Interview with Zero1

Interview Date: September 2014
Hometown: London, UK
Occupation: Night shift assistant
Years Playing SF2:
Main Character: Boxer
Other Characters: Ken, Ryu, Honda
Favorite Fighting Game: Super Turbo
Other Fighting Games:
Weapon of Choice:

A glorious sight of ST machines waiting to be played for the IIX Anniversary Tournament

STR: Welcome Michael!  Many people know you from Grand Master Challenge.  For those that are unaware, can you tell us about GMC.  Also, has gone through some changes over the past couple of years, has been offline but has come back strong.  Can you tell us more about that as well?

Zero1: Grand Master Challenge was started by Jason Reynolds, aka DNA as a way to get information out there to like minded people and to develop a central resource for UK ST players.  Part of the intention was to also run tournaments and offer the use of arcade hardware, as Jason used to have 2 Naomi cabinets that he used to bring around to events such as Play Expo.

I met Jason in 2012 at VS Fighting 2 which was when we got chatting and he asked if I would like to help out with running tournaments and so on.  Since then we had been working together to build a good reputation for Grand Master Challenge so that it would be something people recognise and hopefully make an effort to come to the events we run.  In the last year or so though Jason became busy with real life commitments (around the same time the website was offline for a while).  Things went a bit quiet because Jason wasn’t running events or providing his cabinets and I didn’t have an ST setup to speak of, aside from an Xbox 360 and HDR.  I used to take the 360 to events I travelled to such as Proving Grounds, Sodium Showdown and SVB, but those events were not run as Grand Master Challenge tournaments – I was pretty much only providing a setup at that point.

Some time passed and Jason got the website back online and I started to pick up the slack regarding website stuff and running events on my own.  I started running a monthly ST tournament at the Heart of Gaming back in September 2013 which was a great success.  We saw almost 50 different players pass through over the 7 months it ran and I also held a 2 day event which came to be known as the IIX 20th Anniversary.

During this time Undamned was getting out his first few batches of UD CPS2 and I eventually got my hands on one.  That pretty much opened the floodgates for ST tournaments to be honest as it’s so easy and portable and being able to use your own controller is a big thing for players.

More recently I’ve been getting together all the pieces to be able to run my own streams and I’m getting closer to completion.  Once I have a full kit, I then hope to look at doing more events at the Heart of Gaming – possibly even returning to do another 2 day event.  I’d really like to have something that is like the UK equivalent to X-Mania.

The site is not actually administered by myself, that’s handled by Jason.  He’s the web design guru and deals with the inner workings of the site, while I just post articles up there.  It was offline for some time as Jason was working on a newly designed site that would allow people to write articles and do basic website stuff without needing any knowledge of HTML, having to use FTP or going through the usual processes associated with running and maintaining a website.  It’s back up now though I am also busy these days so that’s proving a to be a challenge.  We have been discussing some changes which should allow us to highlight and promote smaller events easily as well as draw more attention to the event calendar, so hopefully he can implement that soon and we can put out more regular updates to the site.

Street Fighter IIX Anniversary Tournament, which also featured a ToL II Qualifier won by ORF.

STR: You’re also heavily involved in tournament organizing for the UK scene and organizing the big IIX 20th Anniversary tournament earlier this year.  Can you explain a little more about all this to us?

Zero1: What we do is similar to what you guys do with ST Revival – promoting the game and offering to run side tournaments at other events to make sure the game is supported and enjoyed by as many people as possible. It’s a great thing really – we get to play the game we love on arcade hardware thanks to Undamned and his amazing UD CPS2, and tournament organisers get more players coming to their events and additional promotion/visibility due to us pushing our side events. It’s a win-win situation and ST is pretty well supported here. ST had more signups than Blazblue and Injustice at VS Fighting 4, and at other events particularly in the South and South West, ST has had more entrants than Marvel.

It’s kind of funny how the idea for the IIX 20th Anniversary tournament came about actually. The UK scene is pretty well connected and because most of the major cities/scenes are reasonably close together it means that tournament organisers generally visit eachothers events, are good friends and help eachother out. We have a system where all the UK tournament organisers arrage events between eachother to try to avoid clashing and maximise support for each event.

