June 25, 2014

Pixel Painting - Kanto Badges (Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow)

Pokémon is such a great series, and I had the pleasure of being just the right age when it first came over to the States. Even after all these years, it's still going strong. It's been refined and tweaked over the years so that it still manages to stay fresh. My favorite will always be my first, though. I know a lot of people around my age who were there at the beginning regard Red and Blue Version very highly. Vocabulary, locations, individuals, statistics, and the Pokémon themselves spring instantly to mind when the topic comes up. It really has stood the test of time (although a literal mountain of marketing doesn't hurt either).

For colorizing the sprites, I looked a lot at existing efforts done by others, as well as the badges from the anime. The end result was a hybrid of all of them.

It's interesting to note that even though the pixel size seems obvious, the perceived pixels are misleading. They're actually composed of four smaller ones. Certain badges give this away by having very thin columns or rows. When the issue arose during the project, it initially presented a dilemma. I ended up adjusting certain sprites entirely to make them more manageable, although two of them still retain their original dimensions.

Each canvas measures 8" x 8". I found it interesting that the Japanese names for the badges are extremely exciting things such as: Gray Badge, Pink Badge, and Green Badge. The fact that the badge names are written in katakana makes it make sense, though. And it only really applies to Generation I. 

Boulder Badge

Cascade Badge

Thunder Badge

Rainbow Badge

Soul Badge

Marsh Badge

Volcano Badge

Earth Badge

The Mega Man-esque background has become my new favorite. It really seems to fit with almost everything. And since all of these projects go to different people, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.

I also just realized that I missed eight pixels on the Volcano Badge, so I should probably touch that up before sending it out.

Commissions are always welcome. Price varies based on the size and complexity of the sprite/scene. I moderate comments, so leave one with your contact email and request.

June 8, 2014

Showcase Presents: Eclipso Vol. 1

Your wits will be no match for...Eclipso!

The only Eclipso volume available is rather short, clocking in just shy of 300 pages. But don't worry, it's just as entertaining as the other Silver Age superhero comics. Eclipso was a villain created by Bob Haney and Lee Elias. These stories are from House of Secrets #61 - 80, which run from July 1963 to October 1966. Bob Haney wrote all the stories. The art is basically a split between Alex Toth and Jack Sparling.

For those that don't know the character, Bruce Gordon was a famous scientist, exploring advances in solar energy. He was in the jungle, dismissing the locals' superstitions, when he was attacked by a tyrannical witch doctor. The witch doctor lunged too far, however, and threw himself over a cliff. During the struggle, Gordon was scratched by a mysterious black diamond.

The wound causes Gordon to morph into Eclipso, a villain hell-bent on nefarious schemes and treachery. However, he only morphs when exposed to an eclipse. In the earlier stories, the causes and effects of Eclipso are not very clear, but once Haney irons out the details, it breaks down like this:

  • Artificial eclipses cause Gordon to morph temporarily into Eclipso
  • Natural eclipses cause Eclipso to become a separate entity
  • Harming one will harm the other
  • The only way to force Eclipso back into Gordon is with a burst of light

I will point out that an "artificial eclipse" can be something as simple as someone walking in front of a light bulb, and a "burst of light" can be achieved in countless ways. Haney exploits both quite often. But then again, natural eclipses occur 2.4 times per year on average, so it's understandable. Yet even so, it seems like natural eclipses occur every few months according to these stories. Haney tries to justify it by having Gordon travel to different locations around the world, but even so, it's a laughable stretch. The origins and creation of the character are weird enough though, so it doesn't really bother me that much.


Comet tail.

Dark lens.


Another disc.


Light bomb.

A rock.


Another disc.

Camera flash.

Light passing a window.


Battery discharge.

Spotlight gun.


Another light bomb.

Another light bomb.

Another light bomb.

As with every DC hero of the era, Gordon has a love interest. Her name is Mona Bennett, daughter of Gordon's mentor, Professor Bennett. Unfortunately, Gordon can't marry her because of...Eclipso! She and her father eventually discover Gordon's secret, and work with him to figure out a way to banish Eclipso forever.

