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Interview with Shirts

Interview Date: February 2012
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Combat Designer at SCEA
Years Playing SF2: 16
Main Character: Guile/Dhalsim (HF), O. Dhalsim (ST)
Other Characters: Zangief, Vega; "high level" in quotes.
Favorite Fighting Game: SF2CE, Super Turbo
Other Fighting Games: HF, A2, A3, MK2, CVS2, SF4, MK9
Weapon of Choice: American arcade bat sticks (back in the day), TE stick (today).

Shirts getting ready for one of his big matches at EVO 2008.

STR: It has to be asked. How did you get the name Shirts?

Shirts: I’ve always been ultra-competitive with any kind of competition dating back from 1st grade when I cried when I lost the math flashcard contest. (I really did, and I remember it vividly). So I know the fire has always been inside. But it took the play style of Jason “DreamTR” Wilson to bring out the rage. As you may know his play style is “annoying. He was one of my most difficult opponents in ST, A2, A3 because of his play style and also because we played each other so many countless nights at his house. He knew my tendencies and I knew his. So on a very hot summer night in North Hollywood, CA, I went over Wilson s house for an ST practice session. It was scorching, so I wore my Hanes white tank top. Not sure if the heat contributed to the frustration, but I was getting very frustrated that night; mainly because Wilson was streaking on me. It s not the streaks alone that would piss me off, but the little gestures he d make while playing. You know what gestures I m talking about, right? You know when you re getting more and more confident in playing against your opponent and you get in that zone, it seems like you can do no wrong. Then you start exaggerating your button presses and the follow throughs of your motions. See, that s what I referred to as Indirect Taunting. That really used to tick me off. And probably would still today, but I m old and don t really play anymore. But anyways, after one of the matches I lost, I took a deep breath, and without even thinking about it, I grabbed the collar of my tank top with both hands and just went for it. I did the Hulk Hogan on my wife beater. It was seriously one of the most amazing feelings ever. If you ve never ripped your shirt out of frustration, you are missing out. You will feel like a new man after that. I kid you not. But the key is to do it in the heat of the moment so you can release all of your frustrations onto your shirt. It is truly a victimless crime. So, every now and then after that, yes, I did rip my wife beaters. They were inexpensive and easy to rip. I used to go down to the local Costco and just stock up whenever I knew I was going to Wilson s house for a ST session. There was one time I wore a very expensive shirt during a Wilson ST session, but I said, Screw it and went for the rip anyways. I didn t really discriminate back then. (I actually have a picture of that somewhere.) But there was one time I was wearing my favorite shirt, so instead I ripped one of my pants pockets. That was the first and last time that I ripped a pants pocket. Nowadays, I m past the frustration and usually just pound my fist into my hand if I get mad. But those days are few and far between because I m more aware of my frustration and know how to handle releasing it.

STR: Can you remember your first experience with Street Fighter and/or ST?

Shirts: My very first ever experience with Street Fighter was around early 1993 with World Warrior. I first played World Warrior at a Lamppost Pizza in Riverside, CA. They had a very small arcade room where all the local kids used to go to play. I used to always get beat up by these younger kids but I still enjoyed playing. Street Fighter had that affect on you. In particular, the motions required to do special moves such as Ryu’s fireball was something I wanted to master and something that did keep me up at night when I was younger. Another early experience with SF was at Castle Park in Riverside, CA. I don t remember much other than getting beat up by some local Ken players. They were more advanced here, doing the classic Ken triple fierce shoryuken combo. My first arcade experience with Street Fighter 2 Turbo (HF) was at donut shop near my house in Montebello, CA. They had weekly tournaments where your name would go onto a plaque on the wall. I never entered them though. This is where I first heard the name Mike Watson and how he was unstoppable and unbeatable. The donut shop players said he played at a place called World s Finest Comics . So I had to check that place out. My first experience with actual ST was at World Finest Comics in Pico Rivera, CA. As you know this was arguably the birthplace of the So. Cal SF scene. This is where I first heard of Mike Watson, Apoc, George Ngo, Jabari Bain, Bob Painter, Steve Warwick and many others. I actually started playing MK2 there first before ST. At World s Finest Comics I was actually known for my MK2 prowess instead of ST. Playing at World s made me better in ST eventually. Then from there, I migrated over to Pak-Mann arcade in Pasadena, CA where there was a big ST scene which included many players from World s Finest Comics like Mike Watson, Jabari Bain, etc.

