Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Video game ANSI art part 11: antari_patterns_ant blocktronics mega-tapestry

It's been a fair while (May?) since the last mega-ANSI, video-game style. This one comes from their "1010" artpack (their 10th) in October of 2014. I was not able to discern the identity of the artist involved, though there's a good chance it's a collaboration of sorts. First, the good stuff:

Our first retro artefact is an audiocassette tape deck, which you may recall as a data storage medium for such platforms as the TRS-80 CoCo, ZX Spectrum or a whole range of Commodore machines, hence such period slogans as "PRESS PLAY ON TAPE". This leads into a tremendous Pac-Man, complete with fruit, pills and maze (but no ghosts), which in turn transitions into Konami's Frogger, about to get creamed by the b7 (for "BLOCK7TRONICS", the modern ANSI art group involved) semi truck. (And are those Breakout bricks behind him?) From there, we are treated to scenes from Bally-Midway's Tapper, a bit of Galaga-style player-poaching action in Irem's Moon Patrol, and a menacing sneaker-sporting Centipede... capped off with some of Taito's Space Invaders (being shot at by their standard player-controlled opponent), which then segues in turn into Asteroids from Atari -- with limited ANSI options for rendering vector polygons.

(Take a breath!)

We then get a seemingly familiar, but assuredly confabulated, appearance of the fictitious shareware hit Roid Destroyer 9000, with Pong paddles doing their thing on the sides, then an illustration practically off the cover art from Activision's River Raid, moving on to Namco's Dig Dug (and just where was he attaching his pump to, anyhow?), Atari's landfill-famous ET -- the Extra-Terrestrial character if not necessarily the pit-falling game, though perhaps so as the next game is indeed David Crane's Pitfall from Activision. ET is triggering the appearance of a Blocktronics logo from a television set's bunny ears antennae for the benefit of an Atari logo. Next up is some side-shooter I couldn't casually identify -- the tracer trails reminded me of Williams' Stargate, and though I can't place the enemy type, the airship at least looks similar enough to that game's avatar -- though there, they dogfight against a backdrop of spacey black, not a blue sky. Hoping to find more, I even Googled the phrase "jet fighting squid" but all that search yielded was this amazing image:

On the land beneath that airborn conflict is of course some sort of terrestrial vehicle race -- my most immediate guess would be Namco's Pole Position, but it is not a genre in which I am well versed. Finally, we end with a nod to the 1983 movie War Games.

Hats off, gentle folk. That was a dense piece of work!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boxing Day 2014 supplemental: that weird mug

I know, I'm sure you were curious about it as well. While washing it before use, the mystery deepened: From here, I was shuffling the hivemind crowdsourcing back and forth between Twitter and Facebook, where the trail heated up:
Jill - Hidden message! So cool!

Reset Survivor - It probably says 'CAUTION: DO NOT PUT IN DISHWASHER!'

Rowan - I sense a great setup to a tremendous punchline in the works.

Marlo - 2nd part definitely says "but not ugly"! I think the first part says "i am very gentle"? Correct me if I'm wrong, someone. When I try to Google the whole phrase (in Chinese), I don't find any elucidating results. Anyway, fun little thing to research! So yeah. "i am gentle, but not ugly."

Aaron - it's a lyric. your mug is not Japanese, not really about computers, and the character is ugly. see cup of lies.

Max - Yeah, it's Chinese. My wife says it's sort of from a song. The first part says "I'm very gentle" and the second says "But I'm not ugly".

Not bad, hivemind! Between when I posted this and had a full translation, including cultural context, a mere two hours elapsed. Maybe things would have even gone more quickly had I not saddled the initial inquiry with my cultural expectations: oh, something about computers written in an East Asian script. It must be Japanese! said the ugly American. So I don't know my Hanzi from my Katakana. Surely the character's lack of kawaii should have tipped me off that maybe it could have originated from somewhere else? Taiwan, as it turns out.

So you pull the mug out of the cupboard, empty, and it reads: "MY FIRST LOVE", the computer displaying the text "I AM VERY GENTLE". But then, upon filling the mug with hot coffee, the transparency of the screen shifts and the initial message is obscured, revealing a lower one saying "BUT NOT UGLY." What is the significance? It is a twist on "famous" song lyrics by Taiwanese singer Zhao Chuan, in which he sings

"I am very ugly, but I am very gentle and tender / Every night, in the wilderness of dreams, I am a proud giant;
Every morning, in front of the bathroom mirror, I discover that I am living on the razor's edge
In the forest of steel reinforced concrete, in the life of being called to come here and go there
Calculate the differences between dreams and reality"
And so forth and so on. So my ex-roommate Aaron speaks the truth: Not Japanese, not about computers, ugly character: it is, indeed, a cup of lies. An intriguing and compelling red herring, but the trail of understanding it in a context of my interests ends here. But to leave no mystery unexplored and unexplained, having achieved an answer to my question, I had to share it here. Rigor! Thanks to Mike, Marlo, Aaron and Max for helping me to put the pieces together.

