Would you enter a dungeon to play a game devised by these two?

I hear that the new The Crystal Maze has been axed by Channel 4 after only three series. I must confess I stopped watching it about five episodes in, feeling it was not made for me. It doesn’t sound like it ever improved, and indeed the trajectory of viewing figures suggested it wasn’t made for lots of other people also. Going celebrity only for its final run was the final straw. It’s a frustrating misfire; the first episode back in 2017 drew one of the biggest audiences of the year for Channel 4 and the opportunity for something special was obviously there. Oh well! At least we still have the original series, and that was actually quite good.

With that mindset, you can understand why, on hearing of its termination, I produced this. Here’s a pixel art portrait of our mellifluous maître-d to the Crystal Maze, Richard O’Brien and his Mumsey (Sandra Caron) from days of yore. The style is loosely based on the RetroMania characters I worked on. Neither look particularly like their real-life counterpart – I’ve tried Richard several times in pixel and have yet to perfect his unique visage – but the “eclectic” outfits were fun to work on. I wouldn’t want to complete a sprite sheet of either, though!

On a completely unrelated note: did you know it’s once again possible to access the Classic Editor, free of blocks? Maybe it has always been there, I’m not sure, but I thought if anybody out there is still annoyed by them then you might want to know. In your admin, go to Posts and note the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top-right corner. Change to Classic View. You’ll then get the little ‘Add New’ button with the drop-down menu which allows you to select the Classic Editor. Hooray!

I was asked to take one of my Countdown set models and animate the classic opening camera shot, where it would pan from the audience around to the set. Always one to give the people what they want, I went ahead and did it, with the 1994 model. And, always one to go overboard, I included an old attempt at reimagining the show’s opening titles from the same era. The fact that they aren’t finished, I fear, tells you all you need know. Title sequences are harder than they look! But I thought I’d just include the last few seconds to feed into this new render.

Countdown used to get new titles every few years, but the current set have been around for almost ten years, likely for budget reasons. I would say they’re due a refresh, so if anyone out there is adept with animation and fancies a project, why not have a go?

Ditherless is, of course, a small village in central Norfolk.

(Gotcha! It’s not really.)

But rejoice, for here is the “quaint cottage” I mentioned in my previous post – I think it’s rather quaint enough, don’t you? This was attempted in a similarly simple way as those trees, trying to avoid dithering and instead simply layering colour to suggest shades and highlights. It still took a few hours, but far fewer than it might had I been hatching and checkerboarding all over the place to capture variation in tone, like I have in previous pixel parties. There’s nothing to say I won’t revert to those methods in the future – or perhaps adopt a mixture of the two – as always, it depends on the subject. But it’s interesting to note how they inform the overall style.

I wouldn’t mind a cottage like this, just saying.

I was messing around with a pretty pixel landscape which didn’t get very far, so I decided to start all over again. Taking on board the lessons learnt from an earlier exercise, I just focused on a single element to begin with, seeing where that took me. It was greenery, again, but not confined to conifers this time, I can coniferm.

Attempting to cut corners actually seemed to pay off; I created a round scatter brush and started layering up colour very quickly, trying not to overthink. I like how they came out: fluffy, with a more painterly, dreamy quality than I’m used to. This might be the key to some bigger and better pixel landscapes as the style probably lends itself to a larger scale.

The quaint cottage I originally planned for the scene didn’t materialise – not this time – but last night I didn’t even get past the hedgerow, so I’m branding this a success, whether ya like it or not!

Back to MagicaVoxel once more, and, this time, I set out to create a wooden shack or log cabin sort of dwelling. I think we can all agree that I nailed that.

But who’s to turn down a church build if your mind is just going that way? Divine intervention.

I wasn’t using any particular example as reference here, instead just riffing off my ingrained memories of the countless churches dotted around here (though avoiding the characteristic round tower yet again). I could see this overlooking a village green or hiding behind some trees down a quiet country lane.

It’s a bit on the lanky side, but never mind about that! I like how the tower came out – initially I wasn’t going to attempt the flint stonework and just leave the facade as solid colours, but I think the extrusion and the resulting texture has really lifted the model so I’m glad to have persevered (and boy did it take some time!). It’s nice to see that, even going way beyond the single block, MagicaVoxel holds up and still performs well, even on my ancient setup.

I would have liked to have added more greenery; it does look a little bare on that front but my voxel trees thus far have been, well, dreadful. Definitely something that warrants a focus all of its own.

But this is certainly a step up from my first church attempt, just before Christmas, and I’m happy to be tackling larger scenes with this fun program. I’m sure the log cabin will turn up some other time; when I want to build another church, most likely.

Remember The Sims? I’m talking about the original 2000 release with its isometric view, not the current game, whatever number in the series they are up to, because I haven’t played it and, by default, that means it isn’t as good. Do you remember when you’d blow all of your Simoleons constructing an obnoxiously large house for your Sims, furnish it and feel happy… then zoom out and realise it was a glorified stack of crates? I feel like that’s what happened here. I wasn’t going for something quite so brutal, but I think chickening out on the roof is the main reason for that, here. Still, the colours are appealing should you want your holiday home pained with strawberry ice cream. Choice words there for someone drinking strawberry milkshake.

