Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Crypts of Chaos", Atari 2600, 1982.

Not enough spare time nor two brain cells to rub together to get a post out! It's a pity when there's such great game ad artwork just gathering dust in my back archives. This is from an early issue of Dragon Magazine -- I wouldn't have figured it for a great fit advertising Atari 2600 games, but maybe they figured: if the dragon fits, wear it. (This particular dragon appears to be still suffering from a bit of '70s psychedelia: diamond-shaped pupils, check, horizontal steam jets from nostrils, check, snake fangs, check, Jabberwock whiskers, check!)


It took the master at Fox video games to create Crypts of Chaos -- the new strategy game that would challenge the mind of a sorcerer. It's a dark fantasy world of wondrous wizards and terrible trolls. There is treasure there. But to win it you will have to be very very clever. For it's guarded by dragons. And they have had their fill of witless players. FOR YOUR ATARI VCS.

Strategy, really? As best as I can tell, it's just about being armed with the right weapon to combat the particular foe you're facing. And just who is this master at Fox video games? Their top-ranked title is "Beany Bopper", which hardly stands out as a titan in its field. The alliteration is clever, evoking a certain fantasy property owned by the publisher of Dragon Magazine without explicitly naming it. The sentence fragments toward the end are less clever.

The first-person perspective the game offered on the VCS was impressive in the sense of a dog walking on its hind legs: that it is done at all, if not necessarily well. This game does not fare well in the rankings on Mobygames, which probably explains why you have never heard of it nor ever seen this ad before.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Video game ANSI art part 6: still more?

So since my previous post on the subject, all kinds of people have come out of the woodwork saying "what, the last of this amazing series of video-game-inspired ANSI art? There's got to be more!" Several historical ANSI artists, retired and otherwise, even dug deep into their back catalogues, offering up specimens I might have overlooked in my highly unscientific survey methods (keyword spelunking in sixteencolors.net, which leaves out all pictures of Pitfall Harry which aren't explicitly labelled "Pitfall Harry" somewhere in the picture.)
Anyhow, I've amassed an enormous pile of game-themed ANSIs, which I'll be doling out in three more blog posts.

In short, welcome back to

Yes, that's right, I said

It's the place where I like to talk about

In fact, here's someone playing on a Game Boy right now!

The mohawked skull look is a good one -- at least the equal of anything in that run of weird Game Boy ads recently.  But I'm just fooling around here.  Now for the main attraction! The theme of this post is the splendid odds and sods -- game characters and franchises I could find only single portraits of and references to. The underdogs, if you will. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to predict ANSIs of Sonic the Hedgehog, but Mappy?

It's a rare case of using ANSI to basically do pixel-perfect sprite conversions (and it's a rare case for anyone to care about a Namco game, especially one from 1983, by the mid-'90s.) In truly extraordinary cases you could find ANSI blocks acting as pixels for extremely low-resolution games, but by and large they were considered to be somewhat too chunky to do them justice on a single screen. (But mice are small subjects, so they can just about fit.)

Now here's something different, a BBS named after a video game (or, admittedly, the novel or AD&D module it was bound up with in cross-promotional synergy.) Now, this logo doesn't bear much resemblance to the game's logo, but... well, for the purposes of this post, I am going to allow it under my umbrella. We'll see a few more of these in a future post...

It's a good thing this one is labelled as being connected to Half-Life, because truthfully I wouldn't have grasped the link on my own.

On further reflection, it's eminently possible the second half is an entirely unrelated work of art (I can't read the logo to definitively tell one way or another -- that would certainly be a pretty abstract Gordon Freeman, with no glasses, beard, crowbar or suit -- or body for that matter! but the filename does include the suffix -GORD) in which case the game ANSI here is the depiction of the Greek letter Lambda.  Now draw an ANSI Omega and I can say it's a God of War ANSI! 8)

James Pond, the fishy secret agent (no, not that one) was a popular hero of numerous games on the Amiga platform, a funny animal protagonist based on some mild wordplay without a dram of subtext, irony or Poochy-ness.  So in the post-Sonic era, obviously he had to go.  I know that in the Amiga textmode scene, ASCII was vastly prevalent -- and subtly distinct, with a slightly tweaked character display mode -- so I don't know if it was even possible to produce WYSIWIG ANSI art on Amiga machines.  Which might explain the relative dearth of Amiga game characters in these annals.  When Amiga users wanted to produce computer artwork, they just made mind-blowing demos instead.

This bit of Samurai Shodown fan art is perhaps somewhat weak by general ANSI art standards (still holding its own here on this blog post -- game ANSI was apparently often on the feebler side of execution, getting a free ride on fondness for the subject regardless of the panache with which it was pulled off) but it does a fine job at conveying the salient details of its subject, plus some Japanese text and backgrounds.  In any case, black-on-black-on-black is hard to pull off.  Some might say that this ninja picture fails because you can see the ninja.  What I like is how we have here a depiction of a SNK character made for a game first released on their Neo Geo platform -- and then what do we see at the very bottom of the picture but a celebrated (and lovingly depicted) slogan for their competition Sega.  Go figure.

Look out!  We're square in the sights of Samus from Metroid.  I only hope it's the ice beam she's got armed, then when we get shot the effect will wear off eventually.  It's surprising that we don't see more of the Nintendo greats, but their star was already fading.

This is an early piece from a group local to me, so you might otherwise never have had this somewhat deformed Sparkster inflicted on you -- Visionary got much, much better.  My understanding is that Dax led to Pain which fed into NWA and then iMPERiAL, and from there we got Mistigris (and then, heck, Hallucigenia).  You think the technological underpinings of ANSI art were hard to explain, it had nothing on the political square dance.  (Frankly I'm very surprised this artpack ever left the 604 area code and ended up on the artpacks ftp site!)

That piece is unusual for two reasons.  First: Chip's Challenge from Windows Entertainment Pack?  Not only is it no Sonic, it's not even much of a Mappy.  Ironically, it probably was one of Epyx's most-played titles in the late stages due to its inclusion in the Windows Entertainment Pack, in the same period where the Lynx handheld it had developed was going unplayed.  The other bit of strangeness for this piece is that it demands to be viewed in 80x50 mode -- where 80x25 was the standard MS-DOS textmode.  Its square text elements probably made it more suitable overall for doing and reproducing pixel art...

You got that right -- the immortal Tempus Thales of iCE has, for reasons known only to himself, opted to reskin that tomato Kwirk.  (Perhaps not his proudest moment.)  Apparently he's a cop now (twirling around a pair of handcuffs?) so as to better fit with the theme of the BBS' name?

This piece is great for two reasons:  not only does it depict a Polar Lemming from DMA's Lemmings 2: The Tribes (Did You Know: the makers of Lemmings went on to explode their success by making Grand Theft Auto?), but the board's abbreviation is presented on the Lemming's parka in the style of the similar OS/2 operating system IBM was trying (and failing) to introduce to the PC marketplace.

How can you tell I just made a last-minute dip into some iCE packs?  Here's the second of our WarCraft pieces (I had a couple of misfires as well -- at a passing glance, it's hard to know exactly which green-skinned orc is from WarCraft and which is from Warhammer).

And now, we're going to end on a high note, presenting a more contemporary game.  I had the pleasure of meeting this artist in Sweden in 1999, and you saw his work long ago at the start of this series with a giant Angry Bird.  Mongi is back, with this ANSI depiction of the world of Sword & Sworcery.

That's all for now!  The future ANSI posts are already in the can, but I'm going to try to stagger them out with postings on other subjects in between, so stay tuned & stay blocky!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Banjo Kazooie", Nintendo 64, 1998. plus a random craigslist tangent

OK, so here's the drill: in order to keep at least nominally on-track, I'll be busting my hump to include at least one video game ad post between posts pertaining to my wider missions of garage sale mining and curating vintage ANSI artwork. Today, I make up for past infidelities by posting three ads for the same game: The N64's Banjo-Kazooie.

You Could Win instantly a NINTENDO 64 Home Entertainment Center!

"Dudes! Banjo and Kazooie, of N64 game fame, have cruised by the Keebler Hollow Tree hoping to snag their missing magic puzzle piece. They've bagged some honeycombs, music notes and feathers, but no puzzle piece."

Ernest J. Keebler: "Gracious, I saw Fast Eddie with a puzzle piece that fits that description. / I'd invite you in for a look, but ...

... right now you're too big for the door."

Banjo: (???)

EJK: "unless I use a little...

Elfin magic."


EJK: Much better, come in.

Meanwhile... Fast Eddie was wrapping Keebler packages at lightning speed.

"Is that it?" "No!" "Over there!" "Over where?"


EJK: Mercy!

EJK: "Fast Eddie wrapped the puzzle piece in a package!"

And before he could be stopped, Fast Eddie bolted out the door to deliver the cookies and sandwich crackes.


EJK: "Wait!"

"OK, dudes!