Old school photo from the famous Southern Hills Golfland.

STR: I remember some of my most memorable battles were against you at Southern Hills Golfland. I have some great memories of going to tournaments there but what was it like playing regularly at such a famous arcade with all those incredible players there?

Shirts: Our matches were pretty epic. I wish there was video footage of them. Most of ours took place at either Camelot or SHGL. They either came down to me zoning you out or you pressuring me in the corner. It never got old though! I guess I started coming to SHGL during the 2nd era. Right when Jason “DreamTR” Wilson moved from Chicago to So. Cal, I met up with him and we started going to either Family Fun Arcade in Granada Hills or SHGL in Stanton, CA. I actually started playing A2 the majority of times there, but if anyone was on the ST machine, of course I jumped on that. There were a lot of great memories at SHGL. From playing San Francisco Rush to random beat em up games to Street Fighter, it was all amazing. When you came to SHGL, you were just one of many. There were so many killers in one little room there, it was ridiculous. I’m not lying when I say every time I opened the doors to the arcade at SHGL, I would get goose bumps . I drove 50 miles every weekend to play the best players in California and arguably in the U.S. That s how dedicated I was for ST back then. Not many people know this, but I was so dedicated to ST that one day MrWizard aka Joey Cuellar said if I jump in the SHGL fountain he would throw a ST tourney that very night. I think I placed 2nd in that tourney.

STR: Are you familiar with the Japanese ST scene? What are your thoughs on their scene and players?

Shirts: I’m not entirely familiar with the “names” of the Japanese ST scene, but I did get a chance to play some of the very old school guys last September when I traveled to Japan for vacation/Tokyo Game Show. Although I was rusty, it was a stark reminder that these guys are above and beyond more precise than any other ST players I’ve played against. The fact that they still play regularly and religiously is a testament to the game s design as well as the scene in japan.

STR: You were known for your Old Dhalsim but you did play New Dhalsim as well. What attracted you to play Dhalsim and why Old Dhalsim when virtually every great Dhalsim player used New Dhalsim?

Shirts: I started playing Old Dhalsim for one reason only: I didn’t like to worry about controlling limbs. Maybe because back in the day I didn t fully understand controlling limbs. Maybe because I was just too lazy. I don t know for sure, I just know that I always picked the old version. Possibly because I used to use him in CE and HF. I just wanted to play . I didn’t want to add another layer of complication by having to remember when to press forward, backward or neutral. I liked having the fewest options available for attacking/countering. It allowed me to focus more on footsies and mind game. Sure, I was very limited with Old Dhalsim, no doubt. I couldn t tech throw, I had no super, and had only 1 angle of drill. So during some matchups it does make me much more predictable. But I relished the opportunity to beat someone with Old Dhalsim since I was limiting myself (on purpose?). Maybe that s the way it figured itself out, but I liked playing a character virtually no one (at the time) played. I don t even think most people knew how to select him. As for New Dhalsim, I did switch to him in 2008 just to “try” him out. I was sick of hearing Jason Cole talk trash all these years about me playing Old Dhalsim. I trained with new sim for about 6 months on GGPO then proceeded to place 7th at Evo 2008. I choked big time against Choi in the final 8, but I was more or less happy with my performance. I pretty much tried to play New Dhalsim like Old Dhalsim, but had tech throws and a super in my back pocket. I’m sure most ST players take these tools for granted since most people don’t play “Old” characters, but for me it was still eye opening.

Shirts vs Jason Nelson from B4 Championships.

STR: What area would you recommend new / intermediate players to work on to improve their game?

