Interview with X-Act

By tennisace.
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Stepping off the small plane, I flipped on a pair of shades and walked out onto the sunny runway.

I rented a bicycle, and rode up a long path to a small villa overlooking the coast. I could see a pool with what looked like Seel and Dewgong playing with a beach ball inside.

A young man greeted me at the doorway, inviting me inside.

We entered a large room with whiteboards for walls, covered in equations. I caught a glance of something that looked like a win formula... then shook my head and sat down.

tennisace: So, tell me a bit about the man behind the numbers.

X-Act: My real name is Alexander Farrugia, and I'm 30 years old. I live in a tiny island situated in the centre of the Mediterranean sea called Malta.

It's basically only got a population of 400,000 people. Anyway, I work as a math lecturer in a Maltese college called MCAST, teaching math to students learning electrical and electronics engineering.

I've got recently married too, heh.

Well I don't know what more I need to say about myself, but maybe you'll ask me!

tennisace: An island in the Mediterranean, huh? With a home like that, how did you top it with the honeymoon?

X-Act: Haha. Well, Malta isn't an island full of palm trees and stuff, though it's beautiful in other ways. My honeymoon was a cruise in the Baltics—basically northern Europe. We visited London, Dover, Copenhagen, Berlin, Tallinn, Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Malmo and Helsinki. I might be forgetting some place too. It was fantastic!

tennisace: That sounds amazing. How is your wife, anyway? I trust you two are having a great time together!

X-Act: My wife is fine. She's taking a nap on the sofa watching TV. She says hi (even though she doesn't know what this is about).

At that point, his wife woke up, waved to me, and fell back asleep.

tennisace: Anyway, lets move on to the main reason we're having this interview. How did you find Smogon?

X-Act: It was kinda by accident, really. At around 2001 till 2005, I was a Pokemon player, but I used to play the TCG, which is the card game. I frequented the Pojo irc channels, and was also a mod there, and was also a head tournament director.

Then I won the national championship in my country in 2005, and immediately decided to quit the card game. My interest in Pokemon didn't die down, though. I started looking at the battling aspect of Pokemon, and wanted good information about what good Pokemon are, etc. Pojo didn't cater much for the battling aspect of Pokemon, so I decided to look elsewhere.

A Google search later I found myself browsing the Smogon forums, and I registered in February 2006. That's how it all started. Thinking about it now, I was kinda clueless at that time!

He smiled quaintly as he reminisced about his past days.

tennisace: Interesting. So how did you go from a casual player to the resident mathematician on the forums?

X-Act: Around the time I started frequenting the forums in 2006, there was a lot of speculation about the Diamond and Pearl games. When they were released in Japan, I started playing it, and realized that I was learning stuff about the new games that weren't known by the Smogoners at that time.

For example I was training a Biidaru (Bibarel in Japanese) that had the Simple ability, but nobody knew what Simple did, except that it was related to stat changes of some sort. I tried to give it an X-Attack and, when it attacked, I realized it did way more than it should have done after being given a +1 Attack boost. Eventually I realized it was doing twice the damage...

He beamed brightly upon recalling his crowning achievement, lighting up the room.

...and after a few more tests I cracked it. Then I moved on to other stuff about the new games—researching the new items, new moves, and other new abilities, like Tinted Lens. It was at this time that I teamed up with Peterko to test the games, and then the damage formula in conjunction to them.

I knew that my math abilities and Peterko's amazing testing abilities would help us crack the damage formula eventually, and we did.

Then, when that was finished, I decided to continue using my math prowess for other things, but that was how it started.

tennisace: Well, you can rest assured that your math prowess is well appreciated around Smogon! Recently, you teamed up with Doug to give us all sorts of cool insights about the metagame at large. What information do you think is most useful to the average battler?

X-Act: I think this depends on what your definition of 'average battler' is. If you mean the battler that has a bit of experience playing the metagame but wants to improve, then this kind of player would want to know what the metagame is like.

For example, he'd want to know what the most common Pokémon are, and what are the moves it usually uses. Doug does a great job in actually providing these stats himself—all I do usually is take Doug's stats and make them more 'readable'.

However, Pokémon is a complex game, much more complex than normal people credit it to be, especially because it has the perception of being 'just a kids game'. So I'm sure that there are actually things that a Pokemon player would like to have stats about but that are actually not provided.

We hope to try to bridge this gap! Though this doesn't depend much on me, since I don't have access to the Smogon Shoddybattle server database.

tennisace: Switching gears, what do you do besides frequenting Smogon to relax? It must get stressful at times to juggle classes, office hours, administering Smogon, and your own personal life.

X-Act: Well, what I usually do is surf the net in general. Recently I've been playing Soul Silver though, to pass the time. I'm also a great fan of the Lost TV series, and am itching for next February to come so that Season 6 starts! I actually lurk a few Lost forums, talking about the latest theories about the show.

Other times I just watch a film or TV with my wife, and do normal chores, such as making lunch for the next day, washing the dishes, and sometimes cooking too.

I agree that doing all that and being also an admin in Smogon is very very difficult sometimes. I try to cope, though.

He smiled again, though I could detect a hint of fatigue behind his peaceful exterior.

tennisace: What advice would you give to the many aspiring mathematicians across Smogon?

X-Act: The advice I give them is to choose the job you like doing, not the job that earns you the most money. If you find a job as a mathematician in a company, good for you! You'll earn quite a lot of money like that!

If, however, you find a job teaching math, like I did, remember that you were like one of your students in the past. Keep in mind what you used to think about your teachers or lecturers. Try to emulate the teachers you used to like and stay away from the methods of the teachers you used to hate.

You'll surely do well if you keep that in mind! Finally, in your current math studies, try not to learn proofs by heart, but try to understand the proofs. That way, you make the proof yours, and you'll have a much easier time to prove it when asked—and also gives you an easier time to prove other theorems, too.

If you understand the logic behind a proof, instead of just learning a proof without actually understanding what you're learning, you'll do very well, not only in your exams or assignments, but also when you start using your math in your future work.

tennisace: Last, but certainly not least, what is your favorite Pokémon overall and your favorite Pokemon to battle with?

X-Act: My favorite Pokémon is obviously Dewgong.

From outside, we could hear muffled splashes and cries.

I find it cute and kinda overlooked by everyone, and I also support the underdog, heh. I don't have much experience with DP battling, but I was half-decent in ADV, and hence I'll talk about my favourite battling Pokémon with ADV in mind.

My favorite Pokémon to battle with is McGar. I used to run a variant with Giga Drain: Substitute/Focus Punch/Thunderbolt/Giga Drain. It was one of the best Skarmbliss counters of that time, and totally owned opponents who didn't have a clue about what to do against it. Celebi used to fuck me up when I used that set, though to be fair Celebi could also take HP Ice like a champ.

He frowns, remembering how much damage that pixie could really do. I glanced at one of his boards, in large letters it said "BEAT CELEBI".

If you're reading this, thank you McGraw for inventing that Gengar set, and proving that a 150 power move with only 65 base Attack does much more damage than people think!

tennisace: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me! You've been great.

X-Act: Thank you for the interview!

After leaving the house, I headed to the beach for some well deserved R&R.

Sipping a piña colada, I heard my phone go off.

"Hey tennisace, up for another one?"

"Where do I have to go now?" I asked with a sigh.

"Your flight to the Netherlands leaves in an hour. Bring a coat!"

I proceeded to curse Jimbo heavily, and wearily packed up my towel.

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