cd2021_1B

Imagine Countdown still going in 2021.

Imagine me still posting about Countdown in 2021.

Well, indeed, a new year brings the same old shizzle. In more ways than one, this time around. I have little to say about this programme that hasn’t already been posted several times, so let’s just move on to the project. I had covered all studio sets for the show, bar the current one, introduced in 2017 for the show’s 77th series. So here we are, for the completionists out there. It was certainly evolution over revolution and in some ways a bit of a downgrade from the classy predecessor – the upper section looks a bit like someone left the scaffolding up – but I guess simplicity was the word in mind (yes, that’s ten letters). With nice lighting I suppose it looks decent enough, and the desk is rather swish.

I hadn’t really watched Countdown for a year or so when lockdown (the first one) struck, but rather got back into it as I found it snuck nicely into my schedule. I’m sure that was the case for some other people too, and with another one looming that process may repeat itself. It’s good to have an old classic on hand for some simple escapism, with some astonishment at just how bad at the game I have become. But I suppose that’s part of the fun. There’s also the prospect of a new presenter in its fortieth year, with Nick Hewer to step down in the summer; at first it was for a few weeks’ shielding, then he decided to jack it in altogether. I can’t say I’m too upset about that, though to have stuck at it for as long as he has is impressive. Hopefully they find a host who can wake the show (and Rachel) up a bit and restore some of the spark it used to have. Basically, what I’m saying is they should just give it to Colin Murray. It’s either he or Moira Stuart.

I feel the Bee Gees should take some of the credit for this, as they have bound into my life for some unknown reason and their bizarre groove was the backing track for this build. “TRAGEDY…” My neighbours must love me.

Happy New Year. The countdown to the end of lockdown is on.

Ahh…

I would ramble at length as usual, but my brain is in the Christmas-New Year sludge, this time more than ever it seems. I have to admit, I am enjoying not doing much of anything at all.

This animation loop was rendered back in March, as a submission for Thurne Mill’s 200th birthday exhibition (which, of course, was indefinitely postponed). Thanks to the BBC Sound Effects Archive for the audio.

Perhaps it will calm things down for you, for all of eighteen seconds at least.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again, which means it’s that time to post a card again. Originally I was going to try something completely different, but I thought I should really continue the trend of pixel and voxel for this year’s Christmas card, so here we have a star created in Magicavoxel. In fact, only a quarter of the star is physically present; the rest is merely a reflection in an isometric view. Interesting, huh?

2020: what is there to say?

Thank you to all of the key workers who have looked after us this year, and everyone who has just done the right thing. You are stars.

It does seem harder than ever to get into the festivities this year, but I hope everyone has as happy and as peaceful a Christmas as possible. Let’s hope things are different next time around.

Merry Christmas.

“I hate that hedgehog!”

Of course there’s a Robotnik Day. He just declared it one minute ago! I have to thank YouTube for this one. Not for the first time, its recommendation algorithm is responsible for this post. You see, amongst all the cute cat, husky and Timothy Dalton videos, an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog appeared. At the time it was seen as a bit crap and, let me assure you, it is rather – and that might explain why only one series was made. It may also explain the cult following online. Needless to say, I loved the show as a youngster, getting up at stupid o’clock on Saturdays to watch it and collecting several of the video tapes and watching them repeatedly. You can understand why I had to click that recommendation and watch. It’s mindless silliness.

Naturally, the chief villain, Dr. Robotnik, was my favourite character for he was responsible for most of the laughs. Voiced by Long John Baldry and flanked by his two haplessly hopeless henchmen in Scratch (robot chicken) and Grounder (robot… erm?), it was hard not to side with them against a Sonic so cocky and obnoxious you were relieved he never spoke in the Mega Drive games.

Other than Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – a surprisingly addictive puzzle game – this version of Robotnik never appeared in a video game, so I thought I’d have a go at converting him to pixel art. I did consider recreating some of the Mega Drive boss battles with him, but that didn’t turn out well, sadly. So, we just have some poses with some animation chucked in to make up for it. At the top, we have Robotnik’s frustration at Sonic foiling his latest scheme. Below was a bit of experimentation and perhaps a little tame for a super villain; maybe he’s waiting for his “metallic morons” to arrive.

How about a static pose for us to finish, ‘Botnik?

There we are. And once again I have to mention that his name is Robotnik and not “Eggman”. Thank you.

I’ve seen countless versions of these little cut-away isometric interiors whilst browsing the work of various voxel creators, such that, if you’re starting out, it appears to be the law to make at least one. Hence, I thought I’d better try. But I wasn’t going to make one of my bedroom. I ended up riffing off The Crystal Maze and going all Aztec Zone this evening. It was the most iconic of all the zones, surely, and those cramped little game cells seen on the show were ideal inspiration for such a challenge.

I’m not sure what on earth the contestants are supposed to be doing in these cells – but then the chances are they wouldn’t even if it had been blatantly obvious. Bless them.

The first attempt was, perhaps expectedly, a bit naff. I was just throwing things in all over the place really and not remembering what I’d learnt last time around; namely, to actually engage the brain as to what I’m doing. For shame. Did have some fun playing around with the water feature, though I’m not sure the water texture is really working, nor the gargoyle itself for that matter.

The addition of greenery and some paint lifted it somewhat. The semi-buried items were less than successful, though. On a 50×50 grid, I probably should’ve seen that coming a mile off. Ah well.

