Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The last of the video game ANSIs?

I know, everything after my last game ANSI post is anticlimax, but every time I think I can close the book on this particular niche, I find one or two extra items and open another draft blog post to share a few more with you. All of my likely search terms in are starting to come up dry, however, so while there is assuredly more video game ANSI art out there... I have picked all of the low-hanging fruit. This one inspired me to re-open my file, another piece released in my own computer artgroup -- as menu artwork for a programmed e-mag (electronic magazine), hence requiring being run and screen-captured in DOSBox in order to get a good look at it. Well, I went to the trouble, so I may as well let you enjoy it. Mage, not challenging my impression that he liked to work in green palettes, from an issue of the Kithe e-mag:

This is a very small fragment of an enormous piece I had the fortune to be a part of, a massive collection of odds and ends by local artist Spirit of Illusion that I spotted in the "ARTSCENE" episode of Jason Scott's BBS documentary series! ... as this is the only part of the work that pertains to games (game-to-toy mascot Earthworm Jim), I've left out 95% of it, including my regrettable rhyming poem for the BBS advertised, "The Twisted Tower".

This one was recently profiled in a Facebook ANSI artists group as a picture of the day from the back archives: the artist is Big Yellow Man, and the scene depicted is of Space Invaders being blasted out of the sky by a naval battleship.

A revisitation to a popular subject, Sonic the Hedgehog returns, in his "Sonic 2" incarnation, in this early work:

Here are a couple of related works by different authors, celebrating the less-common (peculiarly, given the PC warez context of ANSI art production) subject of computer games. To wit -- Doom 1's space marine (here, have an extra shotgun), plus a logo for Doom 2.  If memory serves correct -- probably worth investigating, and possibly providing grist for a final instalment of this interminable series -- some Apogee-ish shareware titles would terminate with ANSI screens promoting their games.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an artist who adopted the word "arcade" as their nickname might be expected to produce artworks on video game themes. Well, Arcade of Acme doesn't disappoint, with three items here from the Super Mario corner: Starting with a smallscale piece depicting a Mushroom Kingdom hill and mushroom, they get more elaborate.

Next he cooked up Mario in a Frog Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3, swimming around underwater:

... and a final piece by him, here is Super Mario.  I can practically hear him saying "It's-a me, Mario!  Watch-a the next-a episode of-a my Super Mario Super Show!"

This might be enough for a reasonable blog post, but I am not a reasonable blog writer.  I have more pieces and I just want to expedite clearing them out of there so I can return to other subjects.  We open our closing act with two Street Fighter pieces, one of Cammy...

... or her blow-up doll equivalent.  Teenaged boys: when their best reference for female anatomy is the works of Rob Liefeld, these regrettable results are perhaps inevitable.  This one is a step up, Chun-Li and a Street Fighter-style font to boot!:

Now the flip side to Street Fighter is, naturally, Mortal Kombat, and here we have some of its fearsome opponents rendered in a similarly wide array of skill levels.  Round 1: Scorpion!  Get over here!

This Goro is more impressive, though of course it's easier to draw four arms when all of them are out-of-frame:

Now for purposes of comparing and contrasting, two versions of Kano.  A nasty one...

And an awesome one:

Finally, one more version of the MK logo to bring us home:

Friday, June 20, 2014

"The Space Bar", 1997.

Where have I been? Playing the stuffing out of my new NES? Sadly, not yet. (Maybe soon, however!) The good part about reading really good bloggers in your field such as the CRPG Addict or The Digital Antiquarian is that they inspire you to new heights of greatness. The sad part is that unless these new aspirations are matched with an increase in available time in which to step up one's undertakings, activity dwindles away to a mere trickle. Can't it be enough to just post a neat ad for a cool game once in a while without doing research, conducting interviews, making cross-platform comparisons and writing a footnoted essay?

(Yes. The answer is yes. On Tumblr, where I see whole flotillas of neat ads drifting by every day with little or no context, there wouldn't even be any question. But here, I see a blank screen full of a text entry field, and feel compelled to, well, fill it. No need!)

You've been ordered to interrogate all suspicious-looking characters.

(Better make it a double.)

A comic sci-fi adventure CD-ROM by Steve Meretzky, where even the drinks look suspicious.


InfoCom's subversive comic mastermind Steve Meretzky rolled with the punch after Activision's acquisition of the company sucked the life out of it. Actually, he managed to play both ends against each other, simultaneously developing games for the new old Activision/Infocom like LGOP2 as well as for Infocom's successors at Legend (like The Superhero League of Hoboken), somehow wielding an intense outsider charisma perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the renowned reality distorting effects of the other Steve, who returned from exile back to Apple this year. Maybe there is a certain resemblance.

In any case, Steve had seen the effects of what happens when you are beholden to a single master, who is turned out from his castle. Perhaps seeing which direction the wind was blowing for the briefly-renewed Infocom, unwilling to put all his eggs in Legend's basket (a fate well-avoided, lest he end up scripting cutscenes in Unreal 2), he established Boffo Games with some other InfoCom refugees including Michael Dornbrook, whose game industry career began as the self-proclaimed head of the independent Zork User's Group before being brought in-house to develop InvisiClues... and who ultimately caught lightning in a bottle the second time with Harmonix's Guitar Hero series, one of the only (well, very few) common touchstones between the boom times of InfoCom and Harmonix.

Sadly, this attempt to go it on their own was unsuccessful -- The Space Bar was their final game before closing up shop. It doesn't matter if it was any good -- the whole consarned adventure game genre was on its way out, where it would remain for a decade or more, and their attempts to diversify with the puzzle game Hodj 'n Podj were to no avail, as that genre was also about to be handed a cardboard box with all of its possessions and escorted out of the game shop.

