Nerds of a certain age, rejoice! GamesMaster is back after almost twenty-four years, with a considerably longer running time and considerably fewer nob jokes. What’s more, the legendary Sir Trevor McDonald has succeeded Patrick Moore as the computerised couch potato, the titular Gamesmaster.
There isn’t much more to this little experiment; struck by once again seeing the lovely gothic ‘M’ which has ever adorned the GamesMaster logo, I fancied playing with some similar letterforms. Nerds rejoice once more.
After the usual dithering to start off, it was quite fun trying to create a harder, more angular counterpart to the the traditional flourishes of old English lettering – though, on some occasions, it might have helped to actually deviate from my beloved grid. They look quite brutal and industrious. It may be worth a full-on revisit at some point, perhaps attempting to introduce some curves and arcs.
By the way, the first episode of new GamesMaster is pretty good! Having been let down by so many of these big comebacks, I wasn’t expecting much at all, but they’ve actually done a fine job of not tampering with a winning formula and maintaining the delightfully cringeworthy spirit of the original. Whether such a show needs to exist in 2021 is perhaps up for debate, but there are only three episodes in this series so I say just enjoy it while it lasts!
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.
I began playing with some simple shapes and animations, limiting colour.
Happy results, and certainly a time saver for designs like those above and below.
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!
Post-Christmas Day and pre-new year, I often find myself revelling in old games – even more than usual. This time, WWF No Mercy, the last in an illustrious series of wrestling games made by AKI and THQ for the N64 between 1996 and 2000.
I haven’t played a new wrestling game in over a decade, so I’m not really in a place to judge them against today’s efforts, but I do know that I will still happily play No Mercy and, even back then, I found myself tiring of the successors and returning to it; I can totally understand why many still think it the best wrestling game ever made.
Its strengths were abundant. There were storylines for every championship belt which ran on a clever branching path system, with wins and losses giving you different outcomes – some of these I’ve still yet to see after fifteen years, which speaks of its depth. Money earnt in this mode could be used to purchase extra wrestlers, arenas and other goodies. The game engine was simple to grasp, but very difficult to master, and rewarded strategy; even on easier difficulties, if you were caught being complacent or slow-witted, the computer opponent would capitalise and come at you with all they had, taking you to twenty or thirty minute wars. I remember finding this infuriating as a youngster, but now it just strikes me as perfectly aware of wrestling and the absurd drama that it is. It shouldn’t be a fair fight, and there should be a real sense of reward when you emerge the victor.
I also appreciated the custom creation suite, and how you could not only create your own superstars but edit the appearance of the in-game roster – this was something that wasn’t available in any other game at the time. It meant you could adjust their look in line with their real-life character. With emulation as it is, though, you can now take this a little bit further. Texture modding allows you to put pieces into the game’s graphics that weren’t there previously, meaning that you can effectively create textures for anybody. Having previously attempted a few this with the game’s predecessor, WrestleMania 2000 – of whom, Rick Rude, Andre and 1991 Undertaker stand at the head of this post – I thought I’d have a go with No Mercy now. I found it quite tricky mapping and aligning the textures correctly, since they are, of course, wrapped around the body and distorted accordingly, but I think I’ve finally started to get the hang of it.
And next up, stand back, there’s a Hurricane comin’ through!
Needless to say, there are people who have taken this much, much further than just modding a few faces and outfits. Many have produced entire rosters of superstars, along with the according arenas and sound effects to transform the very much 2000 No Mercy into something quite different – be it the WWF of the eighties, WCW or a pack of movie superheroes and villains. I’m sure people will be playing with this for as long as the game endures.
The aforementioned WWF eighties mod did grab my attention – the HD graphics lifting the visuals, and the passion of its creator is evident – it’s great fun to play!
While we’re talking about wrestling and the classic era: I had a go at some bonus superstars for WrestleFest, too – two Stings and a Bret Hart. As fun as the N64 frolicking was, it was much more relaxing to sit and put some pixels together!
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.
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.
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 but memories, but they come to mind whenever the music hits. They were happy days.
There are probably several nine-letter words in there.
All 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.
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.
The 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.
…Blobby Blobby Blobby! I don’t know whether to apologise to those outside the UK for introducing you to Mr. Blobby, or to those inside the UK for reintroducing you to Mr. Blobby. Perhaps both would be wise.
Mr. Blobby was a fixture of Saturday night TV in the 90s, the sidekick to Noel Edmonds on the hugely popular Noel’s House Party. He was created as part of the ‘Gotcha’ segment – an elaborate prank played on various celebrities, captured for our amusement – but apparently became so popular with the audience that he not only earned his spot on the program as a recurring character, but also spilled out into other avenues.
Like the 1993 Christmas Number One. Yes, that song.
Wikipedia says there was a follow-up in 1995, Christmas in Blobbyland, which bombed in comparison. I genuinely had no idea.
I shouldn’t really criticise the character, though, for I loved Blobby at the time, and seemed to fall for a lot of the merchandise. I had Blobby toys and always used to get cans of Blobby pink lemonade from Woolworths (that’s going back, too). For my second birthday, which would have been just a month after that wonderful song topped the chart, I had a Blobby birthday cake – it was quite a marvel, and it’s lucky I wasn’t older as I probably wouldn’t have let it be eaten otherwise.
Don’t I look impressed?
Blobby’s repertoire of waddling about and saying nothing but “Blobby Blobby Blobby!” did, surprisingly, get stale after a while – eventually the character faded away, much like House Party itself. By the end, the only real enduring feature for me was the Gotcha. The one they played on Richard Whiteley was and remains excellent; on a scale of its own, they rigged and recorded a whole brilliantly nightmarish episode of Countdown with the most troublesome (and flatulent) contestants ever. Astonishingly, only a few minutes ever made it to air, but the uncut recording session is on YouTube. Highly recommended.
How hilarious it is to see Whiteley trying so hard (and failing) to keep patient and salvage the programme right to the end. Mr Blobby didn’t feature – that might have given the game away, even to Richard. But, while most younger than me will likely have very little idea of what on earth this thing is, Blobby continues to crop up here and there, and, for all the foibles I can now observe, the memories of coming together as a family to watch Noel’s House Party on a Saturday evening are, collectively, very fond ones.
Inspired by Charlie, who sadly left these chaps out of his retro toy series – the Speak & Spell and Speak & Maths had to settle for this place instead, turned into 3D models. Building these in Cinema 4D was about as fun as you’d expect.
I grew up in the 90s, but being the youngest of five meant few of my toys were actually new; the majority were inherited from my siblings who grew up in the 70s and 80s. Two such wonders were these (it appears there was also a yellow Speak & Read available, but we didn’t have that, or perhaps it just didn’t survive to 1992). It was an impressive piece of kit for my infant self to play with then, never mind for the kids of the late 70s – it spoke and knew. I used to call it a computer (probably because I wasn’t allowed near our actual computer… and when I did go on it, the printer invariably started smoking. But I digress.) which might not have been so far out as I later thought: as is to be expected by now, YouTube has all the answers. This chap covers everything you could possibly wish to know about the Speak & Spell, so that’s my cue to zip it. Enjoy.
We end our journey through the hellacious parade of Doom beasts with the biggest of them all – the dreaded Cyberdemon. This ghastly, skyscraper-esque, Minotaur cybernetic doesn’t have a left forearm – it has a super action rocket launcher instead. How handy.
The Cyberdemon is not actually the final boss of the game – that honour goes to the Spider Mastermind, who kicked off this little impromptu series here. He does, however, patrol the last level of the second episode, The Shores of Hell, set on Deimos. In a similar setup to the Baron of Hell face-off of episode one, the map Tower of Babel is brisk and quiet – and worryingly generous with armor, stimpacks and ammunition – until you enter a courtyard, and basically run right into this hideous creation. Once awoken, his strides make a booming impact on the ground – the sound of that getting nearer is something you really don’t want to hear.
Well, that’s you over.