At that time I was already running a monthly ST tournament at the Heart of Gaming in London called Super Turbo Sunday and I got a message via facebook one day from a fellow TO asking me if I could move the date of one of the events that I had planned as he had something planned for that same weekend in London too.  It was no real detriment to what I was planning, so I was happy to move it to prevent a clash.

It just so happened that the next available date was the 23rd of February which was the 20th Anniversary of Super Turbo. I can’t remember what it was that bought this to my attention because I didn’t know that as the anniversary at first, but as soon as I realised that a Super Turbo Sunday was going to fall on the 20th anniversary, I knew I had to do something special. So I made it a 2 day event with 4 different tournaments in the style of X-Mania, Gamespot VS, Super Battle Opera and our usual Super Turbo Sunday as well as a 3 vs 3 England VS Germany exhibition featuring a randomly selected England team and our 3 German friends, Wand Feuer, Planet RV and Steve from Da East. I even had a cake made in the style of a CPS2 board complete with edible game art!

STR: How long have you been playing Street Fighter?

Zero1: I’ve been playing Street Fighter on and off since the mid 90s. I had a lot of fun with the SNES port of World Warrior and eventually played Super Street Fighter on the Megadrive, though I didn’t like that as much because all the music and sound effects had changed (plus the Megadrive version didn’t sound as good as the SNES either). It was actually Killer Instinct that I played religiously and to the point where I had pad worn thumbs.

Main Character?  Sub/Alt characters?

Zero1: Ken has been my main character in a competitive sense since 2009. His move set and play style just felt second nature to me – just like if I were to design a character for myself, it would be Ken. However in around 2012 I decided to make the move from pad to stick as I was attending more tournaments and found that I did terrible in the ones held on PS3 since I couldn’t execute at all on a Playstation pad.  It was a smart move to learn stick as the layout and feel of the buttons/stick isn’t such a console specific thing like with pads.

I retired Ken around the same time that I made the move to arcade stick. I had trouble executing some moves even after months of practice and decided to go for a charge character instead. It was a certain video of Daigo using Boxer vs John Choi’s old Sagat that inspired me to learn Boxer. I just thought, “Damn, I wanna blow someone up that badly” (sorry John!).

Back when I played HDR I used to main Ken with Zangief or Dhalsim as alternates, but that has now changed to Boxer as a main with Honda or Ryu; mostly for execution reasons, although I can get away with a fraudulent Ryu as he’s not so execution heavy. I play most of the characters come to think of it – in fact the only characters that I don’t really use are Dictator, Fei or Sagat.

Notable Tournament Results?

Zero1: I don’t do too well at larger events like X-Mania Europe simply because I’m not at that level. However I did get 5th in the 3 on 3, and 5th in the ToL2 qualifier at the IIX 20th Anniversary, and 1st in the 2 vs 2 with my team mate Genesis.  The 20th Anniversary was pretty tough and Orf and Boge are like brick walls.

I attend a lot of smaller events though and placed top 3 regularly at Super Turbo Sunday, Proving Grounds, Triple Threat and Sunday Face Off.

STR: What other fighting games or other video games do you enjoy?

Zero1: For fighting games I love Breakers Revenge.  I suggest all the ST heads check it out, it’s really fun and not so different that it will take ages to learn.  In fact it feels like a pretty natural progression.  I also used to play a lot of Killer Instinct on the SNES back in the 90s and also a bit of Alpha 3.

As for other games, I’m a big fan of the Zelda series, so much so that I’ll probably go and buy a Wii U just for the new game.  I also spent a lot of time playing Forza 2 on the Xbox 360 back in 2007 or so – so much so that I might have considered myself to be playing it competitively.  I really like fast paced puzzle games too.  Tetris is always fun, but not in 2 player mode because I get bodied.  However Puyo Puyo is great fun as a mulitplayer game and some versions even let you play 4 or more players at the same time.

STR:  How did you get into Street Fighter?  Was ST your first Street Fighter game you got into?