Shirts: Well, since the amount of resources available for learning and practice are vast –GGPO, YouTube, interviews like these–the key is to just practice and seek out competition where players are better than you. And from my limited experience on GGPO, that is the ultimate place to play this game today. Back in the day, however, I had the luxury of having one of the best practice partners in Jason “DreamTR” Wilson. He could play every character at an annoy–uh, high level. I learned many of the match ups just by playing him and playing TONS of matches hours on end at his house in the valley. What sucked for him I only really played one character –Old Dhalsim– so all he got out of it was Dhalsim practice. Often times another top ST player you may have never heard about Jabari Bain would come by and play with us. At any point in time, Jabari could go on streaks against Wilson or me. He was that good. He was just known to choke a bit in tourneys so that s why you don t hear Jabari s name brought up when it comes to top players. But trust me, he had the potential to beat anyone during the peak years of ST. My best piece of advice would be to find the character that best suits your style/feel and stick with him. Even in this game of counter picking, the feeling of overcoming a counter pick is one of the best feelings out there. I can t reiterate this enough: find competition that is better than you. Beating up on your friends is not going to get you better. Doing the same strategy, win or lose, is not going to make you better.

Shirts vs Jumpsuit Jesse from EVO 2002.

STR: What are some common mistakes or bad habits that you see players do that they should eliminate to improve their game?

Shirts: Not learning fundamentals! Sure, you have all this vast sea of information and resources at your fingertips, but that usually lends to X-Copying. You have to breakdown and analyze the matches not just copy tactics for the sake of copying tactics. Learning how to move your character and block properly should be the first thing you master. Next, you want to learn what punishes what. Only then should you work on mastering complex combos. I think this applies to any fighting game in general.

STR: How much time do you spend playing ST/Street Fighter these days and how much did you spend at your peak?

Shirts: Since I work incessantly, I rarely have time to play anything-let alone ST these days. I have tried to hit up Super Arcade every now and then in the past few months to get some ST practice in, but that s few and far between. At my peak, I played at least 20 hours a week, mostly at Jason DreamTR Wilson s house, Family Fun arcade in Granada Hills, Valle s house at times, SHGL, Camelot arcade in Anaheim or anywhere else there was ST competition.

STR: Is there a routine you do in order to get ready for a tournament?

Shirts: When I was in my “prime” my only routine would be to practice, practice, practice. You have to put in the time, plain and simple. When I knew I was going to travel to a major, I would always start practicing at least 6 months in advance. I would practice at least 2 to 3 hours a day during the week and then at least 5 hours on the weekend if not more. And then the week before the tournament I would actually stop playing. This helped me not to over do it in terms over thinking strategies and tactics. Since I m an instinctual player, the week off before a tourney helped me not to think about things and just trust my instincts.

Getting a little face time from EVO.

STR: Why do you think ST has had such longevity and popularity?

Shirts: Well, it s the last of the original series, so that really keeps its nostalgic factor up. That s definitely an appealing factor. Another reason is the counter-character factor. There s an overwhelming feeling of joy when you pick a character that is supposed to lose a match but you pull it out. Plus the game is so unforgiving and the matches are really fast, so the pace is something that you cannot find in any other fighting game. Another reason is HD Remix. This brought some new players that never played the older games into the mix. Now the HD Remix is practically dead, ST is under going this mini-revival.

STR: What do you think about HD Remix? SFIV?

Shirts: ST had/has longevity for almost two decades. I didn t see a need for a game like HD Remix. ST stood the test of time and was still going strong in some regards. It was the last of the pure games to some people. Some changes made sense, while others seemed really biased. ST didn t deserve that kind of treatment. A game like HD remix threw things out of whack and split the ST community unnecessarily. I wasn t a fan of the new art as it made me appreciate the old school sprites even more. However, I appreciate the effort of Sirlin and how it did help bring in some newer players to the ST scene. But as you can see firsthand, ST is alive and well and back to outliving even HD Remix. Pretty amazing actually.

Shirts and John Choi shake hands after their match at EVO 2k8.

STR: Who are the top 3 ST players in your opinion?

Shirts: Since I’ve been out of the latest ST Renaissance movement and only recently started getting back into ST, I can only go by recent news, videos, tourneys, etc. 1. AfroLegends – This guy turned into a big time beast and now seems to have everything in muscle memory even if he doesn’t get to play that often. I remember when I used to play his Deejay and didn’t have too much problems with him. But then, BAM!, not much longer after that, he became really difficult to the point he started getting streaks on me. I guess having Valle as a ST mentor helps. =) 2. Damdai – From what I’ve seen on videos and playing/watching him during my time in Japan last year, this guy really seems formidable. 3. Choi/Watson/Valle – Really biased here, but I think at anytime if they wanted to they could be back up at the top of this game. It’s really old hat for them, like riding a bike.

