MS Paint 5.1: Can It Paint “Crysis”?

Last summer, I ended up watching this fascinating Youtube video about the history of Microsoft Paint. A couple of days earlier, there had been some uncertainty about MS Paint’s future (which was later resolved). Anyway, one of the comments under the video asked if the program could paint “Crysis”.

If you’ve never heard of this question before, it’s a running joke about a graphically-impressive computer game from 2007 called “Crysis“. And, no, my classic mid-2000s computer can’t play “Crysis” (although, a couple of months after I originally got it, I discovered that it could play “Far Cry” – this seemed downright futuristic at the time, given how my previous computer was a Windows 98 machine.)

Yet, one of the many cool things about having an older computer is that it has MS Paint 5.1. One of the most user-friendly and reassuringly simple versions of the classic graphics program.

So, for the purposes of reviewing MS Paint 5.1’s capabilities and demonstrating how to use it, I decided to find a small gameplay screenshot from “Crysis” on Wikipedia and see how MS Paint 5.1 can do when paired with a mouse.

As for me, I’ve done some MS Paint art before (such as here and here) and I’ve used MS Paint for small corrections and edits to the many traditional/digital paintings that I have made over the past few years. So, yes, I have a little bit of experience with this program.

Anyway, let’s begin.

You can click on each step of this seven-part demonstration to see a larger version of the image.

This is the side-by-side technique I will be using when testing if MS Paint 5.1 can run “Crysis”. Foolishly, I saved the original image as a JPEG. Don’t do this in MS Paint 5.1 until you’ve finished editing! The program’s powerful JPEG compression algorithms can create problems if you use “fill” effects (but they do result in a tiny file size, when compared to more modern JPEG images).

Using the both the “line” and “pencil” tools, I’ve sketched out the basic outlines of key features of the source image. I also converted the original image into a bitmap (“.bmp”) image too.

I added some basic colours to the image. To make the colours more realistic, I used the “pick color” tool (the icon that looks like a pipette/dropper) to make sure that the colours were exactly the same as in the source image. As you can see from the white dots in this picture, I couldn’t fill everywhere completely due to foolishly saving the image as a JPEG earlier. Even after converting it to a bitmap, I still had to manually fill in a fair number of areas (and the white dots are parts that I missed when doing this).

Using the “pencil”, “line”, “brush”, “airbrush”, “zoom” and “pick colour” tools, I started to fill in some of the background details.

I then filled in some of the foreground detail. As you can probably see, MS Paint 5.1 has trouble with smooth gradients (such as the water), when using the “airbrush” tool.

After this, I began to add some lighting (and extra foreground detail) to the picture. Once again, MS Paint’s “airbrush” tool was barely even close to adequate when replicating the smooth gradients of the sunset in the sky.

I added a few small details and finishing touches (and accidentally got a spot of black paint on the source image too). Voila! “Crysis” in MS Paint 5.1 (sort of..)

In conclusion, MS Paint 5.1 can technically “run” Crysis (if you look at the two pictures from a distance and squint slightly..).

However, the resolution is extremely low, the DirectX lighting effects don’t work properly and the framerate is absolutely abysmal (seriously, it took me 1-2 hours to render a single frame manually!).

Yet, it’s “Crysis” in MS Paint! It can be done!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Three Reasons Why Physical Media Is Awesome

Although there are certainly a lot of things to be said for digital media (for starters, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I actually had to publish it as a physical magazine), I thought that I’d talk about physical media today.

This is mostly because, I definately prefer certain things on physical media (eg: paperback novels, DVD boxsets etc..). Physical media is absolutely awesome for a whole host of reasons. Here are a few of them:

1) Discovering random signed things: One of the cool things about physical media is that writers, musicians etc.. can actually sign it. What this means is that sometimes you can end up inadvertently buying a signed copy of something new or second-hand. Yes, it doesn’t happen that often, but it can certainly happen.