Eclipso uses the powers of "black science" to perform his various deeds of villainy. He can hold the black diamond up to his eclipsed eye to shoot rays of black light, effectively blinding whoever is in the way. He can also hold it up to his non-eclipsed eye, which will shoot out bolts of pure energy. In later stories, he also gains the ability to levitate objects as well as use "spectrum powers," which shoot beams of light at different frequencies. These later powers are rarely used, though they would greatly assist Eclipso at nearly every turn. It also must be annoying to have to hold up that diamond every time Eclipso wants to do something, since it effectively means he can only have one arm open at all times. The fact that one eye is always closed means that Eclipso has absolutely no depth perception, which must also be a hinderance.

People are simply blinded, but they act like they've been physically hit.

Since Eclipso and Gordon are one and the same, Eclipso possesses Gordon's brilliance. This means that whenever Gordon lays out a plan to get rid of Eclipso, Eclipso himself knows the plan before he even materializes, and can therefore quickly stop it before it even starts. Sadly, Gordon, Mona and her father never seem to quite grasp this fact.

Some of these plans include locking Gordon in a secure chamber to prevent Eclipso from escaping (Eclipso simply altered the lock beforehand), or setting up a bright light right in front of Gordon before he transforms (Eclipso merely punches out the light). Eventually, Mona and Professor Bennett start carrying around "photon grenades," which emit burst of intense light, in order to stop Eclipso. Gordon himself is also working on an "ultraviolet gun," which will somehow cause Eclipso to be on the side of good instead of evil. It actually works eventually, effectively defeating the purpose of Eclipso existing. Oops.

Many times, Eclipso will release some dangerous threat, but then realize after the fact that if Gordon is killed, so too will Eclipso die. So he's forced to stop the danger he himself unleashed, usually being tricked back into Gordon at the end. For being so brilliant, both Gordon and Eclipso are pretty stupid.

So Eclipso's "plan" to avoid being tracked is 100% in opposition to his not being tracked.

Gordon and crew always keep track of when natural eclipses will occur, so that they can be prepared for Eclipso's imminent arrival. However, they nearly always forget until it's already too late.

I was surprised at how consistent and coherent all of the stories were. There's actual continuity throughout the whole thing, which is surprising since it's Bob Haney. After reading the first Brave and the Bold volume, I was expecting much of the same straight up wackiness.

Thankfully I wasn't completely let down.

The biggest thing that bothered me was that in nearly every instance, Gordon and Professor Bennett would walk into traps set by Eclipso. They would state that Eclipso must have planned and set up the trap during his last emergence from Gordon's body. However, the last time he appeared was in the previous story, and he definitely didn't have enough time to do any setting up of anything. Complex plots and tasks that would have taken weeks if not months are casually attributed to Eclipso. But Gordon knows and keeps track of exactly when Eclipso will and does appear. There's no way he would have had any time to perform these feats. They include traveling across the world to alter top-secret machines, creating and leading a criminal organization across an entire nation, building giant robots to destroy/enslave major cities, and the like.

"Yeah, I had a few minutes last time so I whipped this baby up."

It was just a glaring error across the whole thing. Eclipso doesn't have the power of flight or anything like that. Where is he getting the materials and financial resources for all of these elaborate (not to mention expensive) schemes? How does he have time to travel across the world all the time, especially to a country that Gordon will unknowingly be invited to weeks later?

The only other super-characters that appear are Helio and Prince Ra-Man, both characters that really don't have anything to contribute and quickly fade away.

Eclipso is referred to as, "the most daring character ever created in comics!" Which is kind of true, I guess, because it's kind of a ridiculous premise, especially when you look at the details of the characters' relationships. Hell, he was probably created on a dare, and the bet was they couldn't get it to work and no one would accept it. But if there's one man who would take that dare, it's Bob Haney.

Toth's and Sparling's artwork is good. Panel layouts are creative, character faces show lots of expression, artwork isn't recycled whatsoever, there's lot of cool perspective shots, and people actually look like individuals (as opposed to cookie cutter models). I liked it.

Recommended? Probably not. There are better things out there, and the stories eventually turn formulaic, and after Gordon effectively makes Eclipso a good guy, there's not really any reason to continue anyway. I'm not surprised the character never really made a name for himself. The 1990s re-imagining added a lot more to the character, so if you're really interested in Eclipso, that era would probably be more interesting.

June 7, 2014

Service Games: The Rise and Fall of SEGA

Enhanced Edition.

This book, written primarily by Sam Pettus, takes a close look from the origins of the company all the way to its "demise." It was written as a love letter to Sega, and it definitely shows. The voice the author uses makes the whole thing very interesting to read, even when he's talking about straight statistics. Think of it as your friend who is so incredibly enthusiastic about Sega, and just wants to talk endlessly about anything and everything related to it. All while never losing that energy and passion about the subject.

