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Digital drawing

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Having done a few pure pixel pictures lately, I ventured into three dimensions to look at transferring objects into the pixel realm; reducing resolutions, avoiding anti-aliasing and trying to create as authentic a visual as I can.

Cheating, essentially.

I began playing with some simple shapes and animations, limiting colour.

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Happy results, and certainly a time saver for designs like those above and below.

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And, having played around with hexagons, it was time for the obligatory detour to Blockbusters, which then spilled into other game shows for good measure. After all, what do pixels make?

Blockbusters is set to return on Comedy Central (yes, seriously) at some point this year. By my count, this will be the fifth time since the golden Bob era that this format has been dredged back up. Will it take off this time, I wonder? You have to admire the perseverance.

While there’s nothing especially ground-breaking here, it’s nice to have it confirmed that pixel art doesn’t have to be restricted to just Photoshop painting; the 3D alternative for reference is equally effective, and a handy cheat. Cheating is good when it saves you time!

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In looking at turning people into a bunch of pixels, I found my way to Batman rather quickly. More interesting than most people, right? Especially the Joker.

There are certainly plenty of old games from which to take inspiration. To that end, I should give sizable credit to the Batman Doom mod for the above, as my Joker sprites here are inspired by the model in that game – my attempt was to bring him into 1989, and the more chequered Jack Nicholson incarnation. That will always be the quintessential Joker look for me.

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And, to follow up, a modification in the style of the ZX Spectrum and the bloody frustrating Batman The Movie; somewhat surprisingly, the Joker himself is only ever seen in the final seconds of the game, where the player must thwart his attempt to get away in true Batman style: murder. Maybe this is how he might have looked with a prominent role? Or, maybe, he’d have looked a lot better than that. Ah well!

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“I’m Batman.”

“No, I’m Batman.”

You can’t have one without the other! Here’s Batman, in both classic and 1989 attire, achieved almost exclusively via pallette swap. This one is essentially another character for WrestleFest as it uses the same base, only I’ve had a go at beefing the thighs up somewhat. Perhaps the torso could do with similar treatment, especially on the Keaton side, but this was really experimenting with swapping colours.

Again, this was lots of fun. I may have a go at some of the other Bat nemeses in the future, and perhaps even Robin, though I’ll have to think of a different title for that one now.

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More practise with pixels! This time I went a tad more ambitious, with the previous industrial vein moving toward the coast.

The landscape with Happisburgh Lighthouse above was a blast! I started out studying the trees, and, when they turned out okay, the buzz started to kick in. I ended up completing the scene in a couple of hours. There’s still some more experimentation required I think, especially with the sky and clouds, whose gradients are perhaps a little too steep, but I think on the whole it looks alright.

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And here we have some imaginary gas platform, not an unfamiliar sight here on the coast, though indeed more imaginary than they used to be. This was mostly looking at light, reflection… reflected light. I think this exercise reinforced that, when working with a brush the size of a single pixel, patience is most definitely the key. I’ve been tempted by some examples of pallette cycling in old computer games. It should be a fun technique to explore – using it to suggest flowing water looks particularly beautiful. More to come, hopefully soon.

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Pixel art is going to be big for me in 2019. Just before Christmas, I was snapped up to work on a game firmly rooted in this retro aesthetic. My role there is mostly to create individual likenesses for the cast, but I thought it would be beneficial to take a step back and, in my free time, look at some broader arenas. Hopefully, I’ll pick up a few tricks along the way.

With the pylons going up on Sunday, I thought a general industrial theme was a good place to begin. The quick pipe lettering above was not only an excuse for more letters but a warm-up tiling exercise. Tiling allows for quick and clean creation of environments. Most platform games of old used this technique for their scenery.

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These crates and barrels were mostly studying texture and dithering.

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You can’t spell industrial without corrugated iron:

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If I’ve learnt one thing from my work so far, it’s that size really doesn’t matter. Working on a small grid of pixels can be just as time-consuming as the most detailed sketch – sometimes more so, as I start to panic about the sharpness of certain edges, the pallette, and whether I should introduce more colours or even reduce them. Hopefully these are the sort of hurdles that will be overcome with just making as much stuff as possible. Saying this about time, perhaps the two industrial stations below could have done with a little more TLC, but it’s a start:

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pixelpractise-industrial04Once the pixels start to look happy (and like things) it’s quite a lot of fun, and the time whizzes by. Like the web address says, onward I go!

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It was one of those ‘how did I get here?‘ moments. When I should probably have been asleep, I found myself looking at photos of particularly small or rarely used train stations. Naturally.

Berney Arms Station was a swift return to familiarity. It’s one of the least used in the country, which perhaps isn’t surprising given its location, out in the open somewhere between Yarmouth and Norwich, very much in the realm of wildlife. Its erection is all down to Thomas Berney, who owned the land when the track was being planned; he was quite happy for them to proceed, but insisted that a station be included.

