Friday, 22 December 2017

Textmode art roundup: Star Wars Episode V -- The Empire Strikes Block

It's that time of year again -- the days are short, there's a nip in the air and everywhere, everyone is electric with the energies of this unique season...
I speak, of course, of the time of year Disney has chosen to release a new Star Wars movie three years running. (December meant box-office lucre for Peter Jackson in the LOTR trilogy, so I guess the House of Mouse has found no reason to interfere with a sure thing.)

I was going to imitate the opening crawl here, but wouldn't you rather see this post sometime this year? (Besides, I can't really trump Kirkman's feats in this field...)All right, without further ado... I know what you're all thinking about: Atari's 1983 Star Wars vector graphics arcade game!
                                   LAUNCH ZONE
  |                                ___________                              |
  |                               | | |.-.| | |                             |
  |                               |_!-" 8 "-!_|                             |
  |                               `  SHIELD   '                             |
  |                                                                         |
  |                             SELECT DEATHSTAR                            |
  |                           FIRE AT SELECTED WAVE                         |
  |                WAVE 1                              WAVE 3               |
  |                                                                         |
  | \\-+-        ,-~"""~_.                           ,-~"""~_.        -+-// |
  | |\\|       .'.::::'(_)`.                       .'.::::'(_)`.       |//| |
  | |__|\      |===========| EASY                  |===========| HARD /|__| |
  |  \_\       `.         ,'                       `.         ,'       /_/  |
  |              "-.___.-"                           "-.___.-"              |
  |                                  WAVE 2                                 |
  |               NO BONUS                             BONUS                |
  |                                ,-~"""~_.           HTML3                |
  |                              .'.::::'(_)`.                              |
  |                              |===========| MEDIUM                       |
  |                              `.         ,'                              |
  |                                "-.___.-"                                |
  |                                                                         |
  |   __                             BONUS                             __   |
  |  /_/                             HTML2                             \_\  |
  | |  |/                            _____                            \|  | |
  | |//|                           _/|___|\_                           |\\| |
  | //-+-                         (/"|   |"\)                         -+-\\ |



This post has been so long in the waiting I can no longer recall from which website I scraped that HTML version of the arcade game's difficulty setting screen from... but fortunately I retained the provenance of the following teletext screen, drawn by Jason Robertson!

OK, that really is about it for the games. Well, there's the Star Wars roguelike (from which I apparently stole the header logo) but really, despite being both textmode and Star Wars, there's really not much there to look at. So where should we visit next? That's right: canonical sources. Dig that textmode artwork of R2-D2 (or: an egg with legs) on the front cover!

OK, now engage the fixedwidth textmode hyperdrive!

It really wouldn't surprise me if that magazine was the original source of that Dog Star Adventure PETSCII Darth Vader we ran last time... as well as this PETSCII Stormtrooper! He's got a bit of MegaMan gun-hand business going on here, besides which rather than firing blaster bolts it looks like he's misting for mosquitos, but... I'm sure that so doing would increase his chances of actually hitting something!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I believe we were just looking at some droids? Could we get a better view of the protocol droid? Here's C-3PO ASCII art, printed and framed!  (Also, almost assuredly machine-generated -- though in this case, maybe that's not so inappropriate.)

OK, nice one, goldenrod, but what about the R2 unit? Here he is, drawn in UTF-8 (my eyes would have suggested Shift_JIS, but I don't think we're quite there.)

OK, now was someone saying something about Stormtroopers? Here's an ASCII bust of one:

And here, ANSI art from my trophy case of Stormtrooper helmets. This one came from Outworld Arts:

No one can bang out a boffo Stormtrooper head in teletext quite like the accomplished Mr. Biffo -- and check out the spiffy Death Star interior background:

OK, here's another Outworld Arts ANSI rendition of a trooper -- this time a Snowtroper from the Battle of Hoth:

It's hard to tell for sure at this low a resolution, but despite looking more to me like Snowtroopers from Episode V, I imagine what the artist was intending to depict here is Lord Vader flanked by two Stormtroopers:

