Monday, 30 May 2016

"Parole de pirate" article translation

It's a long and twisty road. My Grade 9 English teacher, observing my potential languishing in my non-enriched class, pulled me from my desk and endowed me with access to the English Staff Lounge, with a mission to edit and publish a school newspaper using MS Publisher on the Windows 3.11 machine therein. Personally filling vast swathes of The Ideograph (name chosen at random from a dictionary, apr├Ęs Tristan Tzara's use of the same mechanism to select the word "dada") with strange humour, I gave some of it double duty padding issues of Kithe, the Mistigris e-mag (electronic magazine). One such reprint, the "Are you a love monkey?" survey written for the Valentine's Day edition of the Ideograph, reprinted in Kithe #5 in MIST0395, got me a phone call from RaDMaN of ACiD... who wanted to know if it was original. I could not vouch for its quality, but I could at least take responsibility for the mess I had made. Based on that irreverent screed, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse -- to become the official ACiD Secretary, which translated to contributing obligatory introductory paragraphs to quarterly newsletters whose writing hadn't yet long since grown tedious and stale to me. I was torn (ACiD had disappointed me when they discarded Israfel -- in my mind the preeminent practitioner of scene "lit" (poetry) after acquiring him in their merger with GOTHiC... ha ha, sweet April Fool's joke, bro!), but I held my nose and signed on, thinking (optimistically but incorrectly) that I might be able to spin my newfound elite status into benefits for my own artgroup Mistigris.

I was a spectacularly bad secretary, and there's basically no chance that extracting useful newsletter copy out of me would have been easier or faster than RaDMaN simply writing it himself (an amazing failure in itself, as at this point I was basically writing non-stop, with notebooks filled at bus stops and in movie line-ups to testify to my ceaseless documentation of the life of the mind -- but due to the Mega Stature of this outlet, I approached the task before me Very Seriously, which resulted in its getting recategorized from Casual Fun to Drudgery And Toil, and taking on low priority commensurately), but from time to time I got interesting side assignments. (Thanks to its incorporation, my tenure in ACiD was ultimately responsible for my earning the work experience credit necessary for me to graduate from high school, but that is a story -- now 90% told -- for another time.)

RaDMaN recently posted this up on the private ACiD Facebook group. (What, you thought maybe we still held conference calls through hacked corporate voice mailboxes?) It was an article once published in a French magazine which had been brought to his attention (at some vague point in the past) as it was illustrated, suitably, by a couple of pieces of ACiD underground computer artwork. He, uh, doesn't speak French, so figured he'd look up his historical bilingual (well, Canadian) lackey to see if the article dealt with the subject of underground computer art. I am here to definitively settle the score once and for all: it does not. I gave it a whimsical loose coffee break translation (any genuine Francophones in the crowd please feel free to straighten me out where I have taken license -- I've used my own expertise on the subject to fill a few blanks, but I hope I haven't fundamentally altered the sense of what's being said in too many places) and... here we are. (Also, if anyone has any idea who the author of the piece is -- quotes credited only to the initials "F.M." (and, OK, the illustrator Pierre la Police) -- and in which magazine it ran, when, those are details of interest to us!) The interview is suspiciously free-form -- with no questions from an interviewer, F.M. appears to just be free-associating nuggets of trivia from his scene. It's BBSian, bibs and bobs as one might have found on a board's oneliner wall or in a Blue Wave tagline file. Here we go!

Chatting with a pirate: the struggle of the Rigoluses against the Tristuses [that's a reference toa French comic strip]

"New ID", a virtuoso of forbidden software reproduction, describes piracy in conflict with "publishers who don't care about anything" and asserts the fundamentally anarchistic spirit of the Net.

He calls himself New ID. He's 25 years old and he's a programmer in a computing group. He spends most of his nights downloading everything he can find exploring pirate BBSes that distribute programs or sell CDs by post. His rationale for his activity is that this intangible property is like goods "fallen off the back of a truck", and this path allows him to be on the cutting edge at little personal expense. His 1 Gigabyte hard drive (the equivalent of 700 floppy diskettes) is copied in under 30 minutes by his friends.

