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Goomwave: Making the Most Hated Controller in Smash Bros.

How the controller that revolutionized SSB-Melee came to be.

Wren Romero

Apr 27, 2023


E-sports history was made in a Super Smash Bros. Melee match at a hotel conference center in Dearborn, Michigan. The deciding match at the October 2016 Big House 6 national tournament pits Darrell, a top 100 player from California, against Goomy, an upstart from Colorado playing in his first supermajor.


Aside from the high stakes, excitement brewed because both players are using Samus, the power armor-wearing bounty hunter from the Metroid franchise. In competitive Melee, very few players use Samus, and that might owe in part to the bizarre techniques she requires at the highest level of play. But Darrell and Goomy are two of the best, and nearly every exchange of the match is eyepopping.


In one moment, Goomy extends Samus’ electric whip more than twice its normal limit to curve it down to grab Darrell. A moment later, Darrell slides and then pivots to unleash a fully charged counterattack on Goomy while he’s exposed. For spectators, it’s remarkable; but for these veterans of the character, it’s pedestrian.


Except for what Goomy does next, which shocks everyone in the venue.

The Goomy Zoomy, VGBootcamp


The commentators can't believe it. Even more surprising, Goomy, who is notoriously deadpan in demeanor, cracks a smile.

Meet Jonah, AKA Goomy

The player we know as Goomy is an introverted young man named Jonah, the kind of person who listens to classical and metal and hears the intricate patterns that make music out of noise. His mind and hands are always busy. Some nights he'll set himself to fretting over a riff on his guitar, transposing Mozart into heavy metal. Other nights, he'll do the reverse, sitting at a piano to turn sludge rock into a concerto. The son of an electrical engineer, he sees math and systems where other people see chaos.


For Jonah, Melee is the perfect mix of order and disorder: breakneck speed and chaotic violence tempered by methodical practice. Today’s glitch is tomorrow’s tech, and no character embodies that more than Samus, the character Jonah mains. Jonah dreams of winning a supermajor like The Big House with Samus. He has other dreams, sure – stop climate change with CO2 recapture devices; solve quantum computing – but no one has even come close to winning a supermajor with Samus. So Goomy has been cooking up some new tricks to break out in bracket – tricks like the one he just landed on Darrell.

Building a controller to nail the Goomy Zoomy every time


Perfecting the Goomy Zoomy took four months of drilling the maneuver at quarter speed—but that was the easy part. The hard part is what set in motion Goomy’s rise to infamy, his downfall in Melee circles, and a total transformation of his life. That is, finding the controller that would perform the Goomy Zoomy with any consistency.


"I would literally buy 100 controllers at a time and test every single one of them," Jonah says. This isn't uncommon for Melee players. Eventually he would test 200 controllers before he found the perfect weapon. But like all controllers, it was doomed to die. When it did, he would have to test another 200 controllers.


PODE is the problem and the solution


"The problem is we're playing a game competitively that was never designed to be played like it is, "Goomy explains. “Controllers have insane amounts of natural variations due to wear and manufacturing differences. Some of them are naturally going to be able to do certain competitive techniques better.”


Goomy's OEM controller, like all other OEMs, has a lifecycle. Even that one-in-200 controller will eventually decay until it is no longer perfect. In Melee circles, this is called PODE, or Potentiometer Oddity Degradation Effect. The best controllers have just the right amount of PODE. Eventually, too much PODE kills every controller.



PODE visualized, by @Kodano

For Jonah, building a controller with just the right amount of PODE became a problem to solve with engineering.

Recreating the perfect amount of PODE in a custom controller


Looking back, Jonah sees the process of developing Goomwave as a long series of missteps, setbacks, and difficulties. But in the beginning, he wanted to end the controller lottery, which he saw as a nightmarish barrier to entry for new players hoping to play Melee competitively.


Initially, the goal was to discover or invent a way to keep a controller within that Goldilocks range of PODE: not too much, not too little. To this end, Jonah started with the hardware. He tried to eliminate PODE by unclipping the potentiometer. He tried switching potentiometers between controllers. In a cartoonish burst of inspiration, he invented a machine to slap the control stick several times a second to try and manually wear down potentiometers and induce PODE that way. None of these methods were consistent enough, so Jonah decided to attack the problem at the software level.


Using Smashscope, a software he had helped test, Jonah was able to see inside the black box of Melee, visualizing what the game saw when a controller was given an input. Smashscope allowed him to visualize PODE in order to recreate it. He already knew what it felt like as a player, so all that was left to do was to emulate that feel at a software level.

Demonstration of potentiometer inputs in Smashscope, Goomysmash

Alongside his work on PODE calibration, Jonah decided to implement other features onto the Goomwave. He created a module that gave perfect snapbacks to dashing techniques, a software toggle that enabled dashing out of a crouch and added notches to the thumb sticks to give players a precise feel for directional inputs.

