Kevin "PPMD" Nanney's involvement in Super Smash Bros. Melee hasn't slown down. One of the greatest players of all time — PPMD has been busy in recent years with commentary, as well as making content with Golden Guardians. He's an astute observer of the competitive scene, and with his knowledge and experience with the game, one of the most respected minds in the game today.
Inven Global had the privilege of speaking with PPMD, to discuss his thoughts on Genesis 8, the challenges of the online era, and opinions on his career.
Genesis 8 flaws, matchups, realizations
What were your impressions of Genesis 8?
First of all, it was good for Genesis that all of that happened. Because they had so many difficulties. I love that Genesis continues to be narrative-defining in so many ways. But my impression of it is that I'm really starting to value offline events even more: those extra skills you need, those extra challenges that are there.
And when you see clean play despite all of the difficulties and differences — everyone going through a lot of the same stuff together — that makes it all the more special. To see Jmook have his run, or to see Zain continue with his clean play despite everything. It makes it all the more special. And really, that's standing out to me, but there are so many things you could talk about with Genesis.
One big development with Genesis was that we were blessed with another Juan "Hungrybox" DeBiedma set versus Arjun "lloD" Malhotra. In regards to the conversation regarding changing the ruleset — what's your opinion?
Disclaimer: I don't have a ton of experience with Jigglypuff or with Peach. Because of that, my opinion is not as fleshed out as it could be. There's room for my opinion to evolve certainly, and in fact, I would really like for more proof on that. I keep getting directed with a hand-wavy gesture to a Fiction Jigglypuff-Peach video, but when I searched for it, there isn't one that seems to explain the situation to me — I don't have a way to gain more information. It's always just, "Well, it's very obvious to us Peach players." I'm not one of those players, so can I get some help? That's my first problem.
In terms of what I'm actually looking at in the game, there are some reasonable calls from Peaches that Hungrybox could be camping harder. There are some things about that it might not actually be the camping, but it would be the camping combined with more ways to punish Peach's turnip stuff, and more ways to link into Rest that Hungrybox doesn't use. (similar to how Hungrybox wasn't tech-chasing Rest on fast-fallers for a while). And Peach can't really Rest-punish, so that would make sense to me — if Jigglypuff can find more Rests, that would be even worse for Peach.
But if you would ask me what I would do about it: it's interesting to think about how it is possible, if you consider how differently Jigglypuff interacts with the ledge (we're talking just the ledge right now) than every other character — how she can take longer to re-grab it. I get it if you wanted to make a Jigglypuff-specific lower edge-grab limit. I personally think that having it only activate when you go to time doesn't make any sense.
If you're going to make a ledge grab limit where if you hit the number, that's it — I'm okay with that. What that number should be — we should test it. Start with some like thirty-five and lower it if needed. But then the Peaches will say, "But there's still an air-time problem." Yes, but it would make it harder for Jigglypuff to grab the ledge if JIgglypuff can only grab it so many times. And maybe that can let Peach play a little differently. Camping just isn't a good reason to ban something in general. Low tiers can get camped. But stalling when it's truly uninteractive and overcentralizing should be banned.
Something else to consider: Where do the timeouts happen? No one's ever talked about this. But if Jigglypuff's in the air, where the best two stages for her to do it? Battlefield and Dreamland. Two stages no one ever wants to ban. But I think if we start with Battlefield and Dreamland, if that's really what the problem is. Because Jigglypuff stays in the air there. But if she comes back down, Peach can reach the top platform much more easily on Yoshi's and Fountain. On Final Destination there's no top platform, or it's all top platform. And on Stadium — theoretically it would be hard to do that, but the stage is so ridiculously long, and the platforms are still there. Maybe it's enough to still camp that out. I haven't fully examined the positions to figure out why it seems to still kind of happen there, or get close to that.
And then with transformations, it would get there more, because you camp those out. So you have an edge grab limit, then you get rid of some of the problematic stages. And then this would help the other characters, instead of developing like a Fox laser-limit or something. Just a different way of solving the problem that is much cleaner.
I'm not saying anyone's gonna get behind it, because this throws our whole ruleset into whack in a different ways. We certainly wouldn't have bans in the best-of-three anymore, and the Fox players would probably lose all of their marbles about FD still being around. But that being said, I think it is one solution to the problem that I think is easier than some of these other specific rules.
You think it's more in the hands of players to solve it?
Yeah, I mean, that's the other thing. We can solve it that way. We can also just tell the Peach players to pick up Fox — we have a counterpick system for a reason. I don't really know where I fall on that, because being able to be stalled out is not really something I necessarily want to encourage. And I do think it's reasonable to push back against it. But at the same time, there's stalling problems in other matchups, like I was saying. We take out Battlefield and Dreamland, I do think low tier characters would perform better.
