Sunday, 3 July 2016

Video Game Art on C64s part 3 - Improved start screens

Video game art on c64s
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5

(Header image only tangentially related. Lucasarts adventures did manifest on C64s, but they were never this pretty!)

OK, so the subject of today's gallery is a curious one. Game art by scenesters (some of whom, of course, end up making games between pirating other ones -- though I have attempted to divert genuine game art out of this post, leaving the field exclusively for fans) is an interesting niche -- previously (OMG, the last post in this series went live over a year ago, mea culpa, it's been a very eventful year... and as you can see from the legend, we're only halfway through this series!) we've looked at art made on Commodores celebrating games that were never released for its hardware, and "upgrades" on situations that did clumsily appear in Commodore games. (And, of course, we've PEEKed at the PETSCII renditions of video game characters.) Now we're giving some love to the "splash screens" of these games -- the eye candy logos that displayed while the data was being (chugga chugga chugga) painstakingly pulled (chugga chugga chugga) off an agonizingly copy-protected (chugga chugga ... grind grind grind) floppy diskette. These needed to be eye-popping because game loading could be such a protracted process (start the program, then go to the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich from scratch... begin by mixing the dough to bake the bread) and consequently you would be spending quite a while looking at it... it needed to be sufficiently inspirational such that you wouldn't get discouraged and write off the whole venture of Golden Age computer gaming (likely quite correctly) as a waste of your time. The artists didn't always hit the mark. Maybe they lacked good reference materials, maybe they were converting assets generated to play to the strengths of other platforms, maybe they just plain ran out of time. Whatever the reason, many games' splash screens were not their best selves -- but fear not, the doodlekids (of all ages) of the scene have stepped in to correct this failing, and give the games the superior art -- sometimes better matching the game's box -- that they deserved and which could have been technically possible, if not for circumstances.

For instance, here two separate artists (I've hidden their credits in the image filenames... it looks like they go by "Ivan" and "Crossbow", respectively) have taken their turns improving the in-game C64 art for Interplay's 1989 "Dragon Wars", yielding screens that hew closer to the game box's Boris Vallejo artwork than the version that eventually turned up in the game itself:

And here "Jim" enhances the loading screen of Cascade Games' 1987 Air Combat Emulator 2 to look more like its box art:
Leon beefs up a scene from Team17's 1991 Alien Breed (sorry, this one is misfiled -- I don't believe that one ever saw release on the Commodore 64!)
As a gamebook fan, this one strikes my fancy doubly: Kev enhances the start screen to the loose video game adaptation of the first book in the Way of the Tiger series, Avenger!, hewing a little closer to the box art:
STE'86 (or is he just STE, and 1986 was simply a very busy year for him?) brings his magic to Lucasfilm's inaugural Ballblazer; I've found him contributing actual game art, so perhaps this is a piece he made for Lucasarts' use, adapting its box art, that didn't end up in the final product:
HJG shows us a Bomb Jack that might have been with some fanart:
Rotteroy loves Burger Time and he doesn't care who knows! I'm not sure which of these characters is less happy to see the other! Well, no one is pleased to find that it turns out they're attending a sausage party.
The Sarge gives us his take (his take, as if his handle wasn't a dead giveaway: "WAR IS AWESOME!") on Carrier Command:
And here is some start screen art for Cauldron that I have completely lost the provenance of. (The tiny sig appears to read: "JSL".) Apologies! This is basically the Henri Rousseau of computer art -- all these textures, angles, light sources... it can't possibly come together plausibly, but ... who's trying to be plausible here?
STE'86 pumps up Konami's Commando with a swell (swole? Who can tell under that flak jacket!) portrait of Super Joe!
This one is by Lizard, celebrating the game Delta, converting its box art that shows us that space can really be rough on a ship's hull:
Raffox shows us a scene from a Dragon's Lair version that wasn't...
And DG has another take on the same game! Dirk and Daphne look quite rudimentary there -- big sprites or small sprites, but medium ones get the downsides of both and the advantages of neither!
Moving along on the "dragon" theme, here's STE'86 with a screen for Telarium's Dragonworld -- quite a step up from the actual in-game art which Mobygames describes thus: "The game features artwork throughout by John Pierard[,] a well known illustrator who has drawn for Marvel Comics and Asimov's Magazine."
And God (well, not GOD God, but ... I'm sure you understand) shows us how Driller looks (the first of Incentive's great 3D Freescape games) when he plays it in his head, the same but quite a bit punched up from the in-game splash screen, getting closer to its box art:
And then, hard to beat any which way -- art for Elite, drawn by Robin Levy! Filling the polygons makes all the difference!
STE'86 shows us everything a Gauntlet splash screen should have: a barbarian and valkyrie, wreaking symmetrical havoc! It's not far from the version that shipped, but there are substantial differences in the nuances.
STE'86's Green Beret is giving 110% here (more in keeping with the box art than the somewhat spare version in the final product), looking like he's on the verge of an Incredible Hulk or Sláine transformation into a rain of physical destruction.
And here we are, two takes on Konami's "Gryzor", better known on this side of the water as ... Probotector! (Just kidding: of course it's Contra!) I like to think that The Sarge's first take is like, "Did you hear something? Turn on the light, man!" Then STE'86 shows us just what it was making that noise unseen in the dark. "Turn the light back off, man!" The original box art, as with the second interpretation here, only featured three glowing spheres -- where'd the fourth one come from, Sarge? These are both quite a step up from the box art scene that ended up shipping.
Spectre made a fun splash screen (so far superior I won't humiliate it by running the art it used instead) for Century's Hunchback (is it really hunched or is it just carrying that giant logo that's making it so?)
God is back (so look busy!) with a simultaneously detailed and abstract -- what's going on here, I don't know, but it's definitely space stuff -- loading screen for Hunter's Moon (strikingly faithful to its box art:
The Sarge didn't think that much was needed to hype Ikari Warriors II (well, it doesn't take much to trump the existing splash screen, a quite inferior logo), so exciting was its premise a simple logo was all that was required. (I don't "get" the bling reflections on the Roman numberals, but they are a nice touch regardless.)
A human-drawn take on fractally-generated landscapes (always a difficult algorithm to fake by hand), this screen gets us pumped for Lucasfilm's Koronis Rift. (I also dig the little version of their logo!)
Forget a video game loading screen, Bjørn Røstøen's take on the delightfully surreal Mind-Roll (head and shoulders above anything appearing in-game) is worthy of a movie poster. Tell me please that this is coming soon to a theatre near me? Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky...
Anthony Crowther gives us a new interpretation of Monty Mole with this loading artwork, a combination of disparate elements and styles if ever there was one! That's got to be some kind of bug spray, but doesn't it look like Monty is undertaking some urban exploration (perhaps even some parkour) to spraypaint his tag on someone else's turf?
Hats off, Ash: this Nemesis loading art (for the game you may know better as Gradius) is without parallel. (The existing splash screen isn't bad, but this is quite a bit closer to the box art.)
JSL's work here is an attempt to capture the feel of Outrun, if not directly adapt any of its design elements.
It was a bitter irony of sorts -- Magnetic Scrolls were renowned for the high quality of the illustrations in their text adventures, but the loading screen for The Pawn was mere text. (The actual pictures in the game were quite nice.) This is the loading screen it deserved but never got (at least -- not in time to be useful! But better late than never, STU!)
And, sorry, who made that game again? Oh yes, Magnetic Scrolls. If you'd do the honours, Froodle? (This is the kind of activity, incidentally, that would appear on the back of a floppy diskette's sleeve with a big "DO NOT DO" slash through it.)
Mark Jones' take on the subject of Renegade is basically more than the game deserves:
Three tries at outdoing the existing splash screen for Sanxion (an adaptation of its sweet box art -- Thalamus had a good designer on staff!) ... after attempts by Rob and SIT, only the third of them by irage manages to achieve the feat!
Ash endows Codemaster's Slicks with the splash screen it always wanted but never got:
Mase provides some loading screen for Capcom's Strider beyond anything it appears to have had:
"Rulas International" is here very faithfully adopting the iconography of the arcade cabinet marquee from Taito's 1980 Space Invaders Deluxe:
Here's a nice pic by TMT adapting the box art for Accolade's 1990 Star Control 1. (Didn't know it was ever released in an 8-bit as well as 16-bit flavour? The truth is fascinating and bizarre -- here an author writes (geez, nearly 15 years ago now) about the gameplay (and esp. team line-up) changes between different ports of the game, in-character as a human historian on Earth under the slave shield.)
Bogg has done a good job excerpting the main subject of Thing on a Spring's box art, down to the peculiarly affectated hand gestures:
SIT provides an alternate -- more gamey, less noir -- take on the loading screen to Thrust.
Mase got the memo -- the protagonist of Turrican is some kind of heavy metal cyborg, right? -- and turns in a prospective loading screen with similarities to the notorious NA box art for Mega Man 2: hits most of the beats, drops some of them altogether. Not bad, just ... hard to escape from beneath an iconic shadow. (And a background wouldn't have hurt!)
This is next level business -- jslptv tells millenials "you had Animorphs book covers, but we had Wizard of Wor":
SIT delivers a wholly authentic take on Wizball from a different angle: everything is the different, but everything is completely the same. It's as faithful as two comic book panels in the same comic book drawn by the same artist. OK, this one has a touch more "Daft Punk" to it, but it's all great!
It's hard here in 2016 to simply say "Hulk Hogan" without all the baggage of the sex tape that brought down Gawker... so with that happy image stuck in your mind, here's Wile Coyote's perhaps overly-palette-condensed Wrestlemania splash screen! I daresay it's a step up from the likeness of him in the game, though there's a greater chance digitization was involved, I suppose.
And because you've all been so patient, for a closing tip of the hat, here's an illustration by Robin Levy celebrating The YaK's long-lived psychedelic gaming concern Llamasoft. Thanks for sticking around, hopefully it won't be quite so long until the next installment of this series!

Video game art on c64s
part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5