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I was messing around with a pretty pixel landscape which didn’t get very far, so I decided to start all over again. Taking on board the lessons learnt from an earlier exercise, I just focused on a single element to begin with, seeing where that took me. It was greenery, again, but not confined to conifers this time, I can coniferm.

Attempting to cut corners actually seemed to pay off; I created a round scatter brush and started layering up colour very quickly, trying not to overthink. I like how they came out: fluffy, with a more painterly, dreamy quality than I’m used to. This might be the key to some bigger and better pixel landscapes as the style probably lends itself to a larger scale.

The quaint cottage I originally planned for the scene didn’t materialise – not this time – but last night I didn’t even get past the hedgerow, so I’m branding this a success, whether ya like it or not!

I don’t know where this came from, but I am certainly not opposed to happy accidents or a modicum of inspiration coming from seemingly nothing, which certainly appeared to be the case here. Indeed, that may be abundantly clear to you already.

On a vein not too far removed from my recent posts, I was simply playing with blocks of colour – green blocks of colour this time around. I just started copying and pasting, layering them beside one another, and then it hit me. Conifers. I love conifers and their sturdy, jagged charm, and wanted to see if I could abstract one in pixel using these strips of colour in different ways.

It was more fun than it may look, actually, trying to capture the different species and their marked variation in shape, some slender, some rather rotund. As you can see, I did start to lose some of that abstraction as I went on, experimenting with levels of detail. But I took these and used them as a template for the landscape, which isn’t anything amazing but I’m quite liking how the conifers came out, and the way the different patterns and styles overlap.

Good little experiment though, and much like my recent designs a reminder that sometimes dialling down and focusing on something simple can kickstart productivity. If you have a problem, well, call the copse.

I’ve done lots of pixel art, to the extent that it now seems to have become that thing that I do. While it’s pretty restrictive in some ways – not in a negative way, either – it’s not often that I’ve gone down to the extremes of just two colours with the medium. This grimy urban scene is not so much 8-bit as 1-bit.

With the liberation of not having to worry about selecting colours or palettes, it was an altogether enjoyable exercise, as indeed most design exercises are; the less preliminary panic, the better. The only frustrations came in the nighttime conversion, with the street lights not coming out particularly well. But I do enjoy the side-by-side visual.

This being said, I did use the darkest and lightest colours from the legendary Game Boy here, as well as its screen dimensions. Hopefully my attempts at dithering would give a satisfying result were it to be shown on the handheld.

It rather forces a more stylised approach this way, and I like that. I need that! I’m intrigued to try it again and see how I could get on with a more rural setting. If anything good comes of it, you’ll be the first to know!

I’m surely not alone when I say that music has got me through these crazy times. Old constants have been called upon just that little bit more during lockdown, to the extent that I’ve started to worry if the neighbours hate hearing the same songs over and over. Not that it’s enough to make me actually stop, mind you.

Of course, there are new – and ‘old new’ – earworms popping up all the time. I happened to catch a classic Top of the Pops on BBC Four – they’ve been showing them for about a decade now, starting from 1976 and running from there. They’re now up to late 1990. On said episode, the number one was The Beautiful South with A Little Time and, well, it’s been hard to escape since. I’m not surprised it did well at the time. Anyway, this is why we have this pixel portrait of Briana Corrigan. What a voice! And a feisty lyric, which might explain my colour choices.

Now maybe I’ve done this, I’ll be able to move on. But I doubt it.

I thought the scanlines and EGA palette would give it a suitably 1990 feel. I had been looking for an excuse to use the palette for a while now, and you can probably see why, but nothing has been happening at all lately on the productivity front, until Briana. So, thanks Briana.

Back when I was picked up to work on RetroMania Wrestling, I thought I’d better start practising pixel art. I even devoted an entire category to it on here, as those were the days when I would actually post semi-regularly.

This compelled me to go back to the very process which got me the job – where I took sprites from WrestleFest and tried to turn them into people who weren’t featured in the original game. So, to round things off, here are a selection of practise runs ranging from 2018 to just a few months ago. It was quite fun trying to capture the various likenesses and outrageous costumes – one thing that has dawned on me is that whilst pixel art might look simple on the surface, there’s actually scope for a lot of detail.

As I’ve said before with these, they are NOT RetroMania sprites, sorry if you find this and it gets your hopes up. Most of these guys are off the table for the game, unfortunately. It’s just for practise.

One month on from release, it seems like the game has gone down pretty well, with an 88% positive rating on Steam and various 4-star reviews elsewhere. Yay! I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Thanks to John Blaze for the much needed inspiration with these and, indeed, for recommending me for the RetroMania job in the first place.

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.

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.

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.

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.