Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Video game textmode art part 18: fANSI, part 1!

I open with mindbombs unrelated to the rest of the post. Sorry, deal with it. Too awesome not to share! I believe that @vectorpoem is the the author of the EDSCII tool whose capabilities are being demonstrated there, so: score for creator promotion. I made some use of the tool myself for an April Fool's art project this year -- it has nice bitmap-to-textmode conversion functionality, albeit s l o w.

So, ANSI art. We all know about its rise to prominence decorating and advertising MS-DOS bulletin board systems, especially underground ones, and when the textmode operating environment fell by the wayside around the same time as affordable home internet access overturned the BBS ecosystem, it went away forever. Right?

What if I were to tell you... sorry, let me try that again...

... that for 20 years, a lost tribe of outsider, uncontacted ANSI artists had continued to practice and hone their art in isolation from the artscene?
(cf. Mario Paint.) The Yanomami here are the crew of 8BITMUSH, a retro-themed offshoot of the MUD (multi-user dungeon) variety of online game / chatroom, which has been hiding in plain sight at ansiart.com where, in the interim, they have tinkered with the ANSI standard to yield FANSI -- not "freehand ANSI" or ANSI art on original subject matter, as the term was (very) rarely used (interchangeably with "FART") back in the '90s artscene, but a new strain of ANSI with all the characters we know and love and a full available 256-colour palette! (Before, the 256 were merely implied by layering the available 16 possible foreground colours with 16 possible background colours ... then further gradiated according to three intensities of intermediary shading.) I gather the tweak involves baking in extended functionality to a terminal program -- ANSI support isn't a big step up from a telnet client, and FANSI support can't be that much more complex, can it?

My initial foray into this world will be fleeting, skimmed from their artist galleries, but Luke Volk, whose images you have seen in earlier posts, is a member of this community and will lead us in a future post through further works of FANSI concealed within the shared hallucination's (the SH in MUSH) inner regions.

It turns out you've already seen a few pieces of FANSI in earlier posts, unearthed through a Google Image search without any context explaining why it looked so peculiar. (That'd be the 256-colour palette, Bob.) But here we have a nice juicy array of them for your viewing pleasure.

I've basically just scraped an artist gallery page celebrating the art of the site, cherry-picking video-game-themed works. Here are two self-portraits by Jinx as as the dog from Duck Hunt -- first, in small-scale ASCII, then in a larger ANSI version (bizarrely, wearing camouflage.)
Next we have couple of works by Mars: first, the Piranha Plant from Super Mario Bros. 1:
Also, a hybrid ANSI/ASCII(/FANSI) hardware profile, of the Zapper light gun for the NES (with which Duck Hunt and, say, Hogan's Alley were played.)
Here are three pieces by Nina: first, David Crane's crowning glory, the Boy and the Blob from A Boy And His Blob:
Also she has drawn a lovely little Bomberman...
And this one, hilariously titled "The Guy From Contra":
Now, a couple of random grab-bag selections -- this is a picture of a Game Boy Advance, by Sassafras:
Here, a very tight-focus small-scale presentation of Super Mario and a "Boo" (a ghost) by Yoda:
And ending this post (though we'll be revisiting FANSI again), a piece with ties to the next instalment of our series -- Riay's rendition of the Red Mage from the Final Fantasy games:

Monday, 20 April 2015

Video game art on C64s part 2 - Implementation mockups

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

So I needn't digress once I get started, here's today's obligatory bit of off-topic gaminalia:

OK, now where was I? I was nowhere; I hadn't started yet. So here we are, examining another theme of C64 fan-art, slightly, subtly (and sometimes indistinguishably) separate from the last time I rifled through these archives of C64 high resolution fan artwork. Last time we looked at pieces celebrating games which never wound up on Commodore's venerable platform, and this time -- we look at renderings of rooms, designs and situations -- some from games-never-made-for-the-C64, as they would have appeared under that machine's once-supreme, eventually-lacking graphics capabilities, and other times, the artists have perhaps chosen to demonstrate that prettier versions were possible on the C64 than were officially produced -- typically striving to capture some of the splendor of Amiga versions. (I know, that's not a fair comparison -- it's comparing Commodores to Commodores!)