Boxing Day blowout 2014 part 2

And now, the thrilling conclusion: the rest of my holiday haul. Now experiencing Christmases somewhat larger-than-life after a decade of it virtually not turning up on my calendar at all, I no longer know what "normal" is in these situations, but in any event -- I was quite impressed by it.
The book, "Introduction to Pascal INCLUDING UCSD Pascal", is by Rodnay Zaks and dates to 1980 -- predating the release of the IBM PC. (UCSD Pascal was actually one of the three operating environments available for the IBM PC at launch, the other two being CP/M and PC-DOS -- later rebranded MS-DOS. One of those things was not like the other.) Pascal was the monster programming language of my youth (which is to say, the language of choice for all programmers who weren't chomping on C and C+), and UCSD has a couple of hooks into retro gaming -- it was used in the creation of President's Choice, and the better-known FTL game Sundog: Frozen Legacy.

What else have we got here? "The Next Tetris" for PS1. I haven't heard much about it, but I'm guessing it wasn't exactly the next Tetris. There were an array of handheld LCD games -- a niche that I traditionally don't really collect... but maybe now I'll have to start? I do remember playing with them as kids when nothing else was available (not quite the bottom of the barrel -- on vacation a couple of years ago I found myself playing Solitaire on the beach with a deck of cards... damn, why won't these shuffle themselves?!) but not having nostalgia for them. Still, they're only one notch below Game Boy, right? Speaking of which, there was also a playing-card-engraved Nintendo DS in the batch, given apologetically without games or cables (snicker): now I have two DSes -- can't we use them to play games cooperatively over Wifi?

The scattershot nature of the actual games given yields a grocery list of sorts at this point: a couple of GBA carts (a platform with a remarkably unremarkable library, as best as I can tell, though of course I only experience the games for it that people were throwing away), a couple of Genesis carts (how many copies of Sonic 2 have I gone through, anyway?), a Game Gear cart, four N64 carts, two thrift-bin Wii games, Half-Life 2 (which, judging from the label, was still being published by Sierra at that point. Now Valve is a way of life and Sierra is a nostalgic property undergoing a revival... maybe if a HL 3 is ever released, they can brand it with the Sierra logo for nostalgic purposes -- since after all, Half-Life is the Sierra property people have nostalgia about, right?), a PSOne with another joystick and two varieties of multi-tap convertors (I own a third... will any of them enable 4p gaming on the PS2, though?), plus a half-dozen assorted N64 joystick gewgaws.

Speaking of which: this holiday season saw a visit from my Toronto-based 14-year-old nephew, and I am the only person in his life capable of holding a conversation with him about Mordor or Ratchet & Clank. Hoping to impress him with a display of my retro games setup (my Boxing Day party thoroughly derailed by two thirtysomethings rediscovering Super Mario World to a rapt audience), he began sharing strong (and, I expect, under-informed) opinions regarding platforms he'd assuredly never seen, several of which were commercially extinct by the time he was born. (Woah!) My home setup currently boasts 4 machines, each of which plays at least two platforms (eg. the Retro Duo has slots for NES and SNES carts, the latter of which also allows Game Boy play through the Super Game Boy) ... at my gaming parties now I'm not setting up every machine but rather the ones that I have the largest libraries for, because getting the Saturn up and running isn't worth squatting one of my limited CRT TVs for the three games I've got for it. I found that the N64 was similarly getting neglected at parties (falling in between nostalgia cracks -- SNES games are totally triggers for floods of memories, while Gamecube titles are recent enough to still be compelling) so I hadn't bothered setting it up. Nonetheless, though he's never owned one, he somehow felt it was the ne plus ultra of my collection and in an attempt to impress him I pledged to bring it out of storage and set it up at my parents' Xmas party the following day. To reiterate: the N64 was released in 1996, replaced in 2001, retired in 2003. He was born in 2000, and surely wasn't playing video games for at least a couple of years after that. Why the fixation? I can't figure it out. At this point it's been set up there (after some mystery retrieval obstacles... I gave him my keys to bring it in from the car and he disappeared for a half-hour, located in the back seat with the bag torn and carefully bundled N64 hardware strewn all over the car -- ah, 14-year-olds) for a couple of days and finally providing him something to do in deepest Dunbar over his holiday trip, so hopefully he can provide some demonstration of why it exerts its strange appeal over him. (I mean yes, Goldeneye, I get it, but singleplayer?)

But I digress. Then there were the 2600 carts...

