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Nathan Strum

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Blog Comments posted by Nathan Strum

  1. Once the other artwork is revealed, I can explain a bit more. But basically it has to do with the amount of detail in each illustration, the amount of shading (ie. not just flat colors), and the software I use to create the final artwork with.


    In the case of all of the above games, they started out with a digital (bitmap) sketch on my iPad using Procreate. This is great for roughing out ideas, but I don't use it for finished work, because I don't feel that I have enough control over the final image. So from there they went over to Adobe Photoshop to weed out errant layers and get converted to CMYK colorspace (required for printing). After that, they went into Adobe Illustrator for the finished illustration.


    I've typically used Illustrator for the line artwork, because Illustrator is a vector drawing program - not bitmap. So the artwork is infinitely scalable (and malleable) in a way bitmaps aren't. I can get super-clean lines and change characteristics of them in ways I can't do with bitmaps. Then I'd often take the line art back over to Photoshop for "painting" since it's well suited for shading, textures, gradients, etc. For artwork that doesn't have much shading (Zoo Keeper, Aardvark) I just used Illustrator for most of the artwork since flat colors are very easy to do (and again, very easy to change). Zoo Keeper has a bitmap for the brick background. Aardvark's background is fully vector.


    This time, I did nearly all of the final artwork in Illustrator (except for the backgrounds in UniWar S and Galaxian, which are bitmapped "paintings"). For Lady Bug Arcade, the shading was minimal, so it wasn't difficult to do. In Photoshop, you can just grab a big ol' brush and swipe it across an area to add shading. But to get complex shading in Illustrator (where it follows a shape, or you have a highlight and shading in the same area), then it requires more work to set up because you're not "painting" as such, but assigning values and parameters to objects. So with Lady Bug Arcade I started experimenting more with that, which required using multiple layers of different gradients with transparency, or setting up (what Adobe calls) Freeform Gradients. Freeform Gradients are relatively new and a bit twitchy (and not always predictable) to work with. But they're very powerful since you can create gradients of (almost) any shape and color combination. And again, you can edit them without "repainting" them as you would using bitmaps. You just change values and parameters. It's like sculpting, but on a flat plane.


    Once I'd gone through a learning curve on Lady Bug Arcade (which is part of the reason it's a "6", but also because I completely re-drew the entire label after the original version was well underway :roll: ), I decided to try applying those techniques in Illustrator to both Galaxian and UniWar S, which are both more "painterly" in appearance, and are the kind of labels I would have historically done in Photoshop instead. That's where the difficulty went way, way up, because I was trying to replicate the appearance of what I would have traditionally done pretty quickly in Photoshop, using a completely different method in Illustrator. There was a lot of trial and error in the process, but I was able to achieve the end results that I wanted. Perhaps even better than what I could have done in Photoshop. Certainly, there are some tools that vector graphics have (such as easily replicating and scaling objects) that makes repetitive tasks much, much easier to do.


    At the other end of the difficulty spectrum, Pac-Man Collection is pretty straightforward. Mostly flat colors and minimal shading. So the technical challenge of executing it was the easiest of the bunch.


    Pretty sure I'm not going to work on so many labels at the same time again though. ;) Although it did help in the sense of having something else to switch to when I got frustrated or stuck.



    • Like 1

  2. Oh... and in case anyone was wondering:

    On 8/3/2021 at 12:58 AM, Nathan Strum said:

    Next, I have to actually execute the final illustrations. On a difficulty scale of 1-10 (1 being super easy, barely an inconvenience, 10 being insane), I'd give them:

    Gorf Arcade: 4

    Lady Bug Arcade: 6

    Galaxian 7800: 10

    Pac-Man Collection XM 7800: 5

    UniWarS 7800: 8


    I'm probably going to be wrong on all of those.

    Apart from Gorf Arcade (which will be completed later in the year), I guessed pretty well on these. I'd probably give Lady Bug Arcade a difficulty of 7 though.

