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October 25, 2013 9:06 PM   Subscribe

Azen. PC Chris. Korean DJ. Mew2King. Ken. Isai. Mango. The Smash Brothers is a 9-part, 258-minute documentary on the history of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee. Series discussion. Via.
posted by Monsieur Caution (19 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
If you can get past the narrator weirdly trying to sound like Ze Frank and the oddball production, this is a really fascinating looking at a gaming scene.
posted by malphigian at 9:20 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can't wait to watch this, molasses-speed internet permitting. I'm curious if it covers Armada, whose incredible luck*, deadly edge-guarding**, and clever use of secondary characters*** make him my favorite Melee player to watch (when he's not retired). Or if touches on Mango's childish feud with hungrybox, as aired in a recent AMA by Mango on Reddit.

*Peach can pull items from the ground, usually turnips, as in Super Mario Bros 2. Very occasionally, these will be non-turnip items, such as Bob-ombs, or hugely damaging, odd-looking turnips called stitchfaces. Armada has a reputation for pulling stitchfaces or Bob-ombs at crucial moments.
**Pressing one's advantage after knocking the opposing player off the stage by keeping them from coming back to the stage.
***Armada mains (plays mainly as) Peach, but adapts to different matchups by switching to other playable characters. Young Link is a particularly interesting choice because he's not favored in most matchups and is rarely played.

posted by knuckle tattoos at 10:33 PM on October 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Man, nerds, huh?

I'm just finishing up Episode 1 and this is pretty neat.
posted by GrumpyDan at 10:46 PM on October 25, 2013

It's significantly more understated than those AMA comments, but part 8 ("The Natural") has some commentary from hungrybox about Mang0, and the general sentiment comes through. Player rivalries and the way players mutually mythologize each other are major themes throughout the documentary, and it's often riveting stuff, even if the reality is probably pretty banal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:58 PM on October 25, 2013

So, I watched this when it came out and I can tell you it's actually really good. Way better than I expected. A lot of my friends are smashers, but I'm not--I just follow the scene a little and watch tournaments--so I didn't already know all the history stuff like they did. It's such an intimate little niche; it's amazing just how deep their sense of history goes. I think that's the main thing this documentary gets right: you get a really strong sense of just how dedicated and hardworking these kids were and are, to grow a scene out of nothing and keep it alive and thriving just because they loved the game.

It has basically one major flaw, and it's an ugly, stupid one. So, the smash scene has historically had a really bad problem with bigoted gamer-language. The absolute worst is when people say "raped" to mean "beaten at this videogame", but there's also calling stuff gay, casual racism and all the other unfortunate crap you can expect from teenage gamers.

Smashers are starting to gain some introspection, and some leading players are making a conscious effort to get everyone to be less awful. Just last night I watched a stream where some top players hosted a chat specifically to convince the community it needs to get better about this stuff, and it went surprisingly well. I was impressed. But this documentary is not part of the smash's let's-get-better-about-this movement. It makes excuses for the language and even indulges in it itself at a few points in a really painful, embarrassing way. It's really dumb, especially because it's getting released right as the smash scene finally starts to make what I consider actual progress on that front. I really truly believe that smashers are finally growing up and getting better about this, even faster, maybe, than other competitive gaming communities, and I never believed that before. But this documentary misses that boat entirely.

Aside from that, it's really well made and totally, genuinely interesting. If you've never understood what could possibly drive someone to invest their life in playing a video game competitively--which is probably true of most people--watch this. The existence of a competitive community for SSBM, even more than for a lot of other video games, is a testament to the incredible drive and commitment of its young founders, and that really comes through here. I do recommend it. The first few chapters are especially great, too. Everyone should at least watch Isai's bit--he's such a fascinating character.

Thanks for posting this here, OP.
posted by a birds at 11:04 PM on October 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

We used to run monthly LAN parties in undergrad, and among other things we had SSB on a big screen with 2-4 people at a time, and sometimes we'd get self-professed competitive SSB players who'd come down and play. They were usually decent at the game and not noticeably better than the other regulars, for all their smack-talk. At some point, enough of them showed up to get matched up against each other, and that's where the "fun" began. We let each round's players hash out what level/characters/rules/whatever they wanted to play with, which normally wasn't a huge deal, but when you get a game comprised entirely of competitive SSB players, things get a bit weird. It was the most pathetic competitive gaming I've ever seen. Two guys playing the same character on a flat, featureless level, doing some kind of dash or roll past the other and trying to hit them in the moment between dashes or rolls or whatever. Over. And Over. And Over.

