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
Hailing way back from 1989 we begin with this wonderful in-game animation, taken from Mike Singleton‘s seminal first-person Action/Strategy game ‘Midwinter’. I actually covered the back story and game mechanics in depth a few years back, today the focus is the virtual world itself . This long forgotten classic (23 years old!) featured the implementation of many radical new ideas most notably it’s beautiful, fractal generated landscape, all 160,000 square miles of it. Upon this jagged stage of relentless grey and blue polygons the game would unfold, the above animation shows all of the objects to be found within this bleak digital realm.
This type of spinning model animation was not unique to Midwinter, as you’ll see below, but of them all this (for me) has the most resonance. Back them due to hardware restrictions, there was no texture or bump mapping – at least not in game – graphics could only run with a limited palette, though this was expanded by interlacing or dithering the colours. Seen above this is the checkered, flickering effect as two filled blocks dance between each other. There’s also a real charm with the basic tones of this palette too, earthy terracotta, golden yellows and shades of evergreen jumping straight off the jet black background. A final note and a total giveaway of the era is the speed in which the objects rotate, the simplest and smallest revolving far faster, whilst the emulated 8Mhz processor slows to shift the larger models.
I’ll summerise to say how the subtle, simplistic genius of the design today could easily pass off as abstract pop-art.
Read more about Midwinter at Wikipedia