    • Like 1

  3. Updates:

    • 12-29-21: Final box/label/manual artwork in progress for Pac-Man Collection 40th Anniversary Edition (7800). (Note: updated name, same game as Pac-Man Collection XM.)
    • 12-29-21: Final box/label/manual artwork in progress for Galaxian (7800).
    • 12-31-21: Final box/label/manual artwork in progress for UniWarS (7800).
    • 12-31-21: Lady Bug Arcade now available in the AtariAge Store. Project moved to Completed Homebrews.
    • 12-31-21: RobotWar:2684 now available in the AtariAge Store. Project moved to Completed Homebrews.
    • Like 2

  4. Not gonna happen unless you print your own. ;) At one point I'd thought about doing a monthly Artie calendar. 12 episodes would be doable. Probably should theme it somehow. Like "Artie's Snarkiest Strips", or an all "RetroVGS" calendar, with nothing but word balloons. :D 


    I also have over 100 Artie avatars ("Games we're better off without...") that I've made over the years. Haven't changed the current one in awhile. One of these days I'll throw those together into a collection of some sort.


    I once suggested to Albert that he publish a homebrew calendar using some of the label/box art that have graced various games over the years. I think that would be pretty cool.

    • Like 1

  5. I haven't tried firing up my Vectrex in a long time. I have two of Richard's multicarts: an previous-generation VecMulti that has never worked in my Vectrex (I have a fussy Vectrex), and a VecFlash, which I can't use because of a lack of Mac software.


    Richard has a newer VecMulti that seems to do better with fussy Vectrexes (Vectri?), but I can't use it with the Mac because of software. Richard wrote:


    it requires a menu packer (written for PC). Darrell's Mac version menu packer won't work on the new revision of VecMulti.

    He was going to think about if there might be a solution, but that was April 2020, and I haven't wanted to press him on it.

    • Like 1

  6. Took ya' long enough. ;) 


    I tried Facebunk years ago, because a friend of mine said that was the best way to stay in touch with him. The whole experience was so phenomenally annoying (and I wasn't even using it regularly) that I killed my account after just a few weeks.


    Never missed it.


    It's a bit annoying that some people/businesses/groups only post updates there, and if you don't have an account you can only read a handful of posts before content gets blocked. But it's not annoying enough to do anything about it.

    • Like 3

  7. Updates:

    • 7-31-21: Gorf Arcade label artwork concept approved.
    • 7-31-21: Lady Bug Arcade label artwork concept approved.
    • 8-2-21: Galaxian 7800 label artwork concept approved.
    • 8-2-21: Pac-Man Collection XM 7800 label artwork concept approved.
    • 8-2-21: UniWarS 7800 label artwork concept approved.

    Off to a good start! I have roughs of all five labels in various stages (all but two have color), and they're far enough along to show John and Bob the direction I'm heading in. Fortunately, they liked all of them!


    Although if they hadn't, I suppose that would've let me off the hook for working on them. Maybe I'm doing this wrong... :ponder: 


    Anyway, as long as I've been doing this, it's always a pleasant surprise when the programmers like the labels, especially if they're for known properties, but the labels don't resemble the original game artwork at all (admittedly, Pac-Man is still Pac-Man, and Galaxian is at least a nod to the original). Of the three 7800 games, I'm having the most fun with UniWarS because it tells a story, but if I can pull it off, Galaxian will look the coolest.


    For the 2600 games, I solved the Gorf problem of trying to represent all five stages, basically by only representing one. ;)  I'm having the most fun with Gorf out of all of these, probably because Gorf is a big, goofy, space gumdrop that shouts insults at you. And the Lady Bug Arcade label turned out much better than I was expecting. I'm really quite pleased with it, and I think it's an appropriate upgrade to an upgraded game. Maybe this time around I won't spend the next 15 years regretting drawing this one. :roll:


    Next, I have to actually execute the final illustrations. On a difficulty scale of 1-10 (1 being super easy, barely an inconvenience, 10 being insane), I'd give them:

    Gorf Arcade: 4

    Lady Bug Arcade: 6

    Galaxian 7800: 10

    Pac-Man Collection XM 7800: 5

    UniWarS 7800: 8


    I'm probably going to be wrong on all of those.

