Sometimes I miss the days of low quality graphics like SNES’s Mode 7 graphics and ANSI art. There was something great about seeing an image not quite resolve properly and get all pixelated. It was so cutting edge to see Bowser fly out from the background, even if he looked like a bunch of blocks when he got to the front of the screen. I loved it then and I love it now.
One of the most pixelated and nostalgia-inducing art forms for me is ANSI art. This style of art originates in the early 90’s. Online BBS’s 16 colors to use (if you had a color monitor) and limited ability to do anything else. The only way to have a nice logo on your BBS was to get an ANSI artist to build it, square by square out of colored text characters. The IBM Code Page 437 was your pallet. Thanks to a few key characters you could develop some pretty great stuff. Most ANSI art was related to pirate BBSs and “the scene” but could be found on public systems as well.
This style of art went right along with the games of the day. Little homebrew things like MegaZeux, that allowed you to create little colorful text games. It also always made me think of the original Gameboy’s gritty textures and lack of clear resolution.
ANSI art is pretty much dead these days. ASCII art, the colorless version, still exists in a few places. For example, Dwarf Fortress (it’s free, but I warn you, you’re in for a learning curve you wouldn’t believe), the game that inspired Minecraft, uses ANSI characters to depict everything in game. All the games inspired by the text-based adventure Rogue (referred to as Roguelikes) also use text characters. You’ll still see the occasional ASCII logo in GameFAQs and other documents as well.
I always enjoyed ANSI art and thought it really recalled those early days when some games were all ASCII/ANSI and blocky low-res graphics. Particularly the work of art groups ACiD and iCE took ANSI art to a whole new level, a sort of digital graffiti, which I often tried to emulate.
Ancient Technology Resurrected!
I decided since BeatScribe is a very chiptune/retro-influenced endeavor that I’d revive this long dead art form. I tried to artists who I knew of but most said no way or didn’t even respond.
My image wasn’t quite as professional as I wanted, but it was a fun nostalgic trip.
I totally didn’t know what I’d be in for trying to get 20 year old software to run on my laptop. After a lot of messing around, I ended up finding an x86 emulator and a copy of AcidDraw, which was always my ANSI art program of choice. I wanted to work on it on my iMac. This required some keyboard remapping through a remote desktop session (I’m sure there’s a way to emulate x86 on an iMAC but I really didn’t want to spend the time when I can just remote to the PC).
ANSI art is a painstakingly precise and time-consuming work. Especially if you’re looking to generate that glitch distorted look of some of the classic ANSI artists. You basically get 8 background colors and 16 foreground colors that you can combine to create shades of color. As you can see in the shot here, the four shaded character blocks are sort of the key to the whole thing.
My logo is just one style of ANSI art. It’s a shame this art form has been left behind and most chiptune/retro folks just use blocky artwork instead.
How To Create ANSI Art
I plan to continue making ANSI art, even if some people say “what’s wrong with your logo?” I think it represents the blippy noisy world of chiptune quite well. If you want to try your hand at ANSI art, here’s what you’ll need:
DosBox – This lets you run x86 emulation on your modern Windows PC.
AcidDraw – This is the best program for doing ANSI art. It’s free and intuitive once you get the hang of it.
Unzip AcidDraw somehwhere like C:\acid\.
Run DosBox and mount the drive:
Mount c c:\acid
Then switch to the drive:
And run the program:
Alt-H will take you to the AcidDraw help.
Head on over to Beatscribe.com and see some of my finished products.