Saturday, 28 March 2015

Video game textmode art part 16: Blocktronics -- the rest!

Sorry, once in a while I just need to include a "breaking news" bit of only tangential relation to a post's overall theme. This was that -- we're still exploring textmode renditions of video game characters and situations, but the hottest, flashiest developments in this minuscule niche these days appears to be the pseudo-PETSCII conversions using JP "vectorpoem" LeBraton's EDSCII editor. This was a striking rendition of the starting location of Square's amazing SNES JRPG Chrono Trigger.

But human excellence is always more impressive than algorithmic rigor. So here we have one more roundup of video game references from the past releases of the reigning champions of the extremely small rump textmode art "scene", Blocktronics. For crying out loud, I somehow missed that they had released a pack themed after Space Invaders. How could it fail to be filled with video game references? Especially, well, Invaders. These excerpts feature a whole fleet of Invaders as well as some distinctly Centipede and Q*Bert scenery.

(This is an experiment post, initially begun under the old brand: I've finished it up there and copied the code for posting here -- but I'm not 100% sure that the images will display, as in a sense I'm hot-linking myself. Please bring it to my attention if these are all blanks.)

This piece is not at all about invaders (nor Androids, for that matter) and yet it is filled with them. All I can say is: that would be one hell of a set of Dance Dance Revolution instructions, perhaps issued to an octopus player?
Is it worth including this giant logo just for one Pac-Man standing in as a letter C? Yes, it is, because it's one hell of a logo. (He's also eating an "o" standing in for a Pac-pellet. Good enough!)
We don't see this character with any great frequency, another Cats from the memetically radioactive "Zero Wing", but he is distinct and unforgettable:
This classy bit of monochromatic ASCII art celebrates Popcap's monster hit Plants vs. Zombies, the app that bought the local gamer den the Storm Crow Tavern:
Another piece celebrating a relatively recent game, this one is a love letter to League of Legends:
In the Acid Trip megajoint a pretty complete roster of the Star Wars Angry Birds are presented, as well as some other subjects -- this excerpt misses out on a great smallscale portrait of Steve Jobs contemplating the competition...
(Sometime, quite a bit later in the massive piece, the circle is completed with an Angry Birds Chewbacca as well:)
And a piece by the Blocktronics member who embodies video game textmode art more than any other, Reset Survivor, depicting... well, in his own words: "It's Susumu Hori, better known as, Mr. Driller! Taking out a Gumby Blockhead." Of course, that's just the icing on the cake, after the piece goes through little gamer-Tourettes moments invoking Tengen Tetris, Plants vs. Zombies again, and Dig Dug!

Since you've been so kind of read all the way to the bottom, some cleaning of house: it's time for me to announce, if I haven't already, that my twice-annual retro video game party is coming up -- this time, my birthday edition on April 11th. I have, well, a pile of old machines and hundreds of games for them, and dust them off two times a year for people to enjoy some catchup on, socially.

Also, I'm only accumulating more and more redundant Steam codes for games I already own. I thought I could give some of them away here, but so far I've had no takers for the Dreamcast collection (final paragraph) and am wary of increasing the ante with additional offers without the appearance of any ... takers.

That's all for now! Thanks for stopping by and... game on!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Video game art on C64s part 1: games that missed the boat

Video game art on c64s
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5

(This song isn't apropos of anything in particular; an electroswing DJ affiliated with a promoter whose concert I was scheduled to perform at released this free Grim Fandango remix on the occasion of the game's recent Remastered release, and I thought ... what better soundtrack for discussing games than... music from games?)

Now while I was recently shaking down The Pixelling Cow's archives of C64 contest graphics for a bevy of beautiful game-related PETSCII artwork, I found that what I was seeking was a mere fraction of what the site had to offer -- fellow traveler low-fi computer art not made in textmode -- though sometimes reminiscent of it. And from those mountains I was able to filter out several large mounds of C64 compo graphics celebrating video games... improvements or re-interpretations of screens from games they loved on the C64, imaginings of games it never hosted but might have, and outright celebration of games they loved harnessing the full power of a computer they also loved.

It's interesting how the sensibilities of the C64 milieu differ from the tastes of the PC "artscene" I was so wrapped up in: on the very rare occasions when these engage comic book source material, you're far more likely to end up with a picture from a 2000AD-published comic (OK, artscene folks were no strangers to Judge Dredd, sure, but how often do you see a Slaine or Strontium Dog ANSI?) or some Vaughan Bodē. We also see more typical musical themes (at least, punk, Simon le Bon, Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie the Head (admittedly not unknown in early ANSI circles) and Jimi Hendrix), pieces working for platform advocacy (most Commodore users would gush for free the way no paid IBM staffer ever could), the cosmic wonders of outer space, the endless delights of D&D -- and of course, seemingly limitless poorly-proportioned porn, just like back in the 'scene.

