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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.

Today I discovered that it’s thirty years since The Undertaker made his WWF debut. As the mystery man making up “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s team at Survivor Series, this was a character that was probably going to go one of two ways. As it was, Taker enjoyed instant success and despite being introduced as an evil, undead beast doing Paul Bearer’s bidding, crowds bought into it so much that they wanted to see him, and began cheering for him. The rest is history and, as Bobby Heenan would cry on commentary, “long live The Undertaker!”

Here’s a little thing to mark the anniversary. In preparation for RetroMania, I started taking WrestleFest sprites and attempting likenesses of various wrestlers, as I’ve posted on here previously (indeed, it was that post which got me the job!). The Undertaker was one of these experiments; really, it’s a surprise he’s not in the game to begin with, though its 1991 release means he may have debuted a little too late for it. With such a progression in outfits and styles, it was a lot of fun in the good old pixel style.

As if the watermark weren’t large enough, I feel the need to reiterate that The Undertaker is NOT in RetroMania Wrestling. Sorry if I got your hopes up!

What a shock it was to hear of Joe Laurinaitis – Road Warrior Animal – passing away last week. Together with Hawk, he formed The Road Warriors, who are probably among the most celebrated tag teams in the history of professional wrestling. With their striking face-paint, spiked shoulder pads and dominant presence, you weren’t going to forget this pairing in a hurry. Sure enough, they were stars all over the world, wherever they went.

I vividly remember seeing them for the first time. It was when I was about ten; I used to buy lots of second-hand WWF tapes on the cheap, usually fairly recent pay-per-view events. One day, I plumped for an old one, likely because it was at the bottom of the pile and thus hardest to retrieve. That tape was SummerSlam 1992, which, on buying, I did not know emanated from Wembley Stadium. Animal and Hawk, then known as The Legion of Doom, were featured early in the event. The sight of their entrance, on motorbikes with their golden shoulder pads shining in the afternoon sun, was something special. Of course, the crowd were absolutely crazy for them, too – even more when Animal pinned ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase for the victory. It was hard not to get caught up in it all. Indeed, I was left wishing they had stayed with the WWF long enough to be there when I was a viewer; there were lots of young, up and coming teams around that time, and the Legion of Doom could have made the perfect ‘old guard’ to help them reach the next level.

It is sad to lose yet another guy I used to watch a lot, and young too – he only recently turned sixty. Just last year, I worked on his likeness for RetroMania Wrestling, which was something I never expected to be doing – a shame indeed that he will not see the finished product. Everyone seems to have remarked on how great and approachable he was and, I have to say, I always got that impression, despite the menacing façade. I have no doubt the legacy of the Road Warriors will continue to grow, even more legendary than before, for they made quite a name for themselves while snacking on danger, and dining on death.

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I’ve been gaming a lot more than creating lately – unforgivable, I know. But it did, at least, lead me to our subject: wrestler Shelton Benjamin.

A young Benjamin decided against training for the Olympics to become a professional wrestler. He signed with the WWF in 2000, and made his debut on television a couple of years later. This was at the tail-end of my watching wrestling – I was far too big and grown-up for it by then, of course. It was just silly. Whilst there was an element of that, I think a bigger factor was that I was starting to admire certain superstars in a different way; newcomer Shelton was no exception, his impressive figure squeezed into a royal blue singlet. It was confusing and scary in equal measure, but I think we can safely say it’s no longer either of those things.

On a less shallow note, I remember Shelton as a pure and gifted athlete, though, such were the times our paths crossed, I don’t know an awful lot about his career. He enjoyed multiple tag and Intercontinental title runs, upset Triple H once in a great match, and there was an incredible moment where he leapt off the top rope into a super kick from Shawn Michaels which looked, as the youth of today would say, sick. As this is not part of a series from two years ago, we’ll move swiftly on. What I do know is that he’s an avid gamer, often challenging fans at conventions, and art lover. All of this made him a natural choice. I hope you approve, Shelton. I recently made a new texture brush, and used it here – swifter movements brought about some promising results at first, but, characteristically, I found a way to overwork it, the face in particular. There’s a likeness, though, so we’ll run with it.

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I haven’t drawn André the Giant for a while – nor anybody, for that matter! Hashtag ring rust. Much of my time lately has been spent trying to teach myself coding, as it seems pretty key and I thought it a logical next step. But this is an experience and tragedy story for another time.

My latest André was inspired by the HBO documentary on his life and career which, two years in the making, premiered stateside last week. Hopefully it’ll find its way to us soon; the reception from what I’ve seen has been overwhelmingly positive – and this is from a notoriously tough crowd – so, apprehensions allayed, I’m really looking forward to it, and it seems like I can recommend it already! It’s nice to see André getting due recognition; hopefully, the legend, myth and mystique surrounding this unique character will pique the interest of a new generation.

