Pandora’s Box was opened a long time ago when it comes to modifications to Melee. Some of the major changes came from software mods such as UCF, hardware mods such as notches, but we continued to dig deeper and deeper as we allowed far more impactful modifications. This brought along Goomwaves, box-style controllers, and button-remapping, including the Z-jump.
The hot topic as of late in the Melee community has been Z-jumping discourse. Prominent players such as Cody “iBDW” Schwab and Arjun “Llod” Malhotra have mastered this technique over the last few months — and it’s inarguable that their results place them firmly as indisputable top 10 players.
Some other top players, however, are disgruntled with this technique, with some of these complaints coming to light somewhat recently. These players feel like Z-jumping makes techniques that are not normally possible significantly easier to pull off, such as faster aerials with perfect drift, hyperfloats, and other untapped techniques related to jumps. This shows in the gameplay.
Here’s the question in mind: Why are Z-jumpers targeted lately? Is it really as broken as some claim? And most importantly: Is that even really our main issue?
Alright, so what even is Z-jumping?
Button remapping is allowed on Goomwaves since players argue it makes them on-par with box controllers. With some practice, competitors people found out that one of the best remaps possible is swapping the Z button with the X/Y button. What this does is make your Z button a jump button, and your X or Y button a grab button, essentially switching their usual functions. This is legal in the Melee rulset.
The reason why this is a significant remap is that this creates no travel distance between jumping and doing an aerial. Usually, if you wanted to do an instant aerial with perfect drift, it is extremely hard — if not impossible — to do an instant aerial on the right side with perfect drift with a normal controller layout. Your thumb needs to travel from X/Y and then travel a significant distance to the C-stick to aerial the right direction. Try it yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
With Z remap, however, you can use your index finger to jump, and your thumb is already on the C-stick with an instant aerial with perfect drift, making the technique trivial (as well as others related to jumping).
While there are other techniques — like claw and utilizing tap jump — they have tradeoffs. Tap jumping is inherently a little inconsistent due to the analog nature and you sacrifice perfect drift. Clawing is a technique where you typically put your index finger on the Y button and your thumb on the C-stick that effectively has the same outcome as Z-jumping, but it has a tradeoff of requiring time to set up. If you claw permanently, grabbing and utilizing the other shield trigger becomes much more awkward, if not ergonomically unhealthy.
Z-jumping has no tradeoffs, making it an objective upgrade.
So is Z-jumping just OP?
There is one tradeoff with Z-jumping however, and that is an opportunity cost at re-learning muscle memory for at least a couple of weeks, if not months. Fortunately, there hasn’t been a better time to learn Z-jumping than in the last few months, since there haven't been a lot f major tournaments thanks to COVID-19 restrictions. This hiatus was the perfect time to learn Z-jumping and rework muscle memory.
And that’s the main reason why it’s the current hot topic of the discourse: Top players are doing well with this technique without really seeing any real drawbacks of using it.
Are these critiques justified though? Of all the things we’re targeting, are we really placing our fair criticisms toward the right topic?
The thing is, Z-jumping — compared to other mods we allowed when we opened Pandora’s Box a while ago — seems trivial compared to other things we allow, like box-styled controllers. Most notably, the B0XX and Frame 1.
We allowed the Box years ago because Aziz “Hax$” Al-Yami explained that it was his only way to play the game when he infamously injured his hand beyond help with a normal GameCube controller. Since then, he’s had a steady rise in ranks until he disappeared for...various reasons. This opened the floodgates for hundreds of other players to use Box controllers, and some of them are showing steady, strong results.
To answer the question, is the Box better than Z-jumping? Yes. It absolutely is.
Not only does it have the benefit of Z-jumping already because of the button layouts having no travel distance inherently, but there is no travel distance for movement itself. That's because the gray stick is entirely digitalized — the movement is ultra-fast off of turnaround, something the normal GCC can never hope to achieve.
And that is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s other advantages Box players have, most notably the Frame 1 having the ability to pivot uptilt and no SDI lockouts. They have little advantages not many players would normally think about, such as faster DI and SDI, easier access to ASDI down during dash dance, and lots of other little things. If there is one thing that people should definitely pay attention to, it’s the Box advantages.
Except, most of the heat is on Z-jumpers at the moment, and again the explanation is simple: There are no top 10 players using the Box. That's because the opportunity cost to learn the Box is significantly higher than Z-jumping.
Z-jumping only takes at most a few months to re-learn because you only need to learn a few aspects of the game. Everything else is the same. For the Box, however, it can be upwards of years to even get back old skill since everything about the game is significantly different with the Box, even with the advantages described.
With Hax$, he had to steadily climb his ranks back since 2017 being ranked #45 --> #38 → #19 each subsequent year. Very few current pro players make the switch to the Box because of the opportunity cost required.
So should we care about the B0XX?
Mark my words though, there will be a point where Box players will become more prominent in a couple years, and the community needs to decide on what is acceptable and draw the line on what is okay. A major reason why all of this is allowed is that Melee is extremely decentralized, where some guy that makes a controller just decides to make extreme buffs and put it out there in the market, and everyone just accepts it. I’m describing the Goomwave by the way.
Part of the reason why such things are approved is that in a decentralized community, top players have the strongest voice and, therefore, can rally behind meaningful change. If they say it’s okay, typically everyone else follows suit. Boxes were commonly accepted when Hax$ approved it, and Melee 1.03 is not as commonly accepted due to his reputation being somewhat tarnished. Pros loved the Goomwave when it initially came out which is why it was legalized, with button remapping being one of the perks.
Something needs to be done about the current status of what we allow and disallow in tourneys before this gets out of hand. And now that we have top players’ attention on this matter, this is one of the best times to get something done in a decentralized community. Here is some of my propositions:
1. Z-Jumping needs to be reached to a consensus. Either we don’t allow it at all or we allow everyone to have it. A main point of contention with button remapping is that you need a special controller that's modded to allow remapping. There is currently no publicized software mod that allows you to just remap your buttons on the menu as you can in future Smash games. The cleaner solution would most likely be allowing button-remapping enabled via software mods so it’s not gatekept out of the majority of the community akin to UCF.
2. As for the Box, a clear consensus is that it should not be stronger than the GameCube controller. The Box should not be banned since it is a required alternative for some players, but they should not get obvious advantages that no current GCC top players are able to do. A big change that most people would probably agree to is adding an arbitrary travel distance time when a character enters a dash.
As it stands, Box players can instantly dash in a direction almost like a teleportation. There is a little bit of a dash startup with the GCC due to the analog nature. A software mod that has a “Box” mode enabled that forces a minor delay of a few frames would be a great starting point to ultimately even the playing field between Box and GCC. To get these done, this would ideally have some conversation between top players, TO’s, software modders, and other prominent community members.
3. OR, we can ultimately just do nothing about this and let Pandora’s Box run deeper. Historically speaking, we usually don’t do much about various problems to enact change since it’s hard to rally behind anything to make significant changes, especially when the problems aren’t that apparent yet. Again though — mark my words — these problems won’t go away. Whether we like it or not, change will occur soon, for the better or worse.
Player for FlyQuest, coaches on https://metafy.gg/@kodorin