Everyone loves character diversity.
Granted, this probably is a hit to Yoshi, for example. But I think overall — so many characters struggle to do platforms follow-ups or cover those recoveries that are higher — you wouldn't have that issue now. So maybe that's something. It's tough, because we're getting into a really weird phase with this argument where I really don't want to make ruleset changes for balance, but stalling is also bad. And it's coming up because it's stalling in a particular matchup.
So this is a tight rope that we're walking, and our justification for it needs to be tighter. But if people want to go the balance route, then at least I can offer the balance argument for those stages as well. But again: they have the counterpick option. There's a lot to consider with this, and just like with controllers, I think we need to be very careful and deliberate about how we approach this. Because we are setting precedents here, and we want to make sure we set good ones that are as clean and as justifiable as possible going forward.
Jake "JMook" Arvonio was the other big story of Genesis. To start, give me your general thoughts on his performance. Is he the real deal?
First off, I'd like to say I'm really proud of the Reddit commenter that said it was the most attractive Grand Finals of all time. Shout outs to them. [laughs] But seriously, JMook's an interesting player. I like that he's got so much specific stuff to him. You see this most with Fox players, but it's very common with some players of other characters too to optimize all in the same line — going for very similar options.
And then there's JMook, who gets second at Genesis, and he's walking at people, doing these strange follow-ups, and dropping guaranteed stuff so he could try and get a bigger follow-up. Which is a really cool risk-reward and highly unusual for a Sheik who has so many things that are guaranteed.
That's the most interesting thing about him. Against Marth, especially at the lower percent, I think he needed to go for some more guaranteed stuff or he needs to work on the flow chart more. Which is interesting, because his tech chasing against spacies hits really hard. He had the insane tech chasing, but then maybe the floaties combos are not all there. He was really interesting in terms of integrating the idea of neutral and punish — which I am a big fan of. And I don't think many people are a fan of. So that was very pleasing to me, to see a little bit of what I might have wanted to with some Sheik stuff in his play.
All a bunch of unique stuff that can be applied to other characters. So really fantastic stuff. And he's really healthy for the game — a healthy perspective in an era of ruthless netplay optimization.
Netplay and the new Melee era
In this era of ruthless netplay optimization, it's clearly great for helping people become very competitive quickly. Is anything lost, though?
With the online era there are tons of positives. There are people that might be uncomfortable (for valid reasons) going to an offline event. There are people in remote areas that can't get to anything, or are not allowed to. Plenty of good just in those areas alone.
But are there challenges? Sure. Overnight, we went from loving that Melee wasn't like other games because you have to go out and socialize, to having one of the best online games. I love Melee, and I love that we're just down to support it like that. But I don't want to lose that offline spirit. And I think that will be harder over time.
There's issues with toxicity. It can be rough on there. People tell me about how they don't want to play on unranked because people are terrible to them. That's not what I want when I think of Melee. That's not what people are like when you go to offline stuff. That's what a lot of people experience now. That is absolutely something that is a real issue. I don't really know how to solve it other than doing what I can to speak out against it now, encouraging people to go offline, and setting a good example. So I can set a good example.
I talked about the ruthless netplay optimization a little bit with JMook. Styles are homogenizing more. We used to talk about the difference with East Coast and West Coast playstyles. That still exists to an extent, but it's disappearing. And that's a shame to me. And people are losing less of their own individual expression, because we're going through the optimization meat grinder. That's something I'd like to see changed a little bit.
I do think some people — as they improve and start hitting an elite level — will start expressing themselves more. But most people don't get there, of course. I guess I'd like to see more different stuff from more different people. Those are probably my two biggest things.
Melee then and now — and its unknown future
Living in not the strongest region during your peak, you were a master of preparing for big events without necessarily grinding tournaments. The best example was Apex 2015. Walk me through your preparation for that event.
That period of time was one of the most interesting periods in my life. I had been doing so much emotional work for that year, and I finally found a framework I really liked, and I was really enjoying the process. And as I moved through that, I saw how the game was connected to my emotional work, and how my expression was connected so much more in a very intimate way. If I was able to clear up any hang-ups, bad habits, or old hurt that I was holding onto — I could directly see in Melee myself being able to react more easily, understand what my opponent was thinking more clearly, or fix any bad habits I had held onto more easily in the game.
It was a very powerful time for me, and I felt truly connected to Melee in a wonderful way through my practice at the time. I was enjoying practice more than I enjoyed playing people, because it was such a beautiful time of (trying to not be too poetic) being like a martial artist engrossed in their movements, feeling how their body felt as they move around and absolutely loving that experience, and tapping into that whenever they would fight someone. It really was the same thing for me.