See, "competitive" Super Smash Brothers looks almost nothing like the SSB that everybody else plays. Items are banned because somebody might get lucky and win. Many stages are banned (see this hilarious screencap) because they might give a positional advantage to somebody. Most characters are banned because some ability they have might be exploited to give an advantage to somebody. So you end up with this ridiculously constrained ruleset that was never intended by the developers and it makes the game boring and samey. Even series producer Masahiro Sakurai doesn't like competitive Smashers.

There is a funny story about it, though- at EVO 2008 (EVO is THE fighting game tournament), the winner was widely considered to be a significantly weaker player than the runner-up. Why did he win? Because EVO 2008 used items, and the winner actually knew how to play with items. The better-ranked loser wasn't used to them, and it turns out that if you only play a game using a highly constrained ruleset that eliminates most of the advantages and challenges of the game, you're at a real disadvantage when playing against people who actually know how to play the game. You can still rile up Smash fans by bringing it up.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:08 AM on October 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

The doc has plenty of beautiful no-item competitive Melee play to watch. Note that no characters are banned in Melee, and the list of which characters are considered competitive has shifted greatly over the years. The doc also addresses items vs. no items in tourney play.

Brawl's another story. It has features like tripping and final smashes that are more suited to party play, and Meta Knight is really in a tier of his own, even with some of his more imbalanced maneuvers banned. Smashers got so frustrated with Brawl's flaws and competitive imbalances that they made Project M as an alternative.

Side note: yay, I'm seeing some more recent smashers I recognize in these videos, including Armada.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:59 AM on October 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Man, nerds, huh?

The longest single written work in human history, at more than 3.5 million words, is a piece of Smash Brothers fanfiction.

Just sayin'. That's a lot of industry right there.
posted by mhoye at 2:28 AM on October 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm just finishing up Episode 1 and this is pretty neat.

Yup. Not a gamer, expected to hate it. Loved Episode 1. Now I'm gonna have to watch them all.

posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:00 AM on October 26, 2013

The longest single written work in human history, at more than 3.5 million words, is a piece of Smash Brothers fanfiction.

Ok, I had to google it. The OED has something like 59 million words in it (I have the memory of a goldfish and am too lazy to doublecheck the exact number).

All the same, 3.5 million is ridiculous. I'm going to read it, I'll have a report on your desk in...six or seven years, I guess.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:37 AM on October 26, 2013

Pope--you should watch the documentary. ;)
posted by a birds at 7:11 AM on October 26, 2013

I love SSBM but the Hard Knocks impression the narrator is doing is really difficult to take seriously.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:33 AM on October 26, 2013

I watched the first two of these days... Given that I could care less about Smash Bros, I found it surprisingly compelling.
posted by ph00dz at 7:38 AM on October 26, 2013

Very nice!
posted by zscore at 8:37 AM on October 26, 2013

I just watched the entire thing. I was very hungover.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2013

this scene is so weird to me, it's like not allowing you to use items in mario kart and playing it like gran turismo
posted by p3on at 1:32 PM on October 26, 2013

That weirdness really appeals to me. It's not that these people are playing a party game wrong, leaching the fun out of it by turning off items. It's that another style of play, a competitive one-on-one fighter, has emerged out of their curiosity and desire to explore the game's potential. It's like how Minecraft players sometimes turn off monsters, eliminating a fun survival aspect but freeing them up to build bigger and grander things, or how Nethack players do special restricted runs to see just what they can pull off. Or how RTS players sometimes take the reverse approach, playing custom maps (think Big Game Hunters or Fastest Map Possible) that eliminate much of the difficulty, competitive balance, and core gameplay but make for a fun and friendly experience.

I personally love playing with items, but that's because I engage with the game in a different way. I love dashing madly for a Pokeball, only to find out it's a useless Goldeen, or having a barrel spawn on a slope and roll into my opponent. It turns the game into a farce, which makes it really fun for no-stakes friendly play but totally unsuited for what these guys want to do with it.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 2:20 PM on October 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

also i guarantee that every competitive player turns items on sometimes, when it's time to fuck around. when my friends got tired of playing seriously (after, idk, 6 or so hours--this was high school) the pokeballs and silly stages definitely came out. i loved being a tryhard with them too, but the 4am sleep deprived, coin mode, Very High item rate, pokefloats free for all matches were when i laughed myself to tears.
posted by a birds at 8:58 PM on October 26, 2013

A couple interesting AMAs from the Smash subreddit:

Wobbles, the last player Mango faced at EVO 2013 (setting of the triumphant Guile montage in the documentary), and a talented and controversial player in his own right.

Dr. Peepee, one of the best Melee players still active, and another strong finisher at EVO 2013. He gets some interview time in the documentary, but he doesn't really have the history or controversy to get any real focus there.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 12:35 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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