Monday, 6 January 2020

The Christmas 2019 Video Game Haul

Greetings! My "Christmas haul" posts were never a very popular category of post I made here up at this blog, but as they gradually approach 50% of its semiannual entries, they are really dominating the second place on the podium. In any event, howdy! It's been a while! I'm now basically too occupied in my spare time, consumed with the business of sharing curated computer art over social media, to blog about it here. (It's a really unfair split, since my involvement with a great deal of the work I wind up sharing began as unfinished blog posts here. I could just advise you to hitch your wagon to the new caravan, but I know it's not the same to you or your RSS reader.) Anyhow, mea culpa, I digress -- I'm derailing this post before it even gets started, an unhelpful trick. Hey, look at this! The mug is in the shape of a beige desktop computer, possibly one whose main word processor is WordPerfect, and its irregular form makes the interior very difficult to effectively clean! (This selfie is posed, but I couldn't bring myself to drink -- no matter how many times I run it through the dishwasher, I keep winding up with floaties! Eugh!!!)

There was actually a good long moment during our extended family Christmas Day gathering where I quietly concluded to myself, after a frenzy of gift revelation, that my decade-long window of video game indulgence seemed to have closed, represented only by the book seen here (a distinctly mixed bag -- invite Los Angeles lowbrow artists circa 2005 to submit artworks on video game themes and stand back!  Steve Purcell's Sinistar stood out however 8)... the rest of my spoils seemed to have landed in the welcomed but practical category of snacks, socks and the like. But I had forgotten the way my mother-in-law categorizes different kinds of presents for different stages of the unwrapping pageant, and happily it turns out I still had plenty of games ahead of me! Here's a broad overview of the goodies I had awaiting me. Only games this time, no consoles -- which is fine, I have all the consoles I need that are likely to be encountered in working condition secondhand -- and in manageable lots. No "five identical Donkey Kong cartridges" this year, which is funny... once!

No reasonably sane person categorizes Choose Your Own Adventures with video games except for me -- in my case, gamebooks are probably what I used as a home video gaming substitute back in the '80s.  Plenty of duplicates with games I already own, but it's the thought that counts.  Will Clue the video game be any more fun than Clue the boardgame?  I hope so!

Sure, you may have a Sonic the Hedgehog cartridge and might not see the benefit in having another... but do you have a Sonic the Hedgehog cartridge in a generic replacement Genesis cart box complete with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 manual?

The Xbox One games are interesting, as for about nine months, since relieving a friend of his WiiU, I'd finally been caught up with ownership of a suitable console for just about every game I own (not quite true, I have a few unplayable N-Gage and PSP games, but as a rule of thumb I do not collect that which I am not suitably equipped to play.)  Now I once again have games for a machine I may not own for years yet to come! My estimate is that I wind up owning every machine about a dozen years after its release, so that means I may wind up with the means of playing these discs in about five years.  We'll see!  Pictionary for the NES is renowned for having a soundtrack that punches above its weight class, but I imagine things have evened out since then.

And the "So, I hear you briefly had, then divested yourself of, a Nintendo DS" starter pack: a Mario game, a Brain Age game, a High School Musical game (the sports game weed choking thrift store bins of the 21st century) and a licensed game from a movie you've never heard of!  Ah well, you can't complain.  Did I somehow leave out the NES carts completely?  Well, Super Mario / Duck Hunt is a known quantity, and as for Bart Vs. the Space Mutants... Simpsons video games always felt like they'd be a better fit than they actually were.  The Konami arcade version hit the sweet spot, but that spot wasn't what Acclaim was targeting in its licensed NES carts.

Bonus gaminalia: everyone in the house knows how much I love Katamari Damacy (A: A Lot) and so here's a little Sisyphean sculpture of the prince toiling away at his cosmic task... also a little Super Mario Bros 3. cross-stitch piece, because... hey, why not? I only take out the vintage gaming decor for my vintage gaming parties twice a year, but it stays up for a few days while the odds of a given game getting any airtime, with a collection of over a thousand pieces, is very slim... so we likely actually get more mileage out of the set dressing! The last Big Pixels party is two months behind us, meaning we have another four or five before all the dusty 8-bit machines of yore are exhumed from their rubbermaid tombs and we actually get a chance to try out some of these "new" (to me) specimens on their corresponding vintage hardware. But will I be posting here again before then? Unclear... well, odds are I will at least be doing another Star Wars textmode art roundup, then who knows 8) See you later!

