Jared

Street Fighter II – The Phenomenon (part 1)

Sometimes I wonder if any other game has had as big an impact on me, than Street Fighter II. It seemed that no matter how many times Capcom revised, re-imagined, or re-skinned the game, or branched out into other media, I couldn’t get enough.

SF2 was a game I’d gotten hooked on well before I’d ever played it. Seeing the graphics and variety of characters in Electronic Gamic Monthly and other magazines, it was certainly a game I’d play if given then chance. I was 11 years old when it debuted, and the only arcade I was able to visit with any sort of frequency was at the Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, MI.

I don’t think I’d even seen a SF2 machine in person – much less played it – until the Champion Edition was released. It was 1992, and my 6th grade class took a week-long field trip to Toronto, Canada. One of the first places we’d visited was the CN tower, and one of my main takeaways from the whole experience was being able to play SF2:CE for the first time in the arcade at the tower’s base. It was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. And of course I got my ass kicked, because while I’d read up on the moves and combos extensively, I had no idea how to actually perform them.

A day or two later in the Toronto trip, we all had a free day to explore the city. My then-best-friend and I came across a game shop that, to me, might as well have been Candyland. It wasn’t the biggest game store I’d ever been to, but it was the most well-stocked that I’d seen up to that point. No space was wasted. They even had accessories I’d never seen anywhere but in the ads in the back of EGM, like the Hyperboy Gameboy mini-arcade mount… thing.

What stood out the most at that store, though, was SF2:CE hooked up to a TV in the front of the store, via a Supergun Jamma harness, another thing I’d only read about in EGM. And for $20, my friend and I could play the game with unlimited continues for 30 minutes. My mom wasn’t too thrilled about that – either the price or having to stand there for 30 minutes while we played – but we had fun.

My last SF2-related memory from that trip might’ve been the day we’d left. We were at a bus station early in the morning, just in time for the arcade there to open. We had time to kill, and whether the manager did it intentionally or if it was just a standard power-on thing, all the games were free to play for the first 10 minutes or so. This arcade didn’t have SF2, but it did have plain old Street Fighter, which surely would be almost as good, right?

…yeah, no. It sucked.


When SF2 was released for the Super Nintendo later in 1992, I was ecstatic. Yeah, it was a little disappointing that it wasn’t the Champion Edition, but it was still Street Fighter II, and I could play it as much as I wanted. And by this point the arcade at Summit Place had a Champion Edition machine, which I’d also play whenever I had the chance.

SF2:CE always drew a fairly large crowd, at the mall. If you wanted to play, you’d put your quarter up at the bottom of the screen, and wait your turn. Unless this one guy was playing. The Pro. An Asian-American dude with hair that went down to his hips. I don’t know if he played SF2 on a tournament level – if that was even a thing, at the time – but he did know all the moves and combos, and was pretty much unbeatable. But everyone wanted the momentary bragging rights that’d come from defeating him, so we all lined up our quarters on that machine, and we all lost, every time.

The only time I’d get to play SF2:CE on any sort of equal footing, was after Mortal Kombat was released later that year. The Pro moved on to that game along with everyone else, and he kicked wholesale ass at that one as well.


Christmas of ’92 may have been one of the biggest for me, in terms of gaming. My parents had gotten me a Sega CD, Night Trap, Sonic 2… and a Championship Joystick for the SNES. The funny part about the joystick is how much of a surprise it was, after everyone had unwrapped their gifts and cleaned up. I’d gone back to my room to hook up the Sega CD and take it for a spin, when my dad came back to ask what I thought about the controller. I was confused, and had to ask “what controller?”

My parents owned a small business in Union Lake, MI. The building had a storage room in the back, where they would store my & my brothers Christmas gifts. But because it also had a fair amount of the shop’s inventory, it might’ve been easy for some things to get overlooked. That’s what had happened on this particular Christmas – while loading up the gifts the night before, one got left behind – the joystick.

When my dad realized that the joystick had been left behind, he got in his truck and went back to the shop. 20 minutes later, I had a surprise gift to unwrap!

Having that joystick felt like leveling up – it felt like the arcade controls, because it used arcade parts. It made the home version of SF2 feel that much closer to its bigger counterpart.