That right there is pretty much all that you need (some apparently needed twice), many of which I already owned... yet I still do not have a working machine of that vintage to run them on. Plus Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision, its killer app. (It's interesting to see how Coleco's games for its own system were branded slightly differently from those for the competition... just omit the "Vision".)

This box really got my attention...

SuperCalc was a very popular CP/M-era spreadsheet program with a timeless design. In this case its box was repurposed to hold completely unrelated presents. I love the idea of chance and happenstance keeping the box of a CP/M spreadsheet intact for 35 years, only to gut its contents and use it to hold ceramic figurines or somesuch. The retroapplications scene is burgeoning, but it's still not quite a thing yet.

OK, thanks for joining me in this holiday trip through my strange accumulations. Next up -- very likely more video game ANSI I was so jazzed about posting, I almost leapfrogged this resolution and did two in a row. And, of course, more game ads -- eventually.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Video game ANSI art part 10: the Konami show

First, a second version of the theme music to M.U.L.E. from another Mistigris-affiliated musician (ironically, given my devotion to these endless tapestries of ANSI art, my own computer art group had much stronger ties to the considerably-more-difficult-to-showcase-in-a-blog medium of computer music)! This one was by Melodia of Digitallusions, a veritable music machine who may feel more than a little kinship with M.U.L.E.'s auteur Dani Bunten Berry!

Now, ending the previous post with some egregiously amateur ANSI art, I said that the next one would have to be another showcase. This here, my friends, is the work of a finely-honed specialist. Previous instalments of "video game ANSI art" have just been thrown-together piles of thematically-related work -- the curatorial equivalent of shovelware. This is another case altogether: far and away, today's feature artist has drawn more video-game themed works of textmode art than the second through tenth most prolific practitioners of that arcane-niche-within-an-arcane-niche. This is their grab-bag post, but there will be more in which they dwell on individual companies, series or even specific games. You've seen a handful of their works in previous posts, but here comes a motherlode. Many nicknames have been used (eg. Dr. Shizuma), but by far the one to which the majority of these works are credited is Konami: not the company, but the legendary artist with a knack for not just reproducing concept or promotional art, but rendering the characters in a condensed form in a personal visual shorthand, in new positions and situations and in extraordinary styles. (Textmode nonwithstanding.)

When he learned of my blog series, he offered to dig into his back catalogue and make recommendations, starting with a dozen cool pieces. And then another dozen. And then... well, then I needed his help in identifying the characters portrayed across a wide range of titles from an age in the gaming industry I'm woefully under-experienced in. It must have taken two or three days just to sort out all the submissions and cluster them thematically, and now it falls to me to share with you the fruits of that colossal curatorial task.

Without further delay, I bring to you... the overture of the Konami show, part 1. We begin with individual games his bird of genius alights upon only once:

That piece, a transcription of sorts of existing character artwork, depicts Regina from Capcom's Dino Crisis.
That there is Aya from Square's Parasite Eve. Most of what remains will be of the coloured ASCII art variety of textmode artwork -- still using the colour codes ANSI provides, but with the additional edging and texture permitted by using the other characters traditionally the domain of the ASCII artist.
Above we see an original take on the hero from Dragon Quest III.
Here was an original rendition of Odessa from Suikoden.
And a piece representing Koei's historical wargame of strategy and politics, Nobunaga's Ambition.
That was a presentation, derived from an external source, of the character Heather Mason from Silent Hill III. " I remember little things thing about most things I drew; like where I was etc. The Silent Hill 3 was instantly one of my favorite asciis and still is, lifted from a rental at a blockbuster on a cold winter day. A greyscale ascii going into some color on the edges... It's actually rather unfinished but I got to this point it just looked right, sorta dirty and spooky looking."
This here was a collaboration with Filth, a rendition of Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden, from magazine artwork.
These two pieces illustrate characters from Chrono Trigger, my favorite Square game. The above picture was of Lucca, and the following one is an original portrayal of silent game protagonist Crono. It is the final piece of what would generally be considered "ANSI art" in this gallery; the remainder all leans heavily on virtuosic use of similar but distinct ASCII art techniques.
While we're on a JRPG kick -- a trend which will prove to be pretty much a guiding theme through most of Konami's portfolio -- here are characters from Luna Silver Star Story:
That was an unoriginal (I'm not being judgemental, it is simply adapted from existing work) picture of Lucia, and here are two original depictions of Leo.
Last one! Leo, are you ready for your close-up?
Now changing tacks, these are characters from Square's Xeno games:
One original picture of a character from Xenosaga: Episode I, and next up an adaptation of artwork for Elly of Xenogears.
One more Xenogears character awaiting, Citan Uzuki in an original presentation.
But because no one can survive on a diet purely consisting of JRPGs, even Konami veers astray from time to time and plays some beat-'em-ups. These characters are all from King of Fighters games:
That was an original picture of Iori Yagumi (a nick that saw some use in Mistigris artpacks, whose source I have only just now learned of!), and here comes another one:
I was scrutinizing my notes because I was sure I had written down the name of this next character incorrectly -- but it really does appear to be "K'".
Here's Terry Bogard in his distinctive red baseball cap!
And finally, a picture of Mai. (All these KOF portrayals are original.) "The Mai ascii was drawn with T-Bob, a fellow fighting game fan who was one of my best friends in the scene, we actually drew it in his student apartment in Montreal, which I visited for a few days just for fun. We played a lot of Capcom vs SNK 2 and the quote is from that game."
And that's, whew, well, that is merely the beginning for old Konami. His works are to end up the exclusive subjects of at least three posts in this series. Hats off, ladies and gentlemen, for the living embodiment of all that is good about this blog series. Stay tuned for more! But first -- the remainder of my game-related Christmas presents!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Boxing day blowout 2014 part 1

