Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Beast Wars", PlayStation 1, 1997.

This blog is riding madly off in all directions, taking stabs at new kind of territory like garage sale finds, inherited collections and book reviews... but once in a while it's nice to just go back to its roots and run a video game print advertisement from a comic book. Today's: Beast Wars.
takes on a whole new meaning when BEASTS can CHANGE into ROBOTS armed to the teeth with hi-tech weaponry and bent on RULING THE UNIVERSE!
Command state-of-the-art Transformers! Be a heroic Maximal like Cheetor and change from beast...
... to robot fighting machine with awesome firepowers!
Or choose to be an evil Predicon like the terrifying Megatron!
Battle in rugged 3D terrain with natural hazards and enemy armies. Defeat rival Transformers in head-to-head combat!
Maximize! Terrorize! Fight for control of the Energon supply!

You grow up and leave the things of childhood behind (for a time), unaware that all the while, the things of childhood keep on chugging along, growing ever more refined like inbred dog breeds to grotesquely inflate the qualities which are perceived to lie at the essential core of a given franchise. So all the while, He-Man, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Strawberry Shortcake keep being re-invented and re-launched in toy, comic and television form to better suit the tastes of the moment, first gnarly, then extreme, then dark and gritty, now post-modern and ironic, and then on to a glowing cherishing nostalgia again after the history-erase button is pressed, again. By and large, the shark was jumped when they assaulted the fortress of Major Motion Picture, but some of these franchises would unbeknownst to us get the chance to jump multiple sharks, emerging virtually beyond recognition on the other end.
Beast Wars (bizarrely aka "Beasties" here where it was made by Rainmaker aka Mainframe of Reboot fame, dodging a prohibition on marketing war to children) is just such a transformation, turning stylishly 2D-animated robot cars into crudely 3D-animated robot animals. Even the Transformers wiki regrettably describes this development as one "reviled by many Transfans when it first hit the airwaves".

The thing that gets me about this ad specifically is its "nephew art" quality, reminding me of poster art I made myself for doomed performances, with nothing but a crude visual concept to run with. (Design acumen and skill would have to wait, we were operating on tight deadlines.)

OK, so we've got animal robots, get me an animal texture -- scales, feathers, maybe zebra stripes NO WAIT, leopard spots that's great! But they're robots, so there's like electronics underneath... hang on, Carl, open up your PC cover, I'm going to get a better circuit board reference than I could ever draw... OK, and they're, like, fighting, so the skin gets torn and you see the microchips beneath... yeah, they're probably shooting animal guns or something, I don't know, have them biting NO clawing, that's easier to draw. Animal claws? But how do you know the attacker is a robot also? Wait, I've got it: the chromed hand, clawed fingertips, a Boris Vallejo special.
The part I like the best is how advanced Cybertronian electronics simultaneously from the far past and the near future are given to look identical to Earthian consumer electronics circa the print date of the ad. Pile enough Compaq PC clones together and end up with a Transformer? or at least a Beast Warrior? (I know, if the design was too far abstracted away from mid-'90s Earth electronics, how would we even recognize the guts as electronics? Are Transformers even electronic, or rather -- Energon-ic? So many questions, all of them totally stupid.)

I do like the RANDOM edgy Wired typographical LAYOUT we SAW earlier in the Make Your Own Video ad. "State-of-the-art"? I would venture to say transforming animal robots are well beyond the state of the art as we knew it in '97, declassified government prototypes nonwithstanding. "Awesome firepowers"? Individual robots don't only have one awesome firepower, but at least another firepower that is also awesome. If the rugged 3D terrain didn't have enemy armies, it would be pretty boring. "Maximize"?! What are you even trying to say, here? Do whatever it is a Maximal does? Why aren't the opposites of Maximals Minimals? Then the ad closes saying it will "bring out the beast in you", but what it actually portrays is bringing the robot out of a beast.

The '90s. So conflicted. Not an animal, not yet a robot.