Zero1: Initially it was through playing it at my cousin’s house on his Megadrive – I think it was Championship Edition.  The very first character I picked was Chun Li.  I just had a feeling that she would be a fast character since she was a lot smaller compared to the other characters and I thought that would be a great advantage.  I think I used Ryu mostly back then though as I got into it more.  HDR (and by extension, ST) is what really got me into Street Fighter and competitive play, but that didn’t happen until a good 15 years or so later.

STR: Have any players influenced your playstyle?

Zero1: Aniken, most definitely. I have a lot of respect for Aniken and I learned an awful lot from watching his videos – not just about Ken but the game in general and applying setups and tactics you usually associate with other characters to your own.  One good example of this for me was the way Aniken employed the classic Guile “sonic boom, walk up throw” but with Ken.  He did a meaty fireball on a rising opponent, followed it and threw the other player as they were coming out of block stun.  It probably seems like an obvious thing to do now, but it got me thinking about what strange setups or block strings you see with other characters that would work with your own.  I like doing things that make people think, “Huh?” even if just for a split second as it can really throw their concentration.

I am also a great fan of Mattsun and I love how different their styles are, for instance I see Aniken as mostly about strategy and Mattsun will catch you off guard with his crazy play style and mad execution. I tried to take on board a bit of each of their play styles, but I think that I am definitely from the Aniken school of Ken.

You could also say that Daigo influenced my play style too, or rather character choice. Although he is more known for his Ryu play than Boxer, it was because of Daigo that I started using Boxer.  It’s also a happy coincidence that Aniken uses Boxer too.  I wonder what that says about player archetypes or thought processes?

STR: Can you tell us a little bit about the SSF2X scene in the UK?  Who are the notable players there?

Zero1: It’s an interesting time in the UK right now with regards to the top players as things are changing a bit! It was thought for a long time that the current top 4 players went something like Orf, Fuzzy, Kaos Flare and Ryan Hart (in no particular order), however just recently Boge and DJ Sylenth have started attending tournaments and have won a few of the smaller events a few times each. They both have very tight games and Boge also placed 2nd at the IIX 20th Anniversary 3 on 3 event.  DJ Sylenth wasn’t attending offline events at that time as I’m sure he would have placed high too.  Just recently we hosted ST at VS Fighting 4 and there were no real surprises to the top 4 there – Orf, Fuzzy, DJ Sylenth and Ryan Hart; but still we were missing a few key players like Boge, Kaos Flare and Diceman just to name a few.

Another name to look out for is Shoji. This guy took us all by surprise when he showed up at the IIX 20th Anniversary, took part in the HoG VS GMC team tournament and beat myself, Orf, Kaos Flare and a few others in succession. He blew everyone up but you never see him at tournaments. He’s kind of like the end of game boss where you only see him if certain criteria are met. He’s not new to the scene though – Shoji was active and placing high around 2007/2008.

STR: The UK tournament that American player are probably most familiar with is the Absolution tournament from 2004 that featured Daigo, Kuni, Zazza, etc.  Is there anything you can tell us about this tournament?

Zero1: Unfortunately this is a good 5 years before I was part of the scene so I have no information on this.

STR: Have you ever been to X-Mania Europe?  By all accounts, it’s such an incredible tournament and yet it seems like not many UK players take part in this.  Any ideas on why they don’t?

Zero1: Yes! I went to X-Mania Europe 3 and it was the best tournament I’ve been to. There were 6 of us who went from the UK – myself, Unwanted, WaveSkill, Orf, Kaos Flare and JPJ. As for why more people don’t go, I really don’t know why. I think maybe it’s because the players don’t feel confident enough to travel and take part in such a tough tournament (particularly when you have top Japanese invites and also the likes of damdai and NKI).  I think that mentality needs to change.  Don’t think, “I’m not good enough, I won’t have a chance so it’s pointless going.”  Think, “This is going to be an amazing event, let’s go and play crazy amounts of ST with the best on great arcade cabinets”.

I think cost and travel time also factor in as it can become a bit expensive after you factor in hotels, food and travel.  I’m sure if it was held in Paris you’d see a whole lot more UK players as the transport links to Paris are great, and those living in London can pretty much hop on a train to get there.  This year we’ve got RetroRic and Relinquished flying out there which is great that some more of our players are getting to experience that top level play, and also the wake up call that is how good the French are!  Unfortunately I’m unable to make it myself this year as I’m saving for EVO 2015, plus I have been pouring a lot of money into setups, stream gear and so on lately.  I’m also very sad that I will get to miss meeting Mattsun this time round.  Maybe next time!

