The Future of Competitive ‘Catherine’: An Interview with “Dacidbro”

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I had a chance to chat with competitive Catherine world champion David “Dacidbro” Broweleit about his involvement in the scene and the future of the game. It was a lengthy talk, but one worth putting to the page, especially for anyone interested in getting involved in the scene.

MJR: Why don’t we start with what first brought you into competitive Catherine?

Dacidbro: That’s actually a really fun story. It was more or less complete blind luck. What initially got me into Catherine in the first place was a friend of mine who streams on FinestKO, Sean [“Coopa”] Huang, wanted to stream the game with me as just a fun thing we could do together. And it was a great time, we had a really fun stream, but then half a year later, the local anime fighting game tournament series NorCal Install wanted to run it as a side game tournament, and that was gonna be just really funny, really silly.

And me and Sean were hanging out the day before the tournament, and we were like, “You know what, we should get a leg up on the competition, man,” still completely as a joke. And then we ended up losing seven hours to it because we were so drawn to it and the way it worked.

Matches can get just as heated as any fighting game.
Matches can get just as heated as any fighting game.

We ended up going to the tournament the next day, showing people how to actually play it in a very basic way—but “high level” at the time—and the competition was so great we multiplied the viewers by 10 times the normal rate for the tournament. It was like 3,500 viewers on old Twitch, a really crazy number. So that went super viral. I ended up loving the game, I kept taking it to tournaments, I started getting really good at it, and I became the Catherine ambassador at the time because of all that.

Right, and so here we are.

Now, I’ve always heard rumors of sideshow Catherine stuff going on at Evo, hotel room money matches and the like, but I don’t really know where the competitive Catherine scene really started to take off.

So technically the event I just mentioned was the most important jumping off point, but the other time that it really had a huge moment in the sun is last year’s Evo [2015], when John Hardin worked with Atlus to actually get us an official side tournament, with Atlus streaming it. That was just crazy media for us at the time. The tournament was great; it was really exciting, everyone loved it. The company was happy with it, John was happy with it, and since then it’s been more on my mind as a competitive game again.

There was a lull of 2 years when I didn’t really have anyone to play with, and now in the last 2 months what has really brought the community back to life is Toph from the Smash community getting involved. He’s been able to use his stunning media presence to get the game going again and people excited about it, especially since the game has so many parallels to Smash Bros Melee. Smash players are actually loving it, which has been kind of surprising to me. Nintendude wants to pick it up, Toph is already second best in the world. There’s MikeMuscles. But mostly when I talk to people about this game, it’s an air of respect instead of, like, memes now.

So as far as I’ve been able to tell, it seems like Northern California is still the epicenter of current goings-on, although I gather Australia also had a big scene.

Australia was once the most active scene in Catherine, and I was able to rise above that in 2015 probably just because of the amount of time that I’d spent with the game. But with 2016 it was a different atmosphere. I think the level of play that NorCal has risen to in this tournament has been really dominant, and when one watches the tournament footage from this last Evo, I think that’s really apparent.

Catherine's Evo 2015 debut was a great success for Atlus, the game, and the community.
Catherine’s Evo 2015 debut was a great success for Atlus, the game, and the community.

We’re kind of still in like 2007-era Melee, where it’s very obvious that we’re not using a vast majority of the tech in this game, and NorCal is finally starting to push into some of the really powerful stuff. And leveraging that, it just wasn’t possible for a lot of people to fight us in any meaningful way. So in that regard, yes, I think NorCal is becoming the main center of Catherine, and with the help from people like Toph and companies like Twitch, we’re actually starting to get a local scene and we may actually have local tournaments routinely now. We have so many people interested in the game up here that it can be its own living community.

And I do hope to see more of that. But you also bring up a good point, which is that there are a fair number of fighting game elements in Catherine‘s versus mode, and it seems like a lot of the people who really take to the game are also already involved in the competitive fighting game scene, yourself included. Does that seem to be the most common access point for most people?

So there are two major access points. If you like puzzle games, obviously that’s what most people go to Catherine for. If anyone hasn’t played the single-player mode, it’s truly phenomenal. Incredibly well-polished experience, the puzzles are really interesting and open, it’s just a really cool game.

But in the competitive mode, it’s actually more of a fighting game than a puzzle game. Which is weird, and a lot of people are resistant to that. I actually had a huge Twitter conversation about this today—about how it actually has more parallels to a fighting game, where it has combos, option selects, reversals, spacing, footsies, reactions, just down the list. You interact with your opponent more in a way that’s in line with fighting games than competitive puzzle games like Tetris, or Puzzle Fighter, or Puyo Puyo. It has a real arena where you physically interact with your opponent in real space; so it’s weird, but when people stop thinking of it as a puzzle game and think of it as a fighting game, they do better.

The perfect reference is the current 2nd-in-the-world player, Kris Aldenderfer, Toph. He said today that he remembers the moment he stopped thinking of it as a puzzle game, and he experienced a dramatic improvement in his performance.

Fighting games are such a hard thing to get into, it makes me wonder whether or not some people might go the reverse route. Catherine has a sort of—I guess maybe it’s a little easier to understand, it’s a little less visually confusing. So especially with good commentary, it makes me wonder whether some people might be able to find their way into fighting games through Catherine.

Yeah, absolutely. I’m very confident that Catherine is a gateway drug to fighting games. I have a lot of friends that have never played any fighting game competitively, have never shown interest in it, and they would love to learn Catherine. And it’s this—you’re right, it’s really disarming. This game is so adorable, so beautiful, so compelling that people who don’t enjoy anything about fighting games still see it and say, “This is something I want to be a part of.”