SPEAKING OF Darth Vader... this big portrait is entitled "Can You Feel The Force", drawn by "trash0r" ... I believe I found it on Deviantart. I don't believe it uses a single half-block, thus making it an excellent candidate for machine-conversion suspicion. Or maybe trash0r just prefers the moody ambience of the shading blocks... Yes, I take it back, a couple of half-blocks are used near the bottom at his neck-bolts, and in the Star Warsian font also:

Thrasher of Fuel's Vader is also light on half-blocks, but his technique is explored and interrogated in the accompanying text:

This Vader (by "lefraggle") is a little smaller and suggests more of the fine details through the use of ASCII characters:

On closer scrutiny, I think this Vader is actually pixelart and not textmode art at all, but in the final rendering the aesthetic is sooo similar I folded it in here by accident... and left it in due to laziness. Dig those tall rounded bubbles in the background, also seen in Biffo's Stormtrooper teletext above:

Nail draws a superior specimen of the Sith here, an appearance in the Blocktronics ANSIlove pack, a conspicuous omission presumably delayed or otherwise slipped between the cracks from their previous SW special, which will prove the main source of my next post on this subject:

Here's Outworld Arts' most handsome SW ANSI art yet, of Darth Vader (implied, really -- more a Vader shaped black hole) flanked this time by Imperial Royal Guards:

These are just getting smaller and smaller! Here's a UTF-8 (this clinches it, I have no idea how to distinguish this from Shift_JIS visually) Darth Vader:

And here, this must be just about as small as an ASCII art Darth Vader can get:

Strange, how Vader got more and more diminished the more of him we saw... kind of like our conception of Anakin in the SW prequel movies around the turn of the century. But surely one Star Wars villain could remain unscathed in our memory, Boba Fett! Outworld Arts really liked this bounty hunter -- here they present a RIPscrip vector art rendition of him. (Mea culpa, not textmode but in wide use in the BBS artscene contemporary to the golden age of ANSI art.)

That portrait might be a little bit too much of a close-up, but fortunately they drew another one from slightly further back:

And in ANSI art? Outworld Arts just LOVES Boba Fett!

OK, that's enough bad guys, let's take a break and run some good guys. Can we get a Yoda in the house? (er, in the ... hut?)

OK, uh, sorry, Public Domain ASCII artist, but that's a bit rough. Can we try a little harder here? Here's a UTF-8 attempt, with quite a bit more true-to-form detail:

Is Outworld Arts around? They had good success drawing a green villain, how about a green hero?

Before leaving Yoda we do, draw in PETSCII we much attempt. Shine?

Well we're not going to top that! OK, let's take a break from the portraits for a while and look at some of the distinctive vehicles of the Star Wars universe. Here's an ASCII art AT-AT walker:

Even though many of the same characters are in use (hello, pipes and quotation marks), the UTF-8 version of the same subject manages to achieve a species of smoothness surpassing what the ASCII art version can aspire to:

OK, going airborne now, here's some machine-generated TIE Fighter ASCII art, printed and framed. (I don't much see the point myself -- if you want to print out machine-generated ASCII art, you could easily wallpaper your entire house in it.)

Much preferred among connoisseurs of textmode art is bespoke artisanal ANSI art, and Outworld Arts is here pleased to oblige with a handcrafted take on the same subject:

Here the TIE Fighters are mere gnats swarming around a massive Star Destroyer, drawn in the simultaneously extended (in palette) and limited (in proportions) ANSI art spinoff FANSI used famously at the 8bitMUSH:

And teletext god Horsenburger was much applauded for his own take on illustrating a Star Destroyer using his big sixels:

From a Star Destroyer there's really only one way to escalate, a depiction of the Death Star. Too bad this one's pants!

You know how I said that hand-drawn ANSI art was always preferable to computer-generated ASCII art? This final Death Star, in the context of the above piece, really puts the lie to my assertion:

Thus concludes our digression into vehicles and vessels. We'll wind down this post with a series of one-off character portraits. Here you can enjoy Mr. Biffo's very Empire take on Luke Skywalker:

Admiral Ackbar, what do you think about Universal Basic Income?

