Things that happened while I was gone

It’s been about two months since I wrote up the (intended to be) final post for Amiibo Doctor, and we’ve had quite an information dump on amiibo since then. I’m writing this off the top of my head, and with new information coming out fairly rapidly some of this could be subject to change or extension.

First, some Smash series amiibo have been announced for restock. We already knew about a few of these, as you can preorder pretty much all of the announced ones at Best Buy here. Some of the announced ones aren’t up for preorder yet because they have been unofficially revealed, but the methods through which they were revealed indicates they will be up soon.

Second, we’ve had some intriguing new information on the future of custom moves and amiibo equipment, but that warrants its own post. The information seems to indicate that even under the old Smash 4 ruleset, the amiibo metagame would be completely different.

Thirdly, the Amiibo Dojo (@amiibodojo on Twitter) has come to the decision that, at least for the beginning of Ultimate’s life, amiibo competitions will be played with vanilla rulesets. My loyal readers will remember how I said that having a vanilla amiibo metagame would be absolutely awesome. I still hold to that belief, and do so quite happily.

Fourth, we’ve had the last of the characters and stages revealed to us. I’ll be rewriting my opinions on the rulesets in the near future. This is going to be a very interesting set of options to play with, and I look forward to it. I do intend to host tournaments at some point in the future (once I get some time and more Powertags), so my writing won’t just be empty opinion and rhetoric anymore.

I think that covers just about everything important! Thank you for reading.

Update: We’ll be coming back

We’re a little bit over three weeks until Ultimate’s release, and we now have more information to write about until then. I can’t stop brainstorming topics for new posts whenever I’m not focused on something specific, and I think it’s about time we rebooted this blog.

I don’t have any specific timelines for new posts, as the semester is coming to a close. For the most part, I’ll continue to try posting on Tuesdays, but don’t expect much consistency for a while. Sometimes I may have two posts: sometimes I may have none. We may discuss the metagame, or perhaps some new research that I’ve uncovered, or possibly something I can’t even think of right now. This blog is mostly up in the air right now.

We’re absolutely going to focus our attention to Ultimate exclusively at this point; like the mainstream competitive community, Smash 4 will die the second Ultimate releases. We have no reason to continue researching a metagame that will consist of only one person, so to this end I am going to go back through and remove any posts that aren’t useful to Ultimate and Ultimate’s research. I will still have the drafts, but they will no longer be visible. I want to focus this blog on Ultimate, and not on me.

A few of my regular readers sent in messages asking how I was doing shortly after the closure of the Amiibo Doctor. I’d like to say that I’m doing well, because for the most part I am. Life goes on, until it doesn’t anymore. We just have to keep going.

Blitzkrieg: what the amiibo community should do once we have the ground floor

This post is an extension of the thoughts outlined in Getting in on the ground floor. Much of my time working on this blog has been spent planning and researching the most optimal use of the flash of time that Ultimate will be the biggest game on the block. While I’ve left out a few important specifics to maintain a big-picture viewpoint on this issue, even if I included them I would not be able to do this alone. Thus, if anyone with more resources, a larger audience or just an interest in helping reads this and thinks there is some merit to it, contact me through the email form. I will expound that information. Any time you see the ♦ symbol, there’s some important information that I’m withholding.

I’ve said before that Ultimate’s release will be a very large kick in the pants for the amiibo metagame, but if we don’t take advantage of it then it will be lost forever. I stand by that statement: there’s nothing else foreseeable that would give us a boost. This is do or die.

The issue that the amiibo community has always had (stop me if you’ve heard this before) is one of size. This is partly due to the incredible fiscal and time expenditures necessary to participate in amiibo competition, but it’s also due to a lack of awareness. Nobody knows we exist, and the ones that do left because they never won anything. While we can’t completely solve the overall cost of amiibo, the issues of awareness have held us down for years, and if we’re to succeed in any capacity these issues must be solved.

So let’s solve them, and knock out a few others while we’re at it.

Pre-Ultimate: a Full-Court Press

We’ve got our work cut out for us over the next ninety days. While there’s really not much juice left in the Smash 4 tank, we can lay the groundwork for a successful and popular Ultimate community by initiating the solutions to the first problem: awareness that we’ve been here all along.

