Five Questions with Jason “Shirts” de Heras

One of the most consistent SSF2T players from Southern California, Jason “Shirts” de Heras has placed within top 8 at multiple Midwest Championships and Evolution tournaments – as recently as 2008. Lately he’s been uploading raw Evo footage he recorded way back in 2002, so i caught up with him and he told me a few stories from “the old days.”

Maj: The most famous Shirts legend that i know involves Mike Watson and a Super Turbo arcade machine that turned off in the middle of a tournament match. So let’s get this out of the way first. What’s your version of the story? (My version is that you rigged it to power off via a special satellite signal transmitted from your beeper.)
Shirts and ChoiBoy facing off at Evo2k8
Shirts: Honestly, back in the day when you played ST against Mike Watson, you needed any advantage you could get – including rigging the arcade cabinet to shut off right before you were about to lose your health bar.

But seriously, when ST first came out and then the 2nd time ST came back around in terms of popularity, Mike Watson was the guy to beat hands down. It was Mike and everybody else. Eventually, Mike started playing poker and stopped playing ST so rust started to set in. I think people have forgotten how good and dominant Mike really was when the game first came out.

But that night was purely coincidental. If you watch the video you can even see the flicker right before it was about to shut off. It was surreal. I heard it wasn’t even the first time that has happened to Watson, so who knows?

Video of that moment here:

Maj: Speaking of old Super Turbo stories, where did the nickname “Shirts” come from?

You know, for the past 10 years I’ve tried to deny that whole story behind the nickname Shirts as a myth. But I’ll come clean once and for all. It all started in Jason “DreamTR” Wilson’s house. This is where he helped me hone my game to what it was back in the early 2000s. As you may know, Jason Wilson’s playstyle is in a word annoying, and in another word, frustrating. I think he was one of my most difficult opponents in ST, mainly because we played each other so much and he knew all my little tendencies and ticks.

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.

Shirts shows us how it's doneSo, 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.

Maj: That’s … Wow, it’s actually true? That has got to be the most rugged nickname story ever!

Alright, let’s talk strategy. Dhalsim is by far the most unconventional character out of the original Street Fighter II cast. As someone who’s used him in almost every game, how does the Dhalsim mindset differ from other standard characters?

Ha! Since I only play like 2 characters, I don’t even know if I’m qualified to answer that. But, seriously, back in the ST days my mindset was usually to be as offensive as possible and try to throw as often as possible.

I think I perfected the non-combo combo of low forward into noogie/throw. There were only a few people who could ever reversal that (Choi, Valle). Most everyone else would always get thrown after I did a meaty low forward. Guess most peeps weren’t expecting it.

I used the drills like the way Rufus players use his dive kick today in SF4. I really didn’t care if you played Gief. I would sometimes still try to low forward throw you. Of course, I still played the matchup, but I wasn’t scared to mix it up and be offensive against characters I knew I should be defensive against, since that is the safe way to play.

Maj: After having made a name for yourself in ST as a dedicated O.Dhalsim player, what finally convinced you to make the transition to N.Dhalsim?

I heard there was this technique called ‘Tech Throwing.’ I was amazed you had the ability to escape throws. I obviously didn’t have this mechanic when using Old Dhalsim so it definitely made my matches very difficult.

Jason Cole always used to be give me grief about using Old Dhalsim. I understood where he was coming from, but using Old Dhalsim was a challenge to me. Plus I didn’t know anyone else that used him so I enjoyed being a unique player.

Other than the perceived increased throw range he may or may not have had when compared with New Dhalsim, there was one difference I used to my advantage: the ability to walk backwards and stick out stretchy strong punch. A lot of players used to get hit by that poke.

With New Dhalsim, it wasn’t as easy to do when walking backwards because if you were pressing B+MP, you would get vertical swipe punch with him instead of forward stretchy punch. You had to go to neutral stick to get the stretchy punch. I didn’t like doing that.

But eventually after playing Jason Cole’s New Dhalsim vs. my Old Dhalsim (I think the score was pretty much even), I started to see how much better I could possibly be using New Dhalsim. So I made the switch in 2008. I used GGPO to train with him for about 3 months before Evo2k8.

