Op-Ed: CAP, Pirates, Playtesting, and Policy Review

By Deck Knight.
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Hello fellow Smogoners. This is my first article for The Smog. Although I cherish the opportunity to provide hard-hitting analysis, I also want to keep you entertained. This is a summary of the recent events and changes in the Create-a-Pokémon Forum. If this piques your interest, please join us at the Create-a-Pokemon Project (CAP) and help us create and playtest our custom Pokemon on Doug’s Create-a-Pokemon Server. Grab some popcorn and please enjoy.

Background information on CAP

CAP is a Smogon project based around creating new Pokémon through a largely democratic process to test theories on the limits of the metagame. It begins with a concept, the focal point the entire Pokémon is built around. Each crucial competitive factor is scrutinized, debated, and finally decided on. We have completed 8 CAP projects, and have modified and enhanced our process several times. After each CAP we review our policies and make suggestions to revise old policies or create new ones. For reasons I will explain below, after the events of CAP8 we decided to completely overhaul the expectations of the topic leader, the project’s guide, who is responsible for implementing and molding the concept. It is an exciting time for CAP, and I hope that you join us.

Any of the statements in this op-ed are not indictments of any specific topic leader or any particular project.

1. The Great CAP8 Hijacking.

Magmortified: You know the saying:
Magmortified: Nobody can actually say they made a single CaP
Magmortified: except Deck Knight

CAP8’s concept was Neglected Ability. Our goal was to build a Pokémon around a “good” ability that is stuck on sub-par Pokemon. This concept was weak and loosely defined. It was a blank slate onto which you could write your desires and goals. Ability is selected in the middle of the process, after the typing and stat build polls. I used that opening and my considerable argumentative and persuasive powers to influence the direction of CAP8 towards my goal.

For several CAP Projects the long-timers had been talking about an Electric- and Dragon-type CAP as a cool idea. At the outset my proposed concept was "Para-busing Tank", essentially a Pokémon that put the fear of paralysis back into the metagame. The metagame was shifting more and more towards maximizing Speed, and paralysis renders any Speed investments wasted without paralysis support of your own. Where Fidgit centralized the metagame around Toxic because it can lay Toxic Spikes effectively (and multiple times if necessary), I wanted to center it around paralysis.

During the project, my submissions won two critical competitive aspects: Base Stats and Movepool. Combined with a metric ton of active posting and argumentation towards my preferred types and abilities, especially the secondary ability Static, CAP8 took on a curious resemblance to the concept that I initially proposed. I worked with tennisace on the stats; he suggested more Speed then I initially wanted, but I incorporated it into the design. Cyclohm still has a middling 80 base Speed stat, and the essential reasoning behind that was that it stayed within our stat constraints while outspeeding Arghonaut and having the bulk I wanted. By the end of the project I had a decisive influence in Stats, Movepool, and Ability; these are the three things that constitute a Pokemon from a competitive standpoint. Thus is it argued I “hijacked” CAP8.

One of the problems that we’ve had in Create-a-Pokemon lately is that our topic leaders trend towards a "go-along-get-along" attitude. This isn’t necessarily bad and does make for a pleasant environment, but it often comes as a detriment to the project itself. In the introduction I said CAP was largely democratic. The topic leader is supposed to cull the bad ideas before the initial vote so that each option presents a viable project choice. Unfortunately our initial concept votes over the last few projects have included as many as fifty options, creating a circus of bold-votes dispersed among a nearly unfiltered list. Generally we ended up with the most eye-catching and “unique” concepts that had little regard for addressing competitive concerns. We had no way to analyze whether our project was a success or failure.

After CAP8 we decided that enough was enough.

2. Cut the Crap. No really, we mean it.

Thus came the Policy Review regarding topic leaders. We have always had an outline for what our topic leaders should do over the course of a project. Stellar made a fantastic post breaking down the initial outline and specifying it in great detail, fleshing out the responsibilities and emphasizing that the TL is supposed to make hard choices, not just count bold votes and provide minimal feedback.

