Friday, 4 May 2018

Textmode art roundup: Star Wars RTTY

May the 4th [be with you] means it's time for another (as we have done not once but twice before) celebration of all things Star Wars in the realm of textmode art! People were literally drawing Star Wars ANSI art this month, but it's part of a surprisingly long tradition dating all the way back to the release of the original movie in 1977 -- the same year that saw the release of the holy trinity of home computers, the Commodore PET, the Apple II, and the Radio Shack TRS-80. That's right: for as long as home computers have existed, there has been Star Wars fandom exercised on these machines, specifically celebrated through the medium of textmode art. Isn't that wild?!

As we have seen, their primitive screens' small text mode resolutions didn't leave much possibility for the output of detailed textmode art, but fortunately these creative nerds had other canvases for the expression of their genius: as with later ANSI art scrollers, they prepared tall, thin posters formatted to be output on printer paper, generated through instructions stored on paper punch tape and transmitted not through modems but over the radio waves through RTTY (radioteletype) at around 45 baud. Now, as fascinating as all this is, it's a digression from the main attraction: the pretty pictures. So without further ado, a bold, brassy adaptation of the Star Wars theatrical poster:

As mentioned in the attribution on the bottom, the original design apparently dates to a 1977 People's Computers magazine listing I wouldn't mind learning a little more about, and was adapted by Dale for TTY in 1979. I was born in 1979! This awesome ASCII art (sorry: TTY art) is older than I am! I had to manually groom this listing's output from its original form sitting out in the open on waiting for someone with a very particular set of retro interests to stop by and shake the pile until something interesting fell out... the original file includes what look like overprint areas to achieve new layers of texture not achievable through single runs of ASCII characters. I don't have an easy way of synchronizing the layers, so I just trimmed them out... but know that these specimens have been modified by me for your viewing convenience. (This one had the extra layers tacked on to the side, but most of them looked twice as tall as they ought to -- almost certainly, what I was seeing was alternating lines of overprint instructions. They are now the correct height, but somewhat texture-desaturated.) That said, on we go: let's look at the rogue's gallery for the first movie.

Baby steps! The first of these antagonists to trouble young Master Luke, here are two Jawas, or at least -- two sets of glowing eyes in flowing cowls.

(There was a single Jawa that I just couldn't make look right -- if you'd like to take a crack at it, you can find him at

Next up, we've got a Stormtrooper:

And how better to follow a Stormtrooper than an Imperial military man who can actually land a shot once in a while, Darth Vader:
OK, so these are pretty underwhelming. Let's switch to the Rebels for a little while. May I introduce Princess Leia Organa:
Now, Joseph Campbell's journeying hero on one adventure no one ever predicted -- being diced and spat out of a mechanical typewriter. It's Luke Skywalker!
But of course Luke would just be a hotshot pilot on the lam in Mos Eisley if not for the mentorship of his father's failed teacher, Obi-Wan "Old Ben" Kenobi, looking here like a bit of the wild-eyed crazy old man the locals must have fully believed him to be:
Now drawing humans is tough, but everyone thinks they can draw a robot. Geometric shapes? Rectangles, triangles, circles... I got it! Conspicuously everyone tried drawing R2-D2, without a C-3PO to be found. Here's the first...
Now R2-D2... 2!
And one last trip out the TTY device for this tired old R2 unit:
As a bonus, there are a few characters from The Empire Strikes Back. (No ROTJ specimens have washed up in the archives -- perhaps RTTY had faded from fashion by the time episode VI hit the theatres.) Here's Frank Oz finding the middle ground between his Grover and Cookie Monster voices with everyone's favorite little green philosopher, Yoda! It looks a little bit like the Mona Lisa, come to think of it...
Also rocking the green, (and also drawn by "Doug", using the very light "alternating lines" shading) everyone's favorite badass from the original trilogy -- bounty hunter Boba Fett:
And finally, a wholly remarkable rendition (the other styles have successors in the annals of ASCII art, but aesthetically this one -- despite still being drawn by "Doug", who typed the last two -- is way out in left field) of Bespin's Baron Administrator Lando Calrissian:

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