X-Mania Europe is still one of the best ST experiences you can have, outside of going to EVO or Japan I feel.  Everyone should try it out.

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

Zero1: I tend to focus less on the run up to a tournament and more on getting casuals in on the day. It’s true I will play online more as a tournament gets closer, but I think the real important thing is to get used to the setups you will be using on the day, getting used to the seating position/using a stick on your lap and more importantly, downloading all your potential opponents. For tournaments that I run, I don’t have much time for casuals so in those cases I will spend more time on GGPO and maybe the day before on my UD CPS2 to get used to offline timings. Unwanted is also good at holding house sessions before major events which are always good fun.

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

Zero1: Being able to stay calm in high pressure situations is key in Super Turbo, especially with the damage being so high. It’s the difference between a good player and a great player. You don’t want to panic and throw out a move at a bad time only for it to whiff and you eat a big combo because of it. Many times players watch how you deal with pressure and will capitalise on how you react.

The other thing I’d say is that you always need to work on reducing your opponent’s options.  This is basic, but it’s not always the first thing on most players minds.  I find it very useful to limit my opponent’s options so that I am only looking for the bare minimum of things to react to.  If your opponent has 3 or 4 different options, that’s a lot of different animations to be looking out for, recognise and react to.  If they can only really do one thing then your split second thought process becomes a lot more streamlined.

STR: What are your thoughts on HD Remix?  Street Fighter IV?

Zero1: I like HD Remix, but I prefer ST. In fact I like any version of Street Fighter II to be honest. You occasionally see negative comments about HDR, but I think people need to move on and just appreciate that it did bring a lot of new players into SF2.  It’s such a divisive topic that I think people generally avoid discussion on it now – I know I’ve seen heaps of flame wars on forums that I don’t care to be part of.

HDR in it’s remixed state is pretty much dead in the UK, and I think the last legitimate remix mode tournament was held in 2010.  Nowadays people who decide to support ST but don’t have the luxury of a UD CPS2 use HDR in classic mode with classic music and sprites.

If it wasn’t for HDR, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here, playing in and running ST tournaments. Back in 2008 when HDR was released, I had no idea that people were still playing ST, let alone seriously and holding tournaments for it.  I didn’t even desire to get into fighting games competitively – it just kind of happened.  I started playing HDR, got good at it, made some friends online and it went from there.

I tried to get into Street Fighter IV back in 2009 or so. I played it for 2 months solid and it just did nothing for me. Every Street Fighter IV session would end with me thinking, “I’m spending time on this game when I could be spending time on HDR”.  I’ve tried playing it since with friends but it still has the same feel and design elements that I didn’t like the first time round.

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

Zero1: Super Turbo has a great mix of all the different elements that you find in a fighting game.  It has spacing, zoning, combos, strong and weak characters, counterpicks, a comeback mechanic, matchup specific strategies and a game engine/design flexible enough to allow you to rush down or turtle.  It doesn’t really skew too heavily in favour of any of those elements such as newer games that focus a lot on combos, game specific systems, rewarding overly defensive play or giving the losing player too much of a crutch by way of comeback moves.

You can be a well rounded player and do well in ST.  You can maybe lack in some areas but make up for that with being able to execute high risk/reward combos.  Or like me, you can have terrible execution but make up for it by playing a reactive game if you have the reactions to back it up.

Somehow you can play this game in a very simple way and still be a top player.  You just aren’t limited by not being able to dial out huge combos or not being the most technical player.  As long as you are reasonably well rounded, you can find a character to suit your play style, or find something that you are good at to work on and compensate for the things you aren’t good at.

I think it’s that balance that makes ST all things to all men (or women).

Of course ST being a great game isn’t just enough to keep it going – we also have a great community with some very dedicated individuals who pour their time, money and resources into keeping the game being played, relevant and still supported at events.

STR: As always, we like to change things up and ask a few fun questions.  Favorite movie or TV show?