EDITOR'S NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that I have inadequately communicated that this isn't just a single piece of updated artwork, but an entire upgraded game, fully playable. Other titles to receive the plastic surgery treatment include Commando, Ghosts 'N Goblins, and even a slice of Zak McKraken.

Here's the "castle siege" mini-game from Cinemaware's Defender of the Crown (recently covered lovingly by The Digital Antiquarian) -- Amiga first! -- as drawn by "God", vs. how it actually appeared in-game on the C64.

Here's Scorpe's mega-sprite of Dr. Ed Edison from Lucasarts' Maniac Mansion, saying (translated from the German): "A meteor? Nonsense! Something like that is impossible!" just as he's about to get beaned in the head with a giant purple rock falling from outer space. The background also depicts a scene from the game, the house's front veranda (Did You Know: the mansion in question is actually based on the appearance and layout of George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch facility?), and strangely the doctor here has the meteor-zombified skin colour used only in the (second) NES version. Maybe this is the brainwashed Doctor being sockpuppeted by the meteor into denying the meteor's existence? Anyhow, here's a look at how he looked back on the C64.
And while we're on a Maniac Mansion bent, here's the office from its sequel, Day Of The Tentacle, in which the mansion's layout is presumably adapted a little less faithfully from Skywalker Ranch. (The picture's adaptation by EG, however, is quite faithful.)
I misnamed this one, causing myself no end of confusion. It's a Double Dragon level layout by JSL! (Here is how levels generally looked for this game's C64 conversion.)
This is a picture by Scorpe showing a scene from Michael Berlyn's curious illustrated text adventure "Tass Times in Tone Town" ("Tass" from Harvard's motto "Veritas", homophonically "very tass"... I told you it was curious!), though I couldn't find an equivalent scene from existing ports of the game for purposes of direct comparison.
And this is how Super Mario Bros. 3, the NES titan, might have looked subject to the limitations of the C64. Sure, you can display lots of colours, but how many at the same time? How many moving sprites can you display at once before they all start flickering? How much overscan border do you need to take up the screen with? I actually have no idea how the C64 would have fared in such a comparison (well, I know about the Great Giana Sisters, and I know that the C64 would have taken home the gold in the sound division) but that's an interesting exercise nonetheless. (Sorry, I have lost the provenance of this image, but I'm sure a minute on Google image search will uncover it.) [BladeJunker corrects me: this image is of a demake for the C64's multimedia-inhibited predecessor the VIC-20, which makes this item make far more sense.]
This would be a "room" from Coktel's puzzle game Gobliins on the C64, drawn by Slayer, as if the game ever been made for that platform: you can see what the same location looked like on MS-DOS over here.
I didn't find a 1:1 match for this seaside shot by JOL from Sega's car-racing game OutRun, but here's a similar shot from the Saturn version. (Nothing in the C64 version even comes close!)
Here's a stylish boss fight from Irem's horizontal space shooter R-Type -- this picture by The Sarge is quite a bit prettier than the same shot on the actual C64 version of that game. (Exercise to the reader: look up related Katakis anecdote.)
This picture by Frog enhances Starglider -- well beyond the appearance of its genuine C64 version, and closer by far to the Amiga version.
A look forward to the post-C64 future -- just kidding, the C64 will be with us always! This is a mock-up by Paul Bearer (pseudo much?) of what a C64 version of Fallout 3 might look like! (For obvious reasons, there's no direct point of comparison, so... here's a pic from the C64 version of Wasteland!) (Actually, isn't a surviving supercomputer one of the sub-quest elements in one of the Wasteland games? Or am I thinking of David Brin's The Postman? In any case, the C64 was hardly a supercomputer -- rather, a super computer!)
This boss encounter, initially from the arcade-originating Strider game, is a big improvement by Wile Coyote on the same character's appearance in the game's official C64 port! OK, stay tuned, retronauts! This isn't my final visit to the C64 hirez well, but I have some other business I need to clear aside before we return here.

