Archive

Graphics

Well, it’s out on Steam anyway. Console releases are to follow, but shouldn’t be too long coming. Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be RetroMania if everything went smoothly.

Also, if you happen to have $800 to blow, you can get the RetroMania IIrcade cabinet!

Anyway, yay! It has been fun binging on gameplay videos over the last few days. All I really did was the character sprite art, but, in the days leading up to Friday’s release I found myself feeling quite nervous for Mike as this was really his baby; it has been in the works as a commercial entity for just over two years, but prior to that he’d been working on it as a hobby for several more. I am thrilled to see the reaction has been mostly positive, and hopefully that bodes well for future content – more superstars, more match types and more playability. With a community behind this game, the sky really is the limit. Or, at least, the skies not patrolled by WWE or AEW.

If you think you’re up to the challenge, grab RetroMania Wrestling and let the team know what you think!

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.

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!

Yes, what the title says. But this Halloween was a bumper night of retro thrills for me. I watched The Shining for the second time ever (and I still have so many questions, but we shan’t address those as I don’t want to spoil a forty year old film for you). Later, the early hours were spent watching a livestreamer play through the original Doom on the highest difficulty, and with fast monsters enabled. Even if you’ve never seen or played Doom, that should be self-explanatory. Anybody who has played Doom will know that the enemies move and attack pretty darn fast to begin with, and that fast monsters is very close to reaching bullshit territory. But it was oh so entertaining to watch.

It’s a game that I’ve written about several times over the years I’ve kept this blog, and will probably come to again at some point in the future. The legacy it holds is on a scale rarely seen, and the  development and its deceptively simple mechanics continue to fascinate me. Over twenty years since my first playthrough on the much-maligned 32-X port, there are still phases where I play it regularly.

One of those phases occurred recently, hence the ZX Spectrum treatment. Of course, Doom began its life on the PC in 1993 and was ported to just about everything, but – and who would have thought? – the ZX Spectrum was not on that list. And not just because the system was discontinued a year earlier. Had things been different, I suppose a 2D, Robocop style game might have been an option, but it wouldn’t have been Doom. Doom is all about the bleak atmosphere and the desperate exploration; the intimidation of dark halls and the sound of demons getting louder as they close in on you. A platformer version adorned in cyan and magenta probably wouldn’t have pulled that off particularly well.

This being said, a port did arrive on the Spectrum, kind of: an unofficial, fan-made project surfaced in the late nineties, comprising a few levels and a selection of the monsters. And it did try to mimic the original’s visual. Impressive though it is, I’ve never been able to watch a playthrough for more than a couple of minutes, and I defy anybody to navigate the searing maze with their eyesight intact. Such are the dear Speccy’s limitations. I feel that more or less sums up what an official Spectrum Doom would have been like; ‘hellish’ seems a fitting descriptor.

As a bonus treat, I thought I’d try and convert the legendary At Doom’s Gate, Bobby Prince’s soundtrack to the very first level, into something that might have been doable even on the Spectrum 48K. I emphasise the ‘might’, as I’m far from an expert on sound and feel there are probably too many channels running at one time (four). Either way, my thanks to shiru8bit on Reddit for compiling the soundfont used here to rip and tear through such an iconic tune. Mmm… strident.

When I started working on the Super Loop on Top called Colorado, I realised I was probably going to have to create some appropriate scenery for the backdrop. Hence, deserts, rock structures and mountain peaks were the order of the day, with a splash of waves and rapids to suit the water jets on the ride… a feature I ultimately didn’t include anyway. The ensuing studies and developments were, suitably, quite a rocky bunch; as per usual, it didn’t take me long to go completely off-brief. Here are some of the diversions that were taken.

The turquoise sky piece did actually find its way into the ride, adorning the control/ticket booth. Chiefly because I like turquoise.

Really, the only reason any of the above have made it onto my blog is because I transplanted the circuitry from my previous post and started concocting a similar landscape. The result – a series of cyber mountain ranges. I rather appreciate the dystopian, Doom-esque aesthetic. For me, they’re the peak.

A change of pace from the Norfolk Broads, anyhow.

