Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update: Still alive!

Hey friends; been absent from the blogging for awhile.

First, the life update. New semester started, been playing a lot of guitar, and trying to figure out where I’m going to apply for work once I’ve finished my degree program (and since people always ask, the degree plan is Cognitive Science, with a concentration in Neuroscience and Machine Learning). I’m taking 18 credit hours this semester so I’m a little busy, but I’ll have the Bachelor’s done this semester (!!) if everything goes well.

But I know you’re here for stuff about video games and probably Smash, so I’ll talk about that instead.

**

Playing Falco is mostly going pretty well. It’s forced me to study a lot of stuff about the game that I hadn’t looked at in-depth before. I can do a lot of cool stuff, I get a bit ahead of myself and do dumb things that definitely won’t work (but would be so cool if they did) and it’s just good to have fun with the game in that way again.

Besides in-game details though, I have had to start looking at a lot of things in my day-to-day that influence my play. There’s also a particular demon that has been continuing to torment me lately, and trying to eliminate it has… well, mostly just made me angrier about it. These are the main groups that I’m looking at:

--Diet
--Sleep/Energy
--Stimulants
--Anxiety/Anger/Mood
--Practice/Research
--Tremors/Lockup

There’s a lot of overlap in these groups--they all interact, and don’t always play nicely--but that’s the way I feel like breaking it down. Let’s just take it piece by piece.

Diet:

I did not really pay much attention to my diet as an influencing factor until recently. I used to try and only eat several hours before playing, and not eat during tournaments because I felt it made me sluggish and slow. Now, I’m finding the opposite to be true. When I am hungry, I get irritable, impulsive, and start thinking slowly, so I’ve tried to keep some form of nutrient flow going during tournament. I’m not really sure what the best kinds of food to eat will be--sometimes just having Gatorade/Powerade during tourney helps, sometimes just drinking lots of water, sometimes trail mix, sometimes one big meal before playing keeps me going for hours--but at the very least I find I need to have something in my stomach before I play, or I play a lot worse, and I get really pissy when things go wrong. I think the official scientific term is “hangry.”

Sleep/Energy:

One thing I’m struggling with is that my main source of practice during the week is at our weekly, Monday Night Melee, which starts at 8 PM. I’m usually up around 8 to 9 AM, and it comes at the end of ~5 hours of difficult classes (class on Monday is 2:30 to 6:45, though I have a bit of time for lunch so it’s not a straight block). By the end of the weekly, if I’m not eliminated early, I’m typically exhausted, since it typically ends around midnight and my highest placing with Falco lately has been 4th. This is a hassle, and I don’t have time for a nap, but it’s the kind of thing I will have to deal with if/when I enter at nationals again, so I’ll just have to treat it as a constant for now. Apart from that I just try to get high-quality sleep and it typically lasts me all day, so that’s fine.

Stimulants:

If you have ever tuned into my stream, and you’ve ever asked me a question, you probably have firsthand experience with my ADD. I am super easily distracted even in the middle of a sentence, and usually I have to stop everything to give my attention to the question, or else I can’t finish my thoughts. I’ve had a hell of a time dealing with it, and I have an Adderall prescription for school.

Downside: Adderall destroys my ability to play Smash. I know some people use it as a performance enhancer, but for me, it just aggravates my tremors to the point that I can’t handle the controller. I can use the concentration to handle my emotional state more effectively, but my hands don’t really seem to care how hard I concentrate, they just don’t play ball. I take it in the morning, so thankfully it mostly fades by the time my weekly starts, and since I don’t really need it when I travel, I just don’t take it. That typically reduces my tremor back to base level, though since my base-level tremor is pretty shaky, it’s not exactly a cure-all. Still, it’s preferable to the alternative.

The biggest downside to the Adderall, however, is that since it tends to reduce appetite, I forget to eat. When the stimulant leaves my system and I realize that I’m hungry, I’m usually ravenous and also exhausted and burnt out. So I’ve had to make myself eat small things regularly, even when I don’t want to, and that helps. Mondays can be a pain, because I mostly won’t eat during the day, then I can forget to eat before my weekly, and then I have to cram food in my gullet, and then I want to take a nap. So… it takes some planning that was never an issue when I didn’t take Adderall.

Also regarding stimulants: some time ago I found that even when I’m not particularly nervous or amped up, caffeine interferes with my fine motor skills and just throws me off a tiny bit, so I stopped drinking that during tournaments as well. If I want to perk up, I try to make sure when I consume anything caffeinated, I do it at least two hours before I play, and that works out pretty well. Otherwise I just try to let the game be my stimulant and keep away from coffee, soda and energy drinks. This does alright, as long as I’m well fed and watered.

