RoA Interview #4: Crystal_
Lutra: Today top RBY battler, and Pokémon researcher and ROM hacker Crystal joins us. How did you first find out about competitive Pokémon?
Crystal_: It was a long time ago already, maybe 2006 or 2007. I had Pokemon Crystal and Ruby and I used to be quite perfectionist with training Pokemon, breeding, stat experience, that kind of stuff. So when I found out about a platform where you could battle against other people online, I thought it could be an interesting world to explore. It was the era of Netbattle; I remember I would join a server from time to time and challenge whoever was there in ADV. I remember it was the time where DPPt was starting to get implemented but I decided not to switch to it because it wasn't a generation of Pokemon and strategies that I would be familiar with. Regardless, without any kind of reference, and playing against opponents with maybe the same background as you, you don't see yourself progressing very much.
I remember that maybe around two years later I started to take competitive Pokemon a bit more seriously, and I decided to join Smogon and RBY2K10 soon after that. I switched to the first two generations (mostly RBY thanks to the latter community), and I think that's how I started to actually progress. It was fun, I played some tournaments against many quality players of the time, while the rest of the world of competitive Pokemon was mastering Gen 4 or maybe even moving to Gen 5 already. Even though I'm mostly retired now, after having spent so much time playing RBY and, to an extent, GSC, I think that it's a shame that the older generations are progressively losing relevance. I know it's simply bound to happen for a variety of reasons, but I look back with nostalgia to all the time spent; not just battling, but also metagame analysis, discussion, studying strategies, and closely watching the metagames develop.
Lutra: Why is your online name Crystal?
Crystal_: It's interesting to see how decisions that you may spend only seconds making can stick with you for years. This is a probably a rare and inconsequential example among rare and inconsequential examples, but it's one nonetheless. The funny thing is, I don't know exactly how I made the decision about my online name. What I know is that, ever since I played Gold, Silver and Crystal, they have been my favorite games, the games I've spent the most time playing. Pokemon has been a big part of my life, and those games did leave a big impact on me. My online name comes from nothing but the name of the Pokemon Crystal game itself; I guess at the time I thought it just sounded cool, and I probably didn't spend much time thinking about it expecting it to be an irrelevant decision.
As for the trailing underscore, I have a theory about it, but I could actually be totally wrong! As far as I remember, Netbattle used to track wins and losses by display name, and the only way to reset your record was by essentially changing your name. I think the trailing underscore was an attempt to clear my win/loss ratio (which most likely was really bad in those early days!). I guess I already had some battling experience after the name change, so my record was never so bad to consider another reset -or maybe I simply stopped caring about it. That said, I also remember that we would 'tag' our names with the name of the generation that we were playing (at the time, you only had one team loaded at once!), as in Crystal_ [RBY], or Crystal_ [GSC], for example. The point is that this would also imply a name change, so I can't be too sure about this whole win/loss record theory; maybe the underscore just looked cool as well!
Lutra: Tell us about Pokémon Pyrite.
Crystal_: Pokemon Pyrite is part of what you could say is my 'second Pokemon career'. As the metagames I played slowly kept losing relevance, and I also parallelly kind of lost motivation to keep up with them, I saw myself starting to get into this world of Pokemon hacks and investigating glitches. You could say it goes back to the old days as well, as I used to enjoy messing with glitches in my Pokemon Silver and Crystal cartridges. In a way, being able to understand them now, I can relate to those days where I was only following mostly empirical tutorials and information that other people had made. Now that we have the resources to be able to figure out many things about my favourite childhood games, I enjoy being part of it. Anyway, going back to Pokemon Pyrite, I guess I've always liked to start exciting projects and make things in general, but always had trouble keeping the interest. I do remember that I got myself a map editor for Crystal for whatever reason, and started messing with it. Suddenly, you see yourself with a trillion of ideas in mind about how you want to make a Pokemon game, and as you keep learning and figuring out things about hacking, your goals change drastically and you kind of progressively want to make a more and more ambitious game. Finishing Pyrite was pretty huge for me because by the end I was coming up with ideas faster than I was actually progressing, so it was cool that I somehow maintained the motivation to finish it despite having to abandon all those exciting ideas and improvements that at some point I perhaps wished Pyrite had.
All things considered, Pyrite is what it is. It started as a difficulty hack, and it's a difficulty hack. The problem is, in my opinion, it stretches the concept of difficulty (when it comes to battling) more than what the game is able to naturally accept. It looks artificial, but it has to do with the nature of the base game, and with how several mechanics that we all take for granted work. Sure, you can reinvent the basics of the game in different ways that suit your objectives, but you also have to finish the hack. Because of that, I had to set myself some restrictions, as otherwise I could go on and on and never come up with a finished product. For example, one of the main rules I set myself was that if you were to make a competitive metagame off Pyrite, it would be exactly the same as the GSC one. Stats, movesets, types, move effects, everything. It looks like an arbitrary rule, but was an effective way of keeping myself from changing too many things that would've potentially made unrealistic to complete the hack. All in all, in order to enjoy Pokemon Pyrite, it has to be the kind of hack that you're specifically looking forward to playing, and, for most people, it probably isn't. But if it is, it can be quite a captivating adventure because it polishes or remodels some aspects of the game in relation to balance and difficulty more than any other hack ever has, at least to my knowledge.