I never got a chance to play the game and it falls in that uneasy area of early multimedia works now that are presumed hard to get running outside of the originally-intended environment. I might well be saving myself from disappointment; the CD-ROM adventure produced very few winners outside of the 7th Guest and Myst, and even those I didn't much like. The setting was probably better handled in Legend's own game adaptation of local author Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" books, and it's eminently possible that Steve with The Space Bar and Douglas Adams with Starship Titanic ended up with less working separately 13 years later than they did working together on the HHG game back at InfoCom. All we're left with is a title that's a bit of awkward early-microcomputer wordplay reminiscent of the Zork Chronicles book tie-in, and even that pun has been done better:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Achievement unlocked: the Nintendo Entertainment System

Long-promised at my games parties, but never yet realised: the missing elephant in the room, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its absence has been conspicuous at my events: I talk about big pixels and classic systems, but then the oldest console available for play is the Sega Genesis -- a game-changer, but still one several generations in to the industry. 16-bit is represented, but where's 8-bit? (No, the Atari Flashback doesn't quite count: that's old software on new hardware.) I once owned a NES, which I painstakingly assembled piecemeal from individual components sourced from local thrift shops. Suspecting that this line of collecting wouldn't serve me well in the end, I traded it in to local multimedia locus Video In in exchange for admission to one of their sporadic "video game orgy" all-night retro video game party fundraisers. (No cash, but here: raw materials for future fundraising!) I never had any cartridges for it, and besides, always figured I could just patchwork myself up another unit if I wanted to later on, an assumption that turned out to be faulty! Once I foolishly got on the retro hardware kick in a serious way, I found that an affordable NES had in the meantime become unobtainable, rating a $50 price tag without cords, games or joysticks while Gamecubes unimaginably more powerful gathered dust, neglected at $10 sitting beside it on the shelf. Thanks to the formidable power of nostalgia, the NES had emerged from the Trough of No Value and had come out as actually quite a rare and desired piece of kit! And consequently I couldn't get my hands on one, a necessary crown jewel of any serious collection, without dropping more cash on it than I was willing to entertain. (But wait! If I can find a TV set old enough to hook up the VHF/UHF screw terminals, we can play the Tooth Invaders cart on my VIC-20! What do you mean, that isn't your nostalgia? What about the game of Hang-On built into my Sega Master System?)

Anyhow, during my gauging interest and spreading the word for my video game parties (there have been, what, three of them now?), various individuals have chimed in volunteering specific pieces of vintage gear: one friend brought his CoLeCoVision, but the VHF/UHF screw terminal problem arose again (also, incidentally, thwarting use of the VIC-20.) Another friend suggested his NES might be welcome at such a function, and then failed to turn up to any three of the functions despite months of notice. Well, we managed to touch base, and he endowed me with his gear, supposing that in my collection where it would get run through its paces twice a year it would find more and better use than under his custody, where it had languished in disuse since, well, childhood. Circumstances had delivered me a half-dozen NES carts with no machine on which to run them, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to finally walk through that door. We were all very keen to see what was in the bundle he brought in the door:

No mere ad-hoc backpack repurposed for console transportation, this was an official Nintendo carrying case designed and intended for the purpose of packing up your machine and its games at point A and toting them safely to points B, C and beyond. Its existence is a somewhat sad footnote to my friend's home-shuffling childhood among divorced parents, but supposing such an existence is your juvenile fate, better to do it with an NES suitably stowed and on the go than otherwise! It makes for an excellent distraction from the inability of grown-ups to get their acts together. But enough moralizing! Wait, what's that in the front pouch?
We're looking at 1943, Bubble Bobble, Marble Madness, RBI Baseball, and Skate or Die! A nice bump to my existing (and hitherto unplayable) NES cart collection of Captain Skyhawk, Pin-Bot, Rygar, Shinobi and Super Mario Bros. 3. SMB3 is the cat's meow, but Marble Madness is pretty hard to beat and Bubble Bobble is basically the ne plus ultra of cooperative games. Now all I need is a set of power and A/V cords! Every step of the way closes half of the remaining distance between where we are and actually playing these games on their original hardware.

Ironically, since my last game party, I was pledged two more NES-playing machines by like-minded friends who wanted to see their childhood treasures go to better use than the yellowed units were seeing in their closets, forgotten and neglected. Thus, for my next game party around November, I may go from having 0 NESes on tap to 3! It never rains but it pours. It's a good problem to have -- it even raises the option of having multiple NESes set up at the same time!

Now, we all know that this blog's intended purpose is for me to transcribe and analyse advertisements for video games, ideally ones printed in comic books. I was skeptical, but as best as I can tell, in over 2 gigs of ad scans across nearly 2 thousand files still unshared, I don't have any ads for the NES? (By contrast, I have 2 for the Virtual Boy.) Maybe it was so compelling consumers didn't need it to be advertised to them, they just already knew that they needed one -- you just had to look at the competition to make up your mind.

My old friend has also offered me his dust-gathering Xbox 360, which is objectively bigger news (forget this space shuttle in the driveway, look at the pennyfarthing bicycle I've been bequeathed!), but for lack of nostalgia it gets relegated to footnote-like status in this blog and in the popular imagination, which I think is hilarious. Never having owned one, I've avoided collecting games for it, but I suppose I can start keeping my eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores now -- just as well, since the PS2/Xbox era discs are starting to be fewer and farther between.