"I know a dozen BBSes in France (personal computers connecting a small number of PCs over the telephone network), including 3 in Paris. They have wacky names like "Pierre Import", "Virtual Zone", or "Massive Posse" (recently back online under the name "Koc Band".) In France, BBS piracy is run by enthusiasts and tech professionals, certifiable loonies who spend all their leisure time doing it. One the sites is run by a journalist from a large computer magazine.

"In the USA, Assassin's Guild was controlled until recently* by two "cybergangs", Razor 1911 and Pirates With Attitude (PWA). (* Taken down by the FBI -- Liberation, May 5.)

"If you manage to get the access codes to these BBSes (sometimes up to four passwords for full access), which is easy enough for France's small scene, you find yourself logged on to a system offering 8 Gigs online and a 16 Gig external storage capacity from piles of CD-ROMs.

"You will see on pirate BBSes how the consonants are systematically capitalized ("LoGiCieLS" for example) in their writings. They offer the download of games, utilities, and office software. They contain Warez Lists, menus of downloadable programs with their "cracks" (disabling the programs' copy protection) provided, and lists of serial numbers ("patches") to register software that has already been pirated. You can procure heavy-duty software like 3D Studio4 or Visio3, everything by Microsoft or development tools such as Borland C or Lotus. With a 28,8000 bps modem, you can download 1.4 Megs in less than ten minutes. You can also order hardware at a steep discount.

"What people are looking for on these servers is the novelty of owning the latest versions of apps before they're even on sale in stores. The pre-release of Windows 95 is currently circulating, this hyped software which has been announced for a September release. The thing is to be always on top of the equipment, for compulsive accumulators who want to intercept all programs. Individual pirates who burn and sell CDs do so to fund expansion of their gear. Some culminate in printing their own boxes for the sale of their own unlicensed products in stores. But, departing the underground for the status quo, they then also start griping against piracy ...

"The spirit in which all of this is undertaken is anarchistic, much like on the Net. This is the battle of Tristus (publishers) against the Rigolus (pirates), the spirit of the small irreducibly Gallic village. [That is an Asterix joke, my friends.] It's a challenge to the established order, but also the taste of risk motivates pirates despite the meagre profits from their shady activity -- at least, meagre for individual underground BBSes. Fundamentally, pirating is an attitude: the challenge to distribute software applies the precept that "information wants to be free", a perspective on the rise.

"This medium seems very useful: it embodies a conflict of wills between [pirates and] lazy publishers who pawn off half-baked goods selling barely-filled CDs and overpriced software ... without mentioning shabby customer support to legitimate clients! We can stress-test products in ways that publishers don't bother to. That's one direction it can go, anyway.

"On the Taiwanese BBSes, traffic is crazy (Taiwan does not recognize the charter on copyrights). Software can be ordered for 1/10th the price of here with the box and the manual and all the goodies. They're imported as "trinkets" through Customs, for pennies on the dollar.

"Why interfere? With the prices of "legitimate" software falling after everyone's helped themselves, one has the feeling that it's a permanent scam: if you pay full price it's because you're stupid. So you pirate. We pirate more than in the USA, because in France it's more expensive than there. The Europeans are once again taken for walking chequebooks. The programmers, in front of their computers, allowed piracy to get the world addicted to their programs -- and now they get the backlash from feeding that beast. And when we learn that the major companies themselves pirate while pumping out their lines of code, the hacker forums are filled with laughter."

Collected by F.M.