I think this is compounded by the fact that the community is really fun-loving and open and full of good, high-quality entertainment. It really is a powerful force to get people into fighting games.

Victory often comes from player death, but climbing to the top remains a viable strategy for those who know how to build!
Victory often comes from player death, but climbing to the top remains a viable strategy for those who know how to build!

That’s definitely been the case for me, as while I love fighting games and I love watching them, I don’t have the time to get good at them. But seeing the Catherine stuff, it’s like, there’s this part of my brain at work here that’s putting the pieces together.

Yeah. Something to add to that, though: we are discovering that Catherine has a surprisingly high tech ceiling. Like I said earlier, this is kind of like the 2007 Melee era, where we’re still just discovering what’s possible, just starting to look at the frame data for the first time, just starting to look at the data for the spawn rates. This information is going to dramatically affect the way that we end up playing Catherine, in a way that goes beyond just the intuitive top level.

Instead of spending several hours explaining all the tech, I can point you to the forums. This is where we’re gonna be posting all the tech. As well as the Discord link. These are the two main places people are going to be talking about the tech.

So this kind of leads me into—do you think Atlus had any idea how good the competitive game actually was?

Absolutely not. (laughs)

(laughs) I think the logistical and budgetary problems would have kept Catherine from ever getting any online multiplayer regardless, but I guess I was always curious whether they had any idea what they were sitting on or not.

I’m speculating, but my guess is completely not. However, the more we dig into this, the more evidence of love exists towards what they have done with the competitive element. We’re discovering that the block spawn rates are different on different stages, the stages themselves are incredibly developed, so you can tell that someone made these with a lot of love, a lot of attention to balance.

So that brings me back to this year. It seems like Atlus didn’t officially bring Catherine to Evo this year like it did in 2015. I’m not totally clear on that, but the stream seemed like it wasn’t quite of the same quality—

Yes, that is correct. We had to support ourselves. And it wasn’t because Atlus didn’t want to host us, they just had other things to take care of. So we did host our own stream. We ran it off of Ghoul02’s channel. He and PXTfD were able to bring a desktop and support their own stream and purchase exhibitor wi-if, and we were able to stream it off the back of the community. So that is greatly appreciated.

We’re all very thankful. Do you think there’s any chance of Atlus coming back and hosting it officially again?

My relationship with Atlus is still great, they still love us, and I expect them to be back at some point in the future.

I certainly hope so. Despite them not having direct involvement this time around, it was still a really popular event, #CatherineEvo2016 was trending on Twitter, and everyone’s love of the game was evident. So is there anything the community should be doing to help it move forward?

The most important thing is for everyone to get roots in a local scene. The literal most important thing is to have at least one person that you can play the game with, and since net play doesn’t exist, it’s difficult in a lot of places.

But we have people who are starting to do this. Strongbad is joining Ghoul in Texas. Mekasue is going home to Japan to hopefully get in contact with other people. He’s expressed interest in translating to Japanese, so I’m going to be keeping tabs on that for sure. Me and Toph are working heavily in NorCal, trying to carve out a space in Twitch for Catherine, and so far that’s been working phenomenally well. We’re going to be looking at Catherine streams, trying to keep building the interest, building the understanding of advanced tactics. We just need to keep making more content and reminding people they can find their regions on the boards and the Discord, and the more that we connect people, the more we build those scenes, the more vibrant competition we’ll get, and the more this game will actually have roots.

The great reactions from competitors are part of what makes the game so watchable.
The great reactions from competitors are part of what makes the game so watchable.

The Catherine boards have been less active lately, but we’re going to be starting to add more to it now that we have some serious momentum.

I think the Catherine community should expect to double or triple in the next month or two based on the amount of mentions I’ve been getting, which is really inspiring.

Given that there is a lot of love for this game—it has, by and large, been a critical darling, and even though it’s a smaller title, plenty of people have enjoyed it—do you really think that there’s a chance we can get enough eyeballs on the competitive scene to actually get us a sequel?

That is literally what I want to do. That’s the most important thing I could possibly make happen with this community, and I know a lot of people are behind that. I’m going to keep knocking on John Hardin’s door until we get it. For me, it’s not an if, it’s a when. And if we can’t get a sequel within the next couple years, we’re gonna make our own, I swear.

I think it needs a champion and it hasn’t had enough of them over these last few years. It’s a fantastic game that really deserves another shot.

So that about does it for me unless you have anything you want to add at the tail end here.

I wanted to once again give a shout-out to Toph, because he’s really the most important driving force in these last several months. He was like, “You know what man, I’ve loved Catherine for a long time and I’ve never been in the community, can we just play matches?” And when we started playing he got so invested in it, and he was able to show so many more people this love for the game.

And one more for PXTfD and Ghoul for running the Catherine stream at Evo, because this was a very important stream, and this footage is absolutely a piece of the Catherine history, and if we had lost that it would have been felt by the community for sure. So thank you to both of them as well, and everyone else that showed up and threw down at Evo and are trying to find local scenes. I promise I’ll keep helping everyone do that, and we’ll go forward with it!

Dacidbro won in a close match against Toph in 2016, but next year could be a whole different story.
Dacidbro won in a close match against Toph in 2016, but next year could be a whole different story.

Competitive Catherine has been making itself known lately, and the momentum just keeps moving forward. We can’t wait to see more, and get our hands on—here’s hoping!—that theoretical (inevitable?) Catherine 2.

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