Another stand-out SF2 experience might’ve been in the summer of ’93, at a weekend car show my dad was attending in North Carolina. The show was between the hotel and a mall – the Four Seasons Town Centre – and where there was a mall, odds are there’d be an arcade. And indeed there was, right near the entrance!

This arcade had a rainbow edition of SF2:CE. I didn’t know that mod chips and bootlegs were a thing at the time, but I could tell that something about this game was different, just from the title screen. The game itself was pretty nuts – projectile speeds, depending on the button you pressed, were either so fast that your opponent would have little time to react, or so slow that you could walk up behind your own fireball. Projectiles could also move diagonally, nearly every move could be performed in the air, and you could change your character by hitting your start button. It was wild.

Another great thing about visiting new arcades, was the chance to see and play games that your usual ones didn’t have. Apart from SF2:CE Rainbow, this arcade also had World Heroes 2, and Martial Champion. While World Heroes 2 was definitely the better of those two by far, Martial Champion stood out because of its large character sprites. I felt it was a shame that the only home port was exclusive to the PC Engine CD, in Japan.

One more thing that made that weekend special, to me – Coca-Cola in 16 oz. cans. Today I look at normal 12 oz. cans as being too much, but as a sugar-addicted adolescent, having that much more Coke in one serving was one of the best things ever.


Piracy and unofficial enhancements to SF2 apparently were so rampant, Capcom had to do whatever they could to compete. Several months after Champion Edition and the SNES release of SF2, SF2: Hyper Fighting was released. Playing it at the arcade – when The Pro wasn’t there, drawing a crowd – made it difficult to go back to the home edition, which felt so slow by comparison.

The home edition of Street Fighter II Turbo would arrive several months later, in August of ’93. Just in time for my birthday! And then just one month later, Super Street Fighter II would land in arcades. By that point it was starting to feel as if Capcom was taunting me specifically.

Speed-wise, Super SF2 felt like a downgrade, but the new characters, moves, and combos were the big draw. I also thought it was funny that Guile’s voice was now the same as the announcer’s, which wasn’t very masculine.

September of ’93 also saw the release of the Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. At the time I thought it was a joke that the Genesis was a version behind the SNES, not realizing that the Genesis version had all of the Turbo features (and then some), just under a different name.

By this point, my familiarity/obsession with SF2 was such that I was picking out the differences between the arcade and home versions. The arcade had more (and smoother) animations, and the sprites were bigger. The Genesis game’s music sounded much closer to the arcade, compared to the SNES. The Genesis voice samples were also closer to the arcade, but sounded worse than the SNES ones at the same time, due to how compressed they were. My friends at the time made fun of me for noticing these things. That certainly hurt at the time, but looking back, I can hardly blame them. Maybe I should have been more interested in music, as they were, except I felt most popular music in ’92-93 sucked.


Summer of 1994 would see the release of Super SF2 on the SNES and Genesis. The SNES version might’ve been the first game I’d purchased with my own money, which also gave me my first taste of buyers’ remorse. The game was as accurate to the arcade as the SNES could get, but the fact that Super SF2 Turbo had been in arcades for several months by this point stung a bit. I felt like I’d paid $80 for an inferior game.

A year later, Super Turbo was released for MS-DOS. I didn’t hesitate to buy it… despite the fact that my family would not own a computer until some months later. And once we did have a computer, the game’s sound wouldn’t work. Graphically it looked exactly like the arcade game, but the lack of any sound robbed it of its impact. By that point, Street Fighter II had been my #1 gaming obsession for 3 years, and showed no signs of stopping…

My Life in Gaming – the before times

Thinking back on some of my fondest gaming memories, I’m amazed by the number of major games that were released each year, that would later become long-lasting franchises. But of course my memories only go back so far. Past a certain point, they’re more like puzzle pieces, or memories of memories – I know that I experienced them, but I don’t remember the experiences themselves.

That is what this post is mainly about – those nearly-lost fragments of memories that I managed to dig up and piece together.

It goes without saying that Pac-Man was a huge phenomenon, though it was technically before my time – the game hit U.S. arcades in 1980, when I would have been 1 year old.

Instead of the games, I was probably more familiar with Pac-Man from the cartoon series that ran from 1982 to 1983 –

…or the breakfast cereal that was sold up until 1988.

aka Lucky Charms

The 1983-1984 TV season brought more video game cartoons to Saturday Mornings, as part of the hour-long Saturday Supercade block. Mostly I remember watching Donkey Kong and Q-Bert once or twice. Also the weird-ass Rubik The Amazing Cube show. Either the shows didn’t make much of an impression, or there was something arguably better on one of the other channels.