My most recent experience of this happened the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. This was mostly because I ended up finding my CD copy of Cradle Of Filth’s “Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder” after feeling slightly nostalgic about the album.

I’d bought it in Aberystwyth during the late ’00s and I wanted to relive my memories of that time. Since the album was new at the time (and I was a little wealthier then), I ended up getting the special edition version.

Whilst the discs were still fine, my present-day self was annoyed that the special edition has some rather flimsy cardboard packaging. However, I soon stopped being annoyed when I tilted the back of the sleeve slightly and noticed a small signature in black ink against the dark brown cardboard. Somehow, I’d never noticed this before! Ok, I couldn’t work out if it was an actual signed copy or whether the signature had just been printed on the sleeve, but it was a really cool surprise nonetheless.

Here’s a close-up, featuring the signature in question. It’s a little hard to see, but I’m still not sure if it is actually a “proper” signature or whether it was just printed onto the CD cover.

But, my coolest memory of accidentally finding a signed copy was when I bought an old second-hand copy of Shaun Hutson‘s “Victims” from a market stall in Truro during a holiday in Cornwall when I was a teenager. When I opened it a while later, the first thing that greeted me was none other than the signature of my favourite author at the time! Needless to say, I was amazed!

Seriously, seeing THIS for the first time was such a cool moment! Although, annoyingly, it seemed like such a cool thing that I didn’t dare to sully this precious object by actually reading the novel. Still, this is something you can’t experience with e-books.

Amusingly, a few years later, I later found several signed hardback copies of one of Hutson’s books (“Twisted Souls”, I think) in the bargain bin of a sadly-defunct bookshop in Aberystwyth called Galloways. At first, I’d just bought one copy but, as soon as I learnt that it was signed, I made the decision to trudge back into town the next day to buy the other copies of it in the bargain bin (I can’t remember if I followed through with this or not, but I bought at least one extra copy of it. Alas, it is lost amongst my piles of books though).

But, yes, this is an experience which you can only really have with physical media.

2) Second-hand stuff (is awesome for so many reasons!): This is a fairly obvious one, but you can actually buy second-hand copies of physical media. Yes, sites that sell digital goods will occasionally reduce the prices of older things and occasionally have sales, but it isn’t really quite the same.

For starters, there’s something wonderfully democratic about second-hand copies of things. Yes, you can’t keep up to date with everything if you mostly buy second-hand copies, but the fact that you can buy decent quantities of books, DVDs etc… at sensible prices is absolutely brilliant if you are on a budget. It’s what has allowed me to build up a fairly decent DVD library these days and to build up a decent collection of novels when I was younger.

Secondly, although I mostly order second-hand things online these days, one cool thing about second-hand stuff was the experience of actually visiting the shops that sell it – whether that was dedicated second-hand shops or just charity shops. These places are awesome for so many reasons. Not only do second-hand bookshops have really cool “old”/ “non-corporate” atmosphere to them, but they are also places where serendipity can happen.

What I mean by this is that you have no way of knowing what they do or don’t stock. And, in the pre-smartphone age (or the present day if you avoid these irritating gadgets like the plague), if you found a book that you’d never heard of before then you had to judge whether it would be any good by looking at the cover and reading the first few pages. And, since the prices were fairly sensible, there was more of an incentive to take a chance on unknown authors. Yes, sometimes this didn’t work out, but sometimes it did. Of course, on the internet (where you have to actively search for specific things), it is a lot more difficult to have an experience like this.

Thirdly, there’s the historical element of it. Even though I only really “discovered” second-hand books during my teenage years during the 2000s, I got quite the education in 1980s-90s horror novels, 1950s-60s science fiction novels etc… for the simple reason that these cool historical relics were cheaply available in second-hand and charity shops.

Finally, second-hand copies (and physical media in general) are awesome because they put the consumer in control! To give you an example, it isn’t exactly unheard of for companies to remotely delete e-books from people’s e-readers (yes, the news report is almost a decade old and this sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still creepy that they can do it in the first place). So, physical media ensures that the consumer is in control, as they should be!