His thinking, he remembers, was “if you are doing the exact same input on different controllers, I believe you should get the exact same result.” True PODE emulation, however, remained elusive. But after four years of controller testing and a year of learning motherboards, Jonah had completed a state machine that could recreate lottery-winning levels of PODE.


Jonah cobbled together the first Goomwave DX prototype from cables and buttons and circuits ordered as samples from Chinese wholesalers. It did exactly what Jonah needed it to: perfect snapbacks, perfect techs, perfect Zoomy. He had built a lottery-winning Melee controller. But what next?


Sitting in the house he shared with co-developers, Jonah agonized over his next steps. In retrospect, Jonah thinks his next decision was a mistake. He was young, inexperienced in business, and his partners were even more so. From their perspective, if the controller worked, every day they waited they fell further into debt and further from launch.


So, Jonah pulled the trigger and introduced Goomwave DX on his YouTube channel. He outlined the features of the controller and announced that pre-orders were open. Within days, he had sold 2,500 controllers. When the payments came in, “I could no longer turn back.”

Scaling a business is harder than it looks

By his own recollection, Jonah says the actual business launch was an absolute catastrophe. He knew he was in trouble when the first full batch of parts arrived.


The test batches had been perfect, but with the big shipment, one in every four parts was defective—cables, buttons, and cases—everything. Even the microchips had a bizarre, previously undetected bug caused by a rare fabrication mistake. Replacing the parts cost Jonah and the team nearly all of the profit they might have made. Jonah had no choice but to delay hundreds of orders.


Among those controllers that did reach the public, software problems started to crop up. The controller didn’t have a USB port which made it difficult to patch. Even when nothing was wrong with the controller, the documentation for configuring it was so inadequate that many users accidentally changed settings causing them to think they bricked their controller with no hope of repair.

The one bright spot in this disaster was that players were using their Goomwave controllers in tournaments and having stellar results - but even this brought more trouble. Along with the problems in the hardware and software of Goomwave DX, a third problem arose: for some, the Goomwave gave an unfair competitive advantage, and critics proposed banning the controller altogether.

“Tarnishing the integrity” of competitive Melee


One critic who weighed in on the fairness of Goomwave DX was Michael Brancato, now the director of esports at, who wrote in an article called “Melee’s Controller Dilemma,” that the Goomwave DX was accelerating the “controller arm’s race,” and “tarnishing the competitive integrity of several tournaments.” Another critic, Hax, a competitor best known for his work on leverless controllers (that is, controllers which use buttons instead of joysticks, also known as “boxes,” or “rectangles,”) released a video discussing the legality of Goomwave and Phob controllers in which he joined Brancato in criticizing the inclusion of PODE emulation on the Goomwave DX. Even Leffen chimed in on whether or not the Goomwave should be banned.


For Jonah, these critiques confirmed his suspicions. “Hearing calls for it to be banned just feels like further evidence the entire project failed in its original goal of solving controller inconsistencies for people.”


And when asked if he considers himself a success, he replies: “I try not to think in terms of whether I'm successful or not.”


Retreat from the Melee scene


The critical test of Goomwave’s legitimacy came when legendary players like Mang0 and Zain started using Goomwaves in tournament runs and sharing their thoughts on the controller. When discussing the Goomwave relative to other controllers, Leffen considered it the most reliable of all the stick-based controllers, and essentially the gold standard, despite its flaws.


In other words, Jonah had made the best competitive controller available, and ultimately, calls to ban Goomwave died down. But the troubled launch had exhausted Jonah, financially, physically, and emotionally. The storm of controversy led him to retreat from public life. Jonah disappeared from Discord, Youtube, Twitter, and even from major tournaments. Recovering from the Goomwave launch meant abandoning the dream of winning a supermajor with Samus.


Despite all that, Jonah still believes in Melee. While he’s a national villain to some, he’s still just Goomy when he shows up to play at his local tournaments, and he’s as excited as ever about technological developments in Melee. His hope for the future of the game is that by patching the software of the game and console, and by upgrading the adapters used by the controller – players will be able to bypass the controller lottery altogether, playing on any given OEM as though it were one of the 1-in-200 level controllers that Jonah once fought to find and replicate.


With the technical failures, commercial tribulation, and social ostracization behind him, Jonah is able to look back at the silver linings. “Goomwave means a lot to me,” he says. “It was the first time I felt I really finished something hard almost completely on my own.”

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Wren Romero

Wren Romero is an art school dropout, fighting game scrub, incorrigible drifter, and the most corrupt jester in games journalism. You can find them on social media @CUIDAD


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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

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