This was a MagicaVoxel triumph for me, though, on a previously unmatched scale. Ever since I started exploring this software, a few years ago now, I’ve been looking at amazing creations online which appeared far larger than the 126x126x126 object limit. This perplexed me. Well, it turns out there’s a world editor where you can link objects together and position them pretty much however you desire, and apparently you can use as many as your computer can withstand. It’s a block editor that doesn’t make you want to scream and tear your hair out (although admittedly I was rather left to my own devices, as the only meaningful tutorial I could find on it was speaking French). But I got there in the end. This goes some way to explain the boxy nature of the piece, as it’s really made up of the same blocks: block with door and window, block with just window, balcony, etc.

After some time raising my eyebrow in befuddlement, I’ve unlocked something in MagicaVoxel with this exercise. I wonder how many others used it and gave up before they even knew of the world editor, as it’s quite well hidden. But it’s easy once you know how. I do still find myself wrestling with the camera quite a lot, but maybe at this stage it’s just me; it’s an intriguing twist on pixel art exploration and does what it does very well. Have a go if you like.

I don’t know where this came from, but I am certainly not opposed to happy accidents or a modicum of inspiration coming from seemingly nothing, which certainly appeared to be the case here. Indeed, that may be abundantly clear to you already.

On a vein not too far removed from my recent posts, I was simply playing with blocks of colour – green blocks of colour this time around. I just started copying and pasting, layering them beside one another, and then it hit me. Conifers. I love conifers and their sturdy, jagged charm, and wanted to see if I could abstract one in pixel using these strips of colour in different ways.

It was more fun than it may look, actually, trying to capture the different species and their marked variation in shape, some slender, some rather rotund. As you can see, I did start to lose some of that abstraction as I went on, experimenting with levels of detail. But I took these and used them as a template for the landscape, which isn’t anything amazing but I’m quite liking how the conifers came out, and the way the different patterns and styles overlap.

Good little experiment though, and much like my recent designs a reminder that sometimes dialling down and focusing on something simple can kickstart productivity. If you have a problem, well, call the copse.

I’m taking a trip back to 2018 for this post which, yes, you guessed it, seems like a lifetime ago now. These geometric grid pieces were given the working title Summer Nights and attempted to abstract a warm vibe with vivid and electric colours. I believe the ultimate goal was to make letters out of them, but unfortunately they were not finished before they were abandoned.

However, revisiting these in 2021 created the germ of the ideas that have appeared in recent weeks, so they are now pertinent.

Indeed the new pieces were made on the same files as the 2018 work, hence the similar colours and style. Some do stick out rather, though; even more once I dragged them kicking and screaming into Photoshop for some filtering fun.

Perhaps it says something that, after all of this experimentation, I ended up going back to the very first idea and really found it to be the most enjoyable process. Maybe I will try and put some letters together after all, although saying I might do something on here seems to be the kiss of death for my productivity! Fingers crossed for an exception to the rule.

So there we are: what’s old is new again. if you don’t like it now, put it away but don’t bin it. You might need it in three years.

I thought the logical progression from my previous post was to release some other shapes into the fray. Triangles are fun, but circles too? And semi-circles? Kid in a candy store, here. My intentions were of a similar natural, springlike bent and sure enough, I came up with some designs which rather fit the theme.

The usual Photoshop breaking and making followed.

Then I started playing with the circular and mostly symmetrical nature of these, cutting a quarter of each piece, flipping it and rotating around the centre. Quite possibly, this is some of the gaudiest work I have ever created; I tend to design patterns in black and white or a limited selection of colours. That’s just how I was taught. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with leaving the comfort zone and going all out.

At first I was thinking seamless floor tiles, but the ‘boldness’ of these brought to mind the interesting wallpaper choices of the mid-to-late twentieth century, coming out of the war and injecting some much needed colour into life. When my parents moved into their house back in 1976, apparently every room was done up in contrasting colours and patterns – bright purples, yellows, greens. They soon got rid of all that!

Imagine your boudoir done up with these bad boys:

I don’t think I’ll be snapped up by Changing Rooms anytime soon; Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen, you’re safe for now. But don’t let my sneering give the impression I didn’t have fun. This was an absolute blast!

Remember those art lessons in first school where you’d be given sheets of tissue paper to cut out flower shapes, and have to stick them to sugar paper using those glue spreaders? Wasn’t it always a mess, with the tissue paper getting all crumpled if not outright ripped? Maybe that was just me? Should I stop with the questions already? What is this?

Well anyway, this geometric exercise was reminiscent of those days, just without the heady whiff of PVA. I wanted to do something with flowers and spring again, but quite where or why the triangle fetish emerged I have no idea. Still, I’m always willing to give new things a go and what we have here is me just drawing triangles in rather a carefree manner (for me at least) to give some semblance of a flowerhead.

Of course, then came the onslaught of Photoshop effects! Similar to my previous spring exploration, mostly dropping old pieces or textures over and under the drawings. Some flower power vibes coming through here, especially with the pink.

When I got to a rose – or at least that’s what I’m thinking it is – and found I was thinking about composition too much, I decided it was time to call it a day. But it was interesting. The layered outlines below are something, though. I think this could be the way to go in future.

Triangles are fun. Not as good as hexagons, but still rather neat.