Friday, 13 November 2015

Video game textmode art part 20 - MIST1015, the Mistigris 21st anniversary artpack!

Long time no post! I've been tied up -- you may have seen hints of the activity in previous posts: rather than interpreting and reminiscing about then-current, now-retro artifacts of technological creative expression, I've been occupied reviving (if temporarily) historical computer art practices, culminating in the Hallowe'en 2015 release of an artpack -- commemorating 21 years since the inaugural artpack release of my BBS scene artgroup Mistigris. If you like, you can download the whole shebang (warning: 200+ megs) or you can browse a gallery of its sights and sounds right in the comfort of your web browser. (For the elevator pitch, here is our video promo clip.)

That was MIST1015, our now-annual collection of new work. But also you probably have caught me yapping about MIST2000, a different collection dating from the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end, a compilation of unreleased works circa 1998-2000, still hidden (but not for too much longer) behind a devious series of puzzles. In today's installment of video game textmode art theatre, which will be showing you sights from MIST1015 (which contained game-related visual artwork, but no game-related music), we'll be opening with a musical selection from MIST2000 (which contained game-related music, but no game-related visual artwork.) Regular readers of this series have been in a situation to already have enjoyed exclusive leaks of two of the gamey tunes that ended up in MIST2000, so here's a third at the start of this post (no, the start was two paragraphs ago!) and a fourth at the bottom:

In the '90s, I was obsessed with a .MOD named "uralvolga fine" by a (now-deceased) Amiga composer named Bruno. The song distinguished itself by eschewing the easy and obvious approach of making computer music that sounded like computer music -- techno, if you will -- and instead making it sound like an Old Country folk orchestra. Due to my perverse tendencies, this electrified me, instilling a curious notion in my head that what I was hearing was klezmer and I ended up making three inferior derivatives of it using his instrument samples: the first was bluntly entitled "uralvolga harsh", the second my demoparty-rejected "In The Old Country... We Make Techno Like THIS!" (whose sampled vinyl noise fooled my father, who should have known better) ... and then there was this song. My "Hello, World" on musical instruments is to try playing the Bubble Bobble theme song on them. And so here we have an arrangement of it on samples of old-style instruments.

Moving right along to the main attraction -- a long-dormant ANSI by Happyfish once and again of Mistigris, dusted off and finished on a whim back in May, then submitted for competition at the NVScene demoparty where it placed ... last. (The last time Happyfish entered an ANSI competition at a demoparty, she came in first place! But Blocktronics did not yet exist at that time.)

I know, I know, you're thinking "I believe you promised me some video game ANSI art, or was that a deceptive lure to trick me into reading your memoirs?" OK, here it is -- Loom fan-art. (Fittingly situated following a musical opening, integrating so extensively with music as that game does.) It opens with the game's first draft, "Open", as cast by seagulls on a shoreside clam. Then we have Master Goodmold of Crystalgard, dissolving into a blue night sky (Loom: candidate for best use of the EGA palette of all time? Making it also eminently well-suited for ANSIfication, despite this being the only such specimen of its kind known.) Then we have protagonist Bobbin Threadbare, holding Elder Atropos' distaff, playing a "D" -- the second note, correctly coloured (which I verified! And consistent with her note-name colouration at the above clam, leading me to assume that they are all assigned their correct colours!) (And though they are are depicted in the ANSI, sharps and flats are off the menu in the game, which utilises only the "white keys" in the C major scale. Nerdy digression -- and considering the context, that's really saying something -- concluded.) Trivia: concealed in this piece in black-on-black is a conversation between Happyfish and myself regarding depiction of what really lies beneath Bobbin's Orko-ish hood.

(She really does have a tattoo like Goodmold's!)

The whole thing that got the ball rolling with Happyfish wrapping up her dusty and forgotten Loom piece (discontinued circa 1998) was my asking her if she remembered working on an unfinished Star Control 2 fan ANSI I'd tried and failed to engage other artists in sorting out around the Mistigris World Tour period (the first half of 1997.) Turns out she still had it, stirring interest in firing up the ANSI lobe of her brain, but put that lobe to work on a different unfinished piece, giving us the awesome Loom ANSI we have just enjoyed. I shopped the Star Control 2 piece around to the current ANSI masters of Blocktronics, but didn't get any bites. Finally, while mentioning it to VileR, a recently-discovered ANSI artists and retro game freak hiding out in plain sight, he noted that he, also, had a Star Control 2 ANSI: "Pretty sure I posted it a few years ago on the Ur-Quan Masters board as an April Fools prank with the premise that UQM now supports ANSI output. Can't recall if anyone fell for it" Such detail! He successfully reduces a 640x480 screen to an effective resolution of 80x50 -- yes, using the unusual 50-line mode I always employed in Telemate to facilitate multitasking by doubling the effective screen real estate (these are the kinds of tricks you will need to resort to if you want to run an underground computer art group in 1995) -- and yet I can still see clearly that his fleet complement consists of three Spathi Eluders, two Earthling Cruisers, a Pkunk Fury, a Chenjesu Broodhome, and ... let's call that an Utwig Jugger in the bottom right. This Thraddash is an unmitigated masterpiece of minimalism, is what it is. Getting it to display in the extraordinary 50-line mode correctly in Pablo and at textmod.es was a pain using SAUCE in ANSIs, so here's an updated version, more true to itself, in ACiD's fortified ANSI format known as XBin.