**/\CTHuLu/\** translations: 0-20 YeaRS, because old news is good news!

I don't have much to further enhance this with (it would have been nice had I been able to provide a complete transcript of the original text -- I typed it out, but then erased the sections as they were translated. Premature optimization!), but I did some digging and came up with the high-resolution ACiD originals of the underground computer art (these were all pieces of RIPscrip vector art, curiously) lossily reproduced in the article (and then lossily scanned). We begin with Bedlam's piece for The Dungeon from ACDU0495:

Then we have a joint from ACDU1094 celebrating Channel 0 (one of my all-time favorite BBS names, very cyberpunkian) by Smooth and ... "PN". (SAUCE, guys, you invented it. Why didn't you use it?) (They did -- it reads: by Multiple Artists. Very useful!)
And finally, an adaptation of Woody Harrelson's appearance in the movie poster for Natural Born Killers (out in theatres just the month prior), from ACDU0994, by Smooth and Redman:

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Textmode art roundup: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Towel Day)

   , ; ,   .-'"""'-.   , ; ,
   \\|/  .'         '.  \|//
    \-;-/             \-;-/
    // ;               ; \\
   //__; :.         .; ;__\\
 jgs       '(  (..-'
And here we are, the occasion of Towel Day 2016, the occasion on which we celebrate the life and mourn the early death of comedic science-fiction author Douglas Adams in 2001. I don't make an annual go of it, but this is not the first Towel Day I've celebrated: back circa 2004 I devoted an entire open house to the occasion at The Butchershop Floor art gallery, presenting all of his published print works (not just the HHG and Dirk Gently books, but also more niche items such as the Meaning of Liff, in which my city of Vancouver appears, sensibly enough, as the name for a motorized street-sweeper) for impromptu readings and recitations, arranging for a screening of the BBC television adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, playing the complete radio drama, and arranging for local play of his forgotten video games -- the big Infocom HHG game of course (about which I have written here -- including its worthwhile graphical fan remake!), but also its then-unknown follow-up Bureaucracy and Starship Titanic. (He also made critical contributions -- "adumbrate the elephant" -- to Lucasarts' Labyrinth adventure game, which was thrust back into the spotlight on the occasion of the recent death of David Bowie.) Despite its rave reviews from Underdogs, I was unable to get running a copy of his "Last Chance to See" 1992 CD-ROM, arguably his most important major multimedia production.

Douglas Adams' influence on my malleable young mind can likely not be overstated: carrying around my battered copy of the HHGTTG everywhere like some kind of Gideon's Bible, I wore out the glue in its binding from the acid in my hand's perspiration. I can still play through to the end section of the Infocom Guide adaptation without making any consultation to hints or walkthroughs (and the odds are good I could actually do so blindfolded.) Thanks to Dirk Gently, I ended up trying to explain the Schrodinger's Cat paradox to my elementary school classmates... in French. My final handle in the Public Domain BBS sphere was "Zaphod Beeblebrox", before tiring of namespace conflicts with other DNA fans and switching over to a reference I was confident was so obscure no one else would ever claim it for their own, Cthulhu. (Hey, Lovecraft was a much nicher industry in 1992. Also, I achieved my exclusive namespace by accidentally misspelling it as "Cthulu", reading the misspelling from a horror miniatures ad on the back of an issue of a tabletop gaming magazine. But I digress.) Before I fell down the Everything2 rabbit hole, I made an account on h2g2 as soon as I heard about it, because the future had arrived! Wikipedia on a mobile device may well be the crowning achievement of our society.

The mark made by him on the nerd culture of the time was immeasurable, but despite combing through the artscene archives for his numerous memorable and unique slogans and code words ("DON'T PANIC", "Life, the Universe, and Everything", "towel", "hoopy frood", "42", etc.) not many homages burbled to the surface, neglected in favour of sexier fandoms such as Stars Trek and Wars.

The computer art scenes did include a few small tributes to his works, mostly harnessing the much-reviled "Cosmic Cutie" (the outrageously disrespectful green sphere) added to the book covers for US audiences. The first of these, a little ASCII doodle you can enjoy at the top of this post, was drawn by PD ASCII goddess Joan Stark. I had to mine it from the Dejanews archives of UseNet Newsgroups for your enjoyment. And if it's a little too small, a little too subtle... here's a slightly larger version by William "WILLS" Towle:

            \||\       ;;;;%%%@@@@@@       \ //,
             V|/     %;;%%%%%@@@@@@@@@@  ===Y//
             68=== ;;;;%%%%%%@@@@@@@@@@@@    @Y
             ;Y   ;;%;%%%%%%@@@@@@@@@@@@@@    Y
             ;Y  ;;;+;%%%%%%@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@    Y
            iiY"";;   "uu%@@@@@@@@@@uu"   @"";;;>
                   Y     "UUUUUUUUU"     @@
                   `;       ___ _       @
                     `;.  ,====\\=.  .;'
Could we get one a little bigger?
                   oo$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$o         o$   $$ o$
   o $ oo        o$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$o       $$ $$ $$o$
oo $ $ "$      o$$$$$$$$$    $$$$$$$$$$$$$    $$$$$$$$$o       $$$o$$o$
"$$$$$$o$     o$$$$$$$$$      $$$$$$$$$$$      $$$$$$$$$$o    $$$$$$$$
  $$$$$$$    $$$$$$$$$$$      $$$$$$$$$$$      $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$    $$$$$$$$$$$$$    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$  """$$$
   "$$$""""$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$     "$$$
    $$$   o$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$     "$$$o
   o$$"   $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$       $$$o
   $$$    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$" "$$$$$$ooooo$$$$o
  o$$$oooo$$$$$  $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$   o$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  $$$$$$$$"$$$$   $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$     $$$$""""""""
 """"       $$$$    "$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$"      o$$$
            "$$$o     """$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$"$$"         $$$
              $$$o          "$$""$$$$$$""""           o$$$
               $$$$o                                o$$$"
                "$$$$o      o$$$$$$o"$$$$o        o$$$$
                  "$$$$$oo     ""$$$$o$$$$$o   o$$$$""
                     ""$$$$$oooo  "$$$o$$$$$$$$$"""
                        ""$$$$$$$oo $$$$$$$$$$
OK, OK, TOO BIG! And for the love of Zarquon, please close those eyes! (Gets out a dozen dollar signs.) All right, let's take an eliteness step forward and go from ASCII to ANSI art:
ZARKING FARDWARKS! It just goes to show: when you're sampling from the public domain, for every artefact of the sacred you uncover, you're cursed by two of the profane. Can we try that again?
Well, we're getting there...
There, that's a little better, I suppose. Maybe we're just suffering from Public Domain drag factor; if we could find one from the artscene, maybe we'd do a little better:
Belgium! One more, exhumed from the Basement BBS, in ATASCII:
Let's leave that Cosmic Cutie aside for the time being and see if we can find any more nuanced tributes:
Here we are! Embodying the clueless newbie essence of the Public Domain ("Share and Enjoy" could practically have been the official slogan of broken shareware!), the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is celebrated as inspiration for a BBS' name (which, if true to its namesake, would have been down more often than not.) 2400 baud seems just about the right speed.
This one didn't jump out as a Hitchhiker's Guide-related piece until you read the small print. What starts out as a simple picture of a cup of tea takes on deeper meaning (as a good source of Brownian motion for an Infinite Improbability Drive) when the SysOp's handle is given as the nicely inconspicuous Ford Prefect.
There's one you never saw: a splash screen for Pinnacle's shareware Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trivia Challenge, presumably painstakingly drawn by Pinnacle programmer Timothy Campbell.
Anyone reading this blog can likely tell the difference between bespoke and computer-generated ASCII art, so even though this t-shirt design does employ some sophisticated design sensibilities to make a nice image, the heavy lifting of its ASCIIfication has been left to algorithms. But it's not unrelated, so I do include it here.
Bonus, 2017! Someone made a HHG-themed ZZT level, and there was its splash screen! And further update! We found a few further HHG-related works in early underground artpacks and, to nobody's surprise, they are quite a bit superior to the offerings from the PD realm:
First off, the loudest sound in the universe, the rock band of Hotblack Desiato, who was spending a year dead for tax purposes -- Disaster Area!
Another Cosmic Cutie, this one done with feeling!
And an omnibus, Cosmic Cutie plus one rendition of the Heart of Gold spaceship, the namesake of the advertised BBS. (It was pointed out that I was missing logoff ANSI screens from local BBS Heart of Gold II, which did portray the ship more canonically like an athletic shoe, but as that art was never released in an artpack, it has proven impossible to dig up.)