Princess Amidala may not have delivered much as a character, but her virtuous design inspired more than a few righteous works of ANSI art. This portrait is by Mongi of iCE:

And her daughter, an apparently hand-drawn piece of Princess Leia ASCII art, diminished in virtually every regard:

Let's get big again, with Misfit's portrait of Edrio "Two Tubes" from Rogue One, an under-fan-arted instalment in the series to date. This one also missed the boat for the official Star Wars Blocktronics artpack, but fortunately I'm here to curate these pieces semantically.

Got Porg? Enzo and Avg draw for the ANSI art supergroup Blocktronics, whose May 2017 artpack will be the focus of the next post in this series. This piece pertains to some new critters from The Last Jedi, in theatres now, but they drew it back in September, when most normal people weren't yet up to speed regarding the deep lore of the approaching Star Wars blockbuster. I can't really explain it, but ... here it is:

ANSI art isn't the whole show -- here's an epic teletext screen by Uglifruit:
As referenced above multiple times, the May 2017 Blocktronics artpack, "Detention Block AA-23", was a 100% Star Wars-themed joint. Not only did their stable of godly ANSI artists channel their earliest and most profound fandoms into ANSI art, I also sent my colleague teletext cottage industry Horsenburger their way to show the ANSI kids just what one dedicated man and a teletext editor could make happen. Again, you'll be seeing all this in the next post in this series, probably around the time "Young Han Solo" hits the theatres. Something particular to this 67 artpack is that it had a call for submissions posted quite a bit in advance. The below piece, bearing all the hallmarks of an Enzo small-scale production, graced a call for submissions with a deadline of Jan 31st. The artpack release itself was scheduled for release in May -- we figured they were targeting the prefab consumerist neo-holiday May 4 (for "May the 4th Be With You", blarrgh) but that date came and went (in its honour I vented all the Star Wars-themed pieces from the Mistigris back catalogues on our Mistigram Instagram feed) and they stayed quiet until May 25th, marking the 40th anniversary since the original theatrical release of Star Wars.

Enzo, a central Blocktronics organizer, was pushing the Star Wars pack hard, and made sure he had a good body of work saved up well before the artpack's release deadline. Then he made many of them available on his personal ANSI art commerce website, from which I scraped the following pieces some time prior to the artpack's release. I was in a position to spill the beans and share them early, which would have been a kind of jerky thing for me to do, but fortunately for him my recent duties attending to my own monthly Mistigris artpack releases kept me too busy to scoop him -- one of those prickly ethical problems that solves itself if you just sit back and think about it for a while! So anyhow, rather than giving you an unauthorized sneak preview of the Blocktronics Star Wars artpack, I'll give you a sneak preview of my next Star Wars ANSI art Pixel Pompeii post. Here was the call for submissions, depicting Han and Chewie springing Leia from the Death Star in ol' Episode IV:

You can tell Enzo is a serious fan because he's also been exploring the recent movies, not just the original trilogy. Here's BB-8 from The Force Awakens:

And still more recent, Director Krennic from Rogue One!

That said, it can be difficult to resist the draw of the classics. Here's [SPOILER WARNING] the climax of Empire Strikes Back (points for hidden Blocktronics logo in the background):

... and another scene from earlier in that movie, with Luke training on Dagobah with Yoda:

And here he explores the eternal question: are R2 and 3PO a gay couple? We may never get to the bottom of that one, but R2 is putting on a bold display for Pride:

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Horsenburger has had to relax his maniac pace of teletext production, but just before he did, a few teletext screens celebrating the recent Star Wars movies were among the last to come down his assembly line. Now first, let's set the scene...

From The Force Awakens, here's the mysterious Snoke:

But if you want to get to him, you're going to have to get through his Elite Praetorian Guards:

Here's a pensive Old Luke Skywalker:

It's been a long time, he has a lot to think about!

From The Last Jedi, Luke and Kylo face off:

Here's Kylo Ren with his helmet on...

... and with it off:

And that's all of those for now. But for a special treat...

OK, sharing Jar-Jar here is kind of like Rickrolling, and I apologise for the troll. But if you can forgive me for one last piece, you may be vindicated in your suffering through Jar-Jar Binks, though this ASCII animation seemingly promises more than it explicitly delivers. I present to you: The Death of Jar-Jar Binks!

I gather it's a cautionary tale about touching super-powered batteries with your tongue. Until next time folks!