If you help Banjo and Kazooie find their missing stuff, you could win one of a bunch of rad prizes instantly."

Ahh, sweepstakes. No, I'm not going to type in the small print. Only through the magic of advertising can we enjoy a mash-up of the disparate worlds of 1998's Banjo-Kazooie and the Keebler Elves from 1968. I get a kick out of how the chief elf is prone to making exclamations like a Southern schoolmarm: "Gracious!" "Mercy!" "Heavens to Betsy!" Fast Eddie is actually a previously-existing in canon with the long-running ad campaign, so you'll appreciate how they went to lengths to incorporate the existing canon of the rich Keebler universe into this ad. I appreciate the stylistic decision to keep the elves in 2D and present Banjo-Kazooie in 3D, but having them both in-panel at the same time is challenging. And if this rich melange wasn't already enough for you, they've upped the ante by adding a new character of a hip youth narrator to set the scene, call the reader "dude" and describe the prizes as "rad". If you look at the prizes, the grand prize appears to be B-K in an N64 with a TV set and a big pile of speakers and that's basically what it was: I raised my eyes at its description as an "entertainment centre" with the cartridge-using N64 unique among its generational cohorts in being unable to play CD media, but it turns out they were describing a TV set with Surround Sound! Hence the pile of speakers.

Yes, a bear has been through here (on the back of a small bird).  Things like that happen in Banjo-Kaooie on N64.  A bear and a bird team up for an enormous adventure through nine amazing 3-D levels.  They run, they climb, they fly, they talk to rodents.  But they've got to work together to overcome the evil witch.  Confused?  You will be.
This ad borrowed from the incredible Retro Gaming Australia. It's a conceptual ad that has one trick: You see bird footprints, but we describe them as bear footprints. If Chewbacca the Wookiee lives with the Ewoks on Endor then you must acquit, supposed ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Cognitive dissonance as sales technique: nonsense! Now that we've baffled you, please open your wallet. (I do get a kick out of the climax of the description of the game's action: "They run, they climb, they fly, they talk to rodents." Gives the Wayne's World tagline a run for its money!)
Nintendo 64
You Will Believe A Bear Can Fly
Fly like a Bear and climb like a Bird? This dynamic duo open a stunning new world of tag team game play that prove that two heads are better than one.  And with a game this big you'll need all the help you can get.
5/5 C&VG
"This is a brilliant game."

Not a lot to add about this one: using the tagline of a movie from 1978 (Superman) to advertise a game in 1998. Guess they're angling to tickle the nostalgia of the parents with the pocketbooks, because it just wouldn't make any sense to the kids at that time! (Then another DC superhero setup is evoked with "dynamic duo" for unclear reasons.) This generation must have been the last time Nintendo could try to get away with bold claims about its hardware like the one at the bottom. (For what it's worth, I don't care about hardware horsepower and feel that a good understanding of "Withered Technology" as Nintendo has helps to focus attention back on fun gameplay and away from distracting expensive "because it's there" benchmark one-upmanship.

Now the real reason I had to make this post, besides the fact that the game ads are few and far between these days and I was, after all, sitting on the ads for quite some time with the intention of posting them...

At some point my partner lined up a Craigslist purchase of a play kitchen for our toddler daughter. Exercising due diligence (so as to ensure that we wouldn't be bitten by a dog or chopped up into small pieces upon entering the alleged site of sale... OK, that rarely happens, but we have ducked two otherwise-promising rental suites after Google turned up police reports on activities going on at the properties -- research that apparently is now going to be off the menu in Europe!), upon learning the identity of the seller we Googled him to find he was a schoolteacher who taught music. Demonstrating his gentle art, we dug up the following awesome video clip of his students performing an arrangement he had made of music from Banjo-Kazooie's sequel, Banjo Tooie. a) This song is great, the arrangement is inspired and the performances enthusiastic, and b) where was this repertoire when I was in high school band class? Alas. We sat on the play kitchen for months waiting for my daughter's birthday, but she's now had it for over a month and so it's time for you also to enjoy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The law of attraction: old game stuff somehow finds its way to me.

I'm sorry, gang, though their historical value is dubious my video game ANSI art series is proving to be so popular it's derailing this blog.  Following a warm reception from my old ANSI colleagues, I dug a bit deeper and I can conclusively say that there at least three most posts in the hopper on that particular subject.
But what of the video game comic book ads? You know, like in the blog's name? Well, the good news is that this post isn't about ANSI art. The bad news is that I'm derailing the derailing with a different derailment: back to garage sale finds!