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

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Pac-Man lottery ticket

Back in my blog's previous (and still more-popular, despite being officially discontinued) incarnation, last summer I blogged about a Frogger-themed lottery ticket. It was one of my more oddball moments, but ... well, yesterday my partner tried to cheer me up and make up for a disappointing garage sale experience ({{RING RING}} "Did you see the box of Gamecube stuff?" "No, I'm coming right over!" "OK, it's right over... oh, never mind, some dude just walked off with the whole box.") by buying me one while we were stocking up on some pick-me-ups for a bedridden family member in the hospital. This can only disappoint, I thought... but then I realised I could blog about it! Now we're cooking!
OK, tabula rasa. From here, anything is possible! But first, let's review the rules! (Why? After all, I know Pac-Man inside and out!)
Now, I made a number of scans illustrating all the twists and turns this scratch game led me on, and was prepared to craft for you a picture-heavy and, frankly, somewhat over-padded blog post. But after uploading the step-by-step scans, I find that Google Auto Awesome has knitted together all the stages into an animated .GIF which, quite frankly, does more with less. So here we go:
I get off to a bad start, interpreting the top-left legend for Pac-Man's orientation -- always follow the open mouth -- as applying to the pre-scratched Pac in the starting position without internalizing anything about the first part of the first step: to scratch off his starting position first. Somehow I scratch a little extra and indicate to myself that I've taken an unsanctioned step in the wrong direction, and recover my footing.

An orange bonus? I suppose fruit are in keeping with traditional Pac-ish bonus themes. A bell? C'mon, now we're just veering into one-armed bandit territory, and it's without that drag factor that I'm trying to enjoy this lotto card! A second bell? Two thirds of the way to a $5000 payoff! But the rule of these things is always that you get the high-paying bonuses started off first, to get you excited, and then you never, ever see them completed. Kind of like collecting E-X-T-E-N on the first level of Bubble Bobble and just never having a chance to pop a D. But I digress.

The goal of this game is to be led into one of the question-mark gates (they're not mysteries, we know where they're supposed to lead: to the opposing gate!), and I'm expecting to be taken on the quickest route there, but this game surprises me by leading me on a merry and protracted chase. It even leads through my first, mis-scratched square, at which I make a quick sigh of relief.

A P for Pac? You're not trying, guys. The ghost as the lousiest bonus type? No: when you encounter a ghost, that should end play. I must confess to a soupcon of curiosity regarding what hides beneath the scratch foil in the ghost pen, but not enough to have spoiled my game and revealed them. (And what happens when your travels take you over a power pill?)

Second apple... come on, medium money... second orange... aaaand, we're done.

But wait, there are type 2 and type 3 games! They lack what you could call the care and maintenance of continuity and canon that went into the main game (Ladybug, horseshoe, vault... have you even played Pac-man?) All losses as well.

Does this work better or worse as a theme for a lotto scratch game than Frogger did? Unclear. A bit part of Pac-Man's dynamic is moving around the moving ghosts (and of course the drive to collect all the dots), absent here. It's just kind of a totally different game wearing a Pac-man costume. Both of these games are a bit like freezing time and wandering around a board typically filled with movement, so I wonder what kind of game might be a better fit for this style of gameplay. Sokoban? Tiger / Game & Watch-style LCD games!

Back In The Day, there were non-lottery experiments with selling video-game-themed scratch-off card games to the baseball card / Garbage Pail Kid demographic, so this kind of mash-up isn't unprecedented -- and back then, it didn't even have nostalgia as an excuse. (Video games were admittedly a burgeoning mass culture phenomenon at the time, so maybe they didn't need it.)

OK, this concludes my extraordinary post! Back to more typical themes you've seen more of recently! Cheers.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Video game textmode art part 17: Unicode art from China!

But first, the exception that proves the rule... Amber Coal, whose work you have seen earlier in this series, is currently running a textmode art game jam that will hopefully yield some subjects for further posts on this topic (not that I have any lack of subject matter!) If I'm really on top of my game, I might throw a fragmentary ZZT project their way, we'll see.