3) Cover Art: Although I only really even began to get serious about being an artist in 2012, I’d already had much more of an art education than I knew. This was, of course, all thanks to physical media. Or, more specifically, cover art.

Yes, digital media will sometimes try to include “cover art” by including digital image files. But, having physical copies is also kind of like owning a collection of art prints too. Seriously, cover art is one of the most under-appreciated types of art out there!

Not only that, thanks to my preference for second-hand and/or slightly older things, I got to see a lot of cover art from the 1980s and 1990s. And, wow, people certainly knew how to make good cover art back then! To give you an example, here’s the cover art for the 1989 UK paperback edition of Clive Barker’s “Cabal“:

Seriously, the cover art for this paperback edition of “Cabal” could almost be a movie poster! Not only does this cover art make effective use of high-contrast lighting, but it also uses a complementary orange/blue colour scheme too.

In fact, one of the major parts of my art style can be directly attributed to cover art. Virtually all of my art uses high-contrast lighting (my rule is that 30-50% of the total surface area of each of my paintings has to be covered with black paint), and it looks a bit like this:

“Metallic Magic” By C. A. Brown

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

And this is a direct result of seeing numerous horror novel covers, heavy metal album covers, VHS/DVD covers etc… over the years. Although I couldn’t name that many famous artists when I was younger, my artistic tastes and sensibilites were already being unknowingly moulded and shaped by physical media.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The Joy Of… Mixing Ancient And Futuristic Things

Although this is an article about art, comics, literature, film etc… I’m going to have to start by talking enthusiastically about computer games for a while first. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A coupe of days before I originally prepared the first draft of this article, I suddenly noticed that the fourth instalment of the “Temple Of The Lizard Men” series of fan-made “Doom II” levels had finally been released 🙂 And, unlike some modern “Doom II” levels, it would actually run on my computer too 🙂

If you’ve never heard of “Temple Of The Lizard Men” before, it’s a series of full-length fan-made sci-fi/horror level sets for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” which revolve around fighting lizard monsters in ancient Aztec/Maya-style temples. It’s kind of a little bit like the original “Unreal” mixed with some elements from “Serious Sam: The Second Encounter“, but with more horror elements.

This is a screenshot from “Temple Of The Lizard Men IV” (2017). Yes! A modern “Doom II” WAD that both looks cool AND works with slightly older versions of “GZ Doom” too 🙂

Anyway, like with another really cool set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens” (and the previous “Lizard Men” level sets, like this one), I really love it when people blend ancient-style architecture and futuristic sci-fi.

Some other example of this blending of ancient civilisations and futuristic sci-fi include Iron Maiden’s “The Book Of Souls” album, which does this in the opening song. Then there are the various zones in “The Crystal Maze“, and the scenes from Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” that were filmed in the Mayan-inspired Ennis House. Or perhaps the futuristic version of Ancient Egypt in “Stargate SG-1“, or.. Well, I could go on for a while.

So, why are mixtures of the ancient and the futuristic so incredibly cool?

The first reason is that because “old” things are juxtaposed with things that are meant to be from the distant future, it creates something of an association between the two things within the minds of the audience.

This means that whenever the audience see old buildings, old castles etc… in other contexts, they seem cooler and more “relevant” due to their association with modern creative works (for example, although it doesn’t really contain any sci-fi elements, “Game Of Thrones” changed my entire attitude towards the middle ages). So, these types of stories, films, games etc.. help to make history even more interesting than it already is.

The second reason is because of the contrast between the distant past and the distant future. Usually, creative works in this genre will include the idea that people in the ancient world were more intelligent and/or advanced than we usually think. And not only is this really intriguing but, in some cases, it’s actually true too. For example, just look at ancient Persia – they had a type of air conditioning and a type of refrigerator too.

Thirdly, there’s the fact that things in this genre include two time periods that we’ll never get to see directly (yes, we can deduce things about the past from historical artefacts/documents and we can attempt to predict the distant future, but we never get to directly experience either).