Anxiety/Anger/Mood:

Number one reaction I get from people when they learn I have emotional issues: “wow, you’re really chill normally! I wouldn’t have thought you’d be such a rager!”

Well, if I could only pick one benefit from sticking with Smash for so long, it’s that Melee tilts me so hard that almost every other emotional struggle in life feels like a joke. I can’t even describe how frustrated, nervous, angry, etc. I sometimes get when playing, and I’m supposed to be Mister Words.

Somebody elbowed me in the face when standing up in a crowded lecture hall, and I just blinked and said “eh, it’s okay, these things happen.” I got a test back that I thought I aced, and it turned out I got a 78: “well, it happens, this stuff is hard, at least it happened now instead of the final.” Girl canceled a date last second that I’d been excited for all week: “Gee, that sucks, oh well more time for guitar.” Have to give a presentation in class? “Sorry, if you think this is nerve-wracking you should try playing for thousands of dollars on stream some time.” I feel these distant little pulses of annoyance, like the universe is trying to heckle me but the worst thing it can do is call me is a poo-face and it’s just so pathetic that it’s funnier than anything else. Squelching an angry response to those things is small. I am beyond such trivial considerations. I am transcendent.

Hit the wrong button in a children’s party game? I am the Lord, and wrathful and vengeful is my name. I want to smash my hands with a hammer so they can’t offend me anymore with their flawed existences. There’s more to it than just making mistakes though, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but nothing has a direct line to my emotional centers--whether it’s getting nervous, raging, or being depressed over my own inability--like Smash does. My emotional response is so out of whack that it would feel cartoonish if it weren’t so tumultuous.

Being well-rested and well-fed helps me control this a lot more. Many of my cognitive strategies for handling them do a pretty good job. They do such a phenomenal job in every other part of my life that I don’t even want to blame them for letting me down. Again, I don’t know how to describe it. When I get frustrated, or nervous, or whatever, the emotion just surges through my brain so intensely that I have to stop everything I’m doing to manage it, and usually that means I just have to eat a loss at the moment and move on.

Practice/Research:

In trying to play better, I’ve had to devote more time to intelligent practice and research on what to practice, since my conventional understanding of the game is getting outdated. I’ve needed to flowchart certain situations so that I can avoid using any brainpower on them, and pay attention to other details instead, so I can pick different flowcharts when I want to mix people up. Falco requires a lot of snappy inputs and reactions in certain situations, and right now I’m at a point where I can only be aware and intelligent for so many of those situations, and in the other ones, I’m pretty flawed and exploitable. This is one of the downsides of playing a character that people have so much experience against, and it’s just part of the process of learning him. Thankfully there’s lots of material for me to study and research in this regard, so he’s improving at a pretty decent rate! Overall I’m pretty happy with how my practice and research are paying off, so this area is actually just a net positive.

There was a point where I thought I just wasn’t practicing enough, and that it was the source of my miseries; lately though, I’ve found certain things are just integrating themselves, like better aerial timings. Certain complex errors are correcting themselves more frequently, and most of it comes from reflecting on them, drilling them, paying attention to them when I play, and not being lazy about them. Overall, this area is a big plus, and it’s been fun and rewarding to experience progress here. I also feel very glad that I’m getting progress at all, since I have to devote so much time to school that I don’t get to practice as much as I probably should.

Tremors/Lockup:

Okay, here’s where everything has really sucked lately, and I’m still struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. Some progress has been made, but in other places I’m still stumped. The progress here has mainly come from trying to fix my motor errors, noticing that I have several sources of potential errors, and realizing that lumping them all together is a mistake when trying to solve them. So let’s try to tease them apart.

First, I’m trying to distinguish complex errors from simple errors, as well as large from small. Complex errors happen during sequences of chunked movements--an example would be hitting a fast, low d-air on shield into shine grab, then a rapid up-throw to increase the odds of bad DI. There are a lot of movements that require specific timing, it strings them all together, and it’s all done in reaction to seeing “hey, he’s vulnerable here and I can get him stuck in shield.” Even if all components are at 99 percent success rate individually, linking them together is the big challenge of this game, and it’s reasonable to make mistakes here. It’s just part of the learning curve. Simple errors, however, come from trying to input a single chunked movement, and screwing it up. Something like trying to f-tilt, and accidentally dash attacking.

