We all remember ReBoot, right? Early CGI cartoon that brought to life the inner workings of computers and the anthropomorphic data living within, excellent story, great characters and villains… I mean, it was kind of trashy, but for a kids show in the mid 90’s it was good stuff, and ran until 2001. And let us not forget Beast Wars which ran from ’96 to ’99, casting fuel on the fire of CGI’s rise to prominence on the animation scene.
But here’s the thing, shortly after these series ended there was a flurry of new computer-animated shows that attempted to ride the popularity of the new and revolutionary animation style available. Today they look dated, the graphics have been outdone a thousand times over, the animation is poor, textures are all plastic and reflect light oddly, and object interactions are entertaining to say the least.
But they’re still well worth a watch! Some of them are approaching twenty years old, and to see the difference in animation quality now compared to then is something truly staggering. The series below have some serious pros and cons, but as fragments of animation history, they are well worth dredging up… if you can find them.
Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
The serialised adventures of a science fiction hero torn straight from the pages of the 1950’s comic strip, and keeping all of the worst science involved, like manta rays that filter feed through the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, advanced civilisations on Mars capable of strip mining Venus, complex and technologically advanced creatures living on orphaned planets that survive by steeling the water of others, and the idea that punching a monitor actually hurts The Mekon.
Each episode was one of a two-parter, embracing the serialisation of stories in the old pulp comics, and racking up suspense to keep people watching. It also meant that slightly longer tales could be told of daring adventure, in which our hero always comes out on top through superior aim, ace piloting skills, and being generally good at being the protagonist.
Josh McGrath became the cybernetically enhanced superhero Max Steel to sell toys for Mattel. A nineteen year old son of a weapons engineer and scientist involved in an accident involving nanotech, imagine a cross between DCs Cyborg, the Borg, and the Energiser Bunny, because his biggest weakness is a limited power supply that causes him to grow weak and potentially die. Don’t forget kids, even superheroes need batteries. Oh but he came with one hell of a battery of villains, Psycho, a heavily modified cyborg with a love of violence and ill-gotten gains, John Dread, the man-behind-the-curtain who craves the tech powering Steel, Bio-Con the man-snake, and John de Lancie!
This one got resurrected, and even had a few films to its name, but the rebooted series and live action film are far better known than the more obscure series that ran from 2000-2001, and it’s hard to come by those old episodes now.
Here’s my favourite of the lot, a Canal+ import from French-Canada. Though taking the name, the series is wholly fantasy and removed from the Arthurian mythos, combining heavy amounts of magic with some wholly created components. A plucky and upstart heroine is accompanied by a mystic monk, a mighty warrior woman, and an irritating miniature pet dragon as they attempt to free a kingdom from the yoke of an evil sorcerer who dwells in a flying castle. It’s a D&D adventure pure and simple, and I watched it religiously about seven years before I ever played the game.
The people sound like typical fantasy NPCs, in fact you may hear a few familiar voices, I’m fairly sure I heard one or two. You may also notice how tiny the hands are of most characters… uncomfortably small, and there are a lot of cunning uses of hats, bald characters, and skin-tight metal armour so that things look “right”.
I feeling wistful, in a mood to reminisce about moments from my youth, and I find myself pondering a little stop-motion animation that ran for a short time in the 80’s, and though it was originally released before I was born I was fortunate enough to experience a great deal of it thanks to the miracle of VHS.
The forty episode run featured the young manservant of dark and clearly haunted castle, Berk cleans, cooks and generally tends to the every whim of The Thing Upstairs, a disembodied voice with generally disgusting body parts. Berk’s only company is Boni, an animate skull prone to headaches and pessimism, and a fat and hyperactive arachnid called Drut. The regular five-minute interludes into their lives and their daily activities always coincide with the appearance of some terrible entity or dark monstrosity that has emerged from the dread portal in the cellar, The Trap Door. (more…)
Robot Wars is great fun and anyone who has seen the chaotic carnage caused by the roboteers will know only too well, that the pits are coming back to our televisions soon. Join our contributor, Murray, who saw a live event of Robot Wars recently and shares his experiences of being up and close to robot legends.
I’m sure I’m not alone on this one.
Life gets in the way. Work, family, demands on your time and responsibilities to uphold, it all burdens us and eats into time that we used to use playing games. Life is important, sure. As much as we’d love to believe that we can all play games and live functioning lives at the same time is optimistic under current socio-economic conditions, maybe one day, one generation, but it won’t be any time soon. I write a lot about games, but over and over again I find I’m returning to the same old examples that I’ve used repeatedly over various articles. (more…)
Growing up in the 90s, I played a lot of what we now call classic video games. From Sonic the Hedgehog to Mario; Pac-Man to Tetris, I think I’ve played some of the greatest games of the early eras of video games and I’m happy to keep playing modern games. Now comes a time that these older consoles aren’t as easy to get a hold of, but there are ways to go ahead and get games of yesteryear.