But some things are eternal -- to wit, here we have a parallel to my long-running textmode art series, a specialised subset of fan art made celebrating video games, now in C64's hirez mode. This particular post explores a weird subset -- celebrations on the C64 of great games that never actually washed up on that august machine. Pros -- you could keep playing on the PC next to it on the desk while drawing to maintain a constant reference. They're displayed in chronological sequence of the release date for the subject game. (I'm sorry for dropping the artist credits -- I didn't take good notes when I first hoovered the files up, though you should be able to trace them down through the original filenames, which I have built on and extended somewhat. Poor form, mea culpa.)

This is a somewhat vestigial take on the box artwork to Westwood's Eye of the Beholder 1 from 1990 (update: hm, also apparently fragmentarily C64tified over here), which you can see for yourself to compare and contrast.

We're on a roll, so here's some C64 artwork from its sequel, the high point of the series -- EOB 2, the Legend of Darkmoon, from the following year of 1991. (Cover art.) Much more fleshed-out -- background, for instance!

And now one from the box art of Monkey Island 2, LeChuck's Revenge, from 1991. This game is so great, we see two splendid (and very different) approaches to the very same part of its game's box. So, take two!

Nothing else to say here! The former take went for variable lighting, but here we dive in whole-hog for the blue beard look. Belt? Buttons? We'll just have to agree to disagree. (Cover art.)

Without the Genesis' much-vaulted "Blast Processing", the C64 simply couldn't deliver this killer mascot -- Sonic the Hedgehog, from 1991. (Here's a screenshot for contrast - the flowers & ground are a little bit off, the trees somewhat more.

And because the Genesis really was all that and a bag of chips, here's another monster flagship hit for the system -- 1992's Ecco the Dolphin. (Vs. a screenshot.)

His Imperial Majesty the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, lifted from the intro to Westwood's Dune 2, released in 1992. (MS-DOS screenshot.)

A very distinctive still from 1992's Flashback: The Quest For Identity. (MS-DOS title screen.)

The beginning of a somewhat head-scratching theme, the 2D rendering of 3D character models (hopefully not manually shaded, but I wouldn't put anything past these C64 zealots!) This is of course Goro, end boss of Mortal Kombat 1, released in 1992.

Because one good KO deserves another, here's a stylized rendition of Rayden's acolyte Kung Lao from Mortal Kombat 2, 1993.

In a gaming context, this Red Wizard of Thay was seen on the cover of SSI's 1993 Fantasy Empires, though Fred Fields' artwork predates the game and was used on the cover of the book Red Magic. Now this is a case of too much background -- where did that inn come from?

Here's an unlikely 1993 underdog I didn't expect to see exalted twice -- Gremlin's Litil Divil. Another interesting case of two variant takes on one authoritative source image. Here's the first...

... and here, the second! (And here, a third: an MS-DOS screenshot.)

This curious character is "Metal Sonic" from 1993's Sonic CD, for the Sega CD. (This lead to contemplation of improbable CD-ROM support for the C64 and, well, naturally someone more invested in the topic has already followed that idea through to its logical conclusion.

It's 1995 now and Pikachu from Pokémon is waving hello from the land of starbursts. Hi there, you electric rat!

Pokémon, of course, would go on to be a major franchise -- at one point contributing substantially to Nintendo's continued existence when other winds seemed to be blowing against them. So here's a Pokéball, but it looks like the artist is getting a little sick of these Pocket Monsters since it is actually a Pukéball, being vomited upon. That's 15-year-old humour for you, looking down on the culture of 9-year-olds. (And I, too, relished "classic" Sesame Street and mounded scorn on Elmo and Barney, the pretenders to the throne.)

It's another dip into rendered-3D aesthetics here with Lara Croft from Core's Tomb Raider games (how far they'd come, and yet how little distance they'd travelled, since Rick Dangerous!), circa 1996 -- we could place her definitively by taking a bust measurement, but that's not quite the kind of detail I'm a stickler for.

Here we have a gentleman who needs no introduction: Cloud Strife, from Square's FFVII in 1997.

I guess the games that followed lacked a certain classic or retro appeal, since our chronologically-next game to be celebrated in this splendidly strange fashion is Okamiden from 2010, following a 13-year gap.

And bringing us just about to the present day, here's a C64tified screen -- slightly more colourized than the sepia-toned original, which you can enjoy here in enormous wallpaper-size --from Vlambeer's Luftrausers from 2014.

(which, bonus, looks like it has been ported -- or at least demade, to genuine c64 hardware:) ... and one late-breaking bonus:

Video game art on c64s
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Video game textmode art part 15: Pac-Man in Blender 2000!

This was going to be another post on a different subject (current stats -- published posts on Pixel Pompeii: 5; draft posts: 25) but current events forced my hand. The web ANSI art host is wrapping up round one of a tournament-style computer art competition, explicitly striking in the same vein as the renowned Blender competitions of the late '90s. (In a nutshell: artists gathered in #blender on the EFNet IRC Sunday afternoons, offered suggestions for characters, locations and actions, then had a couple of hours to create new original computer art -- visual, musical, literary, programmatic -- engaging the three curated subjects for that week. Then they were ranked on ability and use of the topics.) I ran the Blender for a spell -- as it lurched toward a long decline and dormancy of a decade and a half -- and for the occasion have just unleashed on the world the long-speculated contents of the "lost", unreleased Blender competitions I ran.

