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Well, what a beautiful day it was yesterday. Rudely awoken by hailstones banging on the window, it was seemingly nothing but rain and gales for the duration. And it was cold. You know things are out of hand when I’m in a jumper.

It did, however, lead me back to my beloved stormy scenes, and this time I headed to the coast, as I imagine things were pretty dramatic out in the North Sea. There surely isn’t a more treacherous bracing place to be in such conditions. I don’t think I’ve ever focused on the sea before; certainly it’s been a long time if I have. Time to fix that.

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Back to a more local setting, and facing the other way; a most welcome sight on the coast would be the lighthouse:

broads-16-winterton-01Making waves was more of a challenge than anticipated, but a lot of fun with it – now I’m wanting to hear them crash, whatever the weather! Got your sea legs?

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darrenhayes-3The term ‘earworm’ emerged in the late seventies and refers to music so memorable that it becomes something of a fixture. I’m sure we’ve all encountered them: the tunes and lyrics dancing in your mind and refusing to stop.

It’s good to talk, and so here’s a little about my latest episode. I was in the car recently when To The Moon & Back by Savage Garden played on the radio. I’m sure I haven’t heard this song since the late nineties, where I remember it being ubiquitous, and quite enjoying it; well, it seems determined to make up for lost time. I’ve given up trying to shake it!

Perhaps an indication of how serious an affliction this is, we have a portrait of lead singer Darren Hayes. A pretty quick one, I hasten to add. He looks a little sterner than I set out – sorry, Darren – perhaps he’s irked I haven’t been listening to him for twenty years – sorry, Darren. Of course, I opted for sunglasses to hide the features and emphasise the aural impact of our subject’s song… and if you’ll buy that, you’ll buy anything! It was a combination of wanting to include shades and not being in the mood for eyes.

This isn’t really a bad thing, of course. I’m so glad that such magnetic melodies exist. Darren has a great voice, one I’m finding both refreshing and headily nostalgic, and I’ll quite happily take this as defence against an impending deluge of Slade, John Lennon and the usual ‘festive’ suspects ad finitum. They’re the ones you need be wary of. No, I’ll stick with Savage Garden, thanks Noddy.

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With a swift spot of twitching this evening, I found my way to the cormorant. Expert waterfowl with a preference for coastal areas, you’ll find plenty perched about the Broads, using high branches as a lookout or settled atop the sails of windmills to dry their wings before the sun. Brograve Mill in particular almost looks wrong without its watchful residents.

My second drawing was referenced from a daylight shot, but I dialled it up somewhat and went for almost silhouette with saturated colour; trouble was, this led to further dallying and switching hues around. I couldn’t decide which to show, so here’s both of them – at least they are apparently enamoured with one another…

I’m sure there will always be room for more birdwatching, broadland or otherwise. Watch this space.

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The idea that I’m playing with windmills on a regular basis probably won’t surprise any friend of this blog.

This week it was reported that £4million is being pumped into the Water, Mills and Marshes project. Among other pursuits afforded by the grant, twelve derelict mills are set to be cleaned up, restored with the assistance of mind-bending 3D laser technology and, most importantly, preserved for the future.

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So, in response to such happy news, here’s an assortment of old mill and pump studies, 2D and 3D, given a splash of colour and some Photoshop filters. They might not have found a place in my postings over the last couple of months, but they certainly come together here, in celebration of these beautiful structures.

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I’m not sure quite how far the grant money will stretch, but perhaps, in years to come, there will be a few more sights like this about the Broads. Here’s hoping!

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At the risk of developing square eyes, another attempt at computing modelling using a computer, and moving into the eighties we have the legendary ZX Spectrum, developed by one Clive Sinclair. Released in the spring of 1982 to enormous demand, the Spectrum championed rubber-keyed home computing, and at an affordable price; the launch model sold for £125, significantly cheaper than virtually any competitor of the day. It quickly became Britain’s best-selling computer and would go on to perform just as well across Europe.

