Friday, 22 July 2016

Public Domain textmode art spelunking: Star Trek

 ... the final frontier. On the occasion of the new release of Star Trek Beyond, I present to you... part 1 of a 2-part series, celebrating Star Trek's incredible cultural legacy as felt through the niche-of-a-niche, textmode art. Today, we look at the intrepid trailblazers from the "Public Domain", especially the voluminous efforts from Noel Gamboa (who, hm, it appears released these in a pre-artpack circa 1990, ANSITREK.ZIP), to celebrate the retrofuturism of the United Federation of Planets.
I like to believe that from the moment home computers were first available on the market, the first nerds began pecking away at the first instances of computer fanart... and this piece of RTTY art from textfiles.com seems to confirm that suspicion. Everybody tilt your head, emoticon-style, or else fire up the dot-matrix printer for a banner!
    THIS PICTURE IS BASED UPON AN OLD TV SERIES, SO YOU MUST BE
ABLE TO STRETCH YOUR IMAGINATION A LITTLE.
    THE YEAR ON EARTH IS CIRCA 2300 A.D., AND YOU ARE ABOARD A
UNITED STATES STARSHIP, THE LIKE OF WHICH ONLY NINE MORE EXIST.
    YOU ARE NOW SLOWING DOWN FROM "WARP 3," (24 TIMES THE SPEED
OF LIGHT), TO SUB-LIGHT SPEED; ENTERING STANDARD ORBITAL PATTERN AROUND
GAMMA HYDRA 4, IN THE ORION COLONY BELT.  THIS IS 75 LIGHT YEARS
FROM EARTH, BUT ONLY 5 MONTHS EARTH TIME AT THE SHIPS CRUISING SPEED
OF WARP 6.------- CAPTAIN'S LOG: STAR DATE-3215.7
                  COMMANDING   : CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK

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                      "SPACE - THE FINAL FRONTIER"                  
ASCII diagrams of these starships were ubiquitous on PD bulletin board systems; if you were looking for games in the file bases, these would be cluttering things up. There they were in someone's sig in the message base, and even choking the oneliners door! Try as you might to engage your cloaking device, they were inescapable. (Oh gosh, even here in 2016 they're unavoidable -- they even have a blog dedicated to them!)
OK, enough joking around. That's the thing about the Public Domain: no quality control! Here, these coloured specimens are by Noel Gamboa, who harnessed the power of ASCII to achieve fine-line detail where ANSI could get no higher-resolution:
And, for a change of page, a top-down view, adrift on impulse power somewhere in the inky blackness of an interstellar dust cloud perhaps:
But the Enterprise was hardly the only starship that could be rendered out of slashes and pipes. Here you can see Noel Gamboa presenting a couple of variations on the Klingon Bird of Prey:
(Don't take my word for it, but that latter piece is actually an ANSI animation whose movements are not reflected in a simple PNG screendump... someday I will have to see if I can capture it as a .GIF animation. But moving on...) The Borg Cubes also were uniquely well-suited to illustrations in the ASCII medium:
(Bonus! Teletext Borg by Steve Horsley!)
(Well heck, we've already started down this path... here's another teletext by him, totally contemporary, different subject, still totally Trek:)
The future spacelanes were choked with all variety of interstellar vessels, and here Noel Gamboa tries his hand at a few more varieties of them:
It seems impossible that this ANSI doesn't derive from some BBS named "Starbase Central", perhaps themed after Star Trek -- or perhaps not! Gene Roddenberry hardly invented many of the concepts used on the influential show -- he just popularized them!
OK, enough of the ASCII representations, can we get some ANSIs now? This view of the USS Enterprise is front-on -- the "business end" if you will:
Noel Gamboa takes a crack at the same subject, with a little linebreak garble making things interesting. (Maybe the main sensor array dish has taken some damage from a stay meteor strike.)
And another front-on ANSI view of the Enterprise -- celebrating the franchise's 25th anniversary. Though it is now 50 years old, 25 years ago it was only ... half that age! I remember Interplay made a gangbusters game to celebrate this milestone.
Back in 1991, JM (?) felt that the front-on ANSI approach was a bit of a cop-out, so to make things interesting he added some spectacular cosmic effects to soup up his presentation:
And a necessary cameo appearance, a classic profile presentation of the ship in orbit (as it might appear during any given episode's establishing shot) by PD ANSI superstar Ebony Eyes:
Michael C. Ling drew his own take on the Enterprise's profile in this 1990 ANSI...
and here's another take on the same picture, now with extra FX... perhaps it is powering up the forward phaser banks?
The original series' footprint lingered on out of all proportion to how briefly it was on the air pre-syndication, but there were many further incarnations of Trek to inspire textmode artists. 1979, the year of my birth, saw the cinematic release of Star Trek: the Motion Picture, an early pioneer of the TV-to-movie transition, and a major legitimiser of fan fiction for screenwriter Alan Dean Foster, who landed a major coup by burgeoning from being a nobody from the wilds of fandom to making canonical contributions to both Star Trek and Star Wars. (But not both at the same time: Disney hasn't gotten quite that greedy yet.)
(Odd, if not for the inside of the letter A, that logo looks nearly congruent to the splash screen for the MS-DOS version of the 1985 Kobayashi Alternative text adventure ... surely a coincidence!) Noel Gamboa takes his knack for small-scale ANSI illustration to more organic subjects here, showing that not only can he doodle Klingon starships... he can also draw the actual Klingons!
And here, the first of two portraits he drew of Enterprise Science officer Mister Spock, entitled "Live Long":
Once you Spock, you just can't stop, so here's another take by Noel on the same subject:
We were already treated to the 25-line ANSI mastery of Michael Arnett back in the pop music ANSI dig, and here he is doing a mighty attempt at ANSIfying the unforgiving poster for the 1991 movie Star Trek VI:
Of course, by 1991, the Original Series was no longer the only or even primary stream of Star Trek in the popular culture: starting in 1987 we were able to enjoy Star Trek: The Next Generation as a mainstay of our Saturday nights. Here Noel Gamboa has offered up three different flavours of the STTNG logo in ANSI, each more glamorous than the last!
And with a new series came a new starship, the USS NCC-1701-D, which Noel Gamboa has diligently documented in the coloured-ASCII style you have already seen & enjoyed:
Others, such as Zeldamaster -- who is really stretching beyond his asserted genre here -- also made attempts at rendering the vessel into ANSI with lesser degrees of success:
The artist named ANSI-Mation gave us this rendition of the NCC-1701-D for a BBS named "The Q Continuum":
And lest you forget his knack for rendering figurative drawings, Noel Gamboa leads off a series of headshots of the crew roster of the new Enterprise. Here's an ANSI of Lieutenant Commander Data:
Michael Arnett however is not down for the count yet, and responds with an ANSI of Data's buddy, Lieutenant Commander Geordie Laforge, on a bad day with a glandular condition causing some swelling in his jaw:
This ANSI of Commander Riker is uncredited, but bears all the hallmarks of another Noel Gamboa Trek masterwork:
And finally -- rising up the chain of command as we are doing -- could Noel deliver us a portrait of the Entertprise's Captain Picard?
OK, that was nice. But could you make it a little funnier? Logan tried in April of 1992:
As STTNG was wrapping, its successor Deep Space Nine appeared on the TV listings; while this portrayal is more of a goofy tribute than a slavish reproduction, it gets the feel across of the Cardassian space station where all the action happens. (Not that kind of action. I prefer my SF without softcore porn. You want that, go play Xtrek!)
By the time subsequent Trek series Voyager and Enterprise were on the air, Trek as a mass cultural phenomenon -- and ANSI art as a widely-used creative medium -- were both in steep decline. But what you may not realise is that I have a whole Part II (edit: heh, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a part 3) to this post waiting in the eaves, showing what the computer art underground was able to make from Star Trek inspiration! Stay tuned!

(If anyone out there is a superfan, textfiles.com hosts some Trek-themed VT-100 text animations that I would love to include in this post, if only I knew how to make them browser-viewable to a standard audience.)