Zero1: I don’t get to watch much TV what with being busy most days.  Also working night shifts means that you only really get to watch daytime TV which is baaaad.  When I do watch TV though, it’s usually for Top Gear or I’ll just pick out something random on one of the cable channels like Myth Busters, Only Fools and Horses, The Brittas Empire, The Gadget Show or Fifth Gear.  Generally if it’s factual, about cars or tech and funny, I’ll watch it.

I’m more likely to watch things on youtube now.  The short videos and on demand aspect of it suit my lifestyle and weird sleep pattern what with working nights.  I’m a big fan of Mighty Car Mods and the EEVblog on there.

STR: Favorite book?

Zero1: I’m not into books much – I have a pretty short attention span and I find that I’d rather be doing something practical or interactive, same reason why I tend not to watch much TV.  I will happily sift through pages of information on Wikipedia for example though, eventually following links until I get to something vageuly related to the original article.  Much the same as my tastes in TV, I mostly prefer factual stuff.  I’m quite happy to read through service manuals for TVs, workshop manuals for cars or even a pretty hefty book I bought about the H.264 video standard.

STR: Favorite music?

Zero1: My tastes in music are pretty varied I’d say.  My “default” genres of music are drum and bass and hard rock.  I also really like metal/power metal, ska, hip-hop, house, garage, grunge, new wave, even orchestral stuff such as game soundtracks.  I’m a fan of 80s and 90s music in general.

STR: Favorite foods?

Zero1: Whatever goes!  For oriental foods, I love char siu chow mein and yakisoba though I haven’t really been adventurous enough to try the less obvious choices.  Shoutouts to pizza for being awesome, especially ham and mushroom with a barbecue dip for the crusts, mmmm!  Honourable mention goes to chiken curry – bonus points if it’s so spicy it will blow your head off.

The tournament food of choice has to be a good quality beef burger though.  I was content with grabbing a McDonalds on the drive home at a services in the middle of the night for the most part, until Unwanted started dragging me to all these fancy burger places in Manchester and Leeds.  The burgers are pretty awesome, but you just have to try the Almost Famous suicide wings!

STR: Alright, let’s focus back on ST.  Who are your favorite ST players and why?

Zero1: Far too many to list!  A few I really like watching are Komoda and Mattsun with their crazy shenanigans – always very entertaining.  Then there’s Aniken and Shooting D with their near pixel accurate spacing (I’m sure we’ve all seen the trademark “Aniken stands just out of range while you whiff low attacks” moment).

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

Zero1: Toughest opponent is tricky since I haven’t played against many top players, but damdai and NKI are definitely tricky.  Hanashi is also really difficult to deal with especially if you let your guard down and he lands a combo.  It’s pretty much GGs at that point.

As for rivals here in the UK, orf and Fuzzy usually ruin my plans at tournaments, closely followed by DJ Sylenth,  Boge and Diceman.  Got to step up my game while those guys are around if I want to at least place top 3.

STR: Favorite ST moment (either as a player or a spectator).

Zero1: As a player, it was probably beating Hanashi in the kumite at X-Mania Europe, then watching a way better Boxer player than me step up next and get wrecked.  I’m always pretty pleased about that little win seeing how he was destroying everyone who challenged him, although it’s kind of fraudulent since it was only one game.  Not like it was a best of 3 or anything!

As a spectator, that’s really difficult to nail down.  There are so many great moments in ST that it’s hard to recall them all, but one I like in particular is the one that got me playing Boxer, and that was Daigo VS John Choi at EVO 2004.

Zero1 vs Hanashi from Hanashi’s X-Mania Europe Kumite

The Daigo vs Choi from Evo 2004 match that influenced Zero1 to pick up Boxer.

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

Zero1: I’d like to thank ST Revival, their friends and the US ST scene for being such an inspiration.  I would also like to encourage people to attend offline events as much as possible.  Every person counts towards a bigger and more hype event, as well as the interesting and unique people you meet along the way.  It’s the continued support of the players that make any of this possible, so never forget that.

STR: I think that about wraps it up.  Thanks for taking time to do this interview, Michael and we’ll be looking forward to more events from Grand Master Challenge in the future!