I believe the +2, a 128k revision released in 1986 which I’ve attempted to model here, was our first home computer – though, sadly, I don’t think things got off to a great start. It can’t have had a particularly impressive lifespan, as my only recollection of it was broken in a container gathering dust, while the later +2A model was wowing the family with the likes of Trap Door, OutRun and Blockbusters. This successor seemed to power on valiantly until it was thought obsolete circa 2000 and, criminally, disposed of.

I wasn’t ever allowed near it that much – I barely knew how to use it anyway – but I do have vivid memories of sitting and watching others play these games; games that weren’t on a par with visual quality to our snazzy 16-bit consoles that I could play, but were still engaging, and in some ways felt more fun. The bright colours surely helped, and perhaps being branded unworthy of touching the thing alone did, too… but I’m sure there was more to it than that, for its impact hasn’t lessened in twenty years of my time, nor thirty-five years of technological progress.

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One of the Spectrum’s biggest triumphs was melding the computing and gaming offering, going one step further and encouraging enthusiasts to create their own games, aided by bespoke software and publications. Magazines would print reams of code on a regular basis. I daresay a large number of today’s programmers cut their teeth on the Speccy, and that introductory element, tapping into the creativity of its audience in such a way surely goes some way to explain why its users remember it so fondly.

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With such enduring features on its side, the Spectrum had a long life and saw off most of its contemporaries from the early eighties. It was discontinued in 1992, after multiple refreshes and revisions, though games would continue to trickle out in some regions for a couple of years. This being said, the machine is far from dead; the community thrives, and excitingly you will find homebrew games are still being put together to this day. Proof, if ever it were needed, that there is something magic about the ZX Spectrum.

ZXSpectrumplus2_0049AI do hope you can see some visual improvements in these renders. I’ve finally figured out how to operate the depth of field tools and capabilities! It’s something I was a little daunted by, blindly changing configurations and hoping for the best, but already it’s throwing out some promising aesthetics, giving scenes a far greater physicality. The keys may be way off, but the effect is nice, so that’s okay! It’s a great tool to have at my disposal as I continue ambling through this modelling lark.

One of the games I remember very clearly from back in the day is Batman The Movie, based on Tim Burton’s first outing with the Caped Crusader. I still love its soundtrack. It’s still bloody hard!

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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.

atari2600-1Now we can play Pong at home!

With another veritable brainwave, I decided to have a look at some home computers and consoles for 3D inspiration. There isn’t really a better starting point than the Atari VCS, or, as it was later known, the Atari 2600.

A response to the increasing popularity of arcade games like the aforementioned table tennis simulation, Atari invested $100 million into the development of this home system prior to its eventual release in September 1977. It was introduced at a price of $199.99, which sounds relatively reasonable, until you factor in forty years of inflation. This is equivalent to almost eight hundred dollars today! Such might explain why sales were decidedly modest to begin with. Eventually, though, the console gained momentum, and at its peak in 1982 sold over eight million units, the first machine to do such impressive business and prove demand for home gaming beyond any doubt.

atari2600-2Though there were many highlights, with a string of arcade hits improved for making the jump to cartridge and colour, complicated hardware coupled with the increasing demand and saturation of the video game market in the early eighties saw individual titles suffer, with many being rushed if not scrapped altogether. Perhaps the most notable example of such a rush job is E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a colossal failure and regarded by many as the worst game ever made. While I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, I have played it, and can confirm it is indeed quite the experience.

All of this being said, the 2600 was incredibly resilient. It comfortably outlived many of its technically superior contemporaries – games were still being made in the early nineties, well into the 16-bit era, and of course nostalgia prevails to this day. A fitting tenure and legacy for the console that, however rough around the edges, surely started it all. Pretty fun to model, too.

atari2600-3Fancy a game? Here’s some footage of E.T. for you. You’re welcome.