Third time around, and we’re looking rather better now, a sort of mixture of the two giving a result I’m okay with. The time spent on the walls paid off, and the water has been muddied up a little; certainly enough to make sure you don’t lose your footing on those stepping stones. What’s more, I discovered the emission function and turned the ‘sun’ down to let the torches really do their thing, with a nice toasty glow lighting up the cell. It’s a powerful feature for which I can imagine many good uses. I look forward to playing with it.

At least it’s more interesting than modelling my bedroom.

Well, not quite starting blocks. But the recent penchant for pixels had me thinking once again about ephtracy’s MagicaVoxel, which has been sitting around on my machine for years now and, besides a piece or two here and there, hasn’t been put to particularly good use. My excuses are that I found the interface a little daunting and the camera seemed to do its own thing – usually not what I needed it to be doing. Well, I thought it was about time I came face to face with this old nemesis and settled the score once and for all.

I was going to make something.

Really, I was just being a drama queen for a change. It’s nowhere near as scary a program as I had told myself it was – actually, it’s rather fun and therapeutic once you get your head around the camera. Time disappears just as it does with 2D pixel art, or sticking Lego blocks together. I just started doodling really, thinking of Lego playsets, and coming up with some sort of ruined monument:

It’s not going to win any awards, but the lessons learnt in that session were very valuable indeed. And I actually wanted to make something else, rather than hit close and throw the PC in the bin so that’s a big hurdle cleared. Hence, the next two hours were spent modelling something on a larger scale; a ruined church, a not uncommon sight around these parts:

This one was lots of fun, and I think captures some of that toylike charm.

Yes, it does take a bit of getting used to, and I still have a great deal to learn, but MagicaVoxel is quite an enjoyable experience once you get going, and hopefully I’ll be using it more from now on. I’m sure if you use it more than once every two years you’ll pick it up even quicker than I did. And it’s free, which is always nice.

Yet more pixel play. This is what I do now, it seems.

The urge took me to have a go at a signature Norfolk round-tower church… but I don’t think that’s what we ended up with. I’m not quite sure what happened, it just came out that way and I just rolled with it for now. There have been too many false starts and abandoned projects of late; I’m just happy to have completed something. Perhaps that explains the elevated colour of it – euphoria!

The church here is loosely based on one in the village of Acle, which does have a round tower, though the belfry is octagonal. I would pass it every day on the way to university, now a decade ago (where on earth has the time gone?) It was nice to see it looking pretty in the morning sun, or dusted with snow in winter; whatever the weather, the church was a pleasant landmark, reassuring me there was still plenty of time to daydream. Of course, autumn and winter saw it cloaked in darkness on the way home. The winding ride between those little villages was quite something at this time of the year – at least for those who weren’t snoring – maybe the odd flicker of civilisation in the distance, but mostly just black. It’s incredible to hear stories from grandparents and their friends who would walk or cycle back and forth in the pitch-dark depths of winter without a care in the world. Different times, I guess.

Today I discovered that it’s thirty years since The Undertaker made his WWF debut. As the mystery man making up “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s team at Survivor Series, this was a character that was probably going to go one of two ways. As it was, Taker enjoyed instant success and despite being introduced as an evil, undead beast doing Paul Bearer’s bidding, crowds bought into it so much that they wanted to see him, and began cheering for him. The rest is history and, as Bobby Heenan would cry on commentary, “long live The Undertaker!”

Here’s a little thing to mark the anniversary. In preparation for RetroMania, I started taking WrestleFest sprites and attempting likenesses of various wrestlers, as I’ve posted on here previously (indeed, it was that post which got me the job!). The Undertaker was one of these experiments; really, it’s a surprise he’s not in the game to begin with, though its 1991 release means he may have debuted a little too late for it. With such a progression in outfits and styles, it was a lot of fun in the good old pixel style.

As if the watermark weren’t large enough, I feel the need to reiterate that The Undertaker is NOT in RetroMania Wrestling. Sorry if I got your hopes up!

RetroMania Wrestling is coming to a computer or console near you on 26th February 2021.

It began as a spiritual successor to WrestleFest, a very popular and fondly-remembered arcade game from 1991. Now, it’s an officially licensed sequel, with an eclectic roster spanning several decades and cameos from many others whom you may recognise.

I have spent the best part of two years working on the character models for this game and, if you’re a wrestling fan or just a fan of fast-paced, action-packed gameplay, you will enjoy it. I will doubtless go on and on about the game in more detail come February. You’ve been warned. In the meantime, take a look, and be sure to grapple with RetroMania Wrestling in the new year!

Friendly or calculating? Maybe both? You decide.

I was looking at drawing some faces in pixel, something I’ve struggled with in the past. Then I started looking at pixel art of robots, androids and this spilled into browsing – and wanting – several of those vintage wind-up robot toys you often see popping up in stores around this time of year. This was my attempt at combining all of the elements, and what fun it was, actually, much more so than vanilla portraits would have been and have been in the past. I started with the bottom-right, mostly based on the reference, and used him as a template for the other three. Admittedly I did try to make them look reasonably non-threatening, but it’s probably advisable not to run into any of them in a dark room, whatever their disposition.

I can’t help but wonder if, in an alternate universe, it’s these chaps who are doing the dishes, taking care of those suspicious stains and making sure the jetpack is fully charged – the helpful companions we were meant to have had for decades by now, you know? But I suppose that’s just a less photogenic version of Humans. And we all know how that ended. Well, actually, I don’t. I only watched the first series. And, if they are truly calculating, maybe the States could’ve done with a few of these bots over the last few days…  amirite, folks? Phew! It’s been an exhausting week, a nail-biting week, but what a week. The sights of people dancing in the streets say it all. I know this is only the start, and there’s an awful lot of work to be done, but I’m happy and hopeful for America and all of my friends there.