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“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.

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.

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grounder-1cIt’s been quite some time since I did any vectors, and indeed as virtually all (if not totally all) of my past efforts with paths have been of a Sonic the Hedgehog bent, I thought to carry on the tradition and revisit surely one of the best villains in the entire franchise: Grounder. Such acclaim should not be taken as if Grounder is a calculating, monstrous beast. He isn’t. He is quite adorable though, don’t you think?

Although created by Robotnik in the very first episode of the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon series – which I used to adore as a child, and would get up at six o’clock on Saturday mornings to watch on Channel 4 – to work alongside fellow henchman, Scratch (a giant robot chicken, natch) the mid-90s cartoon series is not his debut. Grounder is actually inspired by a robot villain that appears in 1992’s Sonic 2, patrolling (and destroying) parts of the Aquatic Ruin Zone. The original Grounders were quite menacing in appearance – not nearly adorable or amusing.

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Grounder in Sonic 2, before he became cute.

What perhaps caps off Grounder’s affability is his ineptitude. Built to supposedly be a super robot, Grounder is markedly slow-witted and gullible. A shame really, as he apparently has every weapon, tool and item conceivable inside that turquoise chassis, which he can brandish at will as the situation demands. He even has a telephone in his gut somewhere, which he can reach in and pick up to receive a bollocking from Robotnik when the latest scheme ends in utter failure with (the hugely, infuriatingly irritating) Sonic getting away unharmed.

This being said, there was one particular episode where Grounder mistakenly had a ‘genius chip’ inserted into his brain and, as you’d expect, became super smart, even overruling Robotnik himself. He spoke with uncharacteristic eloquence and kitted himself out in a monocle, mortar board and smoking jacket. This served only to make him more endearing. I believe he lost it clashing with Scratch, where even his genius couldn’t have predicted that he would come to help defeat Sonic.

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Grounder the Genius – surely one of the best characters ever created.

I feel the rest of Grounder’s involvement in any of the wafer-thin plots of these, by and large, pretty terrible cartoons could be summed up with ‘spectacular failure’. The good guys never go down. Loss and being somehow smashed to smithereens may have been a given, but the watchword of ‘The World’s Largest Paperweight’ was perseverance –  he never stopped trying, bless him. And have I mentioned he’s adorable?

This is for Joe.

Here’s Dr. Ivo Robotnik (as opposed to Dr. Eggman, who can leave immediately). I loved the Sonic games growing up, particularly the boss battles that formed the ending of each level; some of the contraptions Robotnik created all to thwart a pesky blue hedgehog were quite a sight to behold. This one, from the finale of Sonic 3, was one of the most terrifying that I can recall, with Robotnik, seemingly defeated, dropping down the background in this monstrous machine, then swooping in from nowhere to grab you with those ginormous hands.

It’s amusing how trivial many of the clashes now seem, what with having played them a million times, but that fantastic boss music ever instills a tingle of panic, just as it did when I was a nipper!

I painted this entirely in Photoshop, attempting to add a little more definition than its pixel counterpart. I feel the metallic texture is poor and needs some sharpening up. If feeling particularly bullish, I might even look at recreating it in 3D at some point.

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I thought that, with some text, it could make a pretty attractive poster. I turned straight to a custom typeface, cut a couple of months ago for something else. It has shades of Constructivist authority within it, while also having the uncertainty and rickety vulnerability of an outrageous villain. It’s, therefore, pleasingly evocative of Dr. Robotnik’s character.

robotnik-4Here’s the finished item… for now. I will return to this; as I say, some areas need improving before I print it out.

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