In a previous lettering post, I mused on the idea of taking sharp, industrial forms and giving them a Gothic influence. That’s how this succeeding project began, but, as you can probably tell, I ended up in quite a different place. Maybe I’ll revisit that someday.

This time, I ended up with circuit boards after discovering a ready-made model of one in C4D. They are fascinating to look at, with their intricate tracks within a city of components – even now, there’s a futuristic feel about them. Perhaps a touch of retro-futuristic too, as I remember marvelling at the board from our original ZX Spectrum as it sat broken in a container for years.

I ripped the bump map texture from the 3D model and started cutting it up into letters; not much to see there originally, so I started cutting my own letters. using the board as a guide. That’s how the header came about. The Photoshop threshold effect gave it a nice printed edge, which I thought an interesting juxtaposition. Furthermore, it pushed me back into my favoured position of monochrome goodness:

Though, I did pull myself away momentarily to try and give the impression of a letter-shaped tracking.

Eventually though I returned to the threshold effect, but using green! I worried that black and white tracks to this extent might become migraine fuel for you (and me). The letters are also inverted to help with contrast.

I suppose the next step (or likely the first step for any logical human being) would be to actually create a circuit board layout with the corresponding letter imprinted on it, rather than overlapping textures in the shape of the letter. It’s worth a shot. It’s always worth a shot. But I do think what we have here is a nice novelty. With my time so much less than before, I’m quite happy for anything to jump out in an evening, like this has.

As for why I chose the name Computer over Circuit, Circuitry or something more relevant – eh. At least I got a few more unique letters out of my choice.

It’s that rare time once again where I can actually sit down and cut some letters. I feel like every time I moan about not having the time for it, but I suppose it  at least makes me enjoy the process a little more.

Anyway, this time – and for whatever reason – I went for a fusion of steampunk and industrial forms. Indeed, ‘fusion’ ended up being the operative word for this project, as I then began cutting the final alphabet up and, well, fusing them together (in Photoshop, and quite badly… but it, er, adds a slapdash charm to the thing, right?). I do like to do this, although my tutors back in the day would probably have considered it indecision or a lack of confidence. They might have been right, but oh well! It enables alternatives to be substituted in, and I don’t really see that variation as a negative. I even ended up with a gothic-tinged M made from a B and two overlapping As, which you can see in the gallery below. These are the fruits of the iterative process. Perhaps I could attempt an ‘industrial gothic’ face in the future?

Lots of bulky, rigid slabs here with some Channel 4-esque blocks thrown in to make these weird letter machines, but I did make a conscious effort to try and include some rounded forms for appropriate letters, something I was initially going to avoid. They are probably the weakest of the set, but forcing myself to try was better than chickening out, and the S actually turned out alright.

It was after all this smooshing and fusing that I came up with the name: Bits + Bobs…

..but don’t let the cutesy name fool you; they can still look rather brash when blown up. I even tried linking the forms up to create a more literally mechanical feel.

Well, if I routinely complain about not having the time to do this more often, then I surely finish with a comment about how fun it was. But it’s true! Once a semblance of concept emerges, the time just flies by.

GYps-ls-10It’s a part of Great Yarmouth you probably won’t find on a travel brochure.

To those familiar with the town, I realise that doesn’t narrow things down much. But I’m still talking about the seafront. Venture beyond the gaudy glow of the Golden Mile, past the joyous screams of the Pleasure Beach, and you’ll enter the grimy soup of Yarmouth’s docklands.

That’s not to say there aren’t some points of interest hidden in this maze. There’s Nelson’s Monument, which sticks out like the sorest of thumbs surrounded by warehouses and factories. There’s the gasometer whose Victorian detail is juxtaposed by the stern efficiency of its neighbours. There’s the much-hyped outer harbour, where the massive cranes were shipped in from Singapore and never used, so were shipped back.

Back in the day, an enormous oil power station loomed over the scene, and indeed much of Norfolk. Its 360ft chimney was the tallest structure in the county. Eyesore? Very fair to think so, but it does seem fondly remembered by many, and as a child it got a free pass from me just for being so huge. I remember the skyline appearing empty after its demolition. The modern-day successor is smaller and surely far more efficient, but doesn’t have nearly the appeal, blending into the vicinity by comparison.

