Saturday, September 20, 2014

Video game ANSI art part 7: rounding the bend

OK, I got a couple of actual video game ad posts out, as per the URL of the blog, so now it's time for me to hit up the old well at and deliver you another dose of my "ANSI art inspired by video games" series, especially as I've been lately involved in rounding up my old computer art compatriots of 20 years ago from Mistigris and its milieu to produce some sort of commemorative artpack release in October (please drop me a line if you'd like to take part!) These posts have proven surprisingly popular by the past and present artists in the medium, so this and the next few posts in the series (it will wrap eventually, I promise) will include some of their recommendations from their own back catalogues.

BBS door games were one case of "anything goes" in terms of theme -- anything the author could describe and you could navigate through menu hot-keys was fair game. That said, I've got to say that this particular BBS appears to have a somewhat meagre spread. One thing's for sure -- they weren't selling out by laying out all the popular BBS doors all the other boards had. Star Trek Cryptograms? I suppose every niche has sub-niches.

Now for some bona fide blockbusters: first, a run of Earthworm Jim pics. EJ was the brainchild of Doug Ten Napel, a gifted animator who was responsible for making Virgin's Disney adaptations (Aladdin, the Jungle Book) blockbusters. Then he was brought on board by Playmates to devise a new line of action figures tied to some cross-media franchise: historically these things were cartoons first, then toys, but in this case they bucked the trend and debuted the characters in video games. As his follow-up, he used an enormous amount of clay to make The Neverhood -- a lost classic that's recently become supported by SCUMMVM. I was first introduced to him when his surname was used as a sound effect in an issue of Rob Schrab's comic book Scud the Disposable Assassin.

That's a rendition by iCE's eternal luminary Toon Goon, aka Cyberchrist. The former sobriquet suited him better, mastering the cartoonish visual idiom of thick outlines and large fields of flat colour.
That was another iCE pic, this one by Biscuit. iCE remained a home to toony ANSIs after the fad passed from the rest of the scene. This particular rendition of Jim is less exaggerated, with some weird foreshortening in effect as EWJ points a just-out-of-frame ray gun at the viewer. The 80-column limitations of the ANSI medium led to some curious aesthetic constraints, specifically it was odd how there was no upper limit to the length of a piece but its width remained limited to a kind of tall vertical slice. (This was addressed in the .BIN format which could be of arbitrary width -- but it was difficult (read: more or less impossible) to use those in a BBS context. They were just gallery pieces for artpacks. You'll have to take my word for it, since I haven't yet found any video-game themed .BINs to use to illustrate this particular point.
Now two EWJ villains, the former piece by Misfit is of Henchrat (I looked it up on the Earthworm Jim wiki... yes, there is an Earthworm Jim wiki) followed by one of Pete Puppy. Gotta say, I wouldn't have pegged these as video game characters if not for being explicitly called out / being pointed to them.
/div> OK, time for something a little less niche. When it came out, BBSes were already on their way out the door, but today even it is viewed primarily as a retro kind of phenomenon. I give you: Tomb Raider, the ANSI version, twice -- both by Nail in Legion. First, in small-scale...
Then writ somewhat larger:
My conundrum: if a BBS is named after a video game, do logos for the BBS evoke game-ness? For the purposes of these blog posts, I rule: yes. Toon / ANSImation master Jed of ACiD made a few ads for this board named Final Fantasy, and undoubtedly it was named after the game series. If these logos weren't of a style consistent with the promotion of the games, they could have been -- and dare I go so far as to claim, should have been. Any firm that didn't snap up JED when he was on the market really missed out.
And here, another one with a bit of art to spice things up:
Of course, the themes of ANSI art and video games dovetail in several interesting ways: not only were the games used as subject matter for the art, but the art was often used to promote the groups that cracked and couriered wareZ, the rapid and free illegal distribution of which was the only way large quantities of computer nerds ever saw any of these games. Without warez groups we might never have seen quality productions like, uh, AOL's Hubba Bubba Bubblegum Challenge.
OK, so that was a bit of a misstep. But did it say PC games? I've got your PC games right here:
Yeah, Doom II was a Hell of a game. It was so great, let's do another one:
Yeah, uh, you know what, I didn't like that one as much. What was different, the Roman numerals? Can we get those back?
Ahhh, that's more like it. And now, for something completely different: Air Zonk, Hudson's futuristic equivalent to Bonk the caveman:
You know what they say, put a lightning bolt on his head and it's cool. Worked for Harry Potter! The sunglasses are just gilding the lily, however. Now on to a real classic, a smallscale Purple Tentacle from Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle. Everything about this one works for me: the miniature proportions, the eyebrow, raygun, bellowing sucker-mouth, the wonky typography...
Now while we're on a Lucasfilm kick, we have an excellent opportunity to visit another one of their franchises somewhat extensively: Steve Purcell's crime-fighting dog and rabbit duo, Sam & Max. First up, a take by Toon Goon again:
Next, TG teams up with Magnetic M, another master of the toony idiom:
Another Toon Goon solo piece:
And for kicks, a final Max (curiously, always Max is the focus, never Sam. And how similar he is to other toon subject favorites Bone and the Animaniacs!), also from an iCE pack, this time by Joker.
And now for something completely different: the amazing Parappa the Rapper, who I was first exposed to in Sweden by ANSI artist Crayon on my way back from visiting the Assembly demoparty in 1999. Deep video game trivia: the artist responsible for Parappa's unique aesthetic was Rodney Greenblat, who also made a multimedia CD-ROM for children, "Rodney's Funscreen" (well it's not a game, let's call it a funscreen) which was published by Activision back in the day and can today be run through SCUMMVM.
Plenty of these pieces are positively prehistoric in computer terms, dating back to the early '90s over 20 years ago. We'll wrap with a piece that emerged around the time of my last ANSI-centric blog post -- "pulsating flesh from Pandora's Tower", by Luke Volk:
And that's about it for another instalment of: ANSI art on the subject of ...
Now do I have any supplementary business? Oh yes -- local readers, such as I may enjoy: I'm looking into scheduling a time to mount the next of the twice-a-year retro video game parties, with plenty of dusty old systems, lots of little TV sets strewn around my house, and hundreds of old games to sample from. How would November 15th work for you?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rowan's Home for Wayward Games