In the weeks from now to Ultimate’s release, we have to cooperate to lay down interest on certain Smash-centric websites and forums and drum up conversations about the amiibo metagame. Discussions about the amiibo metagame should be held on publicly available forums instead of closed-off groups like Discord or email groups. Having multiple people privately coordinate public conversations could prove helpful. There’s a few places that would be most effective to use:

  • ♦SmashBoards’ Amiibo General thread in NintenZone (enough discussion here could warrant a new discussion board just for amiibo use)
  • Aminoapps (there is a legacy of amiibo content on there, and there is usually about two hundred people on the Smash Bros section at any given time)
  • ♦Reddit (While I have not been active on Reddit in a long time, my wonderful junior editor reactivated his account and has informed me that /r/amiibo no longer has much amiibo training content)
  • Twitter (we need memes, folks!)

In addition to populating forums with amiibo discussion, we also need to spread awareness through video platforms as well. This is the hard part, and successfully accomplishing this may require financial resources, which I may be able to provide to a limited degree♦. We will need Youtube videos of amiibo clips similar to Prince Royale’s old series, or in-depth explanations of amiibo science, or maybe both. It doesn’t need to be edited very well, even raw game footage would suffice. The most important thing is for the content to be interesting and popular. (Feel free to rip off my posts if it means a good video!)

Accomplishing both of these tasks will push us farther up in the all-important Google search results, too. Google is where the long-term sustainability will stem from, but the only way to get that is to succeed in these other areas.

Pre-Ultimate: Lowering the Barriers of Entry

On top of public discussions and Youtube content, we need a referenceable communal infrastructure of literature. We need more people pushing out amiibo content based on their unique research, true, but we also need more tutorials. Getting into amiibo is not an easy thing, and there’s quite a few hurdles to overcome. We need to publish instructions (preferably videos) on these topics, and more♦:

  • How to use a Powertag
  • How to use Tagmo to scan bin files and send them to tournaments
  • What to do when you’re new to amiibo training

Basically, before Ultimate releases, we need to spread the seeds of the next amiibo metagame. We now have the technology to host online tournaments instead of mailing amiibo to each other. We can now edit amiibo to have the stat layouts that we want (although you know how I feel about nonvanilla play) instead of spending hours grinding for a specific piece of gear. The amiibo scene is much more accessible now than its original inception, but it’s not accessible to people who aren’t already aware of how to use these new improvements. We need literature that lowers the technical barrier to entry.

There’s a lot of information that people need to know in order to train amiibo. They need to know how amiibo think. They need to know what amiibo can and can’t do, and the smaller nuances of amiibo science. We need a rabbit hole of easily-accessible information for them to go down. But most important, we need to teach them how to get started – people need to know how to get started with amiibo training, and how to minimize the cost. I think back to when I started seriously training amiibo and finding information, and I had to gather it from nearly a dozen sources across the internet, aside from my own tests. We need a condensed literature that lowers the information barrier to entry.

Pre-Ultimate: Training Wheels

I’m not so sure that this one is a good idea, but I can’t see any other way to solve the same problems that this solves. If done incorrectly, then it may take a long time for the metagame to progress beyond its initial point.

On top of breaking down those barriers to entry, we have another prevalent problem. The amiibo metagame consists of a few people who have been doing this for a very long time. They’re pretty good at beating each other’s amiibo: so good, in fact, that the metagame has largely staled out and is only kept alive with changes to the ruleset and with research and application of Reverse Feeding. (On a future post, we’ll talk more about how metagames need either lots of time or lots of people to develop).

This manifests itself whenever a new guy shows up and enters a tournament with anything less than a copy of someone else’s tournament-winning amiibo, he gets crushed, and crushed hard. This is true in both vanilla and nonvanilla competition. Usually these people enter a few more tournaments, lose more, and then decide to leave amiibo training behind. We can’t retain new players for a variety of reasons, but this is the biggest one.♦

Side note: don’t call it saltiness, because it’s not salt. If you joined a new hobby and realized the only other people to play against the most experienced trainers on earth, you’d quit too.