I found some old photatos of the station recently, which drove the inspiration for these pieces. As commanding as it was in reality, I discovered it isn’t a whole lot of fun to draw. This started out as a ‘straight’ digital painting, as you can see below – it’s not finished, and a glitchy pixel effect has been added in a desperate bid to give it some life.

powerst01Side note: riding along this road always gave me the creeps as a child. Sitting on the passenger side, you’re so close to the river that you can’t see any road or indeed ground beneath you, just the murky water of the Yare. Never has the name Riverside Road been more appropriate.

Anyway, with that painting not really working out, I switched to 3D to create some flat (because of course you do) pieces and obeyed a grid in trying to capture the area’s packed and stacked geometry. They’re still not terribly interesting, but there’s a lot more going on than the painting, and any hint of simplifying or abstracting is good practice in my book – or blog, I suppose.

GYps-ls-05

pixelpractise-INTERCEPTOR-02As long-standing readers of this blog may know, I like Interceptor. In fact, I’ve come to think it’s one of the best game shows ever made; throwing a villain into the game show equivalent of orienteering was a stroke of genius, and Sean O’Kane made sure we would never forget such a character. He’s the uber-ham, and that means he’s brilliant. His performance actually makes it impossible to root for the contestants.

Of course, Interceptor‘s life was criminally short, with ITV ditching the programme after only eight episodes. It’s a decision that makes me a little mad, especially when one thinks of all the mileage left in the Interceptor running (or hovering) around being an arse, branding presenter Annabel Croft an ‘onionhead’ and scaring the life out of the jolly hockey sticks contestants. Those eagle screams are probably still echoing across the countryside.

Its premature termination also means we never got the slew of merchandise that accompanied popular game shows of the time. We never got the disappointing board game, we never got the disappointing zapper toy which did not work rather like a television remote controller, and, circling around to this post, we never got the disappointing computer game. That makes it a prime candidate for my loading screen treatment, so, here are my attempts at a loading screen for Interceptor on the Spectrum. It most likely would have been the best part of the experience. That being said, I would love to hear a Speccy or Commodore 64 rendition of the theme tune.

pixelpractise-INTERCEPTOR-03

sonic-loading-01Sonic on the Spectrum. Can you imagine the fun as our spiny hero spins through the labyrinthine zones at supersonic speeds, navigating loop-the-loops and seeing off hordes of robotic obstacles en route to thwarting Robotnik’s latest sinister scheme? (and yes, I do still call him that because that’s his name!!!) Can you imagine the fun, all packed onto one super cool blue cassette?

No, me neither.

But I’ve been on something of a Sonic nostalgia hit lately – it happens every once in a while. I tried to make a 3D model of Dr. Robotnik, with hilarious results – I shan’t be uploading that any time soon. Hence, we have a Sonic loading screen, Spectrum style. I realise now that I did something similar back in November with André the Giant’s mug, but this time I used a full colour pallette. Well, full colour as far as the Spectrum is concerned. That’s fifteen colours. And I didn’t even use them all.

My biggest failing here was going in all leisurely and not really bothering about one of the Spectrum’s biggest artistic challenges: colour clash. The Spectrum cannot handle more than two colours in the same 8×8 pixel tile, of which the game screen is made up; should that occur, the more prominent colour will take precedence. While generally easy to avoid in still images (if you’re more awake than I clearly was, anyway), it can rear its head frequently during gameplay, with anything animated changing colour depending on which part of the background it’s up against.

Anyway, I decided I should probably sort it out, and so I turned to the handy Image2ZXSpec application to convert my finished drawing to Spectrum mode, and spent a while whittling the clashes down. If you’re really bored, you can play spot the difference with the top and bottom and see what I had to change. It’s still not perfect, but I think it’s about as good as it can get without starting again. Still a really fun process though. I always seem to enjoy working to the constraints of this machine, and I am not surprised to see many others are to this day creating similar things.

sonic-loading-04zxB