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Yes, it’s what you’ve long clamoured for – and that’s a nine-letter word.

A return visit to this Countdown malarkey (only eight, but a darn good word) is, admittedly, normally code for having a thirst to create but a total drought of practical (nine letters) ideas – it’s often the way, or vice versa. Had I the skills before, though, I probably would have gone straight to this one, rather than chip away at the very wooden predecessor. It was a bit of a nightmare with curve upon curve, and troublesome splines all over – a lot of the successes came from just winging it, but I guess that’s part of the fun. I’m pretty pleased with what I eventually coaxed out of the chaos, and I’d hope it’s all the better for the time that’s passed since my last go.

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A retro look for the early nineties, the show went truly overboard (nine!) with lights – hundreds of the things, in strands strung from the clock in chevron-esque ‘wings’, which I always presumed was a grandiose (again!) nod to producer Yorkshire TV’s logo-mark, but I could have overthought that. They would even blink when somebody scored the ultimate goal of a nine-letter word – a reward whose manner probably says all that need be said of Countdown.

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With all that flash and the show being at its peak during the nineties, it’s probably the definitive Countdown look for many; it’s certainly the one in which the warmest memories are wrapped up for me, spending half an hour each day in the company of avuncular pun-master and sartorial deckchair, Richard Whiteley and, in the perfect TV/dinner partnership, a bowl of Alphabetti spaghetti. (I think it’s this wistful nostalgia that tricked me into thinking that stuff tasted good!) I’m moved to think of my grandfather excitedly telling me that Countdown was about to start and sitting me on his knee, or asking if I managed to outdo the contestants last time. The answer was always no, but he knew that one day I would figure it out, and, sure enough, I did! Appropriately for a game dominated by a big clock, Countdown over its thirty-five years has forged an affinity with time like no other TV show I can think of – both my grandfather and Richard are now much-missed memories, but they come to mind whenever the music hits. They were happy days.

There are probably several nine-letter words in there.

cd94F2All this being said, it figures that it jarred somewhat when the show was given a makeover, but the flowing locks live on as that thing of unmatched beauty, the victor’s teapot, which takes its form even today.


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I should put this in the Timepiece series – yes, the one I started in September and haven’t added to since; a much-needed kick up the arse for it, let’s hope it works! And it’s not like it’s unjust. The nation can continue without Big Ben, but I wouldn’t fancy our chances if the Countdown clock were silenced, would you!? Long may the clock tick.

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Following on from my attempt at a 3d model of the Atari 2600, in which I had spent some time looking at the console’s gameplay and graphics, I happened across a felicitous piece of software.

Atari FontMaker does as you’d likely expect; it gives you the default character map and allows you to make changes to individual glyphs, creating a custom typeface or a pallette for artwork – perhaps both! It looks as if you can even export your maps in a file that the Atari can use, though with bad memories of BASIC on the Spectrum coming back, I haven’t been compelled to try that just yet. Fortunately, you can export as images, and the program gives you a view to lay down your marks. Above and below is a very quick modification of the default set, with the view above and map below:

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Then came some attempts at making larger display faces from configurations of characters:

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Then, moving on and trying to create some scenery. Sharp lines led me in an urban, industrial direction.

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The format and amount of letter spaces meant that a nighttime city skyline was quite fun to put together, even before implementing colour.

Atarimaker-trianglesI’m sure someone with a more creative and patient mind could whip up some lovely patterns in this software, because that’s one thing even the primitive visuals can’t scupper completely. This has a seafront amusement arcade look about it. It makes you wonder what Sonic’s Casino Night Zone might have looked like on the Atari…

I then tried to be a tad more ambitious, putting together a mountainous landscape replete with birds. This required pretty much the whole set to be tweaked, as can be seen below; the first is how the piece would look under the default set:

Atarimaker-mountainsPerhaps a few too many clouds, but nevertheless it’s probably one of the stronger experiments here.

Atarimaker-sonicSpeaking of Sonic earlier, the above was inspired by his 8-bit outings in the Green Hill Zone – not inspired enough to actually feature him, apparently! It is very green, though, you have to give me that.

I returned to lettering, but geared toward a more stylised finish. A simple start; I quite like its brashness, not sure about the colour:

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The shard-like nature of the above experiment gave me the obvious idea:

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As I said, the obvious progression. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a Crystal Maze game on the Atari. I wonder how it might have looked, had there been…

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…probably better than that!