So. ANSI art. Textmode. I know what you're thinking -- that ship has sailed. But what if I were to tell you that more work in this medium is being made today than in any time in its prior history? And hebre's the kicker: it's in China, and the language barrier is totally obstructing cross-pollination and diplomacy between our western textmode art scene and their buzzing hive. The reasons are unclear -- word trickles out about massive multi-node telnet BBSes allowing anonymized discussions on political matters in contentious areas such as Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in a fashion allowing them to duck censorious interference from the Great Firewall of China. But as far as the particulars go, we're all incredibly hazy. One thing we know for sure, though, is that though they're using a different character set (Unicode? Somewhere mattmatthew remarked that a picture looked like ... "Big 5" I believe it was?), the same perverse human impulses arise and the users have taken the opportunity to use textmode shapes and punctuation marks to make colourful pictures. (Here's an overview that raises more questions than it answers.)

Check that -- the second thing we know for sure: one popular subject for these textmode pictures is video games. Because of region-specific marketing, they're not necessarily fans of the same games and systems that we are, but it's all just different faces of the same coin. It's all centered around the somewhat straightforwardly-named website at http://ansiart.org/ (correction: that's just for China, just now learned about the unknown and untapped-by-me Taiwanese counterpart at http://ansi.loli.tw/, drat!), and illiteracy of the language and alphabet there means that getting elbow-deep in the archives and pulling out meaningful content can be quite tricky to achieve. But some symbols transcend cultural barriers...

Oh yeah? Who are those guys? Sega? What did they work on?
I don't know that anything remotely associated with the Sega Saturn was ever celebrated by a Western textmode artist. It must have been a bigger phenomenon over there. But what about the distinguished competition?
Nintendo 64! Not bad! But they were both left behind by...
This crazy industry keeps chugging along, though, so the PlayStation 1 was quickly countered with...
and then who climbed into the ring to struggle against Nintendo's GameCube but the dark horse...
Oh, that wacky XBox -- what intensity would you like its logo in? But I digress. What is a game hardware manufacturer without a couple of solid game development studios releasing for their market segment?
Namco has been doing it in style since nearly the beginning, a family name thanks to Pac-Man.
Square also was a name not to be underrated, unstoppable until they decided to branch into the feature film industry.

It gets stranger, though: reproducing the iconography is one thing, but why not go a step further and render depictions of the actual console hardware in textmode characters up on this screen? In chronological order...

Nintendo's Super Famicom ("Family Computer")

Sony's PlayStation 1 (what Sony ended up throwing together after Nintendo failed to deal with them in good faith on a CD-ROM for the aforementioned Super Famicom...)
Sony's PlayStation 2
Nintendo's GameCube
... and its controller, naturally!
Microsoft's XBox
Nintendo's continuation of its unbroken line of handheld dominance, the Game Boy Advance
and we skip lightly across a couple of generations to the present day, with Nintendo's current Wii U.
This is all just preliminaries, my friends. In my next post on this topic, you'll get to see some characters from the games played on these fabulous machines, topics somehow even more compelling than plastic boxes and corporate logos!

And one further parting digression...

#PyramidHead #SilentHill #SlenderMan creeping the background #cosplay #FanExpoVancouver

A photo posted by Chenoa ManyColours (@many_colours) on

Presented without comment, basically. I don't really understand fan conventions and have never felt the urge to cosplay, but this was a local event and it seems like it would have had some overlap with my interests. (Then again: I thought I liked Star Trek until I went to a Trek con.) I was just explaining to my partner how I would rather play the old games than go to a hall in order to listen to people perform heavy metal versions of the games' soundtracks and watch women disrobe in videogame-themed burlesque routines. They're related interests, but it's kind of a dilution to me (... says the man who blogged about his Pac-Man wallpaper!)

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my birthday! That means many things: good times spent with my family, especially in years where it coincides with the Easter long weekend (in my troubled adolescence -- but I'm being redundant -- sometimes I would schedule B-movie and RPG festivities with friends for the whole duration!), reflections on mortality, replying to greetings from hundreds of accordionists on Facebook, and... exciting influxes of piles of gaming materials. (This is what I mean when I tell people who ask what I want for my birthday that I almost certainly shouldn't get any more of the things that I want. How many hundreds of discs and carts is enough?)