I know that it's the chronological extremes that are sexier -- the older, classic consoles like the NES and Atari 2600, or the bleeding-edge next-gen powerhouses, but the core of my collecting spans the Xbox/PS2/Gamecube era (they're just what people happened to be selling for cheap second-hand when I started looking for deals) and I've got to say, it's a solid generation.  That said, there's an ineffable (likely coin-gobbling) quality to an arcade classic, so here I get the best of both worlds: Midway Arcade Treasures is a compendium of 24(!) arcade classics, largely developed by Atari Games.  (It's kind of criminal how Atari did the heavy lifting and then Midway gets to slap its label on and ride the nostalgia gravy train.  In a just world, this would be called Atari Games Arcade Treasures, Plus A Handful Of Williams' Mediocre Games, Oh Yes And A Couple Of Midway Ones Too.)  Two dozen games would be the stock of a respectable arcade, and this compilation has plenty of absolute classic classics including Spy Hunter, Stargate, Defender, Gauntlet, Joust, Paperboy, Rampage, Robotron, Smash TV, Rampart, Sinistar, Marble Madness, Super Sprint, Toobin', Tapper... and lesser-known titles.  At its original retail price ($20) that would be excellent value.  Second-hand, I spent $3, which comes to twelve and a half cents per game -- or otherwise put, unlimited play of coin-op arcade games, two games for a quarter, which ups the value from "excellent" to "insane".  Basically if more compilations of this expansive quality were released, the games industry would collapse as there would be no need to spend money on new games.

You will also note that I picked up two Xbox 360 games (joining one I'd accidentally acquired previously), pre-emptively stocking a collection for a machine I'm anticipating inheriting.  I never imagined I'd own a machine from that generation (though I logged some good play hours on a 360 in the tail months of my bachelorhood courtesy of the ex-roommate whose original Xbox I also inherited) because there was no way I could justify the new purchase price and it could just be assumed that any units spotted second-hand in the wild for suspiciously affordable prices were casualties of the Red Ring Of Death -- basically, a consequence of consoles' grown complexity being an increased consumer-subsidized burn-in period.  But this comes from a friend who has genuinely just moved on, so I'm preparing to pass through a door I never expected to see opened.  Will Lego Batman really be that much improved on the 360 from the PS2 version?  I don't know, but all the Lego games are at least some fun (we had to turn off Lego Indiana Jones at my game party due to the pulpy racism in the DNA of the original source material) and the price was right.  Assassin's Creed seems to have been well-received and become influential -- maybe the most interesting game about the Templars ever made -- and maybe my native Canada's biggest gift to gaming since Distinctive Software became EA Sports (or, OK, let's temper the hyperbole a bit: since Bioware released KOTOR?)

But I've saved the best for last: what an amazing T-shirt, it's a pity it's so small ... a throwback to the days when video games were for kids. (Well, they still are: we remain those kids, obstinately trudging immaturely toward middle-age.)  Does the shirt describe a Nintendo player or a power player?  Or just a Nintendo Power reader who, presumably, plays as well?  (No, I just enjoy the magazine for its articles...)  Well, at least I can rest secure in the knowledge that when my toddler daughter is ready to start gaming, I can clothe her in some suitably appropriate vintage garb.

(All that plus a working free box mini TV/VCR for video game party display -- the limiting factors have been the number of monitors [and, admittedly, power outlets!] but we should be up at least two next time around.)

... but let's be honest here, these deals are all peanuts compared to the great deals I picked up at the GOG and Steam summer sales, launching inconveniently just after Father's Day, an occasion on which people search their brains for suitable presents to give ageing dudes. (Then again, maybe it's for the best: as a sage colleague noted on a post almost exactly one year ago: "I was super excited about this game when it was released. My wife bought it for me for Christmas that year. I played it for hours. She never bought me another video game again.") I picked up (among other titles) complete packages of the Blackwell and Tex Murphy series, plus all of Telltale's Sam & Max and Monkey Island episodes. Also the Goat Simulator. Well over a hundred dollars in savings. Will I get a chance to play any of them before the winter sale? I already logged a few hours playing a discounted Master of Magic from GOG and it was worth ten times what they asked. But I digress! If this blog veers into digital download territory (have I urged you to purchase Choice of Games' Heroes Rise games on Steam yet, striking a blow for great justice and text-based gaming in modern storefronts?) then that will be a whole other kind of digressing digression, likely one with fewer interesting visuals and less retro appeal. So let's wrap it here!