Posts tagged with video-games

For the love of pixels

There’s something entrancing about the pixel. Square and elegant and when pushed by the right people they can form beautiful art, stunning animations and gorgeously crisp text.

But as resolution and pixel density increase these building blocks of the screen become smaller and individually insignificant especially as the dpi of displays hits 220+ppi. What once was a building block of art and design becomes nothing more than a indistinct element in a photo-realistic image or a glint in a faux-texture supporting a skeuomorphism.

And so the art style of the visible pixel is doomed… or is it?

Games

Screenshot of Sword and SorceryA resurgence in retro games over the last 10 years has helped keep pixels front-and-center (and sometimes off-screen to the right in the case of horizontal scrolling beat-em-ups).

Minecraft brought 3D pixel art to the mainstream with its wild success across PCs, iOS and even the Xbox. Some people say it’s despite the graphics but I think they’re part of the charm.

Skrillex Quest is a 3D Flash game with textures made up of large pixels and all manner of 8 and 16-bit style graphic corruption that lends to the retro feel while music from the man himself ensures your ears stays as overwhelmed as your eyes.

Sword & Sorcery: EP is a recent discovery for me but its gorgeous 2D landscape, fun story and great sound make for awesome atmosphere. It’s currently available on Steam for the PC or Mac and available from the iOS store too.

LucasArts Adventure Pack on Steam gives you a bunch of point and click adventures including two installments of Indy, Loom and The Dig. They also have a Secret of Monkey Island 1 & 2 Bundle that has updated graphics but your can toggle back to the pixelated 256-color VGA version at any time.

Scott Pilgrim The Game is a fun little horizontal-scrolling beat-up up created a couple of years back. Some of the graphic artists have some great pages up showcasing their pixel animating talents.

Home from Benjamin Rivers is a creepy whodunit horror mystery where the story unfolds and changes based on your own actions. Who knew pixels could be so creepy.

Art

Fall City by Mark J. FerrarieBoy is a three-man team that has been creating isometric pixel art for years sometimes for magazines and adverts but primarily available as posters and wallpapers and now puzzles too.

Color Cycling revisits the technique of animating hand-illustrated Amiga artwork that achieved the effect of animation simply by cycling parts of the color palette. This effective technique was incredibly space efficient and was something every Deluxe Paint user tried (and likely failed) at some point.

Iotacons by Andy Rash are very low-resolution icons of various celebrities and well known pop-culture figures lovingly adorned in digital format and, on occasion, as a real-world cross-stitch.

DeviantArt have an entire category dedicated to pixel art many of which are lovingly animated. If the cuteness of these pixels doesn’t make you miss them then nothing will.

F David Thorpe produced some great loading screens for computers in the 80s despite their crazy technical limitations. Binary Zone has a great page that highlights some of his best.

Animated backgrounds from various fighting games look beautiful.

Fonts & icons

I’ve covered some great pixel fonts from older 8-bit and 16-bit computers already but there are plenty more great examples to be found:

FontStruct is an online tool that lets you build fonts from blocks and so lends itself well to people wanting to reproduce bitmap fonts. They have almost 500 fonts in their gallery already tagged with ‘pixel’

Semplice Pixelfonts has some beautiful proportional pixel fonts in TrueType format.

Guidebook has screenshots of various pixelated desktops throughout the years including shots of early Macintosh, Amiga, Atari, OS/2 and more.

Fashion

Star Wars pixel shirt from We Love FineThinkGeek have the I See Dead Pixels T-Shirt, the 8-bit tie and the less practical 8-bit hair bow.

WeLoveFine also have a great selection of 8-bit wears just flowing over with pixels.

Red Bubble have a Mac Cursor Icons T-shirt that the original Apple fans can appreciate.

Even sunglasses get the pixel treatment in black or blue… or even regular clear glasses.

In the real word

Cube Craft Pixel Pages consists of a bunch of icons you can print out, cut and fold to create a pixel-deep real-world rendering when placed against a solid surface.

My Desk is 8-bit happened when Alex Varanese wondered what a video-game would look like rendered on his desk. It’s a labor of love 1:18 long video with great chip music too.

Swedish Subway shows that the small square tiles that adorn the walls of subways can be put to creative use when you think of them as pixels such as this homage to video-games.

Playing Cards featuring pixel art including some from video games such as space invaders.

8-bit pop-up cards are a fun way to make a gift card with more pixel goodness.

A love of pixels can however go too far.

Dithering

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the screen resolutions and color capabilities of 8-bit and 16-bit computers. With such few colors available it was necessary to blend colors together to achieve the effect of more colors or shades. This tutorial at Deviantart is a good start although there are a few different algorithms available including the most famous Floyd-Steinberg and the ordered dithering of Windows older users may be familiar with.

Derek Yu, Pixel Schlet and Garmahis provide tutorials showing you how to do it by hand!

Further exploration for those still with me…

Teletext (aka Videotex, Ceefax) was a low-resolution graphics system long before the Internet. It was available in some countries such as the UK via television and some early computer systems (Prestel, Micronet) used it over incredibly slow (1200/75bps) modems although it had a certain charm.