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Textmode art roundup: The Fourth May the Fourth Be With You -- more Star Wars fanart

The last three years I've done a Pixel Pompeii post of textmode Star Wars artwork around May 4th to celebrate that lovable space opera franchise that just wouldn't quit, so since I've got a pile of it gathering dust here I may as well discharge the lot with another of my increasingly rare posts here!

How should I organize these? By age, theme, chronology... maybe I'll mix it up. Here I'll start with a representative from Episode 1, a Jar-Jar Binks teletext screen by Uglifruit which washed up in the new MIST0519 artpack:

OK, are you done shuddering? Tempering the suck of Jar-Jar here is the awesomesauce of Episode III's General Grievous, drawn in PETSCII by Snake PETsken, also from MIST019:

Horsenburger drew this teletext screen of Donald "Childish Gambino" Glover as Lando Calrissian from the recent Solo - A Star Wars Story, next in the loose chronology. This piece you can also find in MIST0519, which admittedly weighs a little disproportionally here. (The SF-themed artpack also features non-textmode Star Wars art, as well as science fiction-based art of all kinds on other franchises and original concepts. I like to think it's well worth checking out, and not only because I spent a year putting it together!)

I'm trying to alternate friends and foes here, so now that we've reached the Episode IV in which they first appeared, here's a Jawa, mashed up into a Frank Zappa album cover in Shift_JIS by Kalcha, in his unique fashion, as seen in MIST0519:

Here's ANSI art of some metallic friends to whom we were introduced in Episode IV, though they were later retconned into the prequels:

That tableau was a portion of a larger piece drawn by Reset Survivor, a onetime staple of this blog, and next we have a focus on the golden god C-3PO drawn by The Knight of Fuel:

Then we need to step aside and make some room for The Bad Guys: your standard Star Wars type through the original trilogy are Stormtroopers, and here are a few takes on them.  Here's one of their helmets drawn by VodkaV of the recently-discovered uncontacted ANSI artist tribe at

Another Stormtrooper helmet, this time in newschool ASCII art, by... OK, I got nothing, the filename is just a string of gibberish. Is there some clue in the screen capture itself?

Snake PETsken returns with another PETSCII portrait, first widely seen (heck, the only place it will ever be widely seen) in January's "Blockheads" art gallery program for Commodore 64s:

And then there's this ANSI art Stormtrooper by Kyp of Black Maiden, whose palette caused a great deal of bemused concern when it surfaced as the 16 Colours ANSI of the Day: "It's time for a brief public service announcement concerning the importance of proper color selection. One wrong choice can put you on a path to oddville that you never meant to be on. This is just...I don't know. It's a Stormtrooper, but made entirely out of flesh and delivering flowers. His helmet eyes are squinty, almost sultry. He has a "come hither" stare. His flowers are in a styrofoam cup, and he's all flesh tone. A Fleshtrooper, if you will."  Bouquet aside, it actually is a faithful reproduction of the box art for the 1995 Lucasarts video game Dark Forces, the red tint a product of proximity to blaster fire.  But without that context, it is mildly risible:

What does it take to counteract a Stormtrooper?  Usually one of these will do it.  Misfit drew this ANSI art illustration of Han Solo's blaster:

Here's a teletext illustration by Horsenburger cutting us in on the fateful (Han shot first!  Exhibit a, please see above) showdown between Han Solo and Greedo in the Mos Eisley cantina, as seen in the new MIST0519 artpack collection:

We will return to Han Solo later on, but there's an important antagonist from Episode IV we haven't touched on yet ... ah yes, here he is!  I'm not sure in which movie he's lighting a cigar with his lightsaber, but... well, it's by Zen of the MIRCart crew, they usually introduce a twist to the story.

Zerovision of Glue drew this ANSI art Vader for a BBS named Endor, a double whammy, in their 21st artpack:

Snake PETsken joins the proceedings once again showing just how it is done.  (It is done, for the record in Petmate, for a C64 audience.)  You can find this screen in Blockheads.