Bonus: some teletext takes! Simon Rawles knows what we're supposed to, uh, NOT do:

From the pages of Beefax, here's a mini portrait of fugitive Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox:
And teletext master Horsenburger gives us a better close-up view of Zaphod's beaming faces as seen in the BBC TV HHG adaptation:
At my suggestion, Horsenburger minted a few more HHG teletext portraits from the BBC TV series, slated to appear in the soon-upcoming MIST0617 artpack... but here's a sneak preview. "Oh freddled gruntbuggly, thy micturations are to me / as plurdled gabbleblotchits / on a lurgid bee." Yes, it's everyone's third-favorite poet, Vogon Captain Prostetnic Jeltz!
Marvin the Paranoid Android (anyone else remember his pop singles?) reporting for duty... he looks a little overly pleased with himself, but my thinking is that he's probably been cribbed from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation ad boasting him as "Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With":
And one more teletext portrait, it's David Dixon as Ford Prefect, freelance Guide researcher ("Earth: Mostly Harmless") and Arthur Dent's friend from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse:
Update: did I say "one more"? Steve Horsley has gone beyond the call of duty and minted a couple further pieces of teletext HHG iconography in the waning hours of towel day, local time. Here's the logo for the Electronic Sub-Etha Auto Hitching Thumb, which figured prominently in the marketing of the 2005 HHG movie:
And the last of the new business -- Horsenburger makes a teletext arrangement of Rod Lord's award-winning computerless computer graphics from the BBC television version of the HHG... specifically, this illustrates the Babel Fish who was so very difficult to obtain back in the Infocom game:
In conclusion, a piece that is not textmode... but it was drawn on a Commodore 64 in 1986, so ... if you try to make an argument that it doesn't belong here, you're quite simply wrong. The artist's handle is Dokk, and it's simultaneously a portrait of Douglas Adams along with small-scale art of Arthur Dent and Marvin the Paranoid Android AND the first page of the Guide.

Closing things off here, you can enjoy a rendition of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy theme song -- "Journey of the Sorcerer" by The Eagles, selected after Douglas Adams perversely requested "something with banjo" to be his programme's theme song -- arranged for Mario Paint:

So long, and thanks for all the fish! (2018: The Sixteen Colours ANSI of the Day covered some of the same territory we did, turning up some repeats and some new pieces:)

ANSI of the Day! "There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened." - Douglas Adams --- Today had a certain heaviness to it. Since the art scene is my personal happy space, I felt strongly that I needed to mosey on over here and serve up something a little lighthearted. I'd originally intended to collect "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" ANSIs until I had 42 of them to share in one big album. That might've been a touch ambitious, but here are six from a short span of the early 90's. Oh, and if you haven't read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", holy crap man drop everything immediately put your stupid device down no wait pick it up and go to Amazon and order a copy no screw that go to your local library you need to get more fresh air anyway GO NOW. (L-R) Part of a crazy greet file by R.Noble (iCE, 1994) "Unphamiliar Territory" by Nemesis (GRiM, 1992) "The Green Monster" by Nemesis (not the same guy, SCaR, 1994) "Don't Panic" by Kingpin (ACiD, 1992) With eyeballs? (and on its' way to a Kiss concert, presumably) - a very early one from Thrasher (Fuel, 1995) "The Heart of Gold" by Necromancer (GRiM, 1992)
--- And an update, a piece of period (1992) hirez from

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The "source the letters" game.

Back when I was a younger, more carefree blogger, there was a game I would play from time to time over on the Mobygames forums: I would collage together the website's name from logos found in video game splash screens, and then challenge the old games experts who use the site to figure out where the letters came from. It's a touchy balance: pick an AAA game, and it will take about 30 seconds to be identified; pick a shareware game only ever distributed in your area code, and you might grow old and die waiting. Typically I'd pick a handful of "classic" sources that hadn't released much recently and then wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours for the skilled users there to positively ID the origin of every letter. There's one from 2013 over here at my old blog.

