Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Video game textmode art part 28: ANSI art under the ZZT engine!

We all know that ANSI art has a traditional context: on IBM PCs and clones running MS-DOS, generally, and employed specifically in dial-up BBS networking connections to help spruce up bandwidth-limited textmode menu interfaces. (The hottest ANSI art was of course used to advertise the underground BBSes which offered the freshest pirated software, as they were able to swap top-rack art for unmetered "leech" privileges of unlimited downloads.) But let's back up here a second -- while the BBS context for ANSI art was the best-known, as it had legs beyond the sneakernet, it wasn't the only game in town! Plenty of software also made use of the text graphics afforded them by the ANSI extended standard of colourful high ASCII. Both of the '90s shareware lords Apogee and Epic got their start with textmode games, the former with the Kroz series and the latter with the object-oriented game engine ZZT, the subject of today's gallery.
Other textmode games, of which there are many, will get their turn in good time, but for today, my focus is on ZZT games. Now naturally, every game made using ZZT (well, they weren't all games, sometimes other parties did what I did and abused the game-making engine to present content styled as an electronic magazine... my abuse employed a text adventure engine however 8) had textmode art -- and they were all games! But to better keep with the overarching theme of this "Video game textmode art" series of what generally amounts to fanart, today I'm limiting myself to the splash screens of fangames -- made using beloved characters from major franchises that are the intellectual property of giant companies in a totally unauthorized fashion, a grey area of fandom that is sometimes tolerated and sometimes quashed with cease & desist orders from legal departments. Ironically, much of the best ZZT ANSI art was actually made in the service of original games, perhaps calculating that the benefit of putting your best work into a project on dubious legal standing might not be the best investment of your time and effort. But it turns out that it was, for those are the games I feature here for your enjoyment today! You can play along if you like by perusing the extensive ZZT collection hosted over at the Internet Archive, which is where I sourced these images from.
ZZT's textmode had similar constraints to the early artists of Public Domain ANSI art in TheDraw: you were limited to a single screen of 80 columns by 25 lines, only here the constraints are more severe, as a good part of the screen is eaten up with interface and you are more limited in the potential characters at your disposal. That said, If you can draw a white circle, you can make fan-art of Codemaster's Dizzy, heroic egg of a series of platforming adventures -- and a good gloss for the round smiley-face character provided as the default player avatar in ZZT games. Here's the title screen for "Adventures of Dizzy ZZT".
...and he logs another appearance here, introducing "Magic Land Dizzy ZZT".
The likenesses are strained given the constraints, but these are nonetheless recognizable renditions of Nintendo's original power pair, Mario (well, still "Jumpman" initially) and the big knock-off ape himself, Donkey Kong.
Here's an interesting one: US title screen for Enix's JRPG "Dragon Warrior" (not a terrible conversion)...
... followed by a screen of gameplay. Check out this overland map! If you look carefully, you will notice that this ZZT game is employing remapped text characters to represent terrain types (as well as tweaking its plaintext letters for a reviled faux-medieval effect), so it's not "stock" ANSI. XBIN ahead of its time!
Duke Nukem represent! The Golden Age of ZZT being what it is, this could well be in homage to Apogee's original platformer series rather than its 3D Realms descendant!
I know, I kind of got the feeling that the whole point of Fallout is that there were no longer cities filled with apartment blocks radiant thanks to a working electricity grid, but who knows, maybe this is a prequel.
Unsurprisingly, the Final Fantasy series was too big to resist drawing into a ZZT conversion, here classily drawing the "Z" as a sword. Should we wait, perhaps, and let good taste prevail? Nonsense, we must plunge through!
And on we go, through ZZT Final Fantasy II (known as ZZT Final Fantasy IV in North America) ... apparently a bit of a rushed job as you can see.
And the crew from ZZT Final Fantasy returns with a slightly more polished take (I like the reflections of the "Z"s and hey, achieve a better effect with fewer stars, who would have guessed?) on their initial splash screen, now promoting ZZT Final Fantasy extreme! eXtReMe! (bite the neck off of the bottle of J0lt Cola, cue the bungee jumping electric guitar solo. Sorry, too '90s for you?)
Speaking of polish, now we're getting some class! I can virtually guarantee you no ZZT game was ever distributed on a CD -- maybe on a floppy diskette -- but I guess if this one did go to the CD plant, this is an artist's conception of what the final product would have looked like. 2001, well into the ANSI art dark ages, but I guess the fire of Final Fantasy inspired this artist to keep shining his light in the darkness.
Hats off, Chase Bramlage, we're finally approaching something resembling real ANSI art! Nice splash screen! A good fit for the aesthetic the franchise used to promote itself at that moment in time. But let's skip ahead a few installments...
XLII = 42 in arabic numerals. We won't reach that point in the main series continuity for quite a while, so who's to say that its start screen won't look like this? It's like that old Einstein quote, "I don't know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
A deft touch on the GTA font (by which I mean the font popularized by the game show The Price Is Right!) I really like the faintest shadow of a top of the "T"s, and my mind is blown a little bit boggling at how I have no memory of seeing this font used in the artscene despite its mechanical straightforwardness. (Ah, but of course, they don't necessarily do things in the scene because they're easy to do, but rather the other way around!)
And then there's this guy, who was able to pull his finger out of his nose long enough to scrawl the letters coinciding with a game's name. (I don't mean to be unfair to the kid who cranked this out, but I know the artist who did box art for this particular game and I think there was enough to work with there to justify my expecting more.)
Is that a Space Invader? I'm going to call it a Space Invader. (Do they have names? Well, yes and no. I'll consider it a Large Invader. We'll call him Largo.)
Because one good Epic Megagames joint deserves another, here's their breakout star Jill of the Jungle...
Some laws of textmode typography are eternal constants: try to cram in too many letters, and fail to outline them, and you will end up with ... unreadable character salad. And not the good kind of graffiti unreadable, just a mess. This is supposed to say "Karateka +".
Here's something new! Occupying a niche of technological sophistication somewhere between the setting's origin on the Apple II and the PCjr debut of the series' first game, here's an ANSI art splash screen for a fangame of Sierra's King's Quest, graphic adventuring gold standard of my youth. But how would its game play translate to the very different play style afforded by the ZZT engine? Here, have a look:

From white blob to pink blob isn't so far of a stretch, so here's HAL Labs' Kirby, ZZTified!

For some reason, probably to do with timing, Lemmings have figured prominently skinning several ZZT fangames. You've already seen a couple of them, but here's another named individual -- following in the footsteps of the unloved Lomax the Lemming, it's Koopo! Did they name the company after the Lemming or vice versa? It's... a boring mystery!
Well, we all had to start somewhere. I'm sure even Nintendo is not that proud of the game Mario Bros., and so this crude but functional portrait of Mario will have to suffice. (If this is v2.0, just imagine what the alpha looked like!)
I was expecting a bit more to represent the groundbreaking 3D platforming of Mario 64, but we will take what we can get.
This is a bit truer to form -- a playful, less bottom-of-the-barrel logo for Super Mario ZZT - the Great Switch Adventure!
And they continue with a demo screen depicting the levels:
I know, you're thinking that the ZZT play style wouldn't be able to do much with the finely tuned particulars of a Super Mario game, but as you can see, they do the best that they can:

And let's not leave his brother out, so here's a logo for "Luigi Land"!

You were feeling skeptical when you saw that DooM logo up top, weren't you? ZZT, taking on a 3D FPS? Well, this splash screen evokes another one -- the fourth game in Grey Associates' "Hugo's House of Horrors" series, Nitemare 3-D!
And because it just looked like a rotten cabbage when they tried to draw Abe, here's the Oddworld Inhabitants company logo:
A plausible shot at a logo for Namco's flagship mascot Pac-man, including a few remapped characters for maze drawing (and hey, check out those little Pacs!)
Perhaps by "Pokemon Ultimate" they mean "this is the last time we will try adapting Pokemon into a ZZT game". But I doubt it.
I'm really skeptical that the ZZT engine would allow anyone to pull off an attempt at reproducing the strange physics of Valve's Portal, but you can't say they didn't shoot for the stars!
While on the subject of fundamental mismatches, here's... Quake II! ZZT style!
What, that wasn't enough for you? All right -- Quake 3 Arena, all up in your ANSI art!
Survival horror... well now, I suppose there's no reason that couldn't work in ZZT. Why not Capcom's Resident Evil?
But really this is more what I was expecting: Sonic the Hedgehog ZZT. I can't see the hedgehog (well, there he is, peeking out of the "O") but the splendid natural vistas, if somewhat blurred and blocky, are a good fit for the series.
Maybe I should give these devs the benefit of the doubt, but all they have done is write "Tales of Phantasia" in a prefab TheDraw font. You could have written any game's name in there, but is there really anything inside that speaks more specifically to the game? Because, um, its official logo doesn't look anything like what you've got there!
Granted, most of these logos don't bear any strong resemblance to their source series' iconography. Tomb Raider? If you say so!
Now that's more like it! The splash screen of the ZZT adaptation of Interplay's post-holocaust RPG Wasteland... kicks things off with a bang!
This adaptation of Wolfenstein 3-D's splash screen speaks for itself. (And what it's saying is "Mein Leben!")
Visiting the cute side now, it's a ZZT game themed after the Super Mario spin-off Yoshi's Island:
We must have skipped a couple, because here we are at Yoshi's Island 4. Strangely, the further we get along in the series, the more streamlined -- but more Yoshi-looking -- the Yoshis get. That first one was really more iguana.
(Found Yoshi 3, further variations on the theme:)
And the natural conclusion to any A-Z video game list... even in ZZT, now we have the Zs of the Zs, with this ZZT adaptation of the Legend of Zelda. It has everything you need: logo impaled by a sword, a yellow triforce, plus a tiny hut in a green field.
OK, let's reach a little higher, shall we: The Legend of Zelda: The Land of Gannon opens with ... presumably Link... preparing to mount an assault on an ivy-covered fortified tower. Evocative! (Also starkly minimalist, but... it's unavoidable.)
And closing things out, here's an ANSI-in-ZZT rendition of the start screen to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Not bad!
... and if you'd like to see just how that plays out, here you go!

That's a wrap, ANSI art and ZZT fans! But stay tuned, there's more expected soon out of Pixel Pompeii HQ. Cheers!