One challenge with Saturday mornings back in the 80s, was that while there were only 3 TV channels to pick from, each of them aired four hours of cartoons on Saturdays, starting at 7 a.m. If you wanted to know what was airing when, you either needed to check the listings in the newspaper, subscribe to TV Guide, or flip through the channels during a commercial break. Recording shows to watch them later wouldn’t be an option until the price of VHS recorders came down, in the mid to late 80s. And even then, the VCR couldn’t record on one channel while you watched another.


The first game console my family owned was the Atari 2600. Unfortunately I can only remember three distinct things about it – that we had it, that one our games (Galaxian, maybe?) came with an Atari Force mini-comic, and that the system eventually died on us.

After our Atari died, I took it apart, because that was a thing I liked to do. Maybe I thought I could fix it? Or it could just be that I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside. I ruined several of my toys that exact same way – I’d take them apart, and then couldn’t quite put them back together again.

R.I.P., you glorious Transformer wannabe

Another gaming memory I can’t quite place, is the tabletop Donkey Kong game by Coleco. Originally released in 1981, perhaps it was something one of my older brothers had gotten that year for either Christmas or their birthday. To me, it was just always there.


One of the oldest games that I remember the most clearly and fondly – and actually played – is Mappy.

I have a bunch of memories attached to Mappy, that have little to do with the game itself. Most of those memories are from the Alpine Valley ski resort in White Lake, Michigan. Apart from arcades, what could be more synonymous with the 80s than skiing?

Ronald Reagan, Back to the Future, cocaine, greed, cocaine, leg warmers, cocaine, Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies, cocaine, slasher movies, cocaine…

The year I learned how to ski… it’s somewhere between 1984 and 1988. I might not remember the year, but I do remember the experience. I wanted to follow my brothers onto the bigger slopes, but had lessons on the bunny hills. For roughly an hour each night – I want to say between 6 and 7 – the lifts and slopes would all be shut down so the resort could run their snow machines and grate the hills. This gave everyone an hour to go inside, warm up, and get some food. Returning to the slopes afterword was rarely a pleasant experience, because the fresh, machine-made snow was always too wet, and had frozen into a grated crust by the time everyone got back onto the slopes. Your chances of wiping out – especially if you were inexperienced – shot up 100%

The warmth when you stepped into the lodge after a couple of hours of skiing was such a great feeling. Sitting by the fire might’ve been even better, but to do that you needed to time it so you’d get inside 10 minutes or more before everyone else.

The next best way to warm up was to grab a cup of hot chocolate, although this was also a curse – the cups didn’t have lids, and were filled to the top. Considering the ski boots were rigid and required you to learn a new way of walking, burning your fingers was unavoidable. You also couldn’t drink the top portion of your coco right away, because it was scalding hot and burn your lips and every inch of the inside of your mouth.

The cafeterias – one in the upper level, and one below – always had their share of familiar faces, as several of the teachers from my school – as well as classmates’ moms – worked there part-time.

What does any of this have to do with Mappy? Well, one of my favorite things to do in the lodge after getting some refreshment, was to kill time in the arcade. Plenty of kids crowded in there to play the latest & greatest games, but Mappy was one of the “old reliables” – it might not have been the latest or the greatest game, but it was always available. Year after year, games would be swapped in and out, new ones replacing the old, but Mappy managed to stick around. The background music is stuck in my head to this day.

Sadly, like most arcades of the time, Alpine Valley’s arcade is just a memory now. I can’t say when it closed, only that it was a long time ago. Still, every winter when I’m in Michigan, I’m tempted to go back to Alpine. If I ventured through the lower cafeteria, what would I find in the arcade’s place? Probably more seating, at the very least. The only reason I haven’t found out yet is that it’s been so long since I’ve skied, I’d probably wipe out and break something. And I’m old enough now that that something is probably going to stay broken.