I've long intended to do a round of that game here for this new blog, which originally had vastly more diverse intentions than the "textmode video game art of the week plus garage sale finds" it's recently boiled down to, but this morning I remembered my long-forgotten aspirations and banged one out while the baby was napping. Do any of these letters look familiar at all to you? Do you have any idea which games they were copied from? I will also stump the brains over at MobyGames, but to give you a fair chance I won't share their complete attribution for at least 24 hours. (Bonus points if you can also place the background image!) Cheers!

*** OK, it's been a week, it's time to bust this puzzle open. The first successful guess took 20 minutes (Terok Nor of Mobygames, pegging the first I and the M), and the final one took, well, about a week. One I had to spoil myself. I've done this game a few times and I always learn a little bit about what I think is too popular, or too obscure; sometimes a logo is iconic on certain hardware only, but that may not be the hardware on which its game became a killer app. (In this case, I used two start screens from Coleco ADAM versions of games. Who on earth had an ADAM? You in the back, put your hand down.)
Getting things off to an easy start, Perfect Dark was a monster game, and it's easy to place a letter from the start of a logo when it's used in the start of another logo. (Case in point!)
I had to pluck this logo from outside of Mobygames to omit some cluttering "press START to play" game interface from the Earthworm Jim logo. All the same, it's a bit of a dead giveaway. It's practically a rebus!
Video game history does not furnish you with a great deal of Xes to deal with. This one from Zaxxon is, it turns out, only iconic when paired.
I don't know if there is any more flagrant an E in video game canon than the bold luchador-styled one at the end of the Viewtiful Joe logo. It's hard to make the closing letter in a logo go out with such panache, but when the word has only three letters it's a bit easier.
I was truly not expecting anyone to get this "L" from Zool, the least interesting letter in its logo, but it only took chirinea 7 hours to place it.
This logo is so great, it's just a shame that it only appeared in the Adam version. (Chirinea had been poring over other platforms' start screens, but somehow missed this one. I had to spoil it in the end.)
This iconic Donkey Kong letter I fixed up for my purposes -- photoediting some reflection to eliminate the letter-overlapping and giving me a complete letter to collage with -- and that threw some seekers off the trail, as it is not how the logo appears in its context. Mea culpa!
The Wing Commander font is so iconic, it's actually almost difficult to place, an instant futurist cliche. After using it, I realised that I have actually drunk from this well before in a prior collage. But how could I resist?
I didn't realise until too late that the Super Mario logo used here in SMB2 was also a stock logo employed in SMB1 ... the chunky "Super Mario" font that has been so entrenched since Super Mario World made me forget that there was ever a previous "standard" typography for the series. When I cropped out its background colour to facilitate collaging, it became impossible to tell which of the two games it came from.
I hardly needed to draw a red circle around this E from Goldeneye, but here we are! The logo otherwise is pretty unremarkable, but I feel OK enshrining the exceptional.
I was sure that Reset Survivor, artist of so much Jet Grind Radio fanart, would be able to place this letter from its logo, but he stalled after correctly sourcing Viewtiful Joe. Chirinea missed this one after wrongly focusing on the first of its two "i"s, but then caught it (in a matter of minutes) when I hinted that the letter came from a game released in the year 2000.
File under "classy ways to wrap a logo": stick a katana through it, Samurai Shodown!
And for bonus points, I set the logo against a backdrop from Elite... which I had to file away the serial numbers from in order to avoid its naming itself.

Goof fun, everyone! We must try this again sometime!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Big Pixels Seven postmortem

Before I deliver the party report (itself rated as higher priority than finally getting around to putting away the systems we used, tangling us up in piles in our spare room), here's some fun stuff I stumbled across while reminding my friends to come over and play. I'm a sucker for those superstar ensemble pieces. I'm not talking "Nighthawks" with Humpfrey Bogart serving coffee to James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (oh huh, there it is) but rather group portrayals of video game characters from across different companies, systems and eras. I try to find them to promote my vintage gaming parties and this time, I found a humdinger!
It's a collection of game hero / protagonists, including: Bomberman, Sackboy / Samus, Bob, Black Mage, Snake, Duck Hunt Dog, Cloud, Bub, Master Chief / Megaman, Chun-Li, Mario, Dragon Quest Slime and Kirby, Link, Ulala, Sonic / Katamari Prince, and Pikachu.