The other big distinction here is a large error from a small error. I mean it in terms of the motion or the timing, rather than the consequence. Little errors can lead to big consequences; i.e., I try to do a shine from a dash, but I am a little slow in rolling the joystick and get a forward+b off the stage. Big consequence, but it’s such a small difference in timing or joystick positioning that it’s like, “well, yeah, this is a fast and difficult motion.” A large error, however, means something like “hey, I wanted to forward-tilt, but I up-aired because I smashed the joystick in the wrong direction from a standstill, and I hit the A button super late.” It’s not like you missed your putt by a foot, it’s like you abruptly turned around and putted in the wrong direction.

Briefly going back to my rage issues… the best way for me to think about it is like a rage meter. It builds up from my mistakes, but goes down over time. When I devote attention to it, I can force it to go down faster, with things like deep breathing and positive self-talk. In order from least frustrating to most frustrating, it goes:

--Small, complex errors
--Large, complex errors
--Small, simple errors
--Large, simple errors

Small-complex means something like “whoops I was off by a frame on a single input in this long string of techniques.” Those don’t really tilt me that much. If my rage meter was out of 100, this is like a +5. I have to make lots of those small errors in a row. Large-complex means something like “I did three fast and difficult techniques in a row, and on the last one my brain got really confused and hit the opposite direction it was supposed to.” That’s more like a +8.

Small-simple is going to be something like accidentally doing an up-angled f-tilt versus up-tilting. It’s a minor directional difference, but it’s a simple motion. I find failing at a simple task to be really aggravating, even when the mistake is small, like being few degrees off with a joystick motion. I think it’s mostly the feeling that it should be easy that triggers this feeling. Call it a +10.

But large-simple? Like having my hands spasm and miss the c-stick entirely? Like trying to wavedash away, but accidentally air-dodging straight up? Have your tranq darts ready, I lose my mind over that. +25, easy. When this stuff adds up and hits me in quick succession, I want to murder something. Myself, usually.

If I start adding up a lot of small-complex errors though, I can notice and start to simplify my game a bit. “Hey, I’m just a tiny bit off right now, let’s slow it down and ease into it.” Even if they’re large, the same thing tends to happen; it’s probably something I wasn’t as practiced at, or I lost focus part of the way through the string and thought about doing something else, and that interfered with my execution. Again, I’ll slow it down, I’ll focus a bit more, I’ll take a deep breath. It’s so manageable. Most of the time when I’m playing Falco, this is my general error source, and I don’t even mind that much. Everybody messes this stuff up.

But the simple errors feel so daunting, because they’re so fundamental to your play. A complex action is just a string of simpler, chunked actions. If I can’t reduce my behavior down to hitting the dang buttons properly, then what do I have left? These mistakes feel almost physically painful, and I can’t get away from them because in order to play, I need to at least do something simple, and sometimes I just can’t and I don’t really know why. Especially because I know that I have the raw coordination; watch me practice and I can pull off some wild stuff. In game? Nobody knows what we’re gonna get.

Now, back to the actual heading of this section, sometimes it’s my hand tremors. They suck, I can’t get away from them, and they’re pretty hard to deal with when it comes to fine joystick movement, especially since I’m right-hand dominant. I have tricks for dealing with it though, and a lot of it comes down to managing my mood, my diet, my energy, etc. Those are the things that have formed the bulk of my progress over the past ten or so years in this respect. When I’m angry, my motions can get bigger, clunkier, and more wild, so the tremors can get amplified. When I’m nervous, the shakes magnify, and it’s usually curtains until I can get it under control. I was particularly tilted after one set where I didn’t feel nervous--heartbeat was normal, breathing was fine, large shakes weren’t present--but my motor skills still sucked! That was my set with Westballz in Sweden, and that’s where I found that caffeine interferes my execution. That’s a finding that has remained pretty consistent. It’s all about keeping my tremors down to their baseline, where they are manageable.

But as I narrow certain stuff down and find that certain things work and other stuff doesn’t, there’s one issue that keeps coming up that I don’t understand. My hands will sometimes just lock-up, regardless of how warmed up I am, how nervous I am, how caffeinated, tired, whatever I am. They don’t seem to have this problem in any area of my life but Smash--example, I can comfortably type ~130 words per minute with few mistakes. They don’t generally lock up when I’m playing music, barring situations with fatigue or things I’m unpracticed with. But in Melee, when they lock up, the most basic interactions with my controller fail me. I can’t dash. I can’t do tilts. I can’t wavedash. If I try to turn, I’ll run the wrong direction. If I try to dash the other direction, I’ll turn or crouch or jump with the joystick, anything but the right input. I’ll miss buttons, my index finger will hover over the L or R trigger, then suddenly slap down and double tap it. It will happen in the most mundane scenarios, and I don’t get it.

