconing

Special Smash: Fast descriptor only. No items, Omega stages only, FS off, Spirits on, 60 minute time battle matches, first to four, CPU level 9. Equipped Captain Falcon with the Absolutely Safe Capsule (ASC from here on out) and let them fly off to fight.

Battle 1: Isabelle fought as she normally would. Needless to say, it was an exercise in futility. I believe the score difference was in the neighborhood of 50, in Falcon’s favor.

Battle 2: I noticed some changes in Isabelle’s behavior right away. She was desperate to rack up damage, and tried being more offensive, but to no avail. Towards the end of the match, she began to grab and throw more. Score difference was around 30, Falcon’s favor.

Battle 3: Isabelle learned how to spike her opponent! So proud of her. She also worked on attack combos that would lead Falcon to the side blast zones. Score difference was about 15 at this point.

Battle 4: Isabelle has stopped using her Down+B, much to my dismay. She was also exhibiting more proficiency in spikes, and was now gimping recoveries, so I chalked that up as a fair tradeoff. She was also using her Side+B less, but I figured I could remedy that with some maintenance mirror matches.

isabelle3

Results: Isabelle is now of the Technician personality, which appears to focus on combos and early KO’s. Her high% strategy remained unchanged, however, which was interesting to note. She was also jumping a lot more, but not so high for it to be a dangerous move. Despite being faced with Captain Falcon, she had improved at using her Neutral B in both defensive and offensive situations.

Aftermath: Despite being overwhelmingly positive, the results also had some latently huge drawbacks. I’m glad I made another backup of RingABelle 2.6, because her personality jumped around too much during mirror matches and she had begun spamming Down+B in midair—which is a massive mistake. I had to revert back to 2.6 several times before I began finding ways to stabilize and improve her new behavior.

One of Isabelle’s hard counters appears to be Bowser. Despite all the training I’ve given her, she still struggles against him. So I let her fight a Level 50 Bowser amiibo for one fight with Learning on, then turned Learning off after the match was done (she had won, but barely) to view the results.

She began using Down+B and Side+B again, which was good. She still struggled against the Koopa King, so I made a backup and figured why not try again, see if she got any better?

She didn’t.

Actually, she got worse.

Reverting back to what I now call RingABelle 2.6b, I went into a mirror match and tried a full fight with her like I had used to do.

She became a Thrill Seeker immediately.

Reverting to 2.6b again, I went back to the drawing board.

What makes amiibo learn? Well, the help tips in the game says losses make it learn more. So she needs to lose. But my own playstyle is too far removed from where I want her to be, so I’ve got to make her lose, but without picking up any of my inferior human bad habits.

The new hypothesis was that if I win versus RingABelle, her AI would check to see what she did wrong and make adjustments to accommodate for her errors.

But what if she lost while doing literally nothing wrong?

One rationale would be that nothing would change at all. She would remain unstable and unable to learn how to fight against other opponents.

Another rationale would be that… nothing would change at all. Except for the fact that since she did nothing wrong, the “change” that does occur would be to change nothing. I know that might be a fairly abstract idea to swallow, but I chanced it. I chanced it ten times in a row, with extra cheese.

One stock, FS off, Spirits off, manual handicap, launch distance 1.2x. I set Isabelle’s damage to 125%.

Entering the fight, I would use Down+B immediately, and baited Isabelle into my fishing rod, and threw her straight towards the ceiling blast zone. Done in ten seconds. Ten times.

I was correct in that nothing changed. She was still a Technician. She had no new behaviors from what I could tell. But seeing nothing was good. The only question that remained was… can she still learn without becoming unstable?

I set her up with matches while learning was on versus Bowser, Captain Falcon (without ASC, of course), Link, and King K. Rool—all characters that had given her the greatest trouble in the past.

The results were fantastic! She didn’t lose her personality, and she didn’t pick up any nasty habits that made her ineffective, even if the result was a loss!

Although mirror matches were somewhat troublesome. One mirror match made her—and I shudder to say this—Light, of all things. Gross. (Seriously, worst personality in my opinion. Too jumpy to be safe, too dodgy to be practical. If you want a defensive personality choose… literally anything else.)

So now we’re at RingABelle 2.6c. What’s next for our beloved Technical pupper? Good question, actually. More observations must be made in order to tweak and fine-tune our favorite secretary.

More on the Absolutely Safe Capsule training: I believe this method can be used to help adjust your chosen amiibo fighter to find new and unorthodox methods to get KOs, so long as they aren’t winning in the process. Since wins equal less in the ways of learning, perhaps an unfavorable matchup—and not a hard counter—is preferred for this method. While Heavyweights are a hard counter for Isabelle, speedy characters like Little Mac, Captain Falcon, Fox and Sonic simply give her a hard time (mostly because they can walk over her Lloid rockets and not get hit). I’d say these kinds of characters would make excellent subjects for ASC training in general, though it might not be the best for everyone.

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