While piecing its fragmented history together to tie up all the loose ends, I found... wait for it... ANSI art depicting video game characters. That's right -- in round 2 of the "Blender 2000" revival (of 1999 -- funny how that anticipatory zeitgeist ran!), the three words were "Pac-Man", "sacrifice", and "Mount Olympus". (I was not the only one who thought that this would make for a neat segue into the Sweet Sixteen Colors comp, so those of you following the ANSI of the Day posts will already have seen and enjoyed Big Yellow Man's artful crowning work that I here redact.) So while these blocky illustrations are indeed of Namco's perennial mascot, it's undeniably the case that the additional constraints, somewhat beyond their canon for the hungry character, result in some novel situations for the pill-popper. (Somewhere in draft hell -- or indeed in the just-released back-Blender pack) I have two further artworks from an earlier Blender which you'll get a chance to experience sometime, depicting "Mario" "lusting" after "snowmen". I... I can't explain it. There is no good explanation.)

The first piece, by aeternam, is a Star Wars / Pac-Man ASCII art mashup which, admittedly, doesn't do much with the "sacrifice" part of the equation. Pro tip: drawing Pac-Man is easier if you can devise to illustrate him from behind (cf. the old physics race-prediction joke ending in "let us assume that the horses are perfect spheres...")
Klumzee and Argon here depict Pac-Man conducting a sacrifice (of Inky! Well, I guess they are all blue when scared of him - and never so rightfully so!) at the very palace of the ghods up at Mt. Olympus.
Another day, another ghost-sacrifice by a decidedly bored-looking Pac-Man magician. In, you may note, an "Olympus"-brand cauldron! By Enzo, then-affiliated with the group Glue.
Leo of Black Maiden here turns the tables on Pac-Man: now he is the sacrifice! With Mount Olympus appearing hazily in the far distance. Leo appears hazily in the rankings: this piece won 3rd prize.
Funk-e and Luminator take a grim premise and make it even grimmer; this Pac-Man takes a decidedly Leatherface bent and sacrifices his human victim using a monogrammed chainsaw!
Sunshine takes the minimalist approach: Pac-Man, Mt. Olympus... imply some danger, and we're done!
And here zedfact0r tries something new. (In a number of these pics, the artists had to explore some new territory -- assigning Pac-Man limbs and a body!) Even though all the sacrificial action takes place out of frame, it's a bold debut, to be sure.
But the Blender, bless its defunct little heart, wasn't just for ANSI art, but computer art in all its forms! This brings us to the obligatory '90s Photoshop collage. Three elements? No problem -- three layers! Good work, Ogre -- from your brain to a cocktail napkin to photo-realism!
Archie says: Who needs Photoshop? Sometimes the cocktail napkin suffices -- either the idea floats or it doesn't! Rarely is a character's hands and feet the most realised part of their anatomy!
Originally a piece of vector art in the RIPscrip format, this piece by Pike manages to somehow reconcile its trivia with canon: here they are, Pac and ghost, in right-angled blue corridors strewn with spheres. Frame it as sacrifice, include an obligatory nod to Olympus, and get out unscathed.
Another RIP work, this one (by Nightstalker) utilized the format's animation capacity -- like Graphics Magician on the Apple 2 (or if you prefer, the genius on the other side of the membrane in Le Mystere Picasso), if slowed down sufficiently, you could observe the work being drawn stroke by stroke.

Blender senior staffer Warpus contributed a strange little Windows app with bizarre and unsettling options offered. You can't run it in your browser, so here's a .GIF animation I made of its highlights reel:

And also, there was a song! Converted from the RealMedia format (was that ever a thing, even back in 1999?) for your convenience. That's the beauty of the Blender -- while the artscene it emerged from was very eyeball-centric, it was a weird little oasis where digital creativity in other mediums could surface and be appreciated as equally valid ways of expressing complicated topics. This was written by Bedlam of ACiD, though I can tell you for sure it wasn't on account of his musical ability that he was invited to join their hallowed ranks. (Placed second in the contest!)

...and because I'm wary of falling afowl of any future terms of service changes Google may re-impose upon Blogger users regarding the presence of adult content, I'm not going to show you these ones -- you will have to follow the links yourself. If you didn't balk at a program with a "fondle Pac-Man" button, these should be right up your alley:

  • a high-resolution picture I can't show you (for reasons of blow-up doll anatomy) by my old scene nemesis Blue Devil of ScrollZ and CiA, the man who somehow revived the validity of the "lit" form of computer art (that would be: poetry and prose to you or I) by celebrating its most heinous depths...
  • a crude .GIF animation...
  • a busty bondage babe, by zippy, "good girl art" not uncommon to the artscene...
  • and one final piece, another picture I can't show you by the late, great, Big Yellow Man of PLF, un-showable due to a rare artscene depiction of male genitalia (hm, perhaps a subject for a future post? Something for the ladies!) Works such as the previous one were ubiquitous in the scene, while ones such as this were once in a blue moon. This work won the competition, incidentally, and rightfully so.