Somewhere I have it on the record that for me as a teenager what Christmas meant was a chance to get on to my local BBSes while everyone else was unwrapping their presents, taking advantage of the extraordinary cleared phone lines to whomp everyone in the daily online games while they were foolishly occupied (distracted, I had it) with their family and seasonal cheer. My early bachelorhood didn't challenge this somewhat misanthropic approach to the holiday, but as I've settled down and become a family man I've had to get up to speed with some of the social niceties that allow one to celebrate Christmas as an adult. (My standing in the LORD high score table has suffered quite a bit as a consequence, I can assure you.)

At times I've felt that perhaps my gaming monomania might exact some toll on my family life, and so I am always pleasantly surprised (and somewhat puzzled) to receive gaming paraphernalia as presents -- catering to the me that I am rather than nurturing the me they might prefer me to be. Go figure. Here's my "Christmas eve" haul, of gifts I received before my thrift store / garage sale maniac (which I mean in the nicest possible way) mother-in-common-law, who is generous to a fault, gets her hands on the giving and steps it up several notches:

For starters, there are three t-shirts. I only make an effort to wear my gaming clothes at my retro game parties, which only happen twice a year; obviously to give these threads their due, I'm going to have to step up the pace (and throw more parties?) The Atari shirt appears to be vintage, while the other two are from the designers at Pop Chart Labs and will get a bit deeper scrutiny below. Then we have a cherry red Nintendo Game Boy (now I have two, in different colours... down that path madness lies!) in a protective case bedecked with period Nintendo stickers and all 4/4 of the limited edition (?) run of Angry Birds: Space candies (and for folks who remember my previous reference to those upset avians, back in the Realia post, that chew toy went into the garbage last week, not lasting even a year -- but not entering my collection after a year in my dog's jaws.) You can see a mug and a "Whiz-Kid" educational pseudo-computer. Look carefully beneath its box and you see some computery chocolate bonbons, then a layer of decade-ish old gaming magazines (which yield more game ads for me to scan -- grr, especially double-page ones -- which in turn yield more blog posts here) topped with a layer of curated (Sonic -- regrettably, judging from the reviews -- and Kirby, last seen stunning my partner with sticker shock upon seeing its $60 price tag when fresh) and happenstance (Medal of Honor, Smarty Pants) Wii finds. And as a peculiar afterthought, one of those infuriating (no thumbsticks! It's hard to go back) PlayStation 1 controllers off to the right. A respectable haul, by any standard.
This mug is perplexing and awesome. I do not read Japanese characters regrettably so the deeper wisdom contained on the monitor is lost on me. (There is a second line of it, in black-on-black: doubly encrypted, if you will.) The character design of the speaker is similarly baffling, and even the structural topography of the mug is ... at variance from the mean.
I bet you didn't even know that there were chocolatiers making treats in the shapes of 8-bit (or in the words of the catalogue, "old") microcomputers! (Apparently they also have terminals. Classic!) So what machine do you think it's trying to evoke -- an Apple II perhaps, or a TRS-80, or perhaps a C64? Or indeed, maybe all three.
The Pac-Man shirt admittedly confuses me a little bit with the multiple levels it's working on. "Games Played in the 1980s / Pac-Man Trivial Pursuit" means... well, if it were a pie chart, five sixths of it would be taken up with whatever the yellow signifies (rounds of Pac-man and Trivial Pursuit played vs. all rounds of all games played?) And of course, if you were playing a round of Trivial Pursuit (perhaps a video game-themed variety), you would eventually end up with a playing piece filled up with 5 of 6 "pie slices". And, of course, a 5/6 filled circle coloured yellow is strongly reminiscent of Pac-Man in the mouth-fully-open position. But what is it all supposed to signify? One shirt sale, I fear.
This one is quite a bit denser: a complete catalogue, as best as I can tell, of various joysticks and input devices used for various home computers and consoles across the ages. Controllers old and new turn up in this design, including several I don't recognize and probably have never seen before -- some of my favourite appearances include both the Bandai Power Pad for the NES and its descendent, the Dance Dance Revolution dance mat; in addition to the Power Glove, there is the NES' Zapper light gun as well as the Sega Master System's phaser, the SNES' Super Scope 6, and Konami's proprietary light gun -- the justifier. I spot my recent acquisition, the NES Advantage, as well as several renowned single-purpose controllers like the Samba de Amigos maracas and a Guitar Hero guitar... and the Miracle Piano Teaching System?!... and are those the Sega Activator and Broderbund's U-Force I spot? Anyhow, it would be neat to collaboratively number them all and peg them all down -- I've spotted some variations, so I think in some cases we have multiple versions of joysticks for the same machine present. In any case, its appeal is far more immediate and straightforward than with the previous t-shirt.
The pre-computer that's the bridge to a personal computer!