DougJustDoug, in an apt metaphor, likened it to the difference between a movie director and an administrator. The administrator keeps everyone orderly and makes sure that everything runs smoothly, but doesn’t put a lot of soul or passion into it. The administrator was the old way; topic leaders viewed themselves as sort of a mini-moderating force that was supposed to dispassionately let everyone say their piece and fade into the background. Directors, in contrast, can be boisterous and forceful in their opinions, and are not afraid to fire any actor or actress who gets out of line.

Doug, tennisace, and Magmortified worked hard in revamping our guides and updating our processes in the break between CAP8 and CAP9. They should be thanked, above all, for streamlining our process, and by the time this is published we should have CAP9 underway with a solid TL and concept. Hopefully the new changes will lead to stronger leaders and, by proxy, better projects.

3. Dude, where’s my opponent?

Speaking of monumental policy reviews, we made a substantial modification to playtesting after CAP6. The primary purpose of CAP is to test new concepts on the OU metagame. For our first 6 CAPs, every time we released a new one it was included in the metagame with the previous CAPs. This instantly distilled the metagame because more than one “X-factor” was added at a time. Consequently by the time CAP6 rolled around, our metagame was vastly different from the standard OU metagame. Most of our creations had a bad weakness to special Flying-type moves, which lead to a proportionate increase in the number of Togekiss. We had no valid way to test the Pokémon on the “OU metagame” because we had added six highly competitive Pokémon as offensive, defensive, or supportive threats.

After that point, we decided to test each CAP in isolation for a few weeks on the server in order to truly test what effect our creation had on the OU metagame. CAP7 (Kitsunoh) was one of my personal favorites, as it performed beautifully at what I envisioned. Not everyone agreed that it fit its concept, Ultimate Scout, but I thought that it performed admirably given we never quite defined “scout,” much less what an ultimate one would look like. After CAP8 we knew it was time for a serious reform, so we embarked on playtesting the original 6 CAPs in isolation. Syclant (CAP1) was made before Platinum was released, so it had to be tested anew in a metagame full of Bullet Punching Choice Banded Scizor. Needless to say as an Ice- and Bug-type with questionable defenses, and also after receiving a nerf because it was initially deemed too powerful, it did not really perform to expectations.

Revenankh (CAP2), our bulky Ghost- and Fighting-type Pokémon who is infamous for utilizing Bulk Up and Shed Skin + Rest was the same terror it was way back when, given Syclant wasn’t really an effective answer to it anyway. Revenankh was an objective lesson in what happens when you combine an excellent defensive type, stats, and easily exploitable healing + status recovery into one package.

Things went pretty well for Pyroak (Bulky Fire- and-Grass-type CAP3) too as far as server usage was concerned. Pyroak was always sort of the black sheep of CAPs. It’s another CAP I like personally but public opinion tends to differ.

Then things started to stagnate. Fidgit (Pure Utility-based Poison- and Ground-type CAP4), widely considered to be the most successful CAP Project, marked the beginning of decline in interest. It began to stagnate because of the drudgery, and also because the massive overhaul to the CAP process was taking longer than many expected. Usually there is around a month of downtime before we start the next CAP project and nominate a new topic leader. It just got worse when Stratagem (fast pure-Rock-type special sweeper CAP5) and Arghonaut (Bulky Water- and Fighting-type Unaware CAP6) were tested. The CAP Playtesting article in Issue 3 goes into much greater detail; my focus is entirely on the drought in later activity.

That brings us to the end of August. Although we were accomplishing something important during downtime, the lack of server battles was discouraging. I’m not sure if we can fairly assess Stratagem and Arghonaut’s effect, although maybe the hours of the day (6-10 EST) that I’m on just aren’t conducive to laddering. There were days when I would wait on ladder for an hour with 20 people ostensibly on the server. Thank goodness for Bobtheball and Vleeter/dragonites, without them I would have probably gone berserk.

4. Where are we now?

Between CAP8 and CAP9 we have laid some important groundwork and hope to make our next project the most focused, streamlined project to date. We hope you will join us and provide your competitive insight and suggestions into our projects. For aspiring artists, every CAP has its own artwork and sprite votes and it is an excellent place to showcase your work. We also need ladder whores for the CAP server. Badly.

To find out more you can go to Doug’s Create-a-Pokemon Server on Shoddy Battle, or #cap on IRC. We’ll be waiting.

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