What made this one so interesting (besides its being well-drawn and not just a pasted collection of sprites) is that hours after I posted it, my old school friend Jason (aka my old modem colleague Nitnatsnoc, SysOp of The Screaming Tomato BBS) took a moment out of his busy schedule to check in and say "hi, cool beans, did you know that picture you just posted was drawn by my sister?" It's true, she was commissioned to create the artwork by a local used video game emporium, and the characters gaming on the sofa were even chosen by the staff!

It's funny that Jason was my teenaged re-entry point into comic books (sure, as a little kid I had a small collection of Richie Rich, Donald Duck and Star Wars comics, plus troubling appearances by Moondog and the "Anatomy Lesson" issue of Swamp Thing), not only getting me back on track by loaning me Kingdom Come and Mike Allred's Madman but also introducing me to small press indie comics such as 86'd by Ian Boothby (now of Bongo Comics writing fame.) (Oh yeah, and the ANSI art scene we both jumped into was a crash course in the then-current garbagey Image Comics revolution.) And... I never ended that sentence. It's funny that he led me back into the comics fold, and then it wasn't HIM, but his sister, Nina Matsumoto, who ended up becoming a bona fide comic art professional.

Down the line she did a sequel to that ensemble piece, which is also outstanding, this time, with the video game villains taking a turn on the gaming sofa:

I had to look a couple of these ones up: Bowser, A Servbot from Mega Man Legends, Inky, Clyde and Blinky / Sub Zero, M. Bison, Scorpion, Ganondorf, a Zombie from Zombies vs. Plants (could it be the casual game whose proceeds were singlehandedly responsible for the establishment of the Storm Crow Tavern?) / Dr. Wiley, a Silent Hill Nurse, Wario, Tom Nook from Animal Crossing (an inspired choice for villains, the capitalist landlord!), Tron Bonne, Sephiroth (or as my notes have it: goth?), Dr. Robotnik / Portal sentry turret, Meowth, a Metroid, and Meta Knight from Kirby.

Phew. I had that much fun just talking up the promotion for the party (the level of detail, down to the specifics of the controllers being held, omg!), did I have any fun actually playing games at the actual party? Well yes, we found several very interesting games. "Woody, how did you get that far into Bubble Bobble playing on your own? Don't you realise you can't get a true ending without bringing your friend?"

(I know, "interesting" != "fun", but I'm always more interested in an interesting failure than a boring success. Hence my near-trolling attempts to trick someone into playing Killer7.) Odama is a very special piece of work, king of its genre, that being the feudal-Japan-pinball-with-voice-control genre. The surreal cover art is actually pretty much dead on! There was a time when, immediately after the garage sales were done, I would scurry in to sample the fresh wares and play every game, even if just for five minutes, to establish that it worked and single out titles for later closer scrutiny. (Also: and to fill up my save game memory slots at a blistering rate.) When I picked this thing up second-hand bundled with a microphone, I knew it would be something quite exceptional, but at this thinly-spread moment in my life, figured that my next game party would be as good a time to try it out for the first time as any.

The pinball ain't great. (I was delighted, however, to find that you can bump the entire landscape... hopefully not to result in TILT.) The military strategy isn't the easiest to pull off. But everything works much as it is supposed to, and there is truly else nothing like it. It's not a multiplayer game, but my chiefest observation of the gameplay -- I don't have enough hands to maneuver multiple areas on this Gamecube controller AND deal with a microphone -- might be neatly solved by giving it a 2P. (Tucking the mic behind my ear as a makeshift headset just didn't cut it, because you need to press the button on the mic to accept input from it!) Apparently an early version of the game accepted additional morale-boosting input from taiko pounding on the DK Bongo peripheral, but now you need a whole team leading your army!

I did not realize that I was previously familiar with any of the auteur's work, but Yoot Saito is not only renowned for SimTower, but he is also the offbeat mind behind the Dreamcast's dark horse, Seaman. Funnily enough, we had made a few Seaman jokes (what's long, torpedo-shaped and full of seamen? A submarine!) over the course of the night because of the (surprisingly!) dark cyberpunk tone of the following title...

Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future for Sega Dreamcast. My friend Bruce comes from a slightly older cohort as many of us game-loving manboys, so he surprised us by asking if we had "Ecco the Dolphin" on tap. Sadly my Genesis collection is quite limited (whatever else is tried, it always ends up with Columns, Aladdin and Battletoads in rotation); I do have a version of one of those games on Game Gear, but my GG is seemingly in need of a good deep clean and will not currently boot cartridges when powered on. So it came as a big surprise when this disc was thrown on the Dreamcast and Bruce exclaimed that this here was the game he'd been asking about! But he'd never played a Dreamcast before... he must have caught the Playstation 2 version, probably quite a bit closer to its release in the year 2000. It starts predictably enough, but as Bruce began looking up plot synopsis paragraphs from later on in the game he began blowing our little minds, and finally we restarted the game to activate a cheat mode and activate some of the rarefied strangeness in the later levels. "It is generally regarded as an alternate universe. ... The Man's Nightmare levels were based around human technology, with heavily polluted water. ... The dolphins did not know that humans were extinct. Some of them thought they had been left to test their loyalty, and spoke of a great Engine of Salvation that the Chosen One would activate with the Labor Harness. After uniting the three sects of dolphins, Ecco managed to put on the Labor Harness which allowed him to control human machines by singing at them. Ecco headed off to activate the Engine of Salvation while looking for the globes that contained the Noble Traits. ... History changed. Dolphins became aggressive creatures and forced humans from the seas, never to return. They built their own independent society under the waves, and some above them." Who WROTE this stuff? ... oh:
OK, I guess if anyone's qualified, David "Uplift" Brin is. Do you think he applied for the position or did they come crawling to him? We also were given a live demo of "Viper League", a multiplayer "snake" arena game for web browsers, which occupied us in clusters of four around a single keyboard for quite some time. I don't believe it's launched yet, so I'm not authorized to point you to a build to try out for yourself, but do keep your eyes open for it, because it was a slice. Of. Multiplayer. Fun.

Hits and misses in brief: the blackout curtains make playing using the projector as a display viable before nightfall, which is awesome! But they do block window airflow, which makes for a room full of hot electronics and sweaty humans. A friend brought an extension cord for backyard projecting-on-the-side-of-our-house play, but we never followed through on it. (Hopefully to be addressed later this summer at a smaller, one-system event.) My N64 is growing increasingly unreliable; I couldn't get a single game to launch on it this time. My TV antenna transformer adaptor has come loose from a soldered joint, so until I can lean on someone to repair or replace it, my Atari 2600 is out of commission. Though I play Gamecube games on my Wii, I kept a Gamecube on retainer for the sole purpose of being able to play Pac-Man Vs., but the Game Boy Advance SP (which connects to it) whose battery ran down cannot simply have its battery replaced with a stock supermarket variety; instead, I need a special charging cord it did not come with, second-hand -- a hassle. (But Pac-Man Vs. is worth it!) The Neo-Geo X delivers exactly what it promises and no more: the joysticks are sturdy and feel solid in the hand, just the thing for its fighting games (King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown) but SNK's Neo-Geo games themselves are somewhat unbalanced due to their arcade origins. (My kaijiu-wrestling favorite -- ask me sometime about the giant monster combat pen and paper game I designed in elementary school -- King of the Monsters delivered a surprising result: the players were not able to inflict enough damage quickly enough for anyone to win a round before the time limit ran down. And finally: begin your setup with the machines that are easy to set up and get working, so when guests arrive you'll have at least something for them to play. Troubleshooting problem units means the first hour of your party can just scale up to four people scratching their chins and speculating rather than just one.

I can't wait to do another one and, y'know, even get around to playing some games between the six-month-interval parties, so I can make recommendations rather than falling back on my guests stumbling across hidden gold in the stacks. Somewhere down the line, this will become easier. You'll hear about it here first! Cheers and game on!