* math... music... spelling... logic and more makes learning fun and easy
additional programs available to keep young minds growing
parental assistance recommended for younger children

Le pré-ordinateur qui est une passerelle aux enfants vers l'ordinateur individuel!

* les mathématiques... la musique... l'orthographe la logique et davantage
* grâce à lui, apprendre devient facile et amusant
* programmes supplémentaires disponibles pour faire croître leur jeune cerveau.
* l'attention des parents est recommendee pour les très jeunes enfants

It would take me some time to report on this curious "pre-computer". Benj Edwards over at has covered a few different models from the same line -- and from the looks of things, the Hong Kong-based vtech, est. 1976, is, unlike so many other tech companies... still in business today! Presumably their support for such antiquated devices, however, is somewhat limited. It looks like it superimposes LED readouts with backdrop overlays; other models are described as having a small number of BASIC programs in ROM, invoked with a bar code scanner of sorts when data-free "program cards" are inserted. (Not so different from today's launch-day DLC!)
Une passerelle aux enfants vers l'ordinateur individuel!

Enseigne les mathématiques, l'orthographe, la musique et bien d'autres choses encore! * Clavier ordinateur
* Écran à cristaux liquides animé
* Fonction mémoire... programmable
* Effets sonores imitant ceux de l'ordinateur
* 50 programmes logiciels cartes... maths... musique... orthographe... logique... et davantage.
* Programmes supplémentaires sur cartes et cartouches disponibles pour faire croître leur jeune cerveau.

OK, that's all well and good, but you don't speak French!
A child's bridge to a personal computer!

Teaches, math, spelling, music, and more! * Computer-like keyboard
* Animated LCD screen
* Memory storage... programmable
* Computer-like sounds/effects
* 50 software program cards... math... music... spelling... logic... and more.
* Additional program cards and cartridges available to keep young minds growing.

Parts of this are actually more troubling in English than in French: the first thing it should teach, is, correct, comma, use. What makes a keyboard or sound-effects computer-like? And the folks in layout keep choosing to italicize the bits about the cultivation of young minds while that convention is apparently unknown in Francophone territories (where they also side with the brain in the mind/brain split.)

These machines appear to date to about 1984, so given the general gutlessness of the home computers circulating at that time it's head-scratching how much lower one can stoop for a training-wheels "pre-computer". One thing's certain, it almost certainly couldn't run Zork.

I found the company's logo so compelling I was forced to render it in ANSI art.
I suppose that means that my next post will need to be another instalment of our video game ANSI art theatre, to be followed before New Year, hopefully, with the thrilling conclusion -- part II -- of Gamey Stuff I Received Over These Holidays. PS, please don't forget, I am giving away Steam codes for games here. I haven't had any takers yet, so I'm wary of throwing more out there... but once there's a nibble, I'll extend further codes. After all, with the games already in my library, the codes aren't doing me any good. Cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2014

"You Don't Know Jack 3", 1997.

So as to keep up with the Joneses (you know, "in the fast lane"), I have subscribed to a handful of other sources I have found covering this tres niche beat, documenting print ads for video games. Some of them, like me, try to be a little topical, finding ads with ties to relevant current events or seasonality. Today I caught this curio in the wild:
Waitasec -- Video Game Comic Ads? That's me! And their image-only post has been liked some 70 times in a single day! I sure don't get that kind of traffic (heh: 44 views over an entire year), and I went to the foolish effort of writing several paragraphs of qualifying content to accompany the picture post! Who's the fool now? (Hint: it's me. And not just now, but rather: it was always me.)

Anyhow, that was Christmas 2013, and here's another post I started thenabouts, then realised I couldn't make happen in time for Christmas, and decided to set aside for Xmas 2014. And now here we are!

