Today I'm happy to bring you the second in what is apparently now a series of interviews with prolific combo video makers (be sure to check out the first interview, with James "jchensor" Chen). Maj is the man behind Sonic Hurricane, a fascinating blog and excellent resource for all things Street Fighter.
In this excellent interview, Maj delves into the history of combo videos, his creative priorities, ethical considerations, and hints at the rhetorical power of this unique form.
Begy: How did you get started?
Maj: I liked combo videos from the instant I became aware of their existence and got a chance to watch one. However, the very first thing I read on SRK was the Domination 101 article series by s-kill, who explained that combo video people are "often weaker on certain fundamentals" and "focus on showboating," becoming "that much less centered on the bottom line." Which, in all honesty, is true. So even though people like jchensor and NKI were my heroes for showing us how cool these games can really be, I believed Seth's argument that everything is secondary to becoming unbeatable.
By the time CvS2 came around, I already knew almost everyone in the SoCal community. Out of the blue, tragic (who i didn't really know that well) invited me to his place to help him work on an early CvS2 video. Until I saw him capture a combo with my own eyes, it never occurred to me that making combo videos was something that humans could do. Yeah I don't know, I must have thought it was a super power or something. But suddenly it all made sense and seemed completely feasible.
Not long after that, I started recording clips on VHS tape so I could drive over to MrWizard's house and ask him to capture them for me, since I couldn't afford a capture card myself. Even then, my intention was never to become a combo video maker, because I was still way more interested in progressing through the ranks of the tournament scene.
My first video was a CvS2 Chun Li Strategy Guide posted on the now-defunct Clockw0rk.com, and my second video was a CvS2 Randomness compilation which contained a few combos but was mainly an attempt to get more people to give CvS2 a chance. MvC2 was the big game at the time, and CvS2 seemed rather dry in comparison, so I did what I could to change that perception. It wasn't until my third video that I tried my hand at combos, focusing on Guile because I'd basically become known as SHGL's resident Guile player at that point. Plus he was a perfect fit for the kinds of combo ideas that interested me the most in CvS2.
Eventually the website hosting these files died so I built sonichurricane.com as a home for my various fighting game projects. When SHGL closed, no arcade was able to replace it in my mind, so I started focusing more on combo videos and less on tournament competition.
Maj's SF ? Guile Exhibition, shown at EVO 2007
What are your primary considerations?
As long as the content is good, everything else takes care of itself. I don't try to force videos from scratch. Finding enough free time is too difficult anyway. Then it's a hassle dealing with technology, especially if the concept calls for multiple games on multiple consoles running at different resolutions and frame rates. None of us get paid for this and somehow everything always takes longer than expected.
If a really good idea hits me, it'll motivate me to put in the effort to perfect each clip and jump through all the hoops necessary to finish the project. Otherwise I'll just test the concept for an hour, post the results on a major forum, and forget about it.
There's a Mitch Hedberg joke about this: "Sometimes in the middle of the night, I think of something that's funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen's too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain't funny." Except with combo videos, the pen is always too far away.
How much do you think about things like editing and music?
Until recently, editing was my absolute last concern - always an afterthought. There's no substitute for quality of content in a combo video and it's very easy to make good content unwatchable by over-editing. Lately I've been trying to find ways to make the overall presentation a little more pleasant, but I've only made two videos where I'd call the
editing important. Even then it was less important than the content. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching videos where high quality editing takes center stage but it's just not me to try that sort of thing. I'd rather focus on combo originality and keep the editing out of the way.
Music is a big deal to me so I spend a lot of time thinking about it. However it's usually the last thing I add on. Some people choose a soundtrack first then structure their entire video around it, which I admire because syncing clips to rhythms always has an impact. I don't do it because it's too much editing work and because you have to sacrifice a certain degree of clarity to make everything fit. So I always work on the video first and then look for a suitable track, which sometimes takes days. Finding music that compliments video game sound effects can be tricky.
Who are you making the videos for?
It varies a lot. Sometimes I'll make a video to demonstrate a single discovery, basically for anyone who cares. I've made a couple of strategy videos to highlight under-appreciated characters or play styles, intended for the entire fighting game community.
However, whenever I try really hard to make an exceptional combo video,it's with a relatively tiny audience in mind. My primary goals are to impress the best combo video makers in the world and to create something entertaining for my close friends. I figure the best way to show my appreciation for these people is to put together something that'll make them go "Wow."
That said, I've always admired the fighting game community for too many reasons to list. So it feels good to contribute something cool that I think everyone will enjoy.
Is there anything you think combo videos should always do? Or never do?
As long as everyone's honest, everything's fair game. Problems generally arise when someone lies about how they recorded a combo or where they got an idea.
Even extreme cases of combos created with cheat codes or cheat devices are okay as long as the video maker includes a straightforward warning or a disclaimer. Most people won't care about that video or won't be impressed, but it won't cause any actual drama either.
Now if the author tries to pass them off as legit gameplay, everything changes. We know these games well enough to tell when something is awry. Once enough of us start comparing notes, that author quickly finds himself in an indefensible position. The community can take of itself, but it'd be nice if we never had to deal with these temporary annoyances caused by shortsighted dishonesty.
Are there any combo video authors, or videos in particular, that you are particularly fond of or inspired by?
Far too many to name, so I'll just go with jchensor and NKI. They were two of the most respected combo video authors in the scene when I first started making videos. Both of them have produced several combovids that I'd consider classics to this day. Most importantly, they're just really cool people. I think our whole scene would have turned out differently if those two guys hadn't been as welcoming and as open as they've been to everyone who approached them with a question.
NKI Vol X: Super Turbo Shenanigans
I know of similar communities where everyone's at odds with one another. Sometimes that culture can be traced back to one influential figure who happened to be a conceited jerk.
In terms of favorite videos, it's hard to say because the cutting edge is always moving. For starters anything by TZW, Skill Smith, Sai-Rec, Tosaka, 538/kysg, zerokoubou, or T-7 is simply amazing. Each of those guys chose one or two games to absolutely shred apart and then disappeared. Even today it's almost impossible to find SSF2T combos that
can top VHS tapes TZW recorded over ten years ago.
TZW - Chapter 2 - Ken
Honestly though, I admire anyone who's down go through the trouble of recording and editing any video that shows me something I've never seen before. Even if it's one extra hit at the end of an established combo or one tiny element of style, it's enough to make me smile.
Thanks to Maj for his time and patience in putting up with me and this project. For an even more detailed look at his creative process please check out Sonic Hurricane, particularly the media section. Once again please blame any typos or misspellings on me. - Jason Begy