So what can we do to solve this before it becomes a problem in Ultimate? We can create some kind of Beginner’s Repository. If we take the bin files of some good amiibo (not the tournament winners, just amiibo that take a match off the better ones) and post them online for public download at, say, nfc-bank.com, then we can redirect users to use those amiibo as a starting point for tournament training, so long as they rename them. We can give them a starter’s kit so they don’t get immediately destroyed: this will hold their interest long enough for the new competitors to gain a working understanding of amiibo, and train their own.♦ (Obviously the owner of the bin files needs to consent to this as well, or else it would be Amiibo Socialism). Basically, we need to break down the competitive barrier to entry.

SmashUltimateLogo

Post-Ultimate: Big Press

Of everything I write here, this is the most crucial point.

When Ultimate releases, it’s going to be a headline event in the video game community for roughly a week. As I remember, that’s about how long Smash 4 held the attention of the overall community before they eventually moved on to other topics. We’re going to need to make the most of this week-long flash in the pan before it disappears permanently, and we’re going to need the big guns to do it.

Some of the more popular video game websites act simply as repositories of simple information, while others tend to focus more on the cultures behind video games. Polygon, for example, likes to put up a straightforward “We had this much time with this game, and here’s what we think”, whereas Kotaku prefers to write on a much wider variety of topics, ranging from a niche video gaming hobby to a newly uncovered secret in an old game. Polygon is an informational video game site, while Kotaku is a cultural video game site.

We need to get the attention of a cultural video game site, and get them to write a piece on our little community. I have thought up a number of ways to accomplish this ♦, but there’s no guarantee that any publisher would pick up the story. Clearly, we’re a niche hobby, and a rather interesting one too. We’re prime material for a good article, but they may not see that. I’m not sure how to get them to see that, short of getting the site to do an interview with a notable member of the amiibo community. The list is pretty short.

Post-Ultimate: an Amiibo Backroom

I debated this with myself for about a month.

As I’ve said, we have a divided community, and we also don’t have a reasonable ruleset. There’s nothing headline-worthy happening that could potentially interest people not already in the amiibo community. That’s three problems weighing us down, and they cover a pretty wide array of the aspects of our hobby.

We can solve these problems, at least partially, by establishing an amiibo backroom. Similar to the other Smash games, we can take our best trainers, our tournament organizers, our researchers and our media personalities and get them seated at a (digital) round table to hash things out. Once we’re together, we can establish an official backroom and begin creating a consensus on an official tier list and ruleset.

Backrooms have a very large advantage over letting the community in general decide these things: because of their centralized, democratic nature, backrooms can represent each section of the community fairly, so long as people from every section of the community are in the backroom. It’s a benevolent oligarchy.

If we were going to establish a backroom, we would need to establish one about a month after Ultimate’s release. Ultimate will still be hot stuff, people will have just been given the game and several amiibo for Christmas, and its establishment will be a noteworthy headline for the previously mentioned cultural gaming press. While it will still be a bit too early to make any declarations about the official tier list, establishing the backroom will provide a central “gravity” to the community that we didn’t previously have.

Those of you who are already in the amiibo hobby may be questioning why we need a central point of the community. After all, for as long as it’s been in existence, the Amiibo Dojo has unilaterally determined the rulesets and tier lists. Why change that?

It needs to change because that system won’t work once we have a large number of people. Right now the metagame is tiny, and we only have enough people for one person’s input to be of importance. However, if we follow through with this successfully, the amiibo metagame won’t be so small anymore. We may have a few dozen new and active faces, or even a hundred people involved! One person dictating the rules over a hundred people would only splinter the community out even farther. We’re already in disagreement over what to do: in a recent strawpoll, the amiibo community voted 60-40 to continue with a nonvanilla ruleset (although I wonder how many people voted multiple times). There’s already a split present, and a unilateral system would only break us more.

Once this backroom is established, it’s going to need to be independent of any existing amiibo institutions. It’s going to need to be independent of the amiibo subreddit, the Amiibo Dojo, the Amiibo Doctor and any Youtube channels that spring up. The backroom is going to need to be its own separate entity♦, with its own Discord channel, Twitter account, and other media representations. We cannot have one person speaking for the backroom if the backroom speaks for the community.