And here's another Darth Vader ANSI art scroller for another Star Wars-themed BBS, named The Rebel Base.  

And here's something out of left field (a Mistigris specialty), some of XTComics' unique blend of ASCII art and emoji illustrating what it might look like when Darth Vader goes on vacation, as seen in the new MIST0519 artpack.
An important supporting player from Episode IV on the side of the heroes: an X-Wing Fighter, drawn in ASCII art (by ... I got nothing) that appeared on the NinjaPenguin 2017 thermal printer.
Tit for tat, here's an awesome spaceship of the Empire, a mighty Star Destroyer on parade past the Death Star:
OK, I take it back, that one was so terrible it didn't count at all. (Surely it turned up by happenstance in some collection or other of Public Domain ANSI art from back before anyone realised that it could be used to draw pictures and not just finger paintings.) So moving briskly forward to Episode V, here's an AT-AT walker as seen at the Battle of Hoth:

OK, Horsenburger's teletext version, as seen in MIST0519, is not very impressive because he's trying to duplicate the sprite art used in the 1982 Atari 2600 video game adaptation of the movie. But this ANSI art screen should make up for it, drawn by Magnetic M of GRiP/AD for Warp Zone BBS way back in the '90s:

And on from Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi... here's a teletext screen of Lando checking in on Han Solo frozen in carbonite (I admit, it's a little much to pack into a single screen, but if anyone can do it, it's Horsenburger... from MIST0519):

And on to the real stars of Episode VI: the Ewoks! Here's ANSI art of one drawn by Nance of MIRCart:

Here's another one, drawn by ... er... MH of RZN:

Horsenburger is always happy to oblige, teletext-style. Go, Wicket, go!

And now we're on to the sequels. Here's the world's tiniest Kylo Ren, as drawn by Nail (and consequently, almost certainly captured in the wrong aspect ratio) as seen in the 4-20 Blocktronics artpack:

Typewriter artist Jamie Graham has also used his writing tool to draw a Kylo Ren, as seen in the MIST0519 artpack:

More to the point, he also used it to draw a porg:

We're wrapping up here, so one last bit of odds and ends, another Kalcha Shift_JIS piece mashing up Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album art with the Death Star from... well, OK, all of the Star Wars movies just about:

Finally, Dman won the ANSI art compo at the 2018 Multmatograph demoparty with this group shot:
And that's all from this year! I've been trying for a couple of years now avoiding simply reposting the entire contents of the Blocktronics Star Wars artpack verbatim, but perhaps 2020, after the conclusion of the Skywalker trilogy, will be the year that sees that post. Until then... live long and prosper!

Monday, 1 April 2019

Unbelievable -- Worms in teletext?!

It is almost too much to believe, friends.  Screenshots have surfaced from an unlikely Team 17-related project from probably a quarter century ago.  The venerable software developers, known for Full Contact, Alien Breed, and Superfrog, launched their flagship series Worms in 1995.  (The Sega Mega CD quoted in the above screen was in production until 1996, so that timeframe looks reasonable.)

Something else that was a going concern in 1995 was teletext on British televisions!  We know that simple games were present on the commercial teletext services such as 4-Tel, Oracle and Ceefax -- mostly Choose-Your-Own-Adventures controlled via four coloured buttons ("press red to play") on a teletext remote control.  But as gamebook authors have established, you could use a highly constrained medium to communicate not only simple parlour games like tic-tac-toe, checkers and cards but such play experiences as aerial dogfights.  So why not artillery duels, where the available options really are few?

Here, no doubt extracted and reconstructed from a frame immortalized on some unrelated period TV programming on videotape, is a before and after sequence.  Bamber is at the mercy of Turner (named after the teletext comics hero Turner the Worm)...