Category: A Christmas Case History


Q: If Santa Claus developed a "Bipolar Disorder", how might he behave on Christmas Eve?

GAME #301

Yes, Virginia, there is an answer. Just dial that little number there, and we'll give you a peek at our latest edition, YOU DON'T KNOW JACK Volume 3. No cheesy salespeople, no B.S. It's just a game.

Like what you hear? Drop the phone, and pick up the CD-ROM, wherever irreverent software is sold.

I'm guessing that the intended answer to this ad's gag misinterprets the term's typical application to manic depression and instead makes some joke about flying from the North Pole to the South Pole, but it always makes me think of G.I. Joe scribe Larry Hama's 1997 (hey! the same year!) "Howard the Duck Holiday Special", in which the canard is recruited to join a corps of substitute Santas, including one straight-jacket-clad "Sanity Claus".
There's not a lot to say about this ad; the hip and sassy tone was a consummate product of its era, all attitude and no content. My guess is that the ad was intended to drive potential customers to listen to a hip and sassy voice mail message at the 1-888 number ("New Jack", there's another totally forgettable '90s reference). The ad is an empty signifier, but, to its credit, unlike most ads it's up front about it.

I do dig Santa's crooked spectacles however, implying some variety of illegal misadventure conducted by this cyclothymic Kris Kringle.)

I actually bought this game as part of a bundle in last year's Winter Steam Sale (which is, let me remind you, on now), flabbergasted that software of that vintage was being vended through the premiere online software storefront. I noted that there appeared to be overall a revival of many old properties, however brief: along with YDKJ, I noted Sword of Fargoal, Oregon Trail, and Carmen Sandiego as three properties unexpectedly springing back to life. But I did not have ads for any of those games.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Thanks for the games!

Six months ago, I was a retro gamer in possession of NES carts but no Nintendo. Then -- an irony I foresaw -- the cosmic pendulum swung the other way, and now, well, now I am in custody of three machines capable of turning Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges into hours of fun. It never rains but it pours, you know? Weeks prior to my latest retro game party, a long-absent friend finally bequeathed his childhood NES into my arms. But, wouldn't you know it -- no power cable! Cord and transformer arranged -- dang it, pin connector problems and no time to perform the surgery before the party! Then friend #2 brought over a Retron 2 -- playing NES or SNES carts -- for the party in exchange for a surplus PlayStation 2 I sent him home with at the previous party. It enjoyed place of pride hooked up to the big-screen projector all night, a position typically reserved for the a PS2 or something a bit more graphically dazzling. Instead, we rocked out late into the night with Marble Madness and especially Bubble Bobble. Friends 3 were in conflict, celebrating their housewarming that night... but they knew they had game materials for me to inherit, and finally, inherit them I did:
In addition to the (working but cordless, but I already solved that problem) NES, this lot includes a Zapper (which I'm told doesn't function correctly in conjunction with modern televisions), the still-hotly-sought-after Advantage joystick, and a massive pile of games - more than shown here, after I separated four or five duplicates in my existing collection. (The game tally here: Advance Wars - Dual Strike for the Nintendo DS, when they were doing the "cute" business of finding "DS"-abbreviating taglines to append to every game, for the PS2: Burnout 3, DDRMax2, Front Mission 4, Gran Turismo 3, Gran Turismo 4, SSX Tricky, Tony Hawk's Undeground, and the formidable (two 2-disc sets, though in one case it was just a soundtrack) JRPGs Growlanser Generations and Phantom Brave... plus a couple more NES carts, the generally unremarkable (but appreciated!) Top Gun and Days of Thunder as well as, sticking out of the NES' cart slot there, the 3-in-one of Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet -- a pack-in for NES bundles including both the light gun and the DDR-mat-presaging Power Pad invented by Bandai.)

I'm at the weird point in my collecting where my most exciting lots are no longer finds at thrift stores or garage sales, but friends basically getting out of the old games hobby for good and passing their torch into my bonfire. Will my own collection (now weighing in at some 800 games, Mobygames reports) suffer a similar fate or will I continue to grow it indefinitely? Only time will tell. But until then, please don't forget that I am open to receiving any and all old games (caveat, on owned platforms -- otherwise, down that path lies madness. Though in the fullness of time, I will eventually own working machines of every style and format) that you may care to relieve yourself of.