Remembering Summit Place Mall

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…

Coverage

If you played video games in the U.S. in the 1980s or 90s, you’re probably no stranger to bad box art. You’re probably thinking of some examples right now – images that are over-rendered, poorly composed, with characters that look nothing like anything you’ll find in the game. And usually those characters will be posed in ways that look unnatural or very uncomfortable. Not only that, the characters’ faces are usually either angry, or look arrogant, like they either inspired or were inspired by the Disney/Dreamworks trend of a character smirking with one eyebrow raised. This is all what marketing executives at the time thought would make a game stand out on a shelf, and appeal to kids. Either that, or they just didn’t care, so long as the game sold well enough to fund their cocaine habits.

Perhaps one of the more notorious examples of bad box art, is Mega Man. The first game looks as if an executive with little or no drawing ability scribbled a concept, then handed it off to an amateur painter. By the third game, the cover art would start to more closely resemble the the original Japanese designs, but Mega Man would still look cocky and over-rendered. And RIPPED.

From doughy to six-pack abs in just three games!

By contrast, the Japanese covers were bright, cartoony, and appealing –

Over the past couple of years, I’ve start to collect games I used to own, and decided to make custom covers. It started with the Sonic the Hedgehog games. The cover art for the Sonic games in North America weren’t the worst, but they still suffered from the usual problems – over-rendered, mediocre posing, “attitude”, etc.. Granted, it fit Sega’s marketing campaign of Sonic being cooler/edgier than Mario, but something about the character always looked off.

The Japanese cover was much simpler, by comparison, and yet busier at the same time.

also very, VERY 90s

Compared to the Japanese version, the American character art is just strange, to me. Sonic looks meaner, and his spikes are meant to look more like a mohawk, because ATTITUDE!

Since I find the Japanese cover to be much more appealing, I decided to copy it almost exactly –

Once I was finished with my Sonic covers, I found others to work on. Visiting Japan in 2019, I picked up a few Famicom games for myself and my best friend, and figured those games could use covers as well. Famicom cartridges fit perfectly inside Sega Genesis game cases, but those cases are much bigger than the games’ original boxes. After adapting a Famicom template from The Cover Project, the first challenge was to find copies of the original art at a high enough resolution for printing. The second and perhaps bigger challenge, was finding clear enough pictures of the backs of the boxes, so I could scan the text with my phone. My goal was the make them look as authentic as possible.

It didn’t take long for me to run out of Genesis & Famicom games to make covers for, so I turned my attention to the SNES. Probably the most difficult cover was Super Mario All-Stars.

This is a rare case were I think the North American box art is better than the Japanese version, but there was no way to fit it to a portrait-style layout. I needed to be able rearrange the composition, but couldn’t find any high-resolution source art to work with. To get the cover I wanted, I needed to recreate a good portion of it, starting with magician-Mario and the Bowser cloud. Most of the other characters had existing art that I could use, although frog-Mario was another that needed to be recreated… only to barely be visible in my final cover.

It isn’t just the front of the box that needs to pop, in my opinion. Most SNES covers are styled after the original boxes, which means most of the them use black as their background color. No matter how colorful the game’s logo might be, the black background makes them blend together. No one game is going to draw your attention, unless you’re up close. But with a wider spectrum of colors, every game screams out for your attention, even from across the room!

As I add more games to my collection, I’ll likely be making more covers as well. When they’re not being played, I want them all to look good on a shelf!

Check out some of my other covers below –

North and South (NES)

In the past year, I’ve started to collect games I either used to have as a kid, used to play frequently, or otherwise have fond memories of. North and South wasn’t a game I ever owned, but my brother Justin and I would rent it on a regular basis. Sometimes we’d have it for so long, I wonder now if it would have been cheaper if we’d just asked our parents to buy it for us.

The video store was a place called Entertainment Tonight, in Waterford, MI. “Like the TV show!”, we thought. It wasn’t the biggest store, though I remember it being twice the size of the place we’d previously rented from. And the previous place didn’t rent games. Blockbuster Video would be even bigger, when one eventually opened in our area.

Not too long before North and South was released, there was a mini series on TV by the same name. We thought that the game was based on the show, even if very loosely. I’d only find out, well, today, that the game was actually based off of the Belgian comic series Les Tuniques Bleues.

Playing the game, I want to say we would take turns playing one side or the other. I do know that we’d get a kick out of the south winning, regardless of who was playing. “That’s not how it happened!”