So, seeing a representation of both time periods within the same creative work reminds us of the vast scale of time. It also makes us realise that the present day is somewhere between the ancient past and the distant future. So, by extension, our lives already include elements from both.

Finally, this genre is cool because it reminds us that some things are truly timeless. Whether it is lighting design, architecture, visual arts etc… things in this genre help to remind us that there’s nothing entirely “new” in the world.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble

Well, although I’m still going through a bit more of a nostalgic phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about 1990s computer games to talk about one of the other “nostalgic” things that I rediscovered recently – animated sitcoms. In particular, I’ll be talking about what animated sitcoms can teach us about making webcomics (but, for time/practicality reasons, I’ll only be looking at two “immature” animated sitcoms here [eg: “South Park” and “Family Guy”], as well as a few webcomics too).

These two mediums have a lot more in common than you might think. Both tell stories using stylised drawings, both have to be made (relatively) quickly, both rely heavily on well-written dialogue, both have a limited amount of time and/or space to tell a story, and both are usually deliberately “unrealistic” in all sorts of inventive ways.

A good example of this can probably be seen in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park“. This is a long-running animated sitcom where each episode is apparently written and produced within the space of about a week or so (in order to allow for more topical satire). As such, the show often tends to use a fairly primitive level of animation – where the emphasis is much more on the comedic dialogue and the amusing events of each episode than on detailed art or fluid/realistic animation.

This is a screenshot from season 7 of “South Park” (2003). As you can see, the art is deliberately undetailed. Likewise, the animation is done using CGI that emulates traditional “cut out” animation. This allows the show’s creators to make episodes quickly, albeit at the cost of less realistic and less fluid animation.

Sacrificing art/animation detail for speed is something that anyone who makes or reads regular long-running webcomics will probably be familiar with.

A good example of this has to be Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal“, a daily webcomic which often uses undetailed backgrounds and very cartoonish art in order to maintain a constant daily schedule.

These are two panels from one of Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” comics from last year. Like with “South Park”, less detailed art is used in order to increase the speed and regularity that these comics are made.

Like with “South Park”, the emphasis of the comic is on amusing/ irreverent/ silly dialogue (or amusing situations). As such, the audience is more likely to focus on this than the level of artistic detail in each update. This also allows for daily comic updates too.

For comparison, take a look at Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” – this webcomic looks absolutely beautiful, but all of the hyper-detailed art takes a long time to make, so the comic only updates once every few months at the very most.

This is a panel from “muZeM” by Winston Rowntree (2015). As you can see, the level of artistic detail is considerably higher. However, one result of this is that the comic can sometimes only update 1-2 times per year (as opposed to every day or several times a week).

So, yes, the level of artistic detail in a webcomic depends heavily on factors like the update schedule, how topical the comic is etc.. Just like animated sitcoms.

Moving on to another TV show, I was lucky enough to find a cheap second-hand DVD of Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” (the DVD cover claims that it is season ten, but Wikipedia suggests that the episodes are from season nine).

Anyway, one interesting thing about this DVD boxset is that it contains an hour-long special called “And Then There Were Fewer“. This is a slight parody of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and it is probably one of the most visually sumptuous episodes of “Family Guy” that I’ve ever seen (plus, having made an Agatha Christie parody comic of my own last year, I was naturally curious to see how “Family Guy” handled this topic).

This is a screenshot from Seth McFarlane’s “And Then There Were Fewer” (2010). As you can see, the art looks a bit more detailed than “South Park”.

Anyway, the reason that I mentioned this episode is because some parts of it use fairly obvious CGI effects (as opposed to more subtle CGI that imitates traditional animation).