Lutra: A couple of months ago Pokemon Pyrite featured on Twitch Plays Pokemon. Were you excited about that and did they complete it more quickly or slower than you were expecting?
Crystal_: First of all, I was quite excited that they were going to play it! I had followed the record-breaking TPP Red and TPP Crystal runs, and even though I knew that TPP didn't have the same reach or exposure anymore (because, frankly, it was impossible), I knew it was still going to be a big thing. It also helped rejuvenating the hack, in a way, because it had been finished for over two years and was a little bit dead already in terms of interest. To be honest though, I doubted TPP Pyrite would work out well because the hack was maybe too difficult to beat for a TPP run, but I then noticed that it was very different drom the early days. Not only there were less people participating, but they were also far more organized and methodical, and were able to progress steadily, even if understandably resorting to the Democracy mode at certain times (Democracy is a mode where all inputs over a small period of time are averaged into a single one). I think it turned out to be an exciting adventure because we had to combine the elements of strategy that were inherent to Pyrite with those that were consequence of TPP's unpredictability.
Lutra: You’ve been successful in numerous RBY tournaments. What times did you most enjoy and when did you feel you were playing at your peak?
Crystal_: The short answer is... always and never. I guess you could say that the SPL I played around 6 years ago stands out; we ended up winning it, and I won pretty much all the important games. The way I see it though, I rolled two dies and got a 12. It's not that I got particularly lucky in the games, it just turned out that way. What I'm trying to say is, it's hard to say what anybody's peak in competitive Pokemon is, particularly in RBY and GSC of all generations. Ultimately, If I look back, I just played a bunch of tournaments here and there that randomly popped up in different communities, and it's hard to gauge their relevance or how much I put into them. That's just how it is; the scene has never been organized enough to measure how good you've been objectively. We've never had an centralized entity that organizes structured tournaments and maintains a ranking, so to speak. Speaking of the two main generations that I've played, I don't think I've ever felt comfortable in GSC. I don't think I was able to adapt to it maybe as well as other players. It's complicated because, to begin with, you never really had the possibility to practice it consistently. Since I began into GSC maybe around 8-9 years ago, it's just been occasional tournaments with pretty much the same faces playing them. I don't think it's ever been a friendly metagame to get into and then we get a bit into catch-22 territory. All in all, the players that have dominated GSC are those who were able to adapt to it despite the lack of consistent practice, and I just wasn't one of them. I feel I've done a better job progressing in RBY. Flashy plays, short-term planning, I feel those things have more relation to what my strengths might be, or at least they don't highlight my weaknesses as a player as much.
Now, comparing the times, obviously I was playing a lot more 5, 6, 7 years ago than these days, so in that sense I had more of an habit to just get out there and let the game flow during those times. On the other hand, maybe the way I can approach the game now has changed because I've grown as a person. Playing last year's SPL was challenging in that sense because I never knew what to expect. And when you're playing a relatively renowned team tournament, you do feel the pressure to do well. In the end, I took two main conclusions from it; the competition was tougher than I expected, and my level was higher than I expected. If there's something I've learned from RBY after all those years that maybe sets it apart from the newer metagames is that you are in front of the same scenarios over and over. What experience gives you is not strictly more knowledge, but, in fact, being in front of the same scenarios even more times. This is what, I think, sets apart someone who has played 100 RBY games and someone who has played 3000. Some things that the first player sees as predictions, the sencond player sees them as routine. Prediction involves coming up with an idea. Routine already contains it, and because it does, it probably involves knowing what the idea that your opponent has to go through is. It's like a specific situation with a specific set of inputs leads to a specific action. You don't even understand or picture what those inputs are, but it's like something randomly clicks in your brain and you know exactly what it's going to happen. I don't think this is something you can understand until you've played hundreds, thousands of top-level competitive RBY games.
In that sense, I think that the current generation of RBY players could very well be the strongest ever, because the Pokemon Perfect community is encouraging steady competition more than anything else has before, almost week in and week out. Mind you, this is not meant as a compliment to a certain someone! Unfortunately, it's evident that the early generations keep losing relevance everywhere else, but it's refreshing to see a small but dedicated community that keeps RBY alive. For that matter, just as important as playing a lot is playing against similarly top-tier opposition. That makes you able to keep going thorugh the same scenarios we talked about, and progressively find their next level, which keeps putting you that little step above those who haven't. Something else that many would overlook but can also be critical is playing mentally demanding games in succession. It's also something you have to train. For example, in the last year's SPL, I was mentally struggling by the third game and I feel some players were able to capitalize. The reason I'm saying all these things is to illustrate why I'm skeptical about affirming that I used to be good, or that I used to be better, or whatever else. I just don't think I've ever reached that level. Yes, I've had my moments, but I've never had the commitment, expertise, or resources to actually reach that level consistently.