WWFbig-repoman6And now for something a little different – the same, but different. Wanting to wrest a bit more character out of a portrait, I began cutting up references in Photoshop, enlarging and warping certain bits and bobs to try and guide me. With that focus, I turned back to the stars of the wrestling ring, and Repo Man, aka Barry Darsow aka Demolition Smash. The epitome of early nineties WWF silliness, you couldn’t ask for a better guinea pig!

First spotted skulking around the ring in autumn 1991, Repo Man, replete with domino mask and long coat, would predominantly play out in a series of vignettes, in which he repossessed or outright stole items from members of the public. On one shocking occasion, he even stole the psychedelic hat of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, something I’m sure fans would never forget. His trusty tow rope came in handy not just for his occupation but for in-ring action, too, as he’d tie up his defeated foes and even repossess them. Such antics incurred the ire of big men like British Bulldog and Crush, who seemed to power over Repo Man with ease in their respective feuds. Repo very quickly became a jobber, but a hilarious one, and that’s all that matters.

Curiously, it was intended for the character to start doing good deeds and become a heroic role model, but when the plans were shelved, Darsow quit in 1993. Surely for the best, as the character just screams dastardly comic book villain, and it’s probably better remembered for being exclusively that.

This is the first piece I’ve completed in quite a while – it hasn’t been an especially productive start to the year. But this was fun and, as a process, felt fresh – maybe more on this vein to come. I just think perhaps the heads need to get bigger!

cesaro-04A very happy new year to all! I hope it has started as you mean it to continue, and long may you continue to visit and make this little community a fun one.

I thought a suitably joyous way to kick off proceedings in 2018 – and my 250th post, as it happens – would be to accept a blog award, something I haven’t done for some time. Just before Christmas, Dernhelm kindly nominated me for the Unique Blogger Award. If you want some awesome illustrations, a visit is heartily recommended!

My accompanying portrait doesn’t really have anything to do with the award, but after such an honour I thought I’d treat myself. The charming Cesaro, formerly known as Very Mysterious Ice Cream – which might be the best ring name ever – certainly qualifies on that score. He’s unique in his own right, for not only for is he the first Swiss wrestler to come to prominence in WWE, but he’s surely the only grappler with a vlog all about coffee – or, at least, he used to. Little appears to remain these days, but it looks like it was hilarious.

I now have to pick up to thirteen bloggers upon which to bestow this very same honour. It’s always so difficult! Obviously there are hundreds of candidates for this – I’d say all the blogs I visit are unique. In trying to be fair, I did generally go for people I haven’t shared on previous awards, so please forgive me if your blog shouldn’t appear.

Drum roll, please… your nominees are:

And the winner is …

Everyone! Yay!

Now, we come to the part of the evening where, sozzled though we may be, we have to soldier on and, for a laugh, answer the questions that Dernhelm has left for me. Lord knows I love interviews!

1 – IF YOU COULD DESCRIBE YOUR BLOG IN ONE WORD, WHAT WOULD THAT ONE WORD BE?
Panic!

2 – WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR FREE TIME (BESIDES BLOGGING)?
Panic! And then go for a walk.

3 – DO YOU READ BOOKS? ANY FAVOURITE GENRE(S)?
Panic! I fear we’ve been over this in previous award ceremonies. I struggle to read very often, and, at best, stick to verse. ‘Less is more’, and all that carry on. Most recently I picked up an anthology of War poetry, but such a context proved – perhaps unsurprisingly – to be a bit heavy, and I haven’t got very far. I should probably stick to nonsense.

As per the rules of this award, I have to now ask all nominees three questions of my own. I will keep mine pretty similar to those above, and because I’m feeling a bit dull, I’ll keep it strictly business:

  • Which one word do you think best describes your blog?
  • Is there a post you’re particularly proud of and would like to reshare?
  • Have you any grand goals for your blog/practice this year?

And, of course, the spirit of the award means nominees should also go ahead and nominate thirteen others, ask questions of their own etc. etc. As usual, there is no obligation to do that, or anything at all because I have said so. Go your own way! But indeed, my thanks once more to Dernhelm, congratulations to all nominees, and big thanks to all for your patience! See you at the after-party, which I was told is down there somewhere…

N64-compilation2Post-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.

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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.

Here are just a couple, firstly for “The Model” Rick Martel:

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And next up, stand back, there’s a Hurricane comin’ through!

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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!

wrestlefest-2While 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!

WWF-RING0021In one of those ‘why didn’t I try this years ago?’ moments, I thought I’d have a go at modelling a WWF wrestling ring, replete with the classic blue bar steel cage of the eighties and nineties.

Back in those days, this was as risky as the product got; the scores of ring technicians scuttling around the ring slowly setting up the structure meant something big was coming up. The denouement. Its relative low frequency coupled with the old routine of longer, slow-burn storylines made the confines of the cage a perfectly powerful climax. Even as the show grew edgier, its legacy maintained a presence.

WWF-RING0018Naturally, the ring itself came first. The WWF’s ‘squared circle’ was and still is larger than your average ring, at 20ft x 20ft. Having the dimensions available online made this a lot less daunting.

Texturing here, specifically the placement of logos, took longer than it probably should have at this stage, but once I’d figured it out, it was fun putting multiple candidates onto the ring apron, and the overhanging flag. Some worked better than others…

Rage in the Cage was not a title of a legitimate WWF event – at least, not to my knowledge – but a wrestling game for the ill-fated MegaCD. Indeed, it might have been the only wrestling game on the platform. (It wasn’t very good!)

I did have a go at some lighting rigs, mostly for the Cloth flag, but also to try and replicate that classic effect of the long streaks from the dizzy heights which seem to add so much to the spectacle (along with the relentless camera flashes, which are much missed whenever I catch newer clips). I did think better of trying to build and render an entire stadium. Perhaps this particular match up just hasn’t drawn as hoped? Or maybe it’s an Empty Arena Cage match?

WWF-RING0019It looks a little toylike and plastic in places, no doubt because of my texturing. I suppose such an aesthetic is not necessarily a bad thing; nine-year old me would have loved a blue cage for my wrestling ring play-set!

WWF-RING0020Several options from the blue bars era that spring to mind, but I’m choosing this 1988 clash pitting André the Giant against Hulk Hogan; not only because it was the culmination of their legendary feud of eighteen months, but it also features one of my favourite commentators’ lines, from the ever-reliable Lord Alfred Hayes as The Giant starts his climb to victory:

“Gosh, look at André!! He’s like some huge prehistoric creature up there!”

Classic.

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“It’s the irresistible force meeting the immovable object!”

Thirty years ago today, the most memorable stare-down in the history of professional wrestling took place in the middle of the Pontiac Silverdome, before some eighty thousand fans. At WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s flag-bearer throughout its global expansion of the eighties, was pitted against André the Giant, the icon and star of the seventies.

As the current legacy of WrestleMania behoves a generous amount of nostalgia, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, while obviously hugely important, I and II were not much to write home about, feeling more like glorified house shows with Mr. T and Ozzy Osbourne shoe-horned in. WrestleMania III, from the opening shot, feels different, progressive and special, not least for the iconic venue and raucous crowd. There were other touches, too; I particularly like how the wrestlers don’t walk the long aisle, but travel via a cart dressed as a miniature ring. High above and almost floating over the sea of humanity, the performers come off looking like bona fide stars.

André had been considering retirement the year prior; complications of acromegaly were contributing to a steady decline in his mobility. A huge star in overseas promotions, he actually worked retirement matches in Mexico and Japan, before the question of North America came up, where he hadn’t wrestled in months. It was during his time in England shooting The Princess Bride that he was tempted into the match by Federation boss, Vince McMahon – but not before surgery on his back in an effort to relieve his pain.

The Giant would return to WWF television in January 1987, turning evil, aligning himself with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan – right-hand man of countless Hogan rivals – and challenging for the title. Prior to the big match, they would only meet on one occasion, during a twenty-man battle royal, where the nasty Giant ejected Hulk with considerable ease. Coupled with claims that André had gone undefeated for fifteen years, Hulkamaniacs were probably quaking in their boots more than ever before. They cared. Looking back now, the storyline was executed so simply, but therein is its beauty; overdoing it was not necessary with such awesome characters. The buzz was off the scale.

Of course, with Hogan a limited wrestler at best, and André clearly in poor condition, the WrestleMania III match is not a five-star classic, to say the least. But, from the two locking eyes as the bell rings, to the moment Hogan lifts Andre up and slams him en route to victory, there is no clearer an example of how little that matters. For sheer spectacle, I can’t think of another match that really comes close; I first saw it at the age of twelve, seventeen years after the event – I’ve watched it countless times since, and it still has that special feeling. Testament to the moment’s totemic importance is the sheer number of times such a stand-off has been referenced, if not outright emulated – but never has it had quite the same impact as Hogan versus André, where The Giant generously passed the torch to the new ‘number one’, and the wrestling boom reached its apex, thirty years ago today.