That said, it's about time I give something back to the game enthusiast community that has enriched me so much. We're approaching a season of steep sales on bundles of games from digital storefronts, and already I have a pile of surplus Steam codes for games I already own. As a reward for loyal readers, and also as a little investigation into whether I HAVE any (I know, there are a few loyal commentators, but the good money has it on the vast majority of my hits being Google Images surfers who never see a word of this loving, painstakingly composed prose -- and a very occasional flood of reference-seekers from Reddit), I'll here kick things off with an offer for the Dreamcast Collection: a $23 value, including PC-playable versions of Sega Bass Fishing, classic driving game Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure DX, and the game I bought the collection for -- Space Channel 5 part 2. First to comment to me with their Steam username gets me trying to bequeath my surplus code for that collection to them. This just might be the only blog post you'll read all day that could impart a product of $23 value to you! If there are multiple takers, don't worry -- I have more codes waiting for other products. (But Rowan, you insist, nothing else will hold up as well as Sega Bass Fishing!)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Incubation: Time Is Running Out", Windows, 1997.

Here we are again -- another full-spread magazine game ad I spliced together from two different pages, resulting in a file so big I had to upload it here for safekeeping. Secretly or not so secretly what I'd rather be blogging about at this point in time are ANSI art renditions of video game characters or the report from my last retro gaming party (summary: NES games finally playable -- Marble Madness and Bubble Bobble big hits -- courtesy of a Retron 3, plus Wii and Xbox 360 now on tap -- if not especially retro) but because those subjects cannot float the blog on its own, I stubbornly keep cranking out occasional magazine scans for an audience of who knows. Today's game: Incubation, by Blue Byte.

First 10,000 Copies
3 Extra Missions
& A Free Incubation
Watch Offer!

Lead a squad of up to 10 Space Marines in over 30 terrifying turn-based missions!
Slaughter the bloodthirsty Scay'Ger with just a point and click using the intuitive interface!
View the stunning real-time 3D graphics from almost any angle with a free-roaming camera!

"Think X-Com meets Quake and you might see the picture, and subsequently start salivating."
- GamePen

"Incubation looks to be one of the best tactical combat games of the year."
- PC Games

"... Blue Byte has created what has to be one of the best-looking strategy games ever."
- Computer Games Strategy Plus

PC Zone 94%
Score Magazine 10/10
PC Games (Germany) 92%
PC Action 92% - Gold Award
PC Power 91% - Platinum Award

Featuring the Revolutionary Extreme Assault graphics engine!

Also from Blue Byte...




Command a 21st century attack helicopter and battle tank with simple arcade style controls!
Fight over 50 intense missions in 6 enormous levels complete with secret caves and tunnels!

That's quite a logo, though it makes the ad illustration a bit painfully redundant -- though gamers always want to know what in-game graphics look like, so perhaps the logo is the redundant part. An attention-grabbing portrait -- looks like a half-alligator half-man, turned inside-out. I guess the 3 extra missions to the early buyers is a kind of early "deluxe edition DLC included" bonus ahead of its time? Does the free Incubation watch tell you how long it will take until you are finished incubating? Or is it just a watchstrap with a face reading "Time Is Running Out"?

Marketing divisions know darned well what the actual numerical limitations of the game are, so "up to 10" or "over 30" is just their cute way of saying "10" and "31". Who are these Scay'Ger and why are they so bloodthirsty? I don't mean to cast aspersions on you, but when the first thing you describe doing to them is "slaughter", it makes me wonder who is the real monster. I liked "point and click using the intuitive interface" right up until the review crowed "think X-Com meets Quake". I don't know what that gameplay would be like (because I haven't played this title), but it's hard to imagine anything about its point and click interface being intuitive.

Make up your minds, reviewers, is it tactics or strategy? I like how the scores are stacked -- like a 94% from PC Zone is harder to achieve than 100% from Score: we didn't only impress the easy-to-impress! I think it's pretty awesome that they named their graphics engine "Revolutionary Extreme Assault" -- you don't end up making backgammon simulators from a product like that! "id Tech" is less impressive on that basis.

Also, they couldn't quite figure out what to do with the second page in the spread, so decided to use part of it reminding you that they also have other, unrelated games for sale.

There, that wasn't so bad. I feel a bit dishonest blogging about games like this I haven't played or even researched, but considering that most of my competition in this field just posts the scans straight without any commentary, I'm still ahead of the pack as long as I produce transcripts and pull some ad blurb interpretation out of ... thin air.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Video game ANSI part 9: errata

OK, I got one game print ad post out of the way. Y'know what that means? It's time for another session of video game ANSI art appreciation! All right, let's get started:
I hate to mangle that Reset Survivor piece from a Blocktronics pack, but as slight as the eventual video game sprite reference was, I just couldn't pass up its splendidly demented start screen (which the author explains was a take on the Doom II configuration screen.) Now to shake things up, another song! I know that the video game soundtrack remix community is a massive thing which I have just barely scraped the edge of, and I probably won't get into it too extensively here just because blog posts are generally a terrible way to present audio. But this one is special -- another historic exclusive: it was made for Mistigris, my computer art group of the '90s (and just revived for an indefinite time as of this Hallowe'en!), in some vague plan for a game-themed artpack release that never happened. The pack-in-progress had an epic 10-minute-long video game theme megamix that was the subject of tragical data loss, but we still did have Onyx's Castlevania theme from the previous ANSI post and this -- for the first time ever, you can enjoy |<ing /|rthur revisiting the main theme from M.U.L.E. (Unless, as he has recently retroactively been caught doing from time to time, this was him stealing somebody else's sequencing and putting his name on it. But it sounds equally enjoyable and relevant either way!)