Here on Ubuntu, there’s a wealth of emulators available for a variety of different old school consoles. Windows has even more native built emulators and I’m sure Macs have more unique ones to add to this list. With this in mind, I thought I’d pause and pose an open question to all of you.
What are your thoughts on emulators?
Now, considering I’m a fan of video games, I see them as a potential nuisance for a company. There’s a chance all of their hard work is stolen away by these emulators, which allows people to play whatever game they want on whatever device: But then there’s the gamer inside of me that says that it’s time we embrace the openness of open source and share older games without scrutiny. It’s a seriously grey legal area, so what are your thoughts on emulation?
I personally feel that emulators should be legal if a console is past a certain age, in hopes to provide users access to a console they might not be able to get. For example, SNES certainly isn’t still in production and a lot of video games from the SNES era are considered a “must play”. Same as how a book can end up for free in a library, is it so wrong to presume that video games get the same sort of catalogue available to the public?
Let’s cast us all back some years. How about twenty years ago? In 1995, a game that can only be summarised as “epic, for its time” was born. Alas, that wasn’t much to shake a stick at as I can imagine the vast majority of readers here today wouldn’t have heard of this wonderful classic dungeon crawler-like game. This is the story of an unknown game by Interplay known as Stonekeep, a game that pits you against an unspeakable evil known only as the Shadowking.
Boasting some of the most pixelated graphics you can imagine, Stonekeep was a true fantasy experience. From the evil Shadowking himself through a collection of fantasy characters, Stonekeep really was a fun dungeon crawl, allowing you to fight the way you wanted, although not initially. Read on to see what I mean…
When you start the game, you play as a man with no weapons and no shirt on his back. He must have had it bad, but there is an explanation to his pitiful plight. Inside the original box of Shadowkeep was a phenomenal book that accompanied it. Details of the story of the keep you have been imprisoned in and information on the Shadowking and your hero lie within its pages. The book was a story, hence it was such an integral part of the game.
You didnt have to go far before you met your first enemy. I remember I played this game when I was a young child, no older than 7. I found the game staggeringly hard. It featured 3D walls and characters, although thr characters were more like a 2D kind of 3D! Absolutely surreal to think this game is twenty years old. Honestly it was visually impressive for its time and was about 400MB in size. Massive for its time!
The piece of the puzzle that always filled me with this sense of excitement was the voice acting. As a child, this famtastic game literally made me believe that I was helping an unwitting hero inside of the Stonekeep. We were out to find the gloriously evil Shadowking and when you first encounter him, he spoke with a deep, growling voice. Though he was just an animated suit of armour, the sense if dread was totally real to me.
Okay, but today I am unable to be as forgiving as I was back then. Let’s face the facts here: it looks dated. But thats not a huge crime, so does Pac-Man, right..? Well… This game also sounds dated. Yeah, but… “Mortal, be gone!” I hear the Shadowking himself rolling in his grave over this review, as it turns south. Dont get me wrong readers, it is still amongst mine and Joels favourite games… But my god, was this truly 90s gaming?! You can experience this amazing piece of gaming history courtesy of GOG!
Now when you look back at Stonekeep, you feel like you’ve stepped into the abandoned house of a long lost friend. It’s a crazily surreal experience, as you obtain a kind of euphoric rush. The feeling that you’ve been meaning to make your way back here… Or perhaps the dread of knowing your enemies never left and it’s time to head back.
I am going to do a series of videos, playing through my adventures inside of the walls of Stonekeep. I hope it interests and excites, as well as being a little silly along the way. So I ask you; have you ever ventured the walls of Stonekeep? Let me know in the comments below, over om Facebook or Twitter. Let me know if you want to see this epic fantasy adventure. I now just need to finish upgrading my rig for recordings..!
**pictures from this article are from GOG and Wikipedia.
I’ve had a long-lost memory uncovered, and suddenly I remember exactly what I was doing between the ages of about 5 and 10 aside from hoarding lego and running more than I can now. The Dorling Kindersley publishing company moved into educational software in the early 1990s as accompaniment to their book series, such as the Eyewitness Guides. I admit I don’t know how well spread these things are, but in the UK they were prolific, but I rarely hear it spoken of much. Maybe it’s just one of those things that’s so endemic that we don’t notice it any more, or feel it worth remark.
Well here I am remarking! (more…)