For example, many of the establishing aerial shots of the mansion that the episode takes place within are quite clearly created using cel-shaded 3D models, rather than “traditional”-style animation. And, this is a good thing! It allows the show to do something that would be near-impossible with traditional-style animation in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

It’s also a good example of how webcomic creators shouldn’t be afraid to use whichever technologies make it easier and/or quicker to make better webcomics. I mean, it’s no coincidence that many regular modern webcomics will often use digital tools (for example, my own occasional webcomics use a mixture of digital and traditional materials) since they allow for things like the easy correction of mistakes, the fast addition/alteration of colours, the addition of digital effects and the seamless re-use of previously made artwork.

This is one of my own comic updates where, due to time limitations, I created the central panel using entirely digital tools. The other two panels are digitally enhanced ink/watercolour drawings.
(“Damania Replicated – Records” By C. A. Brown [2016/17])

And, no, this isn’t “cheating”. As long as it is your own original work, then there’s no rule against using whatever procedural shortcuts you need in order to get your comics out on time and/or make them look good. As cynical as it sounds, most readers will be more interested in reading your comic than working out how it was made, and most other webcomic artists will understand that shortcuts can be an essential part of making a webcomic.

So, yes, those are two things that animated sitcoms can teach you about making webcomics – the dialogue matters more than the art, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to use digital tools (if this makes your art look better and/or makes it quicker to make).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Good Horror Shouldn’t Linger – A Ramble

A while ago, I ended up thinking about the purpose of the horror genre after doing some research into an interesting-looking computer game (that is way too modern to run on my vintage computer, but which made me curious nonetheless) called “What Remains Of Edith Finch”.

From what I heard, the premise of the game is that you play as a character called Edith Finch who is investigating her abandoned family home in order to uncover information about a family curse that has doomed all of the members of her family to bizarre, untimely and/or horrific deaths.

Intrigued by this macabre premise, I read reviews, looked at some gameplay footage and even read the TV Tropes page for the game. Yet, even without playing it, it had a surprising effect on me. Even though a lot of reviews I read claimed that it wasn’t a horror game, I was filled with a lingering sense of despair, unease and nervousness for at least a couple of days – just from thinking about the game!

Of course, never actually having played the game, my imagination probably made it a lot worse than it actually is. Yet, the themes of the game (eg: the inevitability of death, danger lurking in everyday locations, bereavement etc…) really didn’t have a very good emotional effect on me. It was kind of like how watching the “Final Destination” films tend to make me feel extremely paranoid about everything for a fair while afterwards.

It was then that I remembered why I don’t tend to look at as much stuff in the horror genre as I used to. Or, rather, I only really tend to look at more “light-hearted” things in the horror genre these days. Things like horror-themed comedies, cheesy monster and zombie movies, stylised gothic stuff, silly paranormal thriller TV shows, retro horror games with unrealistic graphics, cyberpunk-influenced sci-fi horror, horror-themed action games etc…

This, of course, made me think about the role of the horror genre. I would argue that the role of the horror genre isn’t to make the audience feel more afraid. Yes, it should scare the audience temporarily sometimes, but the audience needs to be able to “disconnect” from the horror fairly soon afterwards. As soon as something in the horror genre starts adding fear to the audience’s everyday lives (even just for a day or two), then I would argue that it has failed.

So, if the horror genre isn’t supposed to make people’s everyday lives more scary, what’s the point of the horror genre?

Thrills, enjoyably silly melodrama, emotional catharsis, cynical laughter, escapism, retro nostalgia, atmospheric locations, artistic experimentation, something to accompany the heavy metal music you’re listening to, feeling like a badass because you aren’t scared by the silly monster on the screen etc… I could go on for a while.

The point of the horror genre is to allow us to look at “horrible” things in a safe way. To laugh at the things that frighten us, to cheer for the main characters, to feel tough because we don’t faint when we see silly monsters and/or copious amounts of stage blood, to distract us from the very real horrors that greet us every time we watch the news, to make us feel smarter than the characters on the screen etc…

As paradoxical as it sounds, good horror might scare us for a while but it should leave us feeling less afraid afterwards.