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  8. Updates:

    • 7-4-21: Lady Bug Arcade label artwork in progress.
    • 7-4-21: Gorf Arcade label artwork in progress.
    • 7-4-21: Added Homebrew Label section, to separate out games I'm only creating packaging artwork for:
      • 7-4-21: Galaxian (7800) label artwork in progress.
      • 7-4-21: Pac-Man Collection XM (7800) label artwork in progress.
      • 7-4-21: UniWarS (7800) label artwork in progress.

    And yes... I'm working on five labels at the same time. I must be insane or something. However, I'm not creating the manuals for the 7800 games (Bob does that), just the artwork. The manuals are the time-sucking, soul-draining monsters that make life a living misery, so I think doing just the labels is manageable. Plus, Gorf is months down the road.


    I should note when I say "labels", that the label artwork also gets repurposed for the boxes and manual covers (and sometimes posters). They all get cropped to slightly different proportions (thanks for that, Atari), so the layout has to be somewhat flexible, and to do that I try to keep each element split out on separate layers.


    For Lady Bug Arcade, I wanted to completely re-do the artwork from the original release. I've never been happy with it, since I didn't do proper research on insects and just kind-of faked my way through the character designs (one of these days, I'll add a blog entry about it in my Homebrew Art series). The new artwork will still be cartoony, but completely different. I've been researching insects a lot this time, and I've got an all-new appreciation and fascination with ladybugs. I'm pleased with the results so far, although anyone expecting just an update of the original Champ Games version, a Coleco-style label, or an homage to the arcade artwork... prepare to be disappointed. ;) 


    For Gorf Arcade, I've been struggling mightily for months trying to come up with an idea. Actually, ideas. I'd thought about doing something elaborate like a classic Star Wars poster (think Gorf as the Death Star with two superlaser dishes as eyes), but the execution just wasn't working. Ralph McQuarrie I'm not. Plus, it was looking too much like Draconian. Other failed ideas and sketches came and went with no luck. I think the idea of it being five games in one was really intimidating me, or at least getting me hung up. But as I was researching "groovy 70's graphic design" the other day, I came across a really simple set of stripes that finally triggered what I think is a keeper. It's still an early design, and it's very different from anything I've done before, but it appeals to me in a way none of the other ideas did. Plus, I may be able to do something with it that would be kind-of-fun for collectors, although Albert would probably kill me. |:) And for anyone expecting an homage to the CBS or arcade artwork... prepare to be disappointed. :ponder:


    Bob (PacManPlus) DeCrescenzo originally asked me to work on... was it Pac-Man Collection XM? Or Galaxian? I forget now. Pac-Man, I think. Anyway, this was many months ago, and I was already committed to working on Zoo Keeper and Venture Reloaded, so I suggested he might want to find someone else if he wanted it done in a timely manner. Later, he asked me to work on Galaxian, which I said I could do, but not until later. Well, now is later, or perhaps "later is the new now" as the kids say (I'm assuming they probably say that, on their YouTube TV shows or whatever). Mostly because I'm on vacation for the first time in a year-and-a-half. Fully away from being stuck in my apartment, away from work, and with time to just sit and be creative with no pressures (except the looming deadlines of getting these labels done, of course). But I've found I can't force myself to be creative. If I'm stressed-out, it just doesn't work. So if you're wondering sometimes why games my not be released right away when the programmers declare them "finished", it's because they ask artists like me to create artwork for them, and sometimes that's where the delay comes from. Some artists are better at "on-demand" artwork than others. I'm not one of those. I don't even keep track of how much time labels, manuals and boxes take to create, because it would probably just end up turning me off from ever doing one again. :roll: 


    Anyway, although hopefully not related to that, the other artist slated to work on Pac-Man XM is apparently a no-show, and Bob also needed artwork for UniWarS, so he asked if I could do all three games. And since Bob has almost single-handedly doubled the 7800's game library, is one of the nicest and most talented guys on the planet, and I've never done a 7800 label before (save for a few failed contest entries), I thought I'd give it a shot. Also, I was still stuck on Gorf at the time, and hoped working on something else would un-stick me.