... but Turner has no mercy, leaving Bamber a broken worm in a crater hole.  What is unclear from these screens is whether the project was an official Team 17 tie-in (if so, it was a bizarre gambit without precedent or successor, suggesting that it was a failure), or some kind of unlicensed (but there at the top of this post is the company logo!) clone or fan port.  Questions are also raised regarding what the development environment for such a project might have looked like -- I figure that odds are good the game nodes could have been illustrated and programmed on BBC Micro computers, which shared teletext's Mode 7 graphics capability and were often used as input terminals.  I would think that by '95 the Beeb computers would be getting a little long in the tooth for work of this sort, but I also know that professional video studios were still using Amiga Video Toasters to composite graphics effects at the turn of the century, recording their pre-made visual segments on Sony Betamax kit, so anything is possible -- one forgets that the future wasn't always hurtling at us at quite so feverish a pace as it does today.

This screenshot beggars the imagination: special attacks in a four-player melee through your TV set?  (Really four players?  I see four worms but only two health bars.  Are there two computer AIs not counted?)

No offence to Team 17, who I'm sure would have been capable of this feat -- but may not have backed it up with the quixotic development dollars needed.  Maybe these screens are actually from an undocumented fan port (you know, the kind you'd pick up on a home-dubbed, hand-labelled cassette at a boot sale, but wasn't that more of an '80s scene?) for the BBC, which I know featured early networked deathmatches in eg. the tank game Bolo.  Anything is possible, and truth is stranger than fiction.  If I find out more about this release, I will be sure to announce it here!  The screens have appeared recently without much supporting context, so all the alpha nerds (adjusts pocket protector) are scrambling to interpret what they're seeing with their lying eyes and make sense of it all.  In the meantime, the screens are a feast for the eyes and fuel the imagination!

Update: the company speaks!

Updated update:  er, eh, uhm... April Fool's!  These are all 2019 Horsenburger teletext screens drawn up on the invitation of a current Team17 employee as a prank on his colleagues.  But fun to think about regardless!

Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Christmas 2018 Video Game haul

Here I am, back again, stubbornly refusing to let this blog die, yet not allowing it the conditions needed to live and thrive. On that cheerful note, if I only make one post a year, it should be the one that comes gift-wrapped with a bow on top. Literally. It's another specimen of that unpopular genre of "my Christmas haul" reports (what, no Christmas 2014 report? Ohhh, I see -- transitioning over to this blog from the last was a New Year's 2015 resolution. My starting it was the biggest gift in this field! 8)  The big challenge for me is getting the holiday loot written up before the holiday itself is but a hazy, distant memory -- now a month and a week hence.  February is a fine time to discuss Christmas matters, now who wants to join me in a rousing round of carols?  (both of my kids shoot their hands up.)

It's helpful to have a games collector on your gift list because you are never in the "what to get for the man who has everything" scenario: if his Atari 2600 collection is 100%, get him Colecovision carts! And when all else fails, when you can't find any more games for cheap, load the stocking up with game swag!  Here you see a nice mix of games, a console, accessories and ... swag.  I'm a big fan of the Commodore 64 t-shirt!

Here it is, the main mass of loot. It is, as you can see, substantial.  Plenty of games, plenty of not-games, everything of some interest to one such as I even if it's terrible. (Indeed, I think that in their way, terrible games are often quite a bit more interesting than excellent ones. But surely I've shared my theory of the "interesting failure" (vs. the "boring success") before?)

Many is the time I've been given some kind of video game-themed snack, candies and treats. (I recall last year we saw a Super Mario Maker treat kit, which saw you mixing the ingredients to DIY, a nice thematic dovetailing.) To the great disappointment of my kids (who are immediately like "Hurray, let's dig in!") I never, though, wind up eating these, understanding that they are not being sold on their nutritional value or delicious flavour, but rather the expensive mascot licensed to appear on the bag. The big "Kirby candy" question really is "What powers do I gain when I eat it?"  (The small question is: what's that flavour closest to Kirby's head?  It looks like... a glass of water.  What's that taste like, in candy form?  The refreshing flavour of club soda... in candy form!)

The days of the Tiger LCD handhelds are once again with us, it seems, no matter how we might have hoped to shake them off.  I once played an iPod Touch game a decade or so ago that boasted a similar premise to this item, having implemented simple game engines for a dozen basic game types (scroll up, scroll right, maze, platform, artillery... you get the picture) and a hundred sprite primitives that looked a lot like the glyphs emblazoning this package.  None of it was any fun, but there were so many ways to mix it up!  Something something quality, something something quantity.  And is that a knockoff Atari logo in the top right or just a puff of afterburner flame?