Last night was pretty aggravating for this reason. I got to winner’s semis, playing reasonably well. I had just played a set against one of our local ICs, and made a small comeback on game 1 even though I was feeling that anxiety that you get when you get wobbled three times from relatively minor errors; my heartrate was jumping and I was feeling a bit jittery, but I managed to get things under control and won the set. After that, I had just played ~30 minutes of friendlies against a Fox I’m pretty evenly matched against while waiting, and by the end of the games I was actually winning by a solid margin and hitting some really nice, difficult strings.

I got into the game, and suddenly I could not do ANYTHING. I could not get my fingers to block when I saw a raptor boost coming, even when I called it in advance. After getting hit by it several times, then just wrenching my hand into the shield to make it work, I couldn’t get my muscles to recover in time to punish. I took stock of my heartrate, the tension in my hands, etc, and things were fine. I was still fairly calm and relaxed, even though I felt like I’d played abysmally; heck, I was less nervous than I’d been against our ICs player. I took a few deep breaths anyhow, waited a bit before going into game 2, and it turned out even worse, so I quit out before I could finish getting three-stocked.

Hands felt fine. The matchup didn’t confuse me. I didn’t feel myself getting more nervous than normal, or even start getting actually angry until part of the way through game two. No caffeine in my system. I’d been playing fine for the past hour, then suddenly it was gone. Afterwards (around fifteen minutes, after I’d calmed down) I sat down to play a different Fox in friendlies who had beaten me twice before the weekly, when warming up. I actually three-stocked him a few times. Skill = back.

For that set, for about eight concentrated minutes, my hands just refused to cooperate with me, and after the set, they were back in action like nothing happened. I played my next tournament set against a Jigglypuff, had a few mistakes but mostly played really well, then played against another one of our Fox players, and… well, the lock-up started happening again, but not as bad, in retrospect. The errors were a little more on the small-complex side, but I was in a sufficiently bad mood that it still tilted the hell out of me.

This inability to perform basic maneuvers has been bothering me for a long time, but I’ve mostly been able to trace it to my tremors, especially being amplified by anxiety and stress. I do a much better job of handling that, but when I feel it happen anyway, knowing the source makes me much less irritated. I know that I could have taken more deep breaths, or written my thoughts out to calm myself down, or worked out the tension a bit in warmup. There’s an answer to that. When I couldn’t figure it out again, it turned out it was caffeine and stimulants. I could have a cup of coffee and watch myself go from good to decent to horrifyingly inconsistent over a time-course of thirty minutes. Some of my other mistakes, particularly in the small-complex realm, or even the large-complex, mostly come from not drilling enough, losing focus, or just getting surprised and taking action in a rushed way. I’ve become deeply acquainted with all of that over the years.

But this is just something irritating and new entirely. I’m gonna think and write more about it soon.

**

So that’s where I’m at now, particularly regarding my Smash progress. Another question that people have asked me lately is whether I’m going to any majors soon, and the answer is Too Hot to Handle in October, then Tipped Off 11 in November. The other big one is “are you quitting ICs entirely?” and the answer is “probably not in the long run, but for now, yes.”

Catch you guys later. Thanks for reading.

6 comments:

  1. I find it strange that someone that's been playing melee for as long as you have has never encountered problems with tremors until now. When winning or losing depends on having the perfect storm of attentiveness/awakeness/energy on a given day dealing with that randomness can be super frustrating.

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    1. I've always dealt with them, really. They've been a pretty frustrating issue, especially when nervous; I'm not able to up-tilt consistently from a standstill, and I have a really tough time turning around without accidentally dashing. I also have a habit of tap jumping by mistake when my thumb shakes the joystick too hard. It's been a very frustrating source of tech inconsistency since I started playing.

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  2. Why did you quit ics?

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    Replies
    1. https://www.reddit.com/r/smashbros/comments/6vdzub/wobbles_plans_on_switching_completely_to_falco/dlzxjws/

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  3. I was looking of your posts on this site page and I consider this site page is truly enlightening ! Keep setting up.
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    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey man, this post kinda fucked me up. My name's Shaky, I'm an amateur smasher from the Midwest trying to work my way up to tournament play. I've really been held back by my mentality, between anxiety and depression. I also have a pretty managable essential tremor. It's so awesome to me that my favorite commentator has dealt with the same stuff and came through it as a professional player. Keep on moving my man, the birb will be kind to you.

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