A remote acquaintance, now spouse to an old elementary school friend, was attending to some late Spring cleaning, posting a curious note on Facebook -- we're getting rid of some horrible old PlayStation 1 games, anybody want them? obviously the answer will be: of course not! Rowan steps in: not so fast, now! Then I mounted my standard defence of the "interesting failure", which in a nutshell is that I'm interested in unknown "failure" games that try to do new things unsuccessfully, because an interesting failure is of greater appeal to me than a boring success. It took a few reschedules, but eventually I made it over to their den to pick up the trove of "PS1 games", including Spyro - Ripto's Rage, Crash Bash, Resident Evil, Defcon 5, Ridge Racer, Andreetti Racing, GTA 2, Command & Conquer, Diablo, Tomb Raider, and Parasite Eve (as last seen by me while celebrating New Year's in NYC at the start of 2003. 11 years later, I've just managed to get my hands on it again for the first time since. Retro gaming: it was a heck of a lot less retro back then. But the long tail delivers all things in time except for the free time needed to play games.) All that PLUS a PS2 demo disc for Dragon Warrior 8 AND some splendid Dreamcast stuff - Chef's Luv Shack, Toy Commander, a disc magazine and the hilariously unusable Dreamcast web browser, all for the low, low price of: free. That's hard to beat!

You see it the longer you collect: things that were plentiful when you began accumulating your materials dry up over the passage of time: if you average one Nintendo 64 cartridge per person distributed throughout the population, in time those who give up the ghost (or were disinterested to begin with) end up with zero. What happens to their games? Maybe half end up in the dump, half get passed along or resold -- hand-waving back-of-napkin calculations here. When all the chips have fallen, maybe 99 % of the people -- those who choose to leave behind the things of childhood -- will have no games, and the remaining person will have accumulated a collection of 51 of them. In time at garage sales I stop seeing one or two games at two out of every three sales, and instead I visit 9 sales with no games, and then one sale with fifty games. This indicates that the period of generally hoovering up loose unwanted games from the general population is over, and what we're left with is, as illustrated above: collectors inheriting liquidated collections from other collectors whose life circumstances have led them to get out of the hobby of accumulating and, perhaps, occasionally playing old video games. It's a little chilling due to the whole "there but for the grace of God go I" factor -- and it also leads one to pontificate what situation might compel us to throw in the towel and willingly give up our treasures. I choose not to speculate: most answers to that question depict dark places I'd rather not visit.

So on that note, here's what will likely be the last big garage sale haul of the season -- all this outtasite entertainment for $70:

Battles of Prince of Persia for the DS, Tekken 2, Battle Arena Toshinden, Robotron X, and Extreme Pinball for the PS1, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, Devil Kings, Seven Samurai 20xx, Kessen, Godzilla: Save the Earth, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, Sonic Mega Collection Plus, Transformers, Spider-Man 3, Defender, Eternal Ring, KOFXI, and Chessmaster for the PS2, Super Bubble Pop, Amazing Island and Zapper for the Gamecube, and Major Malfunction, Silent Hill 4, Pinball Hall of Fame: Gottlieb, X-Men Next Dimension, Tao Feng, Dead Man's Hand, and OutRun 2 for the Xbox.

Oh yes, and for my patient partner, DogZ for the Game Boy Advance.

My price threshold is $5 typically, which has moved me to pass up many games I would as soon own as not under the premise that I must be able to find a cheaper copy elsewhere. Here most of the games were under half that -- the price is somewhere near $2 per game, which while including many titles which undoubtedly are worth just about exactly that, also includes a number of titles I expect to get a great deal more than $2 of enjoyment out of. This fellow claims to hold two sales a year so I will be keeping my eyes open for that address: I took home maybe a tenth of the games he had for sale (plus piles of systems and peripherals -- I could have bought a couple of SNES mice with Mario Paint, or the Donkey Konga bongo drums), and those are all just the surplus. I considered interviewing him for this blog, but he fumbled on the softball question I lobbed him -- what's the gem of your collection (eventually claiming it was a never-opened Dreamcast sold on launch day). We'll see if he's more on top of his game next time around.

And from the free box, the icing on the cake -- an addition to my wretched film adaptations-of-video games collection! Someday I will mount the world's worst film festival. Do you think that Bob Hoskins' death will be enough to move them to re-issue Super Mario Bros. on DVD? But I digress. See you around next time!