The concept of Tetris is sufficiently potent that it can in many regards be exported whole cloth into the real world (fittingly, since it is inspired by physical sets of pentomino blocks traditionally used to play games in Russia.)  Here the premise is reversed somewhat, with the goal being to successfully remove blocks from a complete wall rather than the opposite.  I suspect that this is a mix of two great things that are both somehow less great together, but you've got to give Hasbro the credit for the hustle.

Quite a bit less fun than simply playing the games, but nonetheless hours of endless entertainment for a limited understanding of "entertainment".  I never actually watched this as a kid despite falling in the right age range -- perhaps the timing didn't quite work out, but even so I suspect I understood instinctively that you could not take the Mushroom Kingdom's basic ingredients and come up with palatable passive entertainment without stretching a little.  (Now the Mario Bros. movie... that one, it stretched too far.  It's a delicate balance!) 

You know that sticky brown crud that gets in the cracks when your friends don't wash their hands before playing your video games after eating?  Why not cut out the middleman and just make the joysticks out of chocolate?!  Sure they're less responsive, but probably still good enough to win an occasional round of Mario Kart.  I believe that my mother-in-law has acquired some game controller silicone baking molds.  I'll probably be showing off a new batch of these every year, but nonetheless... yum!

After Christmas, often my family goes on a little holiday just out of town and we find that the suburbs there offer more goods of interest to us in their less-picked-over-by-hungry-urban-hipsters thrift stores.  So in addition to my enormous haul of secondhand video games acquired as gifts, there's often a second wave of more games acquired at rock-bottom prices.  (I'm not entirely as indiscriminate a collector as the pictures show -- While everybody loves Spyro, as the recent remaster demonstrates, Dora the Explorer isn't my bag... but I have two little girls.  Still no sports games, though!  Please, I have standards!)

Also, I made an interesting literary discovery...

Apparently around the turn of the century, Lyrick Publishing oversaw series of books based on Humongous Entertainment characters, also including Putt Putt and Freddi Fish.  That's a new one for my books-based-on-video-games file!

Though you can't tell to look at this post (or, ahem, my wife's question about all the Steam Winter Sale charges on our latest credit card bill), I'd have to posit that 2018 was the year I lost momentum collecting games (a lot of this simply has to do with the rhythms of the secondhand market in response to the ebb and flow of new generations of hardware hitting stores), and instead started inadvertently accumulating consoles! With the exception of the final week the PlayStation 2 was in stores I never owned a bought-new video game machine -- instead, I acquire them when my friends are done with them. I live in 2019 but the bleeding edge of my entertainment life is grounded circa 2007. Until I get a machine, I don't collect games for that machine -- which is probably a mistake on some level, I've missed out on some smoking deals on games I can't play yet -- but Every time I take the plunge and buy into a new hardware ecosystem, within six months someone else has given me one or thrown one in as a bonus perk to an unrelated purchase. So in one year I'll go from eg. having no PlayStation 3s to owning four of them, somehow. (Then I start to get picky about wanting one that will play discs from all three PlayStation generations, so I can access the widest slice of my games collection with the minimum of machines set up.)

I acquire this hardware when the iron is hot but I don't always have the time to get it up and running -- content in the awareness that if free time emerges, I have all the physical goods required in order to go on that adventure. The holidays give me the time off from work (and the need to entertain two kids all day long for weeks on end) motivating actually taking this gear out of the box and getting it set up. So despite all these games and goodies, my main gaming memory of Christmas 2018 is having my first Xbox 360 Kinect experience (the hot new advance of 2010!) and evaluating the relative merits of the WiiU (2012) vs. the Wii (some solid improvements.) So despite my estimate of permanently being about 12 years out of step with the gaming world, this year I leapt forward to being only ... seven years behind. It's a curious thing to have your first experience with the hot new trend take place only after it has already been retired and discontinued, but then... I'm a curious guy. And these paragraph are a hefty digression.

Thanks for hanging in there, confused subscribers who had forgotten I'd ever haunted their RSS reader! See you again next year! (Just kidding, I need to make at least one more Star Wars computer art post in 2019 8)