Vol. 1, Issue 47 - Interview with The Cave of Dragonflies
In our final feature of the year, we are proud to be sharing an interview with Dragonfree of The Cave of Dragonflies, a classic Pokémon website with a long history dating back to the early 2000s
Welcome to Issue 47 of the Johto Times! We hope that everyone who celebrated had a wonderful Christmas with their loved ones. In our penultimate issue of the year, we are delighted to be sharing an interview with Dragonfree from The Cave of Dragonflies. I am proud to say that I have a close connection with the website as an affiliate in the mid 2000s when I ran my own Pokémon fan website, and she has kindly been involved with editing Johto Times. I am proud to be highlighting a long-running and highly respected website, and the great work Dragonfree has done with The Cave of Dragonflies throughout the years, and I hope you will enjoy it!
Subscribers can expect a special Johto Times issue in their inboxes this Sunday, December 31st 2023 at 14:00 UTC, as we recap our year and look back at the content we have featured, as well as my own personal thoughts on the future of the newsletter. The newsletter will then return to its regular schedule, every Thursday at the usual time of 14:00 UTC.
Feature: Interview with The Cave of Dragonflies
The Cave of Dragonflies (TCoD) is a Pokémon fan website with a large variety of useful information, theories, opinions, and original content. The website was founded on November 2nd 2002 as “Butterfree's Pokémon Site”. It is managed and maintained solely by its webmistress Dragonfree, and has been active and online since its creation.
Disclaimer: I should point out that at the time of writing, Dragonfree also proofreads content for Johto Times, and we first became friends in the mid 2000s when my own Pokémon fan website was an affiliate of TCoD.
Dragonfree, please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us about why you decided to create The Cave of Dragonflies in the first place.
Hi! I’m known as Butterfree, Dragonfree or antialiasis, and when I was twelve years old, I decided to create a Pokémon website, which I’m still running today at thirty-three, because I’m a very stubborn and nostalgic person.
The notion of creating a Pokémon website was something that first sparked in my head when I first started browsing the internet for Pokémon websites back in 2001. Back then, there were loads of personal websites created by random hobbyists on any topic you could imagine, and it was a wild world out there. I discovered a website I absolutely loved called Mew’s Hangout and just hung out there reading all the pages, following the tutorials, chatting with other kids in the old-school guestbook, and I wanted to make a site that was as great as that one. But I also found a lot of badly-made websites full of errors, which were no less important in inspiring me: knowing that I could definitely do better than that gave me confidence.
My dad is a programmer, and he’d already taught my older brother a little about how to make websites with basic HTML; once he’d taught me a bit of the same, I created the first prototype version of a few of the pages I would want to put on my Pokémon website, and later I worked up the courage to ask him to teach me how to make proper layouts and help me actually get my site up on the internet. I was kind of shy about asking him about it at the time, because I thought he’d think it was dumb that it was about Pokémon. But being a cool and sensible adult, he couldn’t care less about that and just thought it was very cool that I was following in his programming footsteps, so he was always very supportive.
TCoD has a wealth of content that you’ve written throughout the years, such as guides, reviews, opinion pieces and quizzes. What inspires you to create content?
It varies a lot! My content is a little haphazard, because I tend to follow wherever inspiration strikes rather than focusing on one particular thing, and I have a pretty wide range of interests. So a lot of my game content is simply stuff that struck me as something I found myself wanting to have when I played the game. Sometimes I’ll take an interest in some game mechanic, take a deep dive into understanding it, and then produce an article with thousands of words of enthusiastic explanation of how it works and derived mathematical formulas. Sometimes I’ll just decide I have strong opinions on the Pokémon movies so I want to write them up in detailed reviews of them all. Sometimes I’ll happen to notice something like how there were exactly 365 non-legendary Pokémon in the first three generations, so obviously I had to make a zodiac, assigning one Pokémon to each day of the year. And then I’ll turn around and write a fanfic about my unprocessed feelings about boxing my Butterfree in my Yellow playthrough at level 28 when it’d started lagging behind my other Pokémon, because that was just what my brain wanted to do at that moment.
A lot of my inspiration, though, comes from wanting to improve upon what’s already out there. One of my most popular pages, the Favorite Pokémon Picker, was something I made because I’d seen a tool that was similar in concept but found its execution a bit lacking - it took an age to get a result because you were always comparing just two Pokémon at a time, and when I finally got my result, it gave me a top ten but places 2-10 were simply whatever had been eliminated last, meaning they were significantly skewed by the random order of which matchups came last. That made me start thinking about how I would do a tool like that, and I came up with this idea of presenting many Pokémon at a time and an algorithm keeping track of previous eliminations so that you could continue narrowing down your next favorites in an accurate manner, far more quickly than if you had to do the whole thing over.
One item from the website that I enjoyed, and took me back to the good ol’ days of Pokémon fan websites, is the “What Pokémon Are You?” quiz (my result was Butterfree). What is your favourite piece of content on TCoD, and why?