In my first Evo using New Dhalsim, I placed top 8. Although I choked big time against Choi on stage, I thought I transitioned pretty well from Old Dhalsim to New Dhalsim. My mindset was to play New Dhalsim like Old Dhalsim, but use the tech throw when I got thrown and throw in the super once in a while for anti-air. Unfortunately, Evo2k8 was the last for ST before they made the switch to HD Remix which isn’t really ST.

Maj: Have your experiences as a fighting game player had a concrete impact on your career as a game designer? Can you recall a specific instance where your Street Fighter background helped you advance in the game industry?

Back in the day from 2000-2005, when I was pretty much at the top of my game the second time ST came around in popularity, I came close to winning some major tourneys, including Evo2k2 where I placed 3rd in ST as well as making the first ever ST SBO team. These kinds of achievements did actually translate to some perks in the industry.

Classy ShirtsIn the early days, when I started out game testing at THQ Inc, higher ups were aware of my Street Fighter background and would sometimes like to challenge me. Also, I would get put on the most important projects and would become somewhat of an unofficial “game breaker.” This usually meant I was more of “mercenary” tester and kind of did what I wanted in terms of just trying to break the game and not really follow any strict test plans or whatnot.

Under the hood, my Street Fighter background is one of the main reasons I was hired as a combat designer at SCEA Santa Monica Studio. Street Fighter is like the Rosetta Stone of Game and Combat Design. It will teach you the game design basics as well as specific elements related to combat design. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.

If you study Street Fighter and completely deconstruct it, analyze each component and how they relate to each other, then you probably know more about game design than most students that come out of some of these so-called Game Design college programs. That’s what Street Fighter represents to the industry in general and game design specifically.

Maj: Back when i used to frequent #capcom on IRC, i remember you once showed up under a different username and tried to bait half the channel into money-matching you at Daytona USA, of all games. I always wanted to ask: Did that ever work for you? And how did you pick up that game in the first place?

It really started with World’s Finest Comics. That’s where I met a lot of the old school players like Mike Watson, Martin Vega, Jabari (one of the best SF players you probably never heard of), Apoc, George Ngo, etc. They sometimes spoke of a magical arcade in Pasadena, CA that contained rows of all types of video games. Not to mention rows of MK2 and ST.

Shirts-old_school_jdh_with_namesOne day I drove up there, and, long story short, that became my home away from home for several years until they closed the arcade down. It’s really this guy named Jabari Bain that got me into Daytona USA. Jabari Bain hung around World’s Finest Comics in Pico Rivera, CA, but he was always a low-key so he didn’t really play there that much. He was really good and had some of the best psychic skills I’ve ever seen really.

One day I saw Jabari at Pak-Mann Arcade playing Daytona USA. He was the top player there in all the Daytona USA time trials. He showed me how to play and I immediately became obsessed with the game. Other than ST and MK2, Daytona USA was the only thing I played. Eventually, I had some of the fastest time trial times in the country. Twin Galaxies recognized this and presented me with a World Record plaque.

So me being the competitive person that I was, I always tried to bait fools into playing me for $$$ in Daytona USA. And what better place to find cocky gamers trying to play for $$$ in any game than #capcom? Unfortunately, nobody ever took the bait.

Note: There was some rich arcade history here in that era, so please educate yourself and google Pak-Mann Arcade.

Jason de Heras has been playing Street Fighter 2 (and its many incarnations) since roughly 1992. After starting out as a game tester at THQ and freelance strategy guide writer at Tips and Tricks Magazine, he currently works at SCEA Studios Santa Monica as combat designer on games such as GoW3. You can follow him on twitter and check out his website for more stories and articles.

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4 Responses to Five Questions with Jason “Shirts” de Heras

  1. Maj says:

    Thanks to Shirts for providing photos for me to use. Young Wizard! Young Jabari! Both practically invisible!

  2. n00b_saib0t says:

    LOL @ hulk hogan’ing his wife beater. my brother did that to me once, but not out of frustration. he absofuckinglutely destroyed me at soulcalibur IV once (read: every time we play), and since he never beats me at anything street fighter it made him feel manly, so he jumped up and did the hulk hogan. he’s also been known to do the goldberg when he wins at something.

    the goldberg @1:44-

  3. 3nigmat1c says:

    Wow…Tips & Tricks, talk about bringing it back. I was a subscriber for at least 7 years.

  4. deadfrog says:

    Maj, just a quick correction: I’m pretty sure that the grainy photo from Evo 2k8 is of John Choi on stage playing against Tupac Shakur.

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