This book is chock-full of information. After finishing it, I realized that Sega had made way more dumb decisions than I had initially thought. It's great that the book examines all of the causes as well as the effects. Because most of the time, publications only focus on what happened, not why it happened.

A lot of it really boils down to different factions of the company not communicating, agreeing, and being in the mindset that, "they know better than everyone else." Sega of Japan shot itself in the foot so many times, I'm surprised anything was left below the knee by the end.

Pettus scrutinizes all the angles of the problems and solutions. There aren't any new or exclusive interviews in the book, but snippets of existing ones allow for a very credible retelling of the history.

The only real problem I had with the book was its seemingly random chronology. I would be reading about Sega in 1994, then the next section would jump back to 1991, then it would skip over to 1995. But upon looking at the big picture, I understand why Pettus chose to do it that way.

The extreme highs and lows of the company basically happened in the span of five years. Tons of both hardware and software was being cranked out, developed, and cancelled constantly (in different ways in different parts of the world). It was nuts, and nobody (even Sega's diehard fans) knew exactly what or where to support. Trying to smash all of the information together strictly chronologically would make for the most confusing book ever.

For instance, the 32X was not really supported by Sega of Japan, because they had the Saturn in the pipeline. But they didn't tell Sega of America about it at all. So there's a bunch of information about the development of the 32X in America, but not really anything about it in Japan. There's also nothing about the Saturn development in America because they didn't know it existed. Each region was focusing on a totally different piece of hardware at the same time. All the while, games were being created and ported to both. And both are running into their own hardware and software problems. Oh, and Sega CD stuff was still going on during this period as well. All of the previous points are delved into quite deeply.

Trying to discuss something like the above example in one chunk would be extremely confusing, so I understand and appreciate Pettus' decision to split the book the way he did. I only wish he had put something in the Introduction explaining it. Until I figured out the structure of the whole thing, I kept turning back, sure that I had missed something.

I look at the whole book as a collection of mini-volumes. Pettus chiefly separates each chapter by major hardware. So one "mini-volume" will be all about the Mega Drive, another will be about the Sega CD, another about the 32X, and so on and so forth. Each section examines the origin of the hardware, it's struggles and triumphs, and eventual (often messy) retirement. Key pieces of software are also examined, as well as important people in its development.

And again, the author's voice is very energetic and passionate, but this sometimes leads to a few more subjective viewpoints or guesses than is necessary. Pettus acknowledges that when he originally wrote most of the book, the internet was not nearly as broad as it is today, so he really had to go on some quests for tidbits of information. For not actually being there, he does an insanely impressive job of putting together a very messed up puzzle. It's just that once in a while, he'll have to say, "Who knows why this or that really happened?"

I will point out that this is a stark contrast between Service Games and the more recent book, Console Wars by Blake Harris. The reason I am not even bothering with Console Wars is because the author has "imagined what could have gone on" during that time period. He has made official statements confirming this. For instance, there is documented evidence that a meeting occurred on a certain date. Harris says, "Okay, let me pretend I know what happened and what people said in that meeting. It'll be really dramatic and eventful." Then he'll write it as "truth." It's a Hollywood-style look at what really happened, which is annoying, because people are looking at it as what really, truly happened. I want facts, and if the author doesn't know something, I want them to say, "I don't know this, but here's a possible guess based on evidence" instead of saying, "Ah, I'll just make something up and call it a fact."

If you are looking for lots of photos and pictures, you're out of luck. Service Games is very much a textbook of Sega. There are some images here and there, but just to illustrate a point. Books like Sega Consumer History or Sega Arcade History give a much closer look at each individual piece of software, with pictures galore. Just be aware that those are entirely in Japanese.

It's crazy to think that all the extreme highs and lows basically happened in the span of five short years. Sega seized the torch, but by the wrong end. Parts of the book could be easily related to a sort of fairy tale. With the evil wizard Nakayama ruling the Sega Kingdom with an iron fist, only to be eventually cast down by the brave Okawa, who ended up sacrificing himself for the good of the realm. Part of it, again, is Pettus' unbridled enthusiasm. He loves every piece of Sega, both good and bad, and will defend it all until the end.

I enjoyed the book very much. At 400+ pages, it looks like quite weighty tome, but it went by very fast. Just make sure you pick up the Enhanced Edition, since it corrects small errors in the original printing.