…And that’s all I can really remember about the game. Very little about the game itself, but a few loose, surrounding details. I did watch a play-through video, thinking it might job some memories, but… nothing. Granted, it’s been about 30 years since I played the game, and there’ve been many more games since then, that had a much bigger impact on me.

Still, this is a game I look at now, and wonder if I should add it to my collection. My memories of the game itself may be dim, but it could still serve as a sort of bookmark for that time and place. And seeing that there’s a remake on the Switch, I may have to let my brother know about it, if he has the system or plans on getting it for his son.

Frankenmuth Auto Fest 2021

The Frankenmuth Auto Fest is something of a yearly tradition, for my family. And at least for me, for too long it was the closest I’d get to a real vacation. I’m not much of a car guy, but I love seeing the variety of vehicles at these shows, accompanied by (mostly) good music. But as nice as the well-maintained or fully-restored cars are, sometimes it’s the rougher ones that catch my eye.

Seeing familiar faces is another positive aspect of the show. It might be the one time of year to see certain family members and friends, but there are also some familiar strangers I keep an eye out for. There’s an older fellow whose name I can never remember, but he seems to know everyone. Because of the pandemic, I was worried about whether he was even still around. I did see him on the second day, thankfully, though I didn’t have a chance to say hello.

Another familiar face – or rather, car – ended up being a no-show. Every year before 2020, there was a guy who’d take up 2-3 spots for his car, Coca-Cola signs, and a motorized bar stool with a pair of Truck Nutz hanging under the seat. This one I have mixed feelings about – back in 2016, I needed the show to be a break from the election, but this guy was the one person in the entire show who couldn’t leave his politics at home for a weekend. I won’t say it ruined my weekend, but it did sour my already gloomy mood. All of that aside, I was hoping to see his area at this year’s show. The bar stool is always good for a laugh! Fingers crossed he’s in good health, and can attend next year.

This year the show wasn’t quite as relaxing as I’d hoped, because I was set on recording video to cut together and share. I’m not a vlogger, and it’s been years since I’ve edited any video. I didn’t even know what to edit it with. Once I’d settled on a program – DaVinci Resolve – and gotten around the initial learning curve, it still took a few days just to render out the video I’d recoded on the second day –

A walking tour of the show grounds

While I was taking my tour, the DJ announce a fly-over as a tribute to 9/11 –

Later that day, we got to see the aqua cars in action, from across the river at the Frankenmuth Brewery-

Aqua Team Auto Force, Go!

The final day of the show is not quite as exiting as the first two days. Usually by the end of the second day, anyone who will be winning a trophy will know it. About half of everyone else will clear out during the Saturday night cruise, so they won’t have to deal with the traffic the next day. Once the sun is up on Sunday morning, the remaining cars steadily clear out.

so fewer cars…

Dreamworks’ Turbo

Some movies, you know exactly what to expect before it even starts. This was one of them. Story-wise, it wasn’t too bad, it’s just that most people over the age of 10 have seen it several times before. It’s derivative. Plus, from start to finish, I just didn’t care about the characters, or anything that was happening. I’m fairly easy to please when it comes to animation, but ultimately this film failed to be interesting.

One major knock against the film – the gags weren’t that funny. Part of this may be due to overexposure – all of the “good” jokes had already been used in the trailers, leaving little for the film itself. In fact, it felt as though the rest of the film was little more than filler – connective tissue between all the bits previously shown in the trailers.

Here’s one example of narrative failure: From the start, the film paints the top Indy 500 racer – Guy Gagne – as a good sport and an inspirational figure. And then – surprise – he ends up becoming the film’s villian. That is not a spoiler – nearly every trailer and tv ad had already spelled out very clearly that he’s the bad guy. The film goes through the trouble of setting up the switch, but it just doesn’t work because the entire audience already knows he’s a dick.

That really is my biggest complaint about the film – anything that might have been worth seeing had already been spoiled, thanks to the advertising. There really isn’t much more to see that can’t be predicted. From the trailers you already know Turbo dreams of being fast, gets his wish granted, gets found by some guy and introduced to a crew of racing snails, races in the Indy 500… And if you’ve seen any 5 average animated films from the last decade or so, you also know Turbo’s super-speed will eventually fail on him, but he’ll somehow manage to win the race without it, and maybe some sort of life-lesson will be learned along the way.