There is another benefit to having the amiibo backroom exist as its own entity: we will have something to tell people about. For each decision that the backroom makes, we can post a Reddit thread, a tweet, a Smashboards thread, and a Facebook post. Even the least popular Reddit links get several hundred clicks, at least they did when I was on (it’s been a while). The backroom will function as both an official governing body and a media magnet to get people’s attention.

We have more to gain from establishing a backroom than what we stand to lose.

Post-Ultimate: Tournaments

Ultimate releases December 7. Barring an unforeseen delay, the game will come out right at the start of most people’s finals week. (Mine too, actually.) Immediately after finals week, guess what happens? Christmas! A full three weeks of people with their hands on the game and nothing better to do, starting December 25.

This is the time to start tournaments. Regardless of anything else that happens, we need to cram as many tournaments as possible in these three weeks, and we’ll get bonus points if there’s some form of video content involved. (A Youtube video is worth a hundred Challonge links). There’s a few reasons for the timing of these tournaments:

  1. Constantly reminding people that amiibo tournaments exist will make them more likely to enter a tournament
  2. People are going to be getting Ultimate and amiibo, and they’re going to want to use amiibo. There’s really no other game that makes use of amiibo as well as Smash.
  3. We can use the tournament results to start outlining the first tier list, laying the bedrock for the backroom and future interest in the metagame.
  4. Social media usage is at its peak for the year (except for the first few days of summer), so having amiibo content in the right spaces in large volumes can attract spectators, too.
  5. Ultimate, as I’ve said before, will still be hot stuff. Anything with the words “Smash Ultimate” in the title are going to be more popular than, say, “Not Smash Ultimate”.

Riding into the sunset

Well, folks, that’s it. I’ve been turning this over and over in my head for about two months, and this is what I’ve come up with. If we can let go of the excessive drama in the amiibo community (let’s be honest, we’re not exactly full of unemotional people) and maximize our opportunities to grab a crowd, we can finally get the amiibo community the size it deserves.

We have nowhere to go but…

ness-new-final-smash

…up.

 

Which came first: Ω-stages, or the ground-based metagame?

I’ve been working on articulating properly what my stances are on certain subjects, and I figured I’d go back and try to make more clear some of the issues inherent in the amiibo metagame, as well as to provide a more coherent take on the subject. This has not been edited by my junior editor (we normally publish as one voice though I make mention of him occasionally just to bug him), so everything here is my own hand. 

One of the traditions of the amiibo scene is the very, very conservative stagelist. Amiibo are not as smart as human players are, so certain stages that present the possibility of unjust KOs tend to be banned completely: Town and City, while perfectly legal in competitive play, is banned in nearly every amiibo tournament. This is reasonable, as there are points in the stage transitions where the platforms can cause an early demise.

However, the rules have become too conservative. Instead of only keeping tournament legal stages with no danger of early death (such as Battlefield or Smashville), the stagelist became Ω-stages only. This presents two large problems: Ω-stages are not all the same, and they are also unfair to certain characters. In fact, Ω-stages are so different from each other that the competitive scene has only allowed three of them to be used as counterpicks, according to the official rules.

Aside from the issues with Ω-stage variation, anyone familiar with a competitive Smash game can see what problems extend from only having flat stages: projectiles and long attacks have an overwhelming advantage over short but powerful attacks. In addition, the first amiibo in the air immediately has a disadvantage. Once the opponent is launched into the air, it doesn’t take a smart amiibo to realize that they should hit them again, a la Link’s up smash. The competitor on the ground can keep hitting them up ad infinitum, until their opponent dies. Having only flat stages and encouraging players to stay on the ground is a closed system with only positive feedback.

This is not to argue that amiibo would significantly improve if they were taught to use aerial attacks, or that we should go back to teaching them combos that they’ll never properly learn. An ideal amiibo like that doesn’t exist, to my knowledge. Instead, we should reconcile the idealistic stage choices with the real imperfections of amiibo AI.