Good horror shouldn’t be a razor-sharp sword of Damocles constantly dangling above our heads, it should be a thick iron shield that we can use to protect ourselves against any fears that we encounter in our everyday life.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Books Vs. The Internet – A Ramble

A while before I originally wrote this article, I was waiting for my computer to finish a disk check. So, to pass the time, I ended up re-reading a couple of chapters of Warren Ellis’ surreal noir detective novel “Crooked Little Vein”.

Although it had been a little under a decade since I last read this book, it still retained the power to make me laugh out loud at regular intervals, to make me want to keep reading more of it and to make me wish that I had the boldness to write something even half as good.

After flicking through a couple of random chapters, I ended up reading an author interview that was printed at the back of the book. In the interview, Ellis stated that one of his main sources of inspiration was finding… strange… websites on the internet.

However, he also mentions that most of the sites that inspired him no longer exist. Yet, his novel serves as a permanent record of them.

This, of course, made me start to compare books and the internet….

The first obvious difference is that there is less censorship in books. Whilst the US has always had the first amendment, the concept of literary freedom only really began to appear in Britain after the “Lady Chatterley” trial during the 1960s. This gives books a real advantage over the internet in some ways.

For example, I read a lot of books when I was a teenager because books were a lot less restrictive compared to other forms of media (eg: age restrictions on films, stricter censorship standards in videogames, system requirements for computer games, dial-up internet etc..). For financial reasons, I mostly ended up reading second-hand books that were mostly written before the internet was really a popular thing.

But, whether it was the unflinchingly macabre imaginations of horror writers like Shaun Hutson or Clive Barker, the eccentric journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, the retro dystopias of Orwell and Ballard, the sheer weirdness of tattered old sci-fi novels from the 1950s/60s etc.. a lot of the second-hand literature of my teenage years would probably wouldn’t survive for long if it was freshly posted on the internet these days. It’d probably break some content policy or another.

Yet, at the same time, books lack the sense of connectedness that the internet has. If an old book uses some obscure jargon or makes an old cultural reference, then you either have to work out what it means from the context, ignore it, remember to research it later or just use your own imagination to “fill the gap”. If you see something that you don’t understand on the internet, then it’s just a simple case of doing a quick ten-second web search in another browser tab.

Whilst this will probably make you a more knowledgeable person, it also reduces the amount of individuality that everything on the internet has. After all, suddenly seeing something that you don’t understand in a book tells you that you are looking at another person’s imagination. You are seeing something by someone with different experiences and a different frame of reference to you. It reminds you that both you and the writer are different people with different minds and different lives.

Likewise, because books rely entirely on written descriptions, no two readers will have exactly the same experience of reading the same book. Every reader will imagine the characters, locations etc… in a very slightly different way. Yet with, say, a video on the internet or an online article that contains images – everyone sees exactly the same thing as everyone else does.

Yet, at the same time, the internet has the advantage that it is open to all. If it had never existed, then the sharing of ideas would be restricted to whoever the publishers happened to like. Cultural works would only get out into the world if people thought that they had “commercial potential”. Although there is the argument that the old methods of publication served as a “quality filter”, it has also been an unnecessary limitation and/or a source of discrimination of various types.

But, more interestingly, there are also a lot of things that books and the internet have in common. In particular, the feeling of being engrossed in a fascinating novel and reading a fascinating website are pretty much the same. That kind of beautiful trance-like state where you almost feel like you’re somewhere else, like your mind has somehow temporarily taken flight from your body. Like how, in old cyberpunk novels, the main characters would spend hours lost in fascinating virtual worlds.

Yet, even this differs between the two mediums. With books, it is a lot more focused and intense – since you are only reading one book by one person. But, with the internet, there’s more of a sense of exploration. If a topic fascinates you, you can flit between multiple browser tabs, run multiple searches,watch multiple Youtube videoes etc….

So, yes, books and the internet certainly have their differences. And their similarities. It’d be foolish to say that one was better than the other though – after all, this article was inspired by reading a book, it was written on a computer and it was posted on the internet.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