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, 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