STR: Who would you say has been your toughest opponent or rival?

Shirts: Obviously I’ve faced so many tough opponents throughout the years of competing, so I’m just going to give a list of players that have pushed me to the limit or vice versa. Jason DreamTR: Wilson My practice partner for many years.. He knew how to play every character at very high level. Bob Painter: Amazing E.Honda battles. I learned the most of this matchup from playing BP. Valle: He never fell for my low forward, noogie non-combo. One of the few guys that would uppercut me out of this. Afrolegends: Went from beating his Deejay to one day finding it hard to go on a streak on him. This guy truly became a beast Mike Watson: He knows exactly how I play and can beat me with multiple characters. =( John Choi: The only guy that doesn t jump at me with Ryu. You would think Ryu would be an easy match for Old Dhalsim. Not when Choi played him. Mike Creque: Cammy is a real problem for Old Dhalsim. I have to play a perfect game to beat him. NKI: When he s on, he ll streak on me, but if I m on, I can do the same to him. Jabari Bain: The best player you have never heard of. We used to play at Pak-Man arcade back in the day. Jumpsuit Jesse: Crazy ass Fei Long. We played a lot of matches back in the day. Our matches went one of two ways: 1) He would nearly perfect me, or 2) I would nearly perfect him. I don t remember much of a middle ground. Living in Southern California, there were so many other tough opponents, it s hard to list them all here. So please forgive me if I missed anyone. James Romedy, DGV and his bro, Apoc, Jason Nelson, Jason Cole, Kuni, and so many more.

STR: What is your involvement with the Street Fighter / ST scene these days?

Shirts: Not much involvement anymore since I ve moved on into Career Mode. You have to choose between dedicating time to play and be good or advancing and becoming a better Career Guy. There is no time for both. I do have my impulses where I want to get back and playing ST, but that doesn t last long. So I am constantly amazing how people like you, do these things. I have spent some time uploading some vintage SF footage lately, so please check that out on my YouTube channel if you want to catch a glimpse of some early Evo/MWC touraments.

STR: What is the fondest moment in your SF career?

Shirts: It has to be placing 3rd at Evo 2002. It was the first ever Evolution Championship and I had to run through some of the top players just to get to 3rd: Apoc, JumpsuitJesse, Jason Nelson. It was the best I ever played and even looking back, I don t know how I pulled off some of these moments. I mean, it was arcade cabinets, on stage with the big screen in 2002! Awesome!

Shirts vs Apoc from EVO 2002.

STR: The TOURNAMENT OF LEGENDS for EVO 2012 was just announced. What are your thoughts on this and will you be attending?

Shirts: I first thought was, Wow, this game will just…not…die! Who would have thought it was have survived this long and get some billing at the biggest fighting game championship in the world. Who would have thought it would out live HDR? And just amazed at the people behind this to do all this hard work in bringing this together and also bringing OGs back to Evo to play arguably the greatest SF game of all time. It’s a testament to the ST’s game design. I will do my best to attend and hopefully as one of the participants. The So. Cal qualifier is going to be the hardest if Afrolegends/Valle compete. Afrolegends is arguably the best ST player in the U.S. and Valle always has a chance to place top 3 no matter who is in the tourney. So it’s going to be tough to come out of So. Cal. I might even have to travel to qualify…if work permits. But even then now that everyone plays on GGPO, there’s not going to be any easy qualifiers.

STR: Anything else you’d like to tell us about you that people may not know (hobbies, special skills, trivia) or any final words?

Shirts: I first met Mike Watson at the now-defunct World Finest Comics. I performed the Zangief magic throw on him and he proceeded to get really pissed. I even think he wanted to fight me. This was my first memorable moment with Mike Watson. We re cool now, but it s funny to think back to those moments.

STR: Those were the days! Thanks for your time, Jason! I’m looking forward to to see you back competing again!

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