If anything, this film – or at least its epilogue – felt like it was paving the way for a tv show. Perhaps they should have skipped the high-budget feature, and produced a tv pilot instead. At least then its failure might not have been as much of a nut-punch to the studio.

As much as I didn’t care for the film, I felt it could have some redeeming value on video – I certainly have far worse films on my shelf as reference (looking at you, Ice Age series and Hotel Transylvania). After reading the short list of bonus features, I reconsidered this notion. Like the Croods before it, Turbo doesn’t appear to have any meaningful bonus features – no behind-the-scenes featurette (that doesn’t focus primarily on the voice talent); no “Animators’ Corner”, no audio commentary… Since Turbo and The Croods are the first Dreamworks films distributed by 20th Century Fox, I’m worried that this could be a pattern. On the other hand, this lack of extras has saved me from wasting money on an otherwise lackluster film.

Hands-on with the Surface Pro 2

If I could sum up the Surface Pro 2 in one word, it would have to be “disappointing”.

After purchasing the Surface and getting my software set up, I started to miss the simplicity of Sketchbook Pro on my Galaxy Note 10.1. One thing quickly became clear – the software I want to use isn’t designed for tablets. Maya and Zbrush weren’t so bad with screen scaling left at the default 150%. Photoshop, however, literally hurt my eyes – its UI looked absolutely tiny at 150%, smaller than Maya and Zbrush looked at 125%. A quick Google search revealed that Adobe’s software ignores Windows’ scaling.

At 10.6″, screen space is a commodity that cannot be wasted. As small as the UI elements seemed, they still took up too much valuable screen space. On a Cintiq, where you have a few programmable buttons, you could at least set up a hotkey to hide and unhide Photoshop’s UI, but the Surface only has one available hotkey – the pen’s side switch.

Pen accuracy was another issue – even after several attempts at calibration, the cursor always seemed to be slightly off from the tip of the pen, at least toward the center of the screen. It was slightly less accurate at the edges, but far worse at the corners. Even Wacom’s driver couldn’t fix this. The tiny UI elements didn’t help either.

And then there was a nasty bug when holding the tablet in portrait mode… seemingly at random, the cursor movement would be 90 degress off – moving the pen up would move the cursor right, right would move it down, and so on. I narrowed the problem down to the keyboard – the bug only seemed to happen if I was folding it behind the tablet. If the keyboard was forward or detached, the cursor moved properly.

I only had the Surface for a day before returning it. That’s how disappointed I was. The Cintiq Companion might be closer to what I’m looking for – larger screen, programmable buttons… But it’s also got a heftier price tag, and I worry that the screen may still be too small to work on comfortably. I’ve been waiting for years for a “perfect” artists’ tablet, I’ll just have to keep waiting.

Problems with Expressions

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Rose’s face is proving to be a bit more trouble than I originally expected…

Some of her expressions require just a hair more know-how than I currently have, or have the patience for.  For example, I have it so her smile can be cranked up to 200% for a nice, Joker-like grin.  This requires another shape to move the nose up, but I hav no idea how this will mix with other nose shapes.  Her teeth and gums will also need to move, though I’m starting to think it’ll be better if I just don’t push her that far.

 

One annoying problem comes from her “mouth corner in” shapes – on their own, each of these will move the mouth to either side, along with the nose.  Combined – with the aid of a corrective shape – they form the “pucker” shape.  But when I move the sliders from 0 – 1, her nose shrinks and moves up at 0.5, only to return to normal at 1.  I tried to add another correction to compensate for this, but it only made things worse – now her nose shakes te 0.25 and 0.75.

 

But by far the biggest headache might be Maya’s expressions.  I’ve never used them much, and definitely not for faces – I’ve always preferrred to use utility nodes.  But I like the idea of only having a few expression nodes, rather than dozens or hundreds of utilities.  Figuring out the code to do the jobs of the utilities is a challenge, but not too difficult.  The real headache comes from Maya inexplicably mixing up my code – expressions that were working find before, and that I haven’t even touched recently, may suddenly drive the wrong shapes, or a control in an expression will be swapped out for another.  This could be a big problem, and I have no idea why it’s even happening.

Why the long face?

Taking a small break from modeling Rose’s facial expressions, I decided to get started on her & Daisy’s aunt Mercy –

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…who looks weird to me without her usual scowl.