I remember the days when my sisters would take me to Norwich for the day, we’d usually go by train until, at some point, we converted to the bus. I would always ask if it was going to go the Berney Arms way; it took a little longer than the usual route through Acle and Brundall, but was most definitely the more open and scenic journey. Coasting across the Broads with close-up views of Berney Arms High MillCantley Sugar Factory and Reedham was fun, and still has a certain romance about it. I highly recommend getting off at Cantley and visiting The Cock Tavern.

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I can’t remember a single passenger ever boarding or alighting at Berney Arms. My understanding is that it’s most popular on Sundays, as it’s veritably spoilt that day with the service of no less than four trains. Currently, with the pub a victim of arson and the High Mill seemingly closed more often than not, it’s perhaps not as attractive a trip as it once was, but the station will remain a curiosity, I’ve no doubt.

And, rather further from home, I got to sketching this little station shelter below: Campbell’s Platform in the Welsh country of Gwynedd, erected in 1965. Its main purpose back then was to serve Plas Dduallt, a fifteenth century manor house, connecting to the main Tan-y-Bwlch station. I took a few liberties with the reference in a bid to make it seasonably cosy, with varying degrees of success. Lots of fun, though – what a great little station!

These quiet, often secluded little stops are far more appealing to me than the crowded chaos of a large one, no matter how immaculate or warm they are. They’re like having your own little stop – as, indeed, these two were to begin with! Maybe I will look at some more of these; there was a nice feeling of being on the right track whilst making them.

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The first episode of id Software’s Doom was released onto the internet twenty-five years ago today. A quarter-century of our nameless marine’s steely eyes surveying the surroundings. This disembodied head is about all you ever see of the player character in the original game – a countenance reflecting back at you in the game’s heads up display, giving you an idea of what shape you’re in. Having taken a look at the cast of loathsome monsters a few years ago, I thought he would be worth attempting this time. I resisted the temptation to plonk a party hat on his head, though. I don’t think that’s his style.

Doom is one of the most important gaming releases to date, and it happens to be one of the first games beyond Sonic that I can remember really playing at length. It was quite a departure from those whimsical adventures with everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog. As I said before, it wasn’t really the gore that appealed to me – I was useless at the combat, and indeed, if you saw me play you’d probably think I’d never done so before. It was the environment – which I thought definitively 3D at the time – and ominous atmosphere that pulled me in. Mournful music playing as we trawl the infested moon base, the endless desolation of Phobos outside, the groans of monsters growing louder – it paints an obvious picture: you’re on your own, and the only way out is through. Such excellent design means the first episode is still a blast to play through, even knowing all the secrets; the sense of progression and staging, building up to the climax against the Barons of Hell, is legendary.

Everything was a step up from its predecessors. Hype for Doom was such that, at midnight on 10th December, id couldn’t even access the server for its initial release. Once a few students were kicked, they were finally able to upload the game – and it wasn’t very long before the servers crashed completely. The daddy of multiplayer was born, with players taking on the game’s campaign in teams or going hell for leather against each other. It’s said that, within weeks of its release, universities and even workplaces had to issue strict Doom-specific rules, so badly was it affecting their networks.

Once you were done with the main game or multiplayer, all was not over. Creativity was always intended to be a big part of Doom. Storyline was mostly jettisoned for action during development, and what remains is sparse, allowing you to fill in the gaps. Customisation was one of the big draws, and sure enough, user-created levels were appearing online by early 1994 and are still being made. Over the years, source ports have added fixes and greater capabilities to supplement the engine – it’s still a hugely popular resource, with a tremendous community around it. I can’t see that dying down any time soon. Total conversions such as 2010’s extra-gory Brutal Doom transform the experience whilst underscoring the power of the original. Others go for something completely different, demonstrating impressive versatility – in an unexpected meeting of two defining games, even Sonic has been given a series of games using the Doom engine.

If ever proof were needed as to just how far this community stretches, here’s what happened when an esteemed creator known as ‘The Ultimate Doomer’ turned Doom into The Crystal Maze. Of course, it’s absolute genius:

Gruesome, gory, controversial? No doubt. But Doom was a rare example of a game delivering on all that it promised and making no apologies. Though it might have been technically surpassed several times over by now, there’s still no doubting the mark it made back in December 1993, and on myself five years later. So, here’s to id Software and our nameless marine.

keyush-1YouTube can throw some curious recommendations at you. Current suggestions for me on the site include an ancient episode of Blind Date, coverage of the 2018 Tetris World Championships and a nuclear siren test. I’ll let you decide what that says about me and my viewing habits.

One recent recommendation that I am grateful for, however, is K’eyush the Stunt Dog, our subject. I’ve always liked huskies for their lupine appearance, intelligence and pronounced character, but Key seems to take it to the next level, having full-blown conversations with his mum and making sure his many demands are met. Throw in the soft silliness that many large dogs seem to possess and you have a real comedian.

So, let this quick portrait be a nod not only to our cool canine friend but also YouTube recommendations. Sometimes, you do get it right.