Needless to say, if you’re caught off guard, his rocket launcher is going to see you off immediately. I’ve always thought the Cyberdemon tougher to best than the Spider Mastermind – it moved faster, was leaner and thus harder to strike at a safe distance (at least until you discovered how to ‘circle strafe’ – basically, run rings around him firing incessantly, while avoiding the rockets) and had an attack which could seriously wound you even if he didn’t actually hit you – Doom was one of the first games to factor in blast damage for explosive weapons (though the Cyberdemon, tsk, wouldn’t you know it, is immune!) It also has health of 4000%, higher than the Spider Mastermind (3000%) and indeed most of the other enemies put together, so on meeting, be prepared for one almighty onslaught.
With the defeat of the Cyberdemon comes the end of our journey to Hell – I think these four are the most iconic characters of the game. I thought I’d throw them all on a single image, just to give you some idea of the varying scales of each of the monsters covered, as the single portraits don’t necessarily do them justice:
It’s been a lot of fun revisiting a childhood staple of mine (even though it shouldn’t have been such, I know.) and it’s been an enjoyable challenge ‘upscaling’ masses of pixels into a smooth sketch. I might look at other games in the future, though I’m struggling to think of any with such an impressive cast as Doom.
I’m sure you won’t mind me taking you back to the shores of Hell for another encounter with the loathsome Doom troupe; this time, the Cacodemon. With their crown of horns, piercing green eye and mouth a perma-sadistic grin, these were indeed quite the unwelcome beast on first encounter, and every other that followed. I gave him fur, though I’m not sure he’s supposed to be furry. Oh well.
As you can probably gauge by the drawing, this beast does not amble around but instead floats, making evasion all the more difficult while also posing particular irritation if fending off others on ground level. They do not need to get close to mount an attack, either; they can take a chunk out of you with those huge gnashers, but they more often stay at long distance and belch balls of lightning in your direction. I shouldn’t imagine that’ll do you much good.
They’re by no means a ‘boss’ and as such aren’t terribly hard to best with relatively decent weapons, but that certainly doesn’t mean they should go underestimated, especially if facing a pack of them as often happens later in the game.
You’re gonna need a bigger weapon.
In researching the development of the character, I found that the Cacodemon was basically lifted from the cover of the 1987 Dungeons & Dragons book, Manual of the Planes. Interesting to see…
…goodness, it is the Cacodemon! Every day’s a school day. You may also be questioning the etymology of the name (though I doubt you’re much bothered). To be Susie Dent momentarily: The English word ‘cacodemon’ derives from the Greek ‘kakodaimon’, meaning ‘malevolent spirit’, which indeed is very suitable of such a monster. I’d long thought it a play on the general exclamation of the player whenever they appeared – that being, “oh, cack!” – but evidently I was wrong.
No doubt we’ll be making another plunge to the depths and meeting more hideous hellspawn soon.
We’re back in the hellish world of Doom with another of its cast of devilish demons – this time, the Baron of Hell. Known as ‘The Brusier Brothers’ for reasons that quickly become apparent on introduction, a pair of these minotaur-esque clients pose the final challenge of Doom‘s first episode, set on Phobos. If ill-equipped of ammunition or experience, they make a lethal adversary and can easily thrash you with their razor claws and green fireballs.
It was these who gave me surely the scariest moment of my Doom-ing, as I alluded to in my previous Spider Mastermind post. The level is eerily simple – at least on easier difficulties – to an extent that even a six-year old should have sensed that something dreadful was going to happen any moment. Going up a lift, you are taken to a huge star-shaped arena, immediately before a staircase and two large doors. Leave it to me to run happily up to said doors and be greeted with the wonderful consequences.
I’M OUTTA HERE!
The doors open and the beasts behind yell like some sort of murderous bull. That was quite enough for me; off I ran, terrified, missing their putting me out of my misery. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened by a video game before or since (and that includes running into the much larger Doom characters). But hey, I beat them in the next round, which was a very satisfying revenge. After that, I was happy to call it even and move on. I’m not sure the Barons feel the same way, however, as they seem to continue to attempt murder on every encounter, but I’m sure it’s just a game we play. They’re cool.