    I started with UniWarS, since I didn't have any preconceived notions about it. It's an obscure Galaxian-style shooter from back-in-the-day, and I figured it would be the one that I could be the most creative with, since it's pretty-much the opposite of iconic. The flyer and arcade game art are nothing special, but I did get inspiration from one of the flyers and the backstory of the game. So I'm using the story as the basis of the label, and telling that story from the point-of-view of the poor, oppressed aliens who you have decided to arbitrarily exterminate. I like the way it's turning out. Again, it's different from the arcade artwork and flyers, so if you're a fan of those (if there are any of you out there)... prepare once more to be disappointed. :) 


    For Pac-Man XM... whew. What to do with that? It's Pac-Man, fer cryin' out loud. You can't go too far off the rails there. I didn't want to re-hash the previous Pac-Man Collection artwork though. So if you're a fan of that... well, you should know the drill by now with the preparation and disappointment and all that. :P Rather, I'm mixing my own cartooning style with Namco's official version(s). I don't want to just outright ape Namco's artwork. It needs to be my own, or at that point I'm just copying. I may mix a few different styles in there, because of the different games present in the collection. But it took a surprising amount of time to be able to knock-out versions of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man that I'm happy with. If I don't like what I'm doing, that will be reflected in the artwork. Maybe nobody else will see it, but I will. If I like what I'm doing, that will be reflected as well, and the end result will be something that I've put more effort into, and hopefully the programmer will like as well. I've got the characters and concept figured out for this one, now I have to work on the layout. It's going to be tricky, because it's not just going to be one Pac-Man, one Ms. Pac-Man and maybe a monster or two. Nope. Think more along the lines of a Pac-Multiverse.


    Galaxian, on the other hand, borrows pretty heavily from the arcade flyer, cabinet artwork, and 2600 artwork. I like the flying-bug spaceship, as weird as it is. Like Pac-Man, it's iconic, so you kind-of have to use it, or at least give a nod to it. So I'm giving a nod to it. However, it will not replicate the look of any of the above mentioned artwork, because I'm taking it in a different direction. Again, I don't want to just copy. There's no fun in that. So if you like the flying-spaceship-bug-things as seen on anything mentioned above, it'll be there. But if you want it to look exactly like the other versions of it... once again, prepare to be disappointed. Then I'll be five-for-five.


    Always happy to be of service. :D 

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  9. On 5/21/2021 at 10:07 AM, McCallister said:

    Wow, can't believe it's been almost two months since my last guess. Nothing like waiting until the last day to get a guess in :roll:. Anyway, thanks for doing these secret code names for games. They are, and have been, an enjoyable little puzzle to try and reason out your thinking and I hope you keep them coming. 

    Glad you enjoy them! Of course I'll keep them coming, as long as there are games being developed that are being kept under wraps. :D 

    On 5/21/2021 at 10:07 AM, McCallister said:

    So, Historical Documentary?

    Wrong one. :) 


    "Historical Documentary" was the second game we were considering doing alongside Turbo Arcade, before sanity kicked in and we decided Turbo was enough. :roll: 


    But the other one is still in the list... so someday... :ponder: ;) 

    • Like 1

  10. Woohoo!! It played!! All the way through, even!


    Such a relief when those actually work. Hopefully, this will result in a lot of interest (and job opportunities) for our students.


    The show will still be available at this link until Monday, May 10, 3:55 PM PST: https://watch.redcat.org/landing/REDCAT2345


    Eventually we'll post it on Vimeo, once the sponsorship exclusivity ends. And of course, I'll link it here when that happens.


    Now then... before all of this started, I think I used to have something called a "bed". If I can remember where I put it, maybe I can start catching up on my sleep again.

  11. Welcome back! (Yes... I'm a month late. But I don't get over to the blogs much anymore. Including my own.)


    I like the LE concept. I may have to adopt it for my own blog's Homebreviews, since I fall victim to the "ugh... that game is going to be sssoooo much work to review" (crawls in a corner and binge watches episodes of Columbo instead) syndrome as well.

  12. Interesting... I suppose someone could've moved here with it and it ended up in an eBay lot. If it wasn't PAL, I don't know why the sticker would be there. I suppose it could've been repaired or factory refurbished at some point and the wrong label ended up on the wrong part.


    There's a thread about this sort of thing here: 


    The consensus seems to be that the games will run fine, but the colors will be wrong. I'd suggest running games that you own in Stella, switching palettes between NTSC and PAL, then seeing what the games look like on your console. That should tell you what the console actually is.

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