Monday, May 26, 2014

Game Boy pocket, 1996.

Not much to share here today: I've got some larger and more interesting posts in progress, but they're more like work and take time. This called for a quick turnaround, so here's a quick and dirty ad post for the first time in yonks. Here we are, back at the Game Boy we last saw about a month ago on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. This is the later "Pocket" version of the handheld console. The ad is courtesy of Vintage Computing & Games, which looked at it a bit over a year ago.
Game Boy pocket

Now in six tasty colours

It's not unknown for Nintendo to dwell perhaps overly on the aesthetic variations on their basic and simple hardware. Henry Ford boasted of the Model T "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black." but Nintendo has always been happy to reward its loyalists with the ability to coordinate their devices with their overall decor. Admittedly, offerings from rivals Sony, Microsoft and even Sega have often looked like they would only really be fully appropriate as part of the on-board entertainment systems on one of Disaster Area's sundiving stunt ships.
"That," he said, "that ... is really bad for the eyes ..." Ford looked. He too stood astonished. It was a ship of classic, simple design, like a flattened salmon, twenty yards long, very clean, very sleek. There was just one remarkable thing about it. "It's so ... black!" said Ford Prefect, "you can hardly make out its shape ... light just seems to fall into it!" Zaphod said nothing. He had simply fallen in love. The blackness of it was so extreme that it was almost impossible to tell how close you were standing to it. "Your eyes just slide off it ..." said Ford in wonder. It was an emotional moment. He bit his lip.
And so forth -- don't get me starting Hitchhiker's Guide quotes: I won't stop. (But in deference to the recently-passed Towel Day, I may as well pass along the link for the new, 30th-anniversary implementation of the HHGTTG text adventure game, now in HTML5!)

But back to the matter at hand, I guess what they're getting at with this ad is that Game Boy pockets are cool and fun in a similar way to the cool fun of drinking Slurpees from the local 7-11, which are likely to stain your tongue some heinous neon tint after freezing your brain. It's a dense little unexplicated reference: anyone who needs to know will appreciate it subconsciously.

The evocation of the 1980 D&D monster the Gibbering Mouther by this "wall of tongues" effect is probably unintentional.

Anyhow, my Game Boy-related excuse for making this post here today is because this morning at shift change a co-worker invited me to tarry a moment; having previously overheard me talking up my fabulous video game party, which wasn't really her cup of tea, she revealed that she still had her childhood Game Boy (because anything not explicitly thrown out is retained) and would be happy to give it a good home under my custody. With the video game party behind me, I'd pretty much forgotten the exchange, but apparently she hadn't -- I was delighted this morning to be endowed with a working GB and its two killer apps, Super Mario Land and Tetris -- arguably the best video game ever made, shortly to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its creation in the USSR... maybe I will learn the rest of its theme music in honor of the occasion.

I previously owned a defunct Game Boy but got to enjoy a fine selection of its carts harnessing the power of the Super Game Boy adaptor, which duplicates the hardware contents of a Game Boy in cartridge form, parasitically hijacking the Super Nintendo's joystick input and video/sound output. So I'm looking forward to playing Game Boy Tetris with the adaptor, on a big screen, in colour, with block-rocking beats.

Thanks, Anne-Marie! I'll try to take a better selfie next time. She claimed it had just been sitting in a drawer for 20 years, which is sadly very likely, but I was thrilled to flip the switch and observe the power light going on. Typically in such cases the batteries would eventually corrode and explode, leaking battery acid everywhere, rendering the insides of the machine messy if not outright destroyed -- seemingly the fate of my Game Gear (though I have a lead suggesting that cleaning with vinegar can reverse some of the alkaline "battery acid"'s effects. Happily not so in this case!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Video game ANSI art: Reset Survivor's DECAR.ANS

Here it is, the ne plus ultra epic masterwork I reserved from the previous post on Blocktronics' 1980 artpack. After this, all other scriveners of video game ANSI art may as well go home. So just what is it we have got, here, anyway? There's plenty!

"Winners Don't Use Drugs" -- the first time I remember ever seeing this PSA appended to an arcade game's attract mode was, hilariously, Narc (1988, WMS... though oddly the Wikipedia link suggests the campaign began the following year, in '89.) Do you suppose William S. Sessions might have fried my ass with a rocket bomb after I told him "I give up!"?

Next up is obviously Ms. Pac-Man (who else rocks go-go boots quite like that?), though I must confess I can't locate the source of that particular presentation of her. And the "READY!" is also authentic Pac-Man! Then we see some Ms. Pac-Man game sprites, seamlessly segue-ing into Galaga ships -- seemingly a non sequitur, but they're both Namco games, the former from 1982 and the latter from 1981. So our trip through time here isn't necessarily in chronological sequence, but we haven't seen any tremendous leaps yet.

Next up looks like Atari's 1980 Missile Command, though again I've never seen those specific instructions before. Next a return back to Namco and 1982 with Dig-Dug, with a Pooka being blown up (inflated, that is) taking over the foreground. Those don't look like Fygars in the background, but I'm not sure what else they might be, unless there's some game mash-up going on in this particular sequence. (We will be seeing a great deal more of it.)