This humble prank is however only the tip of the iceberg for VileR, whose monumental ANSI works will resume following a(nother) brief detour away from ANSI. Also making a formidable representation in MIST1015 was the artist known as Vordreque, formerly dvandenberg of ACiD. While he did submit a piece of ANSI art, it is non-game-related and hence falls outside the scope of this series... however, he did also contribute a few pieces of music and related promotional high-resolution imagery from a collection of synthwave songs he dubbed "Arcade Summer". Arcades, now those have a hook! Here he presents a simulated mall of the simulated 1980s, including within it simulated video game arcade cabinets entitled "Pegger" and, recursively, "Arcade Summer".
Malls are already kind of uncanny, so that helps in leapfrogging the uncanny valley. KLOV lists no known games by the somewhat lewd name of "Pegger", and what is up on its screen appears to be Stern's 1980 arcade hit Berzerk... which uses a lot fewer buttons than are present on these cabs! (The screen on the "Arcade Summer" cabinet, on the other hand, appears to be displaying another view of the same scene... raising the unanswerable question of the mise en abyme, whether the Arcade Summer arcade cabinet inside of this Arcade Summer arcade cabinet also shows Arcade Summer... what is visible on its screen-within-a-screen, or if it's blinding video feedback all the way down... and, of course, what happens to the hypothetical player at the Arcade Summer cabinet when they move the joystick, and whether that influences the actions of the player in his game. But I digress!

Back to ANSI, everyone! (Cracks whip.) VileR's modus operandi appears to be making ANSI cover art for "the DOS collection" -- I don't know anything about anything, but if I had to speculate I'd guess that these are (annual?) historical collections of MS-DOS software. We begin with number 8 -- he has a picture for 7, but without any game subject, just some floppy diskettes. Here we get both -- disks (each variety -- 3.5 inch, 5.25 inch -- filling in for the appropriately-shaped vowel, well played!) and a delightful Cacodaemon from Doom chomping down on the logo, yum yum!

For the 9th instalment of the collection, the cover model has now turned into the Ghost Pirate LeChuck(tm), in front of some clouds with insanely wonderful colour schemes! (I know, not a lot to say about these, but the pictures really are worth a thousand words.)

Collection number 10 is where things get busy, VileR begging not to be compared to the similarly referentially-dense works by Reset Survivor such as we have seen previously. After a jarring Windows 10 fake-out (there have been many generations of Windows -- nearly all of them -- between the heyday of ANSI art and today), we have several layers of platforms populated by game characters. On top there are characters from Round 42 and Lode Runner, then the next later down we see Worms and Lemmings... downward there is Digger and the (itself Pac-man-ish) cherry Digger seeks, and finally at the wheel is Max Damage of Carmageddon fame.

All in all, VileR had a humdinger of an ANSI art scene debut in this pack. (And when he drops his "ANSI from Hell" the likes of which haven't been seen since 1984, jaws are going to hit the floor.) But for this post, we'll be ending where we began -- with Happyfish, and another song. After getting Bobbin Threadbare in the can, she still had a little momentum carring her forward into the realm of coloured blocks, and told me that next, she was going to draw an ANSI of her favorite podcast. Uhh... synaesthesia much? But it turns out that what she was talking about was the zombie apocalypse exercise audiogame, "Zombies, Run!" (written by, among others, the criminally underrated Choice of Games author Gavin Inglis) ... and so the way to illustrate such an experience could handily be boiled down to reproducing the icon associated with its app. (ANSI app icons for demade smartphones? Why not?)
OK, I've got one more song for you, but before we go, I need to let my local readers know that very soon I'm hosting another one of my vintage games parties -- not this weekend but the next, Nov 21st. Beating the scope of the machines back, we've pushed our earliest generation of vintage games on tap from SNES to NES to Atari 2600, which this time will hopefully be joined by a ColecoVision. As always, there are plenty of PS1 / PS2 / Xbox original games, and we'll see if we can't perform a little Game Boy Advance surgery and get Pac-Man Vs. underway on the big screen! Please contact me if you need further details!

And now, our final artefact in today's gallery -- a rare work by the accomplished musician (and occasional ANSI artist himself) Haquisaq (formerly AKA Handiboy, now known as the chip wizard bryface) from the hazy period after Mistigris closed up shop. The track is a remix of music from Double Dragon -- a fitting counterpart to our Bubble Bobble opening, the latter a game that cannot be truly won without a second player, the former a game that forces two winning players to fight each other to the death. On that happy note -- enjoy! Cheers and hope to be reporting on more of this great weird old stuff soon. Hope you liked MIST1015! We'll start accepting submissions for MIST1016 any time now, so start thinking about what you might cook up 8)