We have ... basically, a pile of further posts in this series to get out of the way. The more I delve into the what I thought would be minute pool of video-game themed ANSI artwork, the more I find -- for every post I make, further material is made available to me for two more posts. As the material on my workbench has expanded, I've had the luxury of hashing the pieces out into different themed categories, so you can enjoy comparing and contrasting different approaches to the same subject rather than the jarring and schizoid channel-flipping approach you've seen in previous posts. So this post is a pile of pieces made on rare or singular themes, whereas in the future we will be seeing more sprees on related topics.

Pokémon was a huge video game franchise -- at times singlehandedly floating parent company Nintendo through hard times -- though one under-represented in ANSI art, only emerging as it did in 1996, as this whole culture was in the process of winding down. Here are a few takes on the series' flagship mon(ster), Pikachu the electric squirrel:

Those first two are by Konami, an artist we've already seen in these pages and who will be playing a substantial role in this blog series very soon! And -- not that we'll ever be able to present a complete textmode Poképedia, but here's one more member of the evolving menagerie of hundreds and hundreds of fabulous creatures:
Changing streams, that was a nice Castle Crashers tribute from Blocktronics, and now here's a 67 (blocktronics initials, numeralized) take on another game by The Behemoth, "Alien Hominid".
A couple of stragglers from the Sam & Max love-in we recently shared: a .BIN (typically this just means an extra-wide ANSI), possibly ripped (produced through inauthentic means -- typically miscredited from another artist, or here supposedly machine-converted) -- but we can't argue with the results:
And I don't remember this incident from the Sam & Max game or the comics that inspired it -- could it have originated in their cartoon, perhaps?
Now for a brief change of pace - some "hirez", or high-resolution computer artwork. I found this piece from "Dominion", a logo stumping for Quake II, in my 16-year-old "unreleased computer art" directory and figured -- well, it was relevant to this blog, but some context would need to be provided in order to explain why it was remotely noteworthy at all. In the early days of computer art, people were creative but the tools were lousy -- many works of high-resolution artwork were basically made the same way ANSI is (but with square pixel ratios as in the 80x50 screen mode), with pixel art being plunked down one pixel at a time. (Then once the piece was done came the process of manual anti-aliasing!) When Photoshop came on the scene it was a game-changer, where suddenly your machine could do the heavy lifting and "try out" different variations on themes -- different fonts run through different filters -- as a kind of rapid prototyping. Except previously, where works might be prototyped in notebook sketch pads (as with graffiti artists), here the prototype would also be the finished product... a monkey could churn out dozens of such logos hourly, and the law of averages would ensure that at least a few of them would be worth looking at.

To those not privy to the brave new world -- not running the powerful programs or owning the formidable hardware needed to run them -- it could be difficult to differentiate between work produced through painstaking laborious effort and work produced by a couple of clicks. Then folks who had a hat trick of the skills, the infrastructure, AND sophisticated design sensibilities schooled us in separating the wheat from the chaff, and this sort of thing started to disappear from artpack collections:

We saw him once before -- it looks like here's another ANSI of British bionic secret agent Robocod, aka James Pond:
A surprisingly under-represented game canon here in ANSI-land is the Legend of Zelda. This work starts to address that, with a Link to the Past-era Master Sword by Scarecrow of VOR:
(I didn't notice at the time, but was elite warez group Razor 1911's logo always the Triforce from the Zelda games?)
Once more we have an Air Zonk to share with you, Hudson's futuristic take on caveman Bonk:
And here's something new, also from the ranks of Hudson heroes, a Bomberman:
Here are edited highlights of a much larger (1000-line) work, curated to fit the particular interests of this blog and its readers:
And some Pac-Man for kicks... first a logo:
Then a cartoonish Ms. Pac-Man in watOr's unique style from one of his Echo artpacks:
And before we go, here's one for a BBS named Pool of Darkness -- it's probably not artwork from the SSI AD&D game of the same name, but rather artwork themed after the name of the game, promoting a BBS named after the game. You can't have the art or the BBS (or its name!) without the game, through the game's clammy touch can't necessarily be felt or discerned in the actual content of the art. We saw this kind of thing going on before with Jed's ANSIs for the BBS "Final Fantasy", but I let them in ... because I'm a softie.