Lutra: What competitive pokemon players do you miss most and wish would return?
Crystal_: I'm not sure if this one has a lot to do with me anymore because I'm just not really into playing these days. So if they came back, I most likely wouldn't even notice. I could be wrong, but I think some veterans might be a bit in the same place as me right now, randomly coming back to play some prestigious tournament, although many are probably not coming back at all. I think, anyone of my generation who has been moderately into RBY or GSC, I've faced them at some point. We had legendary games, I won legendary battles, or so they looked back then. Okay, you probably want names, so here are some. Off the top of my head, if I was asked about my overall toughest opponents, Jorgen and M Dragon come to mind. Granted, it could be just because they are the ones I've played (and lost) GSC the most against; on the other hand, I look back at predominantly-RBY rivarlies in an understandably lighter way. You could dig up the RBY2k10 archives, but someone I've played a lot against is, for example, Isa. I think he's still quite active, even if mostly into the organizing side. There were others who used to be very active into metagame discussions as well, but I think most of them are nowhere to be seen in the world of Pokemon these days.
So, lots of legendary games, and yet now what? The experiences and adventures throughout have been exciting and undoubtedly a big part of my life, but ultimately, it's just a game that barely means anything. So like, when I noticed that they were going to get rid of RBY from the WCoP, I was a bit like, but why? Rest assure I don't even care for myself anymore, but I find it easier to reference it because it's one of the few things in the world of competitive Pokemon that I feel I still can have some connection with these days. I'm not going to get into arguments about whether RBY is serous or skillful enough, I don't think that's the point. The tournament has always had this fun, unique, cross-generation format. There's no need to try hard to reinvent it, just let it be the way it is.
So yeah, I don't know how many fallacies I've just committed, but I don't really care. You'd probably think that this doesn't have anything to do with anything (and you might be totally right), but any which way, I think it illustrates how I see my competitive Pokemon career looking back, and how I see it now. Lots of fun, lots of emotions, but there was no need to take some things so seriously.
Lutra: Have you got hobbies beside Pokemon?
Crystal_: I feel a bit of contextualization is needed first. I'm 23, from Spain, currently doing a masters degree in Telecommunications Engineering at the university. I guess I've always been a little shy, especially in large groups of people, but other than that I think I'm an easy guy to hang and meme around (does 'meme around' even exist? whatever). I don't consider myself very excessively freaky or nerdy (in a good way), but maybe that's only because I know people that are a lot more than me! I don't think I've spent a lot of time in my life playing video-games, for example, just a few that I really enjoyed over the years. I guess it's up to how many bonus points you want to give me from my diverse Pokémon-related interests, ranging from the competitive side to delving at the source code of the games. It's funny, in fact; I'd now say that the programming language I've messed around the most is Gameboy assembly, even though I've done personal things in other languages and enjoyed them, as well. In reality, I've actually always been a very lazy guy! Particularly for things that don't motivate me. I think I've been able to improve a lot lately in this aspect, even if only by necessity. Speaking of hobbies that most of you may not be able to guess, I like tennis a lot. Both playing and watching, even though I consider myself much better at the latter!
Lutra: Would you consider becoming a professional Pokémon player if it became viable to live off prize money?
Crystal_: That's not an easy one to answer because you just can't imagine how living off being a competitive Pokémon player would be possible. We're not even talking about the official VGC metagame, let alone the current generation, but about the good old RBY! First of all, you'd need a very large audience to be interested in watching people play competitive Pokemon so it can potentially become a business. The thing is, even in VGC, the current audience are just the actual competitive players, or those hopeful of becoming so, that either do, or stop caring. Anyway, let's assume for a moment that competitive RBY really is a thing and people can live off it. That would mean there are plenty of strong players competing to be the best, and just like with any sport or e-sport, only a few make it. Right now, I'm undoubtedly among the most respected competitive RBY players in the world, but where does this really come from? Pretty much anyone who has spent as much time playing RBY as me has been just as successful, if not more. If competitive RBY was a profitable game, competition would be absurdly larger, and in that scenario I don't see myself standing out. To be honest, considering the low margins of RBY, it would take something very special for someone to actually stand out consistently.
To actually answer the question though, let's take another step forward and assume that I can live off competitive Pokemon. It's honestly very hard to predict how it would be, but I might feel empty. You know, right now, I barely play competitive Pokemon anymore. Actually, I don't know. I could maybe be traveling around the world every other week to play tournaments and that could be quite amazing. Then again, you'd have to see if you're earning enough, how reliable it is, also what will happen when you're done playing. This is all too hard to picture anyway.
Lutra: Thank you very much for your in-depth answers!
Crystal_: Thank you for letting me take part in the interview and for the nostalgic trip down memory lane. It's been a pleasure!