It appears to me that most if not all amiibo have some sort of preferred aerial attack that simply can’t be permanently scrubbed out through training: I confirmed this in my observations of Reverse-Fed amiibo, especially my Roy (although I’ve observed this behavior in well-trained but not Reverse-Fed amiibo). Even now, when I give him a negative Speed stat and the proper bonus effects, he uses his short-hop and forward air in succession. I have observed similar hardcoded behaviors with other amiibo, including Ganondorf, Kirby, Meta Knight and several others (I haven’t tested every amiibo in this manner), so it appears that most if not all amiibo have an aerial attack coded to their AI in some way.

Now that we’ve established that amiibo will always jump, and the stages punish jumpers with hard disadvantages, what’s the logical conclusion of the metagame? Well, and this is a low-resolution conclusion but still a reasonable one: ground-based amiibo win, and the most optimal training methods are the ones that keep amiibo from jumping. This is self-evident, given these presuppositions. Just peep at the Cloud Nine customs tier list if you prefer to see my propositions proven.

vanillaforeverbitches
This is NOT MY TIER LIST, but it is the most accurate (and only) nonvanilla metagame tier list out there

Take a look at S tier. Marth and Lucina’s Dancing Blade does a lot of damage and can launch opponents into the air, and Marthcina have tilts to keep them up. Their forward smashes and counter-attacks are horizontal moves, making them useful against opponents on the ground.

Bowser’s Flying Slam is effective only from the ground, but deals a tremendous amount of damage and knockback. In addition, his tilts and smash attacks are absurdly helpful against grounded opponents, but they’re not very useful in general against air-based opponents. Bowsers tend to wait until their opponent gets near the ground before he attacks.

Link’s up smash and forward smash are one of the most effective KO options for amiibo. His forward smash deals tremendous damage and can KO foes with ease, and his up smash deals tremendous damage, launches foes into the air and also has hitboxes to the side, so as to catch opponents on the ground next to him. It’s not unusual on flat stages to see a Link use his up smash repeatedly to catch an opponent coming down from above him. The opponent has no platforms, so he must get hit over and over until he dies.

Ganondorf, the “Ganon Cannon”, has a highly effective ground-based moveset. His Wizard’s Foot is a long attack capable of KOing at high percentages, and his smash attacks gather up a copious amount of kills. Flame Choke followed by a down tilt is an easy combo for the Cannon to learn, and it’s difficult for amiibo to learn to avoid without jumping over it, which would put them at a disadvantage anyway.

Cloud, having already been nerfed, is a character built for shield breaks and damage building. His forward smash crushes any chance at blocking an attack, and his jab is almost the best in the game when facing an enemy with weight or high Defense. His projectile travels across the ground and itself can KO with Limit Break.

Little Mac… shouldn’t need an explanation.

Each of these characters are exceptional on the ground, but their AI doesn’t normally handle the air very well. Link and Ganondorf tend to handle the best in an aerial situation, and some of the amiibo in the A+ and A tiers do well in the air as well, but they never get the chance to shine and interrupt the metagame. Stages with absolutely no platforms mean that ground-based combat becomes the only combat, which causes a metagame to stale out pre-emptively.

I’m not saying that the S tier of this tier list is unjustified, because these amiibo are all highly functional. I’m also not saying that the amiibo metagame will stale out if changes aren’t made soon: I think Reverse Feeding could upset the metagames in ways that will take months to play out. My fundamental proposition here is that having Ω-stages alone, or not having enough variety in stages, is unfair to certain characters and advantageous to others, specifically the S tier amiibo.

I propose that we take small advantage of the very wide stagelist when Ultimate takes over the scene. While the actual legal stagelist is still under heavy debate, we should start with a larger selection than what we had in Smash 4. The first match of each set should be played on Smashville, to blend the platformed and non-platformed styles of play. The second match should be chosen randomly between Final Destination and Battlefield, and the third match should be played on whichever stage was not chosen in the second. This would create a more balanced metagame with less focus on the ground.

In summary, having a small stagelist is a useful thing, but the current stagelist is too small. The stages that are on it are both nonuniform and unfair to some characters. To solve this, we should expand the stagelist once Ultimate releases, so as to create a more fair metagame.