I think the stuff I’m most proud of is some of my game mechanics research and explainers. Back in 2011 when I first put up my analysis of the R/B/Y capture routine, nobody knew that how often the ball wobbles on the screen was a deterministic representation of your approximated odds of succeeding! There was one website, Ultimate Pokémon Center, that had an analysis of the algorithm, but it had a significant oversight in it and didn’t include the wobble calculation, and it didn’t really analyze or report on the implications of the algorithm at all. So I was reporting on how this really worked for the first time ever - the way capture odds max out at ⅓ HP and lowering it further does nothing, the fact Great Balls are better sometimes, the way that the best way to capture legendaries is just status and Ultra Balls, the way “The ball missed the POKéMON!” just means you have a <10% chance of capturing it. I hyperfixated on this for days, deriving a formula and analyzing its behaviour and drawing diagrams, and the article even wound up getting featured on Hacker News, driving a hilarious amount of traffic for a little while. Likewise, when I looked into R/B/Y stat modification in 2014, this stuff hadn’t yet been fully documented anywhere before (though speedrunners had worked out some of it), to my knowledge. And while the R/B/Y RNG and its implications for capturing were documented by others before me, I wrote it up to be comprehensible by laymen and with more diagrams. I just get very excited about making cool diagrams and interactive graphs of game mechanics.
There’s too much other stuff I’m deeply fond of to count, though. Like the time I made a Scyther dating sim for an April Fools’ Day joke. And I still have enormous nostalgia for the Marquee of Doom, a test of the visitor’s patience that I originally made in 2003. It’s ridiculous but it’s a treasured piece of my childhood.
Despite the decline in forums over the years, TCoD has an active community with over 3,200 members and almost 550,000 posts at the time of writing this interview. How would you describe your community?
I really wouldn’t call it very active these days, but it’s still shambling along with occasional posts from a few regulars and newcomers every now and then, plus now playing host to a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon forum RPG for some of my friends. Back in the day, though, it was a pretty thriving community that hosted some spirited debates and greatly entertaining mafia games, apparently helped multiple people realize and come to terms with being LGBTQ, and sparked many long-lasting friendships and even marriages.
Your website has been an opportunity for you to share your artwork and fanfiction. Tell us about some of these creative endeavours and the ones you are most proud of.
The site still has a gallery of sprite edits, which were mostly made for a very popular request thread that I ran on the PokéMasters forums in 2003-5 or so - started back when hardly anyone was doing that sort of thing and you could blow someone’s mind by making them a blue Charizard sprite. It’s an amusing thing to look back on!
These days I don’t do much spriting anymore, but I do still write fanfic! When I started the website in November 2002, I had already a few months earlier started a Pokémon fanfic, which I of course included on the site; it didn’t have a name yet back then, but soon came to be called The Quest for the Legends, and it was the kind of indulgently bonkers that you’d expect for a story cooked up by a twelve-year-old. And after a 2004 reboot, I completed that story in 2018, on its sixteenth anniversary. The first half of it is still bonkers, because even when the reboot happened I was fourteen and still sticking with a lot of my twelve-year-old self’s bizarre decisions (just as a taste, it still contains a legendary bird hybrid called Molzapart that I made up when I was eleven), but it is a completed 77-chapter trainer fic that slowly worked its way into being about complacency and mortality and responsibility, and I love it very much in spite of the various nonsense it retains from my child self.
Morphic is a very different sort of story, which I started in 2007, in that late-teens sort of desire to branch out and explore more mature topics and situations. It started out meant to be a very tongue-in-cheek dark comedy deconstruction of ‘Pokémorph’ stories, hence why the name is just a portmanteau of “morph fic”, but I am chronically unable to not develop and grow to care about characters as I write them, and once I care about them I start to want to put them through the wringer, so the story made its way slowly from black comedy to being brutally depressing by the time I completed it in 2010. I think it’s extremely flawed today (I’m almost physically unable to read the first few chapters, though it gets a lot better from about chapter seven or eight onwards), but the story and characters are still very dear to my heart and I’m currently working on rewriting it from scratch.
Then I’ve got a few recently-revised short stories, Butterfree (the aforementioned story about how I boxed my Butterfree on Yellow and I’m still not over it), Curse (a story that has apparently made multiple people swear off using the move Curse on their Pokémon games ever again), and Go (what if Pokémon Go became real and an anxious college student befriended a Pidgey). Butterfree is probably my proudest work as it stands; it was originally written in 2012, but fleshed out considerably in a series of revisions in 2020-2022.
Since 2016, I’ve been drawing something every day, and this year I decided to add some of the cover art I’ve drawn for my fanfics to the website. I’m still not a great artist, but keeping at it and challenging myself is an important part of improving at it, so stuff like fanfic cover art that motivates me to put real effort into a piece is simply useful for developing my skills. Most of my artwork never makes its way onto the website, though!
Outside of your work at Cave of Dragonflies, are there any other communities that you engage with?
