Thursday, 29 January 2015

Video game ANSI art part 12 -- actually, PETSCII art!

Here we are, the first textmode video game art showcase at the new blog location, the interitor of a whooping great big long legacy of sheer excellence from yesteryear. And to help make the occasion a little more special, I've decided to explore a new angle: we've seen a great deal of the old PC textmode standards of ANSI and ASCII in great abundance... well, here's Commodore's version, PETSCII, originating on the 1977 PET and being used on Commodore's machines through the VIC-20, C64 and so forth all the way up to the C128! PETSCII (or PET ASCII) is adapted from a 1963 version of the ASCII standard, while the version used on the PC dates to 1967, so there are problems converting text data (especially mixed-case text) back and forth. Fun trivia: one of the designers of the PETSCII character set was the son of Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel, and one oddball stipulation in the design requirements insisted on characters for playing card suits (hearts, spades, diamonds, clubs) to make it easy to program card games for the machines. Etc. You have Wikipedia at your disposal, you can conduct further research yourself if this deeply intrigues you 8)

The high and low of things is that for our purposes, this was the textmode graphical standard used for Commodore 64s, used in its programs and ... perhaps on its BBSes? (I only ever called Crunchy Frog, a C64 board, from my PC, and the memories are slim. I remember it ran off a 2-floppy-drive setup where the BBS software lived on one disk and all user/message/activity data lived on the other, continuously mulching itself FIFO-style. In any case, if I wasn't calling in from a Commodore machine, I wouldn't have seen PETSCII, only unintelligible garble.) I wouldn't be surprised if it saw some use in that context among warez crackers and couriers but I have no idea if that analogous-to-ANSI-on-the-PC situation was actually the case, as I was not part of that scene or community. (I never owned a Commodore machine -- well, not before 2010 -- and all the piracy I witnessed at my elementary school labs was of the sneakernet variety.) To say I may not have a full grasp of all of the details would be an understatement. I'm guessing that PETSCII allows for some XBIN-style character remapping (and possibly assigning custom palettes of foreground and background colours, from the looks of things), but I could be totally off base.

This is not a complete collection, but one mostly gleaned from outstanding C64 "scene" galleries up at The Pixelling Cow ... from which in the future you'll be seeing me sharing further, non-PETSCII, C64 game-related artworks. But let's begin at a beginning, and start with a title screen:

Daniel Bunten Berry's M.U.L.E. didn't rely on textmode graphics (and if it did, it would have initially been using the Atari 800's own proprietary textmode standard of ATASCII), but its graphics were regardless quite rudimentary, so King Durin here can approach an approximation of its title screen without losing a great deal of fidelity. (To compare and contrast, here's a link to the original C64 title screen.) ... Kind of makes me wish that after all those years, I'd waited just a little longer to share that arrangement of MULE's theme song!
Daimansion here reproduces a scene from one of Al Lowe's more unglamorous gigs at Sierra (and heads up, while on that Leisure Suit Larry tangent, the picture after the one after this one is NSFW if scrutinized closely), the culmination of their early contract with Disney: Donald Duck's Playground. He's taken a few liberties, particularly with the shopkeeper who is clearly no longer Mickey Mouse, but the scene regardless immediately brings the game's actual artwork to mind. Hi makes a bold gambit, showing us an unmistakable scene from a game that never made it anywhere near the C64 (its authors were more Apple 2 kids, if memory serves correct)... that being iD Software's DooM, of course:
Finally, a depiction by marq of one of the C64's great underground hits, the ridiculous and XXX minimalist sports program Sex Games. (Kim Lemon actually implemented a web version of it if you'd like to try your hand.)
"Ready, Set, Go"? I don't even know if this piece, again by King Durin, represents a real game, but it could well be any one of hundreds. If you don't descend into the software mines it's hard to understand just to what an extent the ecology exploded into eg. maze games in the wake of Pac-Man. This, then, is one of the oodles of platform games that came quick on the heels of Donkey Kong and the game it always secretly wanted to be, Popeye -- Mario Bros., Jumpman, Lode Runner, Hunchback, DROL, Mappy, Impossible Mission... all taking a basic gameplay premise and running with it.
Another piece by daimansion, this depicts an apocalyptic scene from "Save New York". But more famous screens are coming!
Really, using uniform blocks this way, you could practically crank out any given game mascot even on a typewriter, but the colouration makes all the difference. I really appreciate Leichtfu's Q*Bert (or "Blockbert") here -- the choice of round textmode character playing up the roundness of the avatar hopping around a very Euclidian space -- a pyramid made of cubes!

I'll follow with a similar piece by Moonsweeper ("Bladejunker here, Moonsweeper is a rank on AtariAge which I still haven't figured out lol. I'm not even really that into Duke Nukem, he is just iconic and easy to draw. ;)") from a conversation about trying to use textmode on the ColecoVision... I don't believe that this is actually from a C64 but it is at the least a proof of concept employing PETSCII characters to make a point. That point being? The weird appeal of Duke Nukem transcends all hardware and screen modes!
Next up, a goodie -- Bub from one of my eternal favorites, Namco's Bubble Bobble, rendered by Finchy.
And another piece by Finchy, a rendition of MegaMan shooting a weird weapon -- one which expels textmode characters!
The next two are similar but different. This is the baby Metroid who imprints on Samus at the end of Metroid II on the Game Boy, drawn by 8R0TK4$T3N...
... and this one, by Redcrab (initials in the corner), is structurally quite similar, giving us a Space Invader (the piece actually entitled Oh no! More Invaders) in stark close-up. A nasty critter, plagued with mange and space-mites!
Here the Ghost Leader organizes the masses toward ending the menace of Pac-Man once and for all in this piece by Shine!
King Durin here made a PETSCII rendition of his 11-year-old daughter's drawing of Pikachu the Pokemon.
This character is unmistakable -- the question boxes are a bit small, the coins a bit large, but Goat's rendition is unmistakably Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom of Super Mario Bros. 1.
But what's this? Endurion shows a scene in which the plot thickens... a hand grabs one of Mario's star power-ups, but it doesn't look like a human hand... more like a great big monkey paw!
And here, in Uneksija's "The Day The World Was Not Saved", the logical outcome of such armaments getting into the wrong hands. (OK, so it's not explicitly Super Mario Bros.; all of the details are just a little off, Giana Sisters style, but there are still enough similarities to ensure you have no doubts regarding what is actually being shown.)
A few more nice pieces: this one is by Domspitze and depicts Link from the Legend of Zelda games:
And here we have two takes on what appears to be the C64's favourite game to make fan-art about: The Last Ninja. This is just the tip of the iceberg. First, war64burnout's version of its splash screen...
... and then wile coyote's more textmode-textured take. I think that the former nails the font while the latter achieves greater virtuosity in the portrait.
And the coup de grace?

Well, that may be as elegant a summation as one can achieve with static images, but when you start to animate PETSCII the sky's the limit. Specifically, the Monkey Island bit here is outstanding, starting at 2:09: