Creative Computer Graphics (1984)

Some original material here, as scanned from ‘Creative Computer Graphics’ (Cambridge University Press, 1984) this one I came across whilst searching through the Google Books archives, and intrigued I decided to order a hard copy. Google Books by the was is well worth a look, countless printed publications are logged and categorized dating from recent to way back. Most modern titles are subject to copyright so show just a selection of internal pages, but this is plenty to gain a flavour and if you have 10 mins to burn, I highly recommend a trawl through.

Creative Computer Graphics  - The Last Starfighter

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The Virtual Art of 80′s Game Worlds

Sci-Fi-O-Rama presents an analysis and artistic appreciation of five pioneering 8-bit and 16-bit computer games.

The era is the mid to late 80′s, a period fabulously rich in gaming concepts and innovation as developers frantically sought to grasp, harness and subsequently wring every last nanogram of creativity from the available platforms of the day. Each title here contained – for the time – an array of groundbreaking ideas and technologies. What else connects them? well of course I played them way back when and thus they are in some way or another forever burned into the hazy mists of my subconscious.

I’ve been mulling over this one for a while but wasn’t sure quite how to start, hence the recent posting log jam. I wanted to compose an extended retro game feature, but not just to give a rose tinted review of gameplay or mechanics. Here then is a more focused look at the visuals themselves, what fascinated back then and what us still so beautiful and relevant today, 2012.

1. Midwinter (1989) Microplay – Amiga/Atari St/IBM-PC

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The Art of the Arcade Machine Marquee (1)

Alien Syndrome Marquee

Sinistar Marquee

Commando Marquee

Asteroids Marquee

Tempest Marquee

Crystal Castles

Zaxxon Marquee

Galaxian Marquee

Galaga Marquee

Bosconian Marquee

Rastan Marquee

A selection of Coin-Op/Arcade Machine “Marquees” beaming gloriously in brash 80′s technicolor… Marquees (in case you didn’t know) are used to illuminate the name of an arcade game at the top of its cabinet.

Stopping with a friend recently I was reminded with just how amazing this art is as he has a small selection of these marquees as fridge magnets! and I haven’t featured any Coin Op / Pinball design for a while, so figured it was about time to run an update…

So what makes this Art so cool? for me it’s the punchy low palettes & comic-type colouring, mix this up with super striking Logotypes and the fact of course that the whole thing is designed to be backlit! It’s actually worth pointing out that I worked in a seaside arcade as a 16 year old, in retrospect it’s obviously mcuh more than just the game themselves that made a major impact me… My Favourite ever Coin-Op’s ? Turbo Out Run, Aliens, Rolling Thunder and Special Criminal Investigation aaah, things were simpler back then!

So a bit more more about the samples collected here:

Top: “Alien Syndrome” – A top down Commando/Gauntlet-esque shooter dating from 1986, designed and manufactured by Sega, it’s one I missed in the Arcade, though played it on the 8-bit home systems of the day, decent game! Here’s a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsZ0g6HE684

2nd Top: “Sinistar” – By Williams in 1982, this an evolution of Asteroids, and is similar to Bosconion http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcyBtVwAsfg embarrassingly I’d never even heard of Sinistar before researching this post! I’m still not sure how I’ve missed it! Check the freaky Sinistar Sample too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-XEINagmaU

3rd Top: “Commando” – From Nihon Bussan/AV Japan released 1985. Another genre-defining rock solid classic, I’m more familiar with the Speccy version where you had to rotate the joystick 360 degrees to lob a grenade (very difficult).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qctKI_t5eY

4th Top: “Asteroids” – By Atari 1979. One of the most popular arcade games of all time, this marquee featuring an obvious Battlestar Galactica reference. You must of seen Asteroids, so here’s a clip of Atari’s lesser known 1987 sequal “Blasteroidshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFmhK3VM3Ng

5th Top: “Tempest” – By Atari, released 1987. The wireframe vector graphic legend that’s been recyclced many times, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxIquJIRZHU&feature=related

6th Top: “Crystal Castles” – Another Atari title, this time from 1983 – this is an Isometric platform/maze/puzzler which utilises a bizarre collection of sprites, a game I loved as a kid, and like most games I’m still completely useless at it… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f01M2l9oGJI

7th Top:”Zaxxon” – More isometric viewpoint action, this one from Sega and dating from 1982. Supremely ambitious for it’s time, in many ways this still looks great http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHORFz6ZCC0&feature=related

8th / 9th Top: “Galaga” and “Galaxian” – These classic precursor’s to the Vertical Shoot-em-up both hail released from the Namco stable, appearing 1979 and 1981 respectively. Just in case you forgot how Galaxian plays: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzitZv8Enmc

10th Top: “Bosconian” – The original 8 way shooter from Midway, released 1981. Again this is one I remember from the 8-bit systems rather than in the arcade itself, here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nC5_RYXmfsc

Bottom: “Rastan” – A left scrolling fantasy platform fighter from Taito released in 1987. If the throttled Lizard-Man hasn’t jogged your memory, here’s a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvn2pPsaE4I

All games referenced via KLOV “The Killer List of Video Games” AKA http://www.arcade-museum.com
a superb reference site…

Images collected from various sources via The Google.

Roger Dean – As chosen by those he has inspired

To tie in with the Sci-Fi-O-Rama design upgrade here’s the first of hopefully many special features this year! “Roger Dean, as chosen by those he has inspired”… So a quick bit of history on Roger Dean, just in case you aren’t familiar with him and his work:

Roger Dean (born 31 August 1944), is an English artist, designer, architect and publisher, best known for his work on album covers for musicians (particularly Progressive Rock acts). His unique, instantly recognisable style
often features exotic, fantastic landscapes typically populated with dramatic, impossible natural rock formations, lush alien wildlife/fauna, and strange organic structures…

With the release of James Cameron’s technically groundbreaking blockbuster “Avatar” Roger’s currently enjoying a surge of interest in his work, as it’s obivious Avatars design team have borrowed many viusal cues… to be fair though, It’s pretty much inconceivable to think of fantasy and sci-fi art without thinking of Roger Dean.

So to celebrate his work once more I’ve asked a selection of contemporary designers & artists to select their favourite Roger Dean piece and add a few notes as too why…

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Roger Dean - Billy Cox "Nitro Function"

Billy Cox “Nitro Function” (LP Sleeve 1972)
Chosen by: Eric Carl

“One of my favorite Roger Dean pieces would have to be the 1972 album art for “Nitro Function” by Billy Cox. It wasn’t a piece I was familiar with until browsing through his first art book, “Views”. While most of Roger Dean’s work focuses on landscapes, it’s his more character-driven pieces like these that I’m most drawn to. There’s a few different aspects of the image that I find interesting:

First would have to be the unusually sparse composition, as the primary characters actually make up rather little of the image. Most of the real estate is occupied by negative space.

Second would be the depiction of the characters themselves—while the horses and hybrid spaceship/alien creatures (what are they exactly?) all appear to be living, breathing entities, they take on more of an architectural and structural sensibility within the landscape (particularly the most prominent horse and rider located in the foreground). Roger Dean has admitted himself that he’s not so great with figure drawing—maybe his rigid characters here are just a result of that, but I think the ambiguity between inanimate object and lifeform makes for an intriguing image.

The last thing I love about this piece is exactly how he’s chosen to occupy all of his negative space—with one epic, swirling cloud of who-knows-what. Is it an atomic explosion pouring a poisonous toxin across the wasteland? Or just the common night sky on an alien world? Regardless of its literal intent, the technique used here (known as “marbling”, a combination of oil-based paints and water) does a great job of setting an ominous, other-worldly tone to the scene.”

Eric’s portfolio site is here: http://sans-concept.com

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Roger Dean "Red Dragon"

Red Dragon (Acrylic on Canvas, 1987)
Chosen by: Dan McPharlin

“My first encounter with Roger Dean’s paintings was in the late 1980s with the lavish packaging he produced for Liverpool software house Psygnosis. This work, Red Dragon, was used on the packaging for Barbarian in 1987.

I think what I love about this in particular is the graphic punch of the vividly coloured subject (apparently a later addition) against what is essentially a monochromatic backdrop; a strange, almost oriental landscape full of distressed bone-like forms in geological upheaval, now draped with silvery waterfalls, clumps of vegetation and thick fog. We are left to ponder the red dragon’s place in this world; no doubt near the top of the food chain, prowling a rocky outcrop in search of his next meal.”

Dan’s Portfolio Site: http://www.danmcpharlin.com/

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Roger Dean - Virgin Records Logo

Virgin Records Logo
Chosen by: Dick Hogg

“I am going to choose the original Virgin Record label. It is as old as I am. It combines two of my favorite things fantasy art and graphic design. Two things that don’t normally mix very well but but in this case I think it is perfect. It is also the piece of his work that I see the most. I don’t own any Yes albums and all my old Amiga games are in the loft but I do have a 7″ of In Dulci Jubilo that I play occasionally and the label always makes me smile.”

Dick’s portfolio site: http://www.h099.com/

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Roger Dean "Floating Islands"

Floating Islands
Chosen by: James White

“Selecting a favorite Roger Dean painting was a bit cumbersome because his portfolio is as vast as the landscapes he depicts. But to me, Roger Dean’s “Floating Islands” best represents his body of work. Those islands look perfectly at home suspended in mid-air, and I love the palette and composition of this painting. It’s very calm, serene and natural, almost like he sat on one of those islands to paint his surroundings.

This might have been one of the first pieces I saw by Dean, so to me it remains very symbolic of what he does.”

James White’s ever popular blog: http://blog.signalnoise.com/

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Roger Dean - Paladin "Charge"

Paladin “Charge” (LP Sleeve 1972)
Chosen by Jeff Love

“Roger Dean can lay claim to defining two areas of artistic expression; the vinyl record sleeve and Science Fiction art. This image – like much of Dean’s work – falls into both categories, and was possibly commissioned as an LP sleeve for progressive rock band Paladin’s 1972 album “Charge”. I was lucky enough to find a huge poster of this painting in a dirty record shop in an alley in Glasgow’s West End, I now have it framed and hanging on my wall.

There appears to be no great meaning to be found in the painting, however like most SF art it works best when used in conjunction with the imagination of the viewer. Personally, I’m always drawn the the mechanical horse’s head, where the Paladin appears to be manipulating and controlling the beast via some method of hand-held control.”

Jeff runs the excellent http://ski-ffy.blogspot.com/

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Roger Dean - Terrorpods

Terrorpods (Box Art 1987)
Chosen by: Lopetz (Büro Destruct)

“For me the name “Roger Dean” is instantly connected to “Commodore Amiga” plus the purple owl game-publisher “Psygnosis”. I’m beamed right back to 1987 into my room when I was a teenager playing those fantastic games like “Barbarian”, “Shadow of the Beast”, “Obliterator” and last but not least “Terrorpods”. I selected “Terrorpods” as my favorite Roger Dean artwork for the frightening sci-fi atmosphere in the illustrations on the cover and the poster which accompanied the two floppy disks. I was so curious to meet those Tripod creatures in motion. As the game graphics were poor compared with today, the storyline/gameplay was clever and Psygnosis understood to attract players by impressive packaging artworks from illustrators like Roger Dean. Just guessing James Cameron played that game too ;) Just have to search for those dusty floppy disks in my parents house roof room now.”

Büro Destruct: http://www.burodestruct.net

Addendum Jan 2011 – Art is actually from Tim White based on a earlier Roger Dean Designs (thanks Rarius)

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Roger Dean "Psygnosis Logo"

Psygnosis Logo
Chosen by: Kieran Kelly (Sci-Fi-O-Rama Admin!)

“I’m notoriously useless at making executive decisions, particularly when they involve favouriting, so then I’ve decided to go with the piece that best encapsulates all my first Roger Dean A/W memories; I’ve chosen the memorable Psygnosis “Silver Owl” Logo that anyone who owned an Amiga or ST will be familiar with.

Psygnosis for those that don’t know is a Liverpool based game developer originally founded in 1984 and now known as “SCE Studio Liverpool”. Back to the late 80′s Psygnosis produced a rash of games primarily for the 16-bit Commodore Amiga and Atari St platforms, as Lopetz alluded to in his notes graphics back then were far simpler than today so exciting, enticing box art was critical….. and no one did it better that Pysgnosis!”

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Notes

Read more about Roger Dean here at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Dean and visit his home site here: http://www.rogerdean.com

io9.com have a large selection of Roger’s landscapes and plenty of discussion at their post “Did Prog Rock’s Greatest Artist Inspire Avatar? All Signs Point To Yes”

Links to more info on the mentioned Pygnosis Games “Barbarian” and Terrorpods are here: http://www.mobygames.com/game/barbarian & http://www.mobygames.com/game/terrorpods

A link for more info on Psygnosis at wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psygnosis and if you remember them and are a fan, definitely check this superb French tribute site: http://psygnosisamiga.free.fr/

I’ll also be adding an addendum to this post with a contribution from John Coulthart (feuilleton) whose prepping a lengthy in depth feature on Roger for his own site http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/

Metal Slug Pixel Art

Metal Slug

Post Apocalyptic Background Pixel Art from SNK’s original 1996 Neo-Geo title Metal Slug, the run-and-gun classic. Apologies if your having to scroll your browser to the right (I am too), the thing about Pixel Art is it can’t really be scaled, it’s drawn for one size and one size only, and it’d be severely blasphemous to rescale this superb example!

So here’s a lush part of Metal Slug level one in all it’s limited palette glory, but hang on a minute where’s all the rest of the game art? well that’s the other reason for the post, this image comes via The Video Game Atlas http://www.vgmaps.com/ a truly amazing resource if your into the art of old school games. Loads of wicked stuff there, and worth visit for so many reason’s – Game Title Screens for example http://ow.ly/tHqJ great Typography.

Thanks Dan for the lead on this…

Retro Gaming “Midwinter”

Midwinter

Midwinter Game

Midwinter Game

Midwinter Game

Midwinter Game

Midwinter Game

Midwinter Game

Ok so I thought I’d kick off September with another retro game feature; this time focusing on Mike Singleton’s supremely ambitious first-person action/strategy classic “Midwinter” – published by Microplay/Rainbird for Amiga/ST/DOS way back in 1989.n.

Though groundbreaking it’s vast scope and initial slight complexity curve ensured Midwinter probably reached a smaller audience than it deserved to, those that persevered would find themselves sucked into an enthralling mid-21st century Guerrilla War spanning across a vast playing area of over 160,000 square miles – completely unheard of for that time…

Midwinter’s environmental catastrophe based plot was great too; in the early 21st Century the Earth has cooled drastically after a devastating asteroid impact, billions have died with massive food shortages – with onset of a cataclysmic new ice age, arable farmland has been transformed into frozen wastes with humanity standing on the brink of absolute destruction.  As the last throws of civilisation tears itself apart a few thousand survivors make a intrepid voyage, to reach an isolated new land mass and start again, where once were The Azores.

Fast forward 30 years and though the environment is still as harsh as ever the colony has eventually flourished – 4000 inhabitants spread across a network of small settlements, with Geothermal Heat Mines generating power and Synthesis plants and Factories provided the food and goods…. life is hard but good, and all is peaceful… that is until the arrival of General Masters and his army….

Midwinter’s actual gameplay involves traversing the 3d solid vector landscape, this is done via Ski’s, Snow Buggy, Hand-Glider or Cable Car.  Starting off with one character you must cross the gloomy wastes, seek out and recruit other members in order to quickly mobilise an effective resistance (you can manage up to 32 different characters each with different skills/attributes). Once you’ve started to build your small army you can plot your strategy – decide to engage enemy patrols head on, ambush enemy fuel tankers? or adopt a scorched earth policy to slow there progress…. Yes the game went on for hours and hours, and there were many ways to either loose or complete it…

Although the 3d graphics may look crude today Midwinter contained many innovations for it’s time including first-person-sniping! plus directional audio; you could track an attacking vehicles position as your character turned left and right! Also extremely cool was the games GUI which featured loads of great descriptive icons, character portraits, and location backdrops, all really adding to the atmosphere…

Anyway so there you go… if you’ve never heard of Midwinter, and lets face it 20 years on there’s a fairly good chance you haven’t – you may wonder what all the fuss is about…. Well IMHO you’ve missed out!

if ever there was a game that deserves a contemporary remake then this is it – truly, truly amazing stuff!

To read more about Midwinter try:
mobygames.com: http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/midwinter
wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midwinter_%28video_game%29

Images via http://www.mobygames.com