We're maintaining a 1980 holding pattern with a classic title from still another company, this time Stern and their game Berzerk, complete with quotes from its early and expensive sampled speech synthesis. Then we see another classic from another historical also-ran, the unmistakable Q-Bert from Gottlieb (1982), but instead of the typical enemies Coily and Slick on his Escherian pyramid, here we have a "Sidestepper" crab from Mario Bros. (1983, Nintendo) and what appears to be the titular frog from Frogger (Konami, 1981).

I don't recognize the rainbow that the pyramid dissolves into, but the face behind it is that of Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981) and it is into his scaffolding platform level that the rainbow resolves, with a new champion having reached the top to best Mario -- the ostrich-riding knight from Williams' 1982 game Joust. Something else is fishy two levels below that knight, with what appears to be a happy ambulatory bean jumping around -- a character or power-up I feel I ought to be able to place but can't quite lay my finger on. (Is it one of the early arcades' numerous eggplants?) Below the legume is a chef, apparently the protagonist of Data East's 1982 BurgerTime.

Donkey Kong's scaffolding eventually resolves, dumping a final barrel into the playfield of Atari's Centipede (1981), which is populated not with insects but the Grunt and Hulk robots of Williams' 1982 Robotron: 2084. Rounding the bend, that scene resolves into a background of the keys-on-chains of Nintendo's 1982 Donkey Kong Junior with a skeletal Dirk the Daring from one of Dragon's Lair's (1983) countless death sequences.

That's about it. A price of 67 cents with the message "push to reset" is unclear to me, a final mystery (well no, that would be the filename "DECAR"), reminiscent of a redemption mechanical game, but it may just be a reference to the artist's handle, resetsurvivor. And there we are. With the exception of the anti-drug message, all games depicted in this work date to a period of just a few years -- a "golden age" of the arcades -- from 1980 to 1983.

(Final contextual clarification: large rectangular "glitch"es you may have observed scattered throughout the piece are just ANSI shading blocks writ large 8)

ETA, clarification from the artist:

"thanks for the awesome dissection of the DECAR (decade arcade) piece, Rowan! The Ms Pacman is actually an original. A combination of the Japanese and American versions of MsP. I liked both designs and decided to mash em together.

The 'defend cities' pops up before the wave and volley of missiles in missile command.

The things in the dig dug tunnels are the humans from defender.

The rainbow is indeed from tron. It's the MCP ... I think? I forgot already. That pattern in the 'rainbow' is a simulation of fighting the mcp in tron. when you threw the disc it would take away a little block .

That 'bean' is the hot dog from Burgertime.

Also the 'push to reset' is just a play on my name combined with the 'push to reject' instructions on coin slots." (and 67 cents = 6lock7ronics)

And now you know the rest of the story!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Video game ANSI part 3 - Blocktronics 1980

I enjoyed good success with my previous two posts on this subject -- the obvious good fit between video game characters (and often outright sprite art) and the textmode graphics format of ANSI art. In my adolescence I was plunged into the weird world of textmode computer art, not for any retro reason -- that was just the way dialup BBSes distinguished themselves. The technology has moved on to heights unimagined, but similarly to how I cannot shake memories of the great old games I played back then, neither can I forget the satisfyingly minimalist aesthetic of ANSI art.
The ANSI art scene is long since defunct, but disparate onetime practitioners of the arcane art have found themselves swept together once again for sporadic releases of works made for old time's sake. Specifically, the group "Blocktronics" has just released an artpack of works themed "1980", and when considering the '80s, many of the artists thought about old video games -- and rendered out some textmode visual impressions of them. For your convenience, I have skimmed the pack of its game-related works and present them to you, here. (There are many other impressive works in the artpack, including a conversion of a Patrick Nagel piece, a tribute to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen and a Max Headroom portrait, so if the look of these appeals to you, please don't hesitate to go check out the rest of it!)

Always, you must begin at the beginning: the FILE_ID.DIZ would instruct BBS file areas what the contents of the archive were, and here they are represented by a Pac-Man ghost.

At the bottom of the infofile, filled with nonsense typical of the '80s, there is a bright portrait of Capcom's MegaMan reclining by Enzo.

The Konami code will be well-drilled-in to anyone who ever owned one of the company's carts on their Nintendo Entertainment System, and here it is celebrated with one of their hardest games, its logo reproduced with great fidelity (using the advanced XBIN textmode format) by Fever.

Because even new video games owe a big debt to their predecessors, we have a long specimen of what might have once been termed a "scrolly", giving you a peek at the overall tapestry 25 lines at a time, this one themed after That Game Company's Journey, proudly painted by Reset Survivor.

Reset Survivor provided one more video-game-related piece for the artpack, but I have decided to reserve it for a post all its own -- truly it is just that epic. Cheers and fear not -- someday I will get back to video game ads scanned from comic books. Someday.