My mother-in-law is the reigning champion of the thrift store / flea market / garage sale beat of second-hand out-of-print history churn deals, so these hauls are typically entirely attributable to her shrewd eye and canny bargaining. (Did you know about the gendered difference in approach to a box of unknown treasures? Women will perk up at the clink of Fiestaware, while men will grab a power cord and reel it in, eager to see what electronic device awaits at the other end!) These kinds of posts were very common, especially in the summertime, at this blog's old incarnation over at videogamecomicads.blogspot.ca, but with parenthood our secondhand treasure-hunting expeditions are slowing down (also: I've got so much stuff now that it's quite a bit harder to find prizes I don't already own!) so it's a first for here.

The elephant in the room here is clearly the complete (and ... working? Still need to dig up a TV old enough to hook it up to and try out!) Atari 2600 VCS, the first major home video game console phenomenon. While it's a critical cornerstone for any historical collection of old games machines, and while there were enough out there in circulation, I didn't actively pursue finding one because ... most of the games are a bit primitive for my tastes. (There's Adventure, Pitfall, and a couple of solid home conversions such as Space Invaders, which blew a breath of second life into this machine.) But if it finds its own way to my house, I certainly won't kick it off of the shelf! I've felt a little fraudulent about my twice-annual "vintage video games" parties (next up April 11th, contact me for attendance details!) with most titles dating from the PlayStation 1 era or younger (I've cheated, representing this era with an Atari Flashback unit, but it's not the same), but this will definitely give me some solid oldschool footing. (But still people will mostly be playing games from the past 15 years.) Also I received with it some lovely boxed games dating back to the environs of the year of my birth -- Asteroids, Combat, the aforementioned killer app Space Invaders, and the hilarious "games are games, right?" Video Chess. No screenshots on the boxes, because they would only act as drag factor -- the lush illustrations on the box tell you what the experience of your imagination should be striving for when playing the games. I have, well, a pile (see halfway down for my 2600 haul of just last Christmas!) of other Atari 2600 carts in the basement, the one major exception to my "I won't collect games for systems I don't own" rule, because I figured sooner or later a VCS would wash up... and here it is!

The catalogue is also a thing of endless wonder, an artefact printed at the intersection of the '70s and '80s, from where both the '60s and '90s are visible, and I look forward to someday blogging commentary on some of its pages once I scan them in. But on with the show!

At 4 o' clock we have a PlayStation 1 with PS2-era controllers -- very useful. And the console came with a copy of FIFA 2000 in the tray: I think that consoles should always be given with a game packed in, like a dollar in a gift wallet for luck. Opposite it you see a Sega Genesis, but do you notice anything unusual about the controllers? You, in the back? Yes -- they're wireless! The giant IR receiver bulge on the front of the unit gives it away. Now we can rock Columns from across the room! And it also comes with a classic cart, Super Street Fighter 2. Impressive!

In the top left corner we have a couple of thoughtful gifts from my mother-in-law's daughter -- my partner! The heart container print is perfectly lovely, and in the Super Mario baggie is ... a pair of Super Mario boxer shorts. Overalls, underwear! You can't see, but the trim of the shorts is emblazoned with a who's who of his Rogue's Gallery. (It brings to mind the opening of my, NSFW, write-up on Bomb'X: "hypothesizing what kinds of adventures might be gotten up to in Bomberman's shorts".) The big question is of course: what will happen to the shorts when I eat a Super Mushroom?(Probably Super Mario's tailor, as with the Fantastic Four's, deals heavily in unstable molecules.

I received plenty of other lovely gifts as well, but they fall beyond the purview of this blog. Now you may not be aware that this post had a second shoe to drop, but I will do so here -- some of my birthday goodies reflect duplication of working video game treasures I already own! At my retro gaming video party next Saturday, I'll have set up a free box for guests to take home some of my extraneous gaming surplus carts, discs, consoles and parts -- perhaps granting them, in time, the ability to mount retro gaming parties of their own! And for those who can't make it, I have a pile of duplicate sets of Steam codes for games I can only really play one at a time -- the first was put up for grabs in December, a Dreamcast collection, and once someone asks for it, I'll open the floodgates and start doling the rest of them out, too. Free games, and all you have to do is read my blog! Not a bad deal, I think.