Creating graphics and pages in it was quite a challenge and I actually have a Cambridge University IT Certificate for doing so while at school where we also used a special adapter with our BBC Micro to let them download programs by holding a TV aerial up and waiting a lot. The French also had a system based on this called Minitel which was shut down earlier this year :(

Of course for the ultimate pixels experience you could also just dive back in to the old games such as those provided by Good Old Games (PC) on the amazing World of Spectrum.

[)amien

My Rock Band dream set list

Harmonix are taking submissions of ideas for songs in Rock Band. I thought I’d go one stage further and put together an entire dream list using the following criteria:

  • Ideal for the four instruments (Drummer, Singer, Guitarists) – no Bittersweet Symphony
  • Well known enough that you all feel the music – no obscure bands or tracks
  • Attention keeping – no massive 2-minute intros or solos
  • Killer guitar track – this is rock after all!
  • Not previously featured on Guitar Hero I or II
  • Variety – no band more than once plus a mix of 80s, 90s and 00s

So here it is…

1. Opening Licks

  • The Passenger – Iggy Pop
  • I Predict a Riot – Kasier Chiefs
  • Bad Medicine – Bon Jovi
  • Wonderwall – Oasis
  • All Right Now – Free

2. Amp-Warmers

  • Money For Nothing – Dire Straights
  • Let Me Entertain You – Robbie Williams
  • Paradise City – Guns ‘n Roses
  • Somebody Told Me – The Killers
  • It’s Been Awhile – Staind

3. String-Snappers

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day
  • Going Down/Love in an Elevator – Aerosmith
  • Bohemian Like You – The Dandy Warhols
  • Holy Water – Bad Company

4. Thrash and Burn

  • Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  • Darts of Pleasure – Franz Ferdinand
  • Inside – Stiltskin
  • Sk8er Boi – Avril Lavigne

5. Return of the Shred

  • Poison – Alice Cooper
  • All The Small Things – Blink-182
  • Walk This Way – Run DMC
  • Danger! High Voltage – Electric Six
  • In The End – Linkin Park

Okay so there is no way they’d ever put so many great tracks in one game – they’d be worried you’d not buy the next one to get more tracks and so we’ll get second-rate filler just like the record companies have been doing with albums for years.

Most of these are available at the iTunes store so enjoy my first iMix entitled Dream Rock Band.

[)amien

Taking on the role of a Guitar Hero

My friends and I have been very much enjoying Guitar Hero II on the Xbox 360 released earlier this month.

Despite reservations we’ve found ourselves jumping around performing a variety of silly stances, head bops and special moves whilst we attempt to strum ‘n chord in time to the tricky yet rewarding tracks available. Once we got a second guitar and hit the co-operative (one bass, one lead) and VS modes (turns each or both together) then out-performing the other player off-screen as well as on became an integral part of the game.

The line-up of songs is a little disappointing – when there is one “made famous” by a well known band then it tends to be one of their less famous song. I say “made famous” as the game clearly points it out they are, alas, cover versions bar a small handful.

Extra tracks are available on-line in packs of 3 for 500 MSP‘s each. These are again cover versions presumably due to the developer being unable to license the original audio mix to the songs so that they can cut out the guitar and bass lines when you fail to hit the right combination of colorful buttons and strum in time.

One pleasant surprise is that the guitar is just a normal USB device and can be used under Windows once the XInput common controller driver is installed or on the Mac using TattieBogle’s Xbox 360 OS X driver.

Why would you want to do that? To play the free cross-platform Guitar Hero clone Frets on Fire with all the fan-created songs of course!

Whilst there are plans for Guitar Hero: 80s Edition and Guitar Hero III the franchise is being handed over to Activision’s Neversoft team (Tony Hawks) as they bought the rights to the name when they snapped up Guitar Hero’s publisher Red Octane.

Original music-game-only developer Harmonix aren’t whining about it or heading to the courts, oh no. They are fighting back with Rock Band that throws drums and vocals on top of lead and bass guitars.

Fantastic!

[)amien

PS: Under no circumstances consider playing either game with a keyboard or a regular controller – the experience just isn’t the same.

Xbox 360 misleading advertising?

Xbox 360 advert adjusted for realityI really enjoy my Xbox 360 – surprising considering I held the opinion my Xbox 1 was an ugly waste of space and that my PlayStation 2 satisfied my needs.

Microsoft have done many things right with this machine (Online, XNA, dashboard, media center, high-def). Sure, the hard disk should have been bigger especially now they are selling movies but my real complaint is that there STILL aren’t enough titles I want to play on it.

Imagine my surprise when flicking through this months PC Gamer (UK) magazine and finding an advert on page 59 with the words

“Feel the intense power of having way too many options to choose from. Jump in. Xbox 360”

Followed by a giant hand-print of hundreds of games. Wow, I must have missed something. There must be lots of games just waiting for me!

A quick scan through revealed a lot of dull EA Sports licenses (FIFA, NHL, Madden, NBA blah blah blah) and a lot of duplicated titles.

A thought struck me – If I crossed out all the duplicate images what would we have left?

Something a little closer to reality. Click the image to zoom.

Update

Yes, dupes of Burnout, FEAR and Ultimate Alliance were missed. I’m not taking a new photo :p

[)amien