My main Pokémon community hangout these days is the Thousand Roads fanfic-oriented forum and accompanying Discord server, which is a really positive and welcoming community with great in-depth discussions about writing. The aforementioned Pokémon Mystery Dungeon RPG, while hosted on my forums, is sort of its own tiny enclave and community of its own (though signups are unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future), and I’ve done a lot of programming and tooling for it.
I have both a personal Tumblr (antialiasis) where I post various rambling including thousands of words of analysis about musicals, and an art Tumblr (antialiart) where I post my daily drawings. As for outside of the Pokémon fandom, I also run a Tumblr blog where I translate and talk about Icelandic and Iceland (my home country) and another Tumblr blog where I’m still in the process of writing thousands of words about each episode of Breaking Bad.
On your website, you explain how you have been writing since you were a child, and that most of your writing these days is in the form of Pokémon fanfiction, with the hope of having your original work published someday. How has your love of Pokémon helped you get closer to achieving this goal?
I don’t quite think of my Pokémon fanfiction as a stepping stone towards that per se - I write fanfic simply because I want to write fanfic. Many other fanfic writers talk about wanting to eventually adapt their fanfic work into original fiction, but I’ve never had that drive - my Pokémon stories are unapologetically meant to be about Pokémon, and my original fiction is something I have been churning away separately in parallel, not as a ‘next step’. Even if I do get a book published, I expect to continue to write Pokémon fanfic in my spare time.
However, writing (and reading) Pokémon fanfic has been enormously helpful in developing my writing skills generally! There are some excellent writers in the Pokémon fandom writing very gripping and extremely creative stories, and the fanfic communities I’ve been part of have had a great culture of constructive critique and thoughtful discussion about the craft that has been extremely beneficial to developing my writing. It’s a lot of fun to look back on how my writing developed and improved over the years!
You have been working on TCoD for twenty-one years at the time of interview. What is your secret to creating a long-lasting Pokémon community?
Be very stubborn. Broadly, the only one who can make you stop doing it is you. You can make anything last as long as you want, if you’re just willing to refuse to quit!
This is, of course, advice for those who are mostly concerned with what they’re creating and putting out there. That doesn’t necessarily equate to popularity or large followings or big communities. Perhaps one of my best pieces of advice is just to try not to be chasing after that and simply do the stuff that you love and stick with it anyway. I used to have a bigger following than I do today, back when these sorts of smaller, more personal websites were more common and were a bigger part of the broader Pokémon community, but I’m extremely content with just continuing to do what I love and having it be enjoyed by whoever is around to enjoy it. And with delightful regularity, I get e-mails or guestbook posts from people telling me that they used to visit my website when they were kids fifteen years ago and they’re so thrilled it’s still there and still being updated - and that makes my day every time. Find pleasure in the little things, in the joy that you can spark in individual people’s day, rather than fixating on numbers, and it’s a lot easier to keep going without getting dispirited.
What do you think the legacy of your website will be?
Back in the day, I know that TCoD inspired a lot of other kids to make their own Pokémon websites. (The Marquee of Doom from 2003 inspired dozens of imitators in the years following!) Most of those websites are of course long gone - but I know of multiple people who have told me they have careers in programming today because of the websites that they made following my HTML guide. That’s something pretty special.
I imagine even if I hadn’t written about the R/B/Y capture routine and stat modification, their idiosyncrasies would have eventually been documented anyway once the pokered disassembly project got there - but I like to think I helped get a lot more layman eyes on these fascinating mechanics (Eurogamer contacted me about my R/B/Y capture mechanics article and did a popular video on it once), and made them a bit more accessible generally, which might not sound like much, but it matters a great deal to me because I’m very passionate about game mechanics.
But also, the Favorite Pokémon Picker is by far the most popular feature on the website these days. YouTube has a fair number of videos by now of people going through the picker and thinking out loud about their opinions on the Pokémon they pick, I regularly encounter people sharing it, and I’m still regularly helping others who want to make their own non-Pokémon favorite pickers (I’ve open-sourced the base functionality on GitHub with instructions). Heck, there’s even a new tool that’s been going around, the “Ultimate Favorite Pokémon Picker”, which seems to be effectively someone creating their idea of an improvement/variation upon the concept the same way I created mine as an improvement on a previous concept (the idea there is that you pick your favorite of each type in each generation and then pick an overall favorite from each type/generation out of those, ending up with a big grid of your favorites in different categories rather than an ordered list), which really tickles me. Inspiring other people to create new things is a lovely legacy to have.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Do you have any final comments you would like to make?
Thank you for the interview! I’ve been thrilled to be a small part of this newsletter and it’s an honor to be featured in it.
To anyone out there who misses old-school websites like mine, you can still make one! Neocities.org lets you host an ad-free static site for free, if you just want to experiment and try it out. Personal websites are a bit of a dying art form these days, but it’s one I’m still very passionate about, and I’m always thrilled to see new unique little Pokémon websites cropping up.
We want to thank Dragonfree for taking the time to speak to us about The Cave of Dragonflies, and wish her the very best of luck with the website, and her creative endeavours in the years to come! You can check out the website and its social media pages on the links below:
Website: The Cave of Dragonflies