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Well, if you think Channel 4’s catch-up service is slow today…! This was a must, really, as a throwback to my BASIC exploits of university, wherein I attempted to make a Channel 4 ident that could run on the ZX Spectrum. The greater colour capabilities here meant that the logo came out looking much more impressive.

And, to finish, Mr. Babbage from Family Fortunes and various motorways. Perfect for this format.

Atarimaker-mrbabbageThis was a heap of fun for me, as you might be able to gather by the sheer amount of stuff! It’s always interesting to go back and see what you can squeeze out of technology thought long out of date, attempting to turn the restrictions to your advantage. I think you’re more often than not pleasantly surprised, if not amazed. There is surely much more that can be created with just this program.

Thanks to MatoSimi for putting it together – if you’re interested in trying this for yourself, you can find it here. Have fun.

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Twenty-five years, almost four thousand episodes and goodness knows how many rounds of Susie Dent rifling through the dictionary – that’s no bad thing. There are many good things about Countdown, obviously, but Dent’s unassuming charm is up there with the very best.

I spent considerably less than a quarter-century on this portrait, but hopefully her endearing personality is coming through.

Long may she continue!

interceptor-3BWell, that’s not to get your hopes up – Interceptor isn’t returning. But I’ve been indulging in the show again lately, so the titular villain is back after a double appearance way back in this blog’s early days. I can assure you, he’s still going to track you down by helicopter, he remains very mean and nasty, and his infrared projector continues to work rather like a television remote controller.

I tried to fill this with eighties airbrush zing, opting for standard Photoshop soft brushes, radiance, and a heap of saturation. I actually veered toward this midway through Kate Bush, and since sought out a tutorial on the subject. It’s still not quite there, though; certainly it would have benefited from a stronger sketch (and cut), but I appreciate that it at least looks a little different. Different is good, and it was fun, so it seems worth another bash at a later date. Perhaps the same can be said for Interceptor one day, TV people?

crystalmoss-00How thrilled I was to hear that Richard Ayoade has landed the Crystal Maze gig, with a new series coming later this year. There are many qualities of Richard that I think give him great potential as Mazemaster – a fresh one, too, and not a pale imitation of Richard I (O’Brien). They’ve also recruited James Dillon, designer of the original Maze, to work his magic once more, which is equally exciting. My hopes are high!

futuristic01I don’t normally post works in progress, but this is rather a large work, and so the progression might warrant a change to the usual. After much needless hesitation, I have finally set about recreating the glorious Futuristic Zone of The Crystal Maze in 3D… the proper, cranky Futuristic of the nineties, that is, not the boring white void that is the new Experience’s blueprint. Behold, for what we are looking at is an abandoned space station of the 23rd century…

It made sense to start at the space station’s ‘entrance’ and work from there. You see, it wasn’t just a case of picking where to start and mopping up crystals from there – the teams first had to enter the Maze by passing an obstacle outside their first zone. With Aztec sending people overboard boats, and Medieval putting them gingerly over a rickety portcullis, Futuristic’s ‘answer a Key Stage 2 Science question to unlock the door’ always felt a bit underwhelming, but it did at least allow for a bit of throwaway banter between the host and star of the Futuristic zone, the keeper of knowledge and guard of gateways, The Computer.

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Progress.

An intriguing but outrageous mish-mash of goodness knows how many appliances and cables all welded together, this omniscient contraption certainly was the most time-consuming part of this exercise. I completely under-estimated just how long it would take! It started to deviate from the real deal a little toward the end, but I don’t think that’s too bad a crime  – its essence is there. It was freeing to just throw pieces together, it prevented the process from ever becoming a frustration. It was very therapeutic, actually. There’s more to come of this ilk throughout the zone, so I look forward to doing it again!

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Hmm…!

I’m already spotting important little bits I’ve missed, so there are a few things that need doing before I can move into the zone itself. Three days in, though, this has been a hoot so far – I only hope my own computer, not nearly so powerful as Futuristic’s behemoth, will play ball with enough generosity for me to complete the zone!

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I’m almost finished, look!

More to come in the future, hopefully! This looks to have all the makings of a nice long-term project; I shan’t bore you with minutiae, but will endeavour to log major developments here. For those deprived souls who know not of the Futuristic Zone or even The Crystal Maze altogether, the clip below should give you an idea of what the heck I’ve just been waffling about, and a look into some wonderful set design.

Keep on rockin’!