I had such a great connection to the game. And so as I connected more to myself, I opened myself more to connection with the game. I not only want to return to that, but I want to bring something beyond that to myself. And I do think I'm on the path for that. So it's gonna be very exciting for me regarding what I'm going to be able to achieve, both in terms of self-connection, game-connection, and beyond.
Right now you hear quite about how Melee is dying right now, but I remember seeing an interview Mang0 did with you in 2016 where he predicted the game would have a big scene for at least three years, and at most around five. That was six years ago. Are you surprised the scene has kept up this well?
It's an interesting question. I don't often think about this: Is Melee gonna live or die? I usually think Melee is gonna be fine. Within a year from now, maybe all the sponsors will leave. But I still think Melee will be fine. I have a different definition of alive than most people. It's going to be okay. When the pandemic started, and everyone was worried Melee would die, it thought it would work out. I had no basis for that — I didn't know Fizzi was he was working on rollback.
But I was like, "We went through Brawl! We went through a six-month period of literally no one playing the game. And we came back from that in an interesting, new, and beautiful way. I watched that, I watched Evo 2013, and then I watched sponsors come in. And I was like, "I think we were built different." Now in 2016, maybe we were worried because we weren't seeing as much new enthusiasm or sponsors in the game. Nintendo had killed circuits and stuff already at that point, and we were aware of that.
But since then, I haven't worried about that, because Melee is different. It's just a special game, and it's going to be fine. Even the lloD-Hungrybox stuff in its own twisted way is almost part of Melee's divine strategy. We've all got a shared discourse. Even if you think it's the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard, you're gonna talk about it.
During the years that you stepped down from competition in 2016 and Armada took over the scene, what was your thinking of how you would have done against him when people were heralding him as the GOAT? What about Leffen?
I was thinking, "Man, if I was healthy, I could get Armada." Once Smashers' Reunion happened, my dynamic with him shifted in a major way. I really started understanding that I could put a lot of pressure on this guy — intimidate and punish him. I understood what he was going for — I knew him as a person, because we connected through the game in that way.
Leffen is harder for me to say. We really hardly played. I don't really know. He's such a volatile player: a massive ball of emotion. I remember when I played him at Apex 2015, I felt like I just heard death metal music — I felt so much coming off of him. So that's on me, regarding how much I could move through that without letting it impact me, and how stable he'd be able to stay. Because when things get harder for Leffen, he will choke more and everything. There's so much volatility that could have been there with me and Leffen, and it's very hard to say. I don't have nearly enough experience to say.
That's certainly one of my greatest Melee regrets — depending on how things pan out with him — is that we never got to play very much. Because I think it would have been very very interesting matches. He's a very smart player, and we would have pushed each other greatly and with a lot of respect for the way he approaches the game.
How would he have approached your neutral game at its peak?
Leffen approaches it like a really intelligent fighting game player. Sometimes I don't like the way Leffen approaches neutral — he was doing this thing where he would run up and crouch stuff a lot, and I really don't like when people play that way, because I also don't like crouch cancel. The idea of letting yourself intentionally get hit and running in like that so you can counter hit — I think it's not the proper way to play Melee. [laughs] I wasn't a fan of him when he did stuff like that, but pretty much all of his other stuff I enjoy.
We used to talk about how he could play against Armada — he messaged me on Smashwords and was like, "How do I get in on Armada?" I always commented that he was too antsy, and tried to make things happen too fast. He needed to play a little more mix-ups and cool his jets a bit.
I still get the sense that antsy-Leffen is still there, but I think he's learned so much more about how to play defense that he has rounded himself out more. And he approaches it like a fighting game player where changes to completely different mix-ups. Most Melee players don't really think like that. Leffen's approach is much more thoughtful.
What is something you think could improve in the Smash community that isn’t right now?
Money. [laughs] We're doing good, be we could do better. We've got millionaire streamers, and then we've got people in the top 100 that can't even consider going full-time. That's sad. There are people in the top 20 even that can't go full time, and that's really sad. Money's gotta be number one.
Other things: We could do more content work. More collaborations would be really good content — they're really good for streamers, and they'd be really good in the Melee community. As much as their communities and the people themselves might hate it, I think Mang0 and Hungrybox doing things together with other streamers would probably do a lot for Melee.
And it'd be nice for us to be able to talk to each other more, instead of having our own isolated pockets, which I think is so much of what Melee is now ever since Smashboards fell off, and certainly ever since we don't even use shared Facebook groups anymore.
If you're to look at your entire career, what game best defines you?
If I'm only thinking of one game, I think of Smasher's Reunion versus Armada, Set 1 Game 7. I've talked about that game a lot. People were kind of sick of hearing me talk about it, and I even remember there were some modern Falcos that when watching it point out mistakes.
But I love that game, because that game had the least amount of wasted movement I've ever seen in any set. I had a flow state experience while I was playing it up until the end. That game was beautiful, and it's special to me.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.