Back in April, I started to feel Nostalgic for the former Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, Michigan. It had closed in 2009 and was finally demolished in 2019, so there are few ways for me to indulge my nostalgia apart from a handful of pictures posted online, and one or two urban explorer videos.
Like something out of a Chris Rock bit, Summit Place was arguably the less of Oakland County’s malls, with the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi being the larger and more upscale of the two. Summit Place always felt much more comfortable to me, though. It could be that, by the time I was able to drive myself there, Summit Place was already in decline, which meant that crowds were lighter.
One of my earliest memories of Summit Place, is my father taking me and my brothers there to see the theatrical re-release of Disney’s Pinocchio, in 1984. In particular I remember seeing a trailer for a then-upcoming Disney film, that I couldn’t wait to see – The Black Cauldron.
…I wouldn’t get to see The Black Cauldron until its first home video release in 1998. By then I was a high school senior, and while I still liked animation, I found the film to be underwhelming.
Summit Place’s cinema – a separate building from the mall proper – closed in 1993, but wasn’t demolished until 2014. While it wasn’t the biggest cinema, I’d still held out hope that it might re-open. Instead, it was left to rot.
One thing that definitely made Summit Place better than Twelve Oaks, in my opinion, was that it had an arcade. Nestled in the corner of the foot court, it was THE place to experience the latest & greatest games, for a time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Final Fight, Konami’s 6-player X-men, Street Fighter II (and all its revisions), Mortal Kombat, Darkstalkers… though if you were to ask my best friend, THE crown jewel of the arcade might’ve been the Ms. Pac-Man machine, near the entrance.
There always seemed to be one machine at any given time that drew a crowd. The 6-player X-Men game absolutely dominated the front right corner of the arcade, when it debuted. Street Fighter II and other subsequent fighting games attracted competitive players. In particular, there was always one guy – an Asian dude with hair down to his hips – that was practically unbeatable. He knew every move and combo for every character. With every new fighting game, players would line up their quarters at the bottom of the screen to challenge this guy, and nearly every one of them would walk away defeated.
Since this was the part of the mall I’d probably spent the most time in, I guess it’s oddly fitting that it’s also an area that I can now only glimpse in my memories. The arcade had closed well before the age of smart phones, and taking pictures at the mall was strictly forbidden in its heyday. To my knowledge no pictures of the arcade exist, and in the Ace’s Adventure video it’s boarded up.
The arcade was my only source of gaming memories. I always love to check out Babbage’s and Electronics Boutique, any chance I got. At least until I was working/driving age, I usually couldn’t afford to buy anything more than the latest issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly or Game Fan, but I like to see what was new on the shelves.
Electronics Boutique was where I feel I leveled up as a gamer, in a way – after the Sega Saturn was announced, I’d reserved mine there, and it was the first console I’d purchased with my own money. I was so nervous carrying it back to my car, afraid that someone might try to take it from me… although realistically, if someone had, they’d probably throw it back at me and beat my ass for not buying a Playstation.
One of my last memories of E.B., they had Sega Nomads on clearance for under $100. I did not have $100, and even if I had I probably wouldn’t have spent it on a system that was outdated even when it debuted, but now I think back and kick myself.
I can thank/blame one of the artists I follow, for triggering my mall memories. The pandemic got him pining for 90s-era malls, and so he’d built himself one as a VRChat world. My own nostalgia got me thinking a recreation of Summit Place could be fun, and if nothing else it might be something I could render my 3D characters in. But modeling the mall would be a crazy undertaking, seeing as the only reference I have are that Ace’s Adventures video, and a handful of interior photos.
…and 3D data ripped from Google Maps. Their 2D map is post-demolition, but they hadn’t updated their 3D view!
Even if I only tried to model a portion of the mall – say, the food court – that would still be a huge undertaking. It certainly wouldn’t help that I tend to get obsessive, and would want everything to be accurate, down the size and spacing of the floor tiles… despite the fact that no one at this point would know if any of the details were wrong. Aside from the locations of certain stores, perhaps. My best friend could help me on that front – having worked at the mall for a few years, even know he likely knows its layout better than anyone.
Stores aside, if I structural accuracy remains important to me, I suppose I could see if I can’t purchase copies of the mall’s blueprints from the Oakland County Clerk’s office…
Another challenge to modeling the mall, in whole or in part, could be hardware or software limitations. While I was matching the extracted map to the scale of my Daisy model, Maya had slower to a crawl. This could be because the map is fairly dense and has a lot of redundant data, but I’ve also read that most 3D programs and game engines start to bug out when things move too far from the origin. And even at 1/10th scale, this mall mesh extend pretty far from the origin.
Now several months later, I’ve made no effort model any part of the mall. As fun as my nostalgia made the idea seem, it’s unfortunately a side project on an ever-growing list of side projects that I may never have time for. At best it might be something that I start, lose interest in, revisit several months or more later, and repeat…