Review: “The Last Night” (Free Cyberpunk Computer Game)

2017-artwork-the-last-night-review-sketch

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the cyberpunk genre. To be more specific, I’m a massive fan of gloomy, rainy, neon-lit, film noir-inspired “Blade Runner“-style cyberpunk. This is, perhaps, the coolest genre ever invented and, yet, things in it can often be surprisingly difficult to find. Then again, we live in a strange world where radio stations play pop music instead of heavy metal music, so this probably shouldn’t surprise me.

So, whilst waiting for an interesting-looking indie cyberpunk game called “Technobabylon” to go on special offer, I decided to do yet another Google search for games in this genre. And, to my absolute delight, I stumbled across a free flash game called “The Last Night(note: the site will start playing music automatically once it’s loaded).

So, let’s take a look at “The Last Night”:

the-last-night-titlescreen

“The Last Night” is a game created by Tim & Adrien Soret for an event called “Cyberpunkjam” in 2014. This was one of those “game jam” events where people make games in a ridiculously short amount of time. In fact, this entire game was created in just six days! And, wow, it looks amazing!

Yes! This is the very beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Yes! This is the beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Seriously, why don't MORE games look like THIS?

Seriously, why don’t MORE games look like THIS?

Even though the pixel art graphics look fairly minimalist, they still seem impressively detailed and atmospheric (seriously, if you’ve ever even done research into how to make pixel art, you’ll understand how challenging making all of this detailed art must have been).

But, whilst I could probably spend several paragraphs talking about how astonishingly good this game looks and how it’s graphics put most large-budget games to shame, I should probably actually – you know – review the game.

Since it was only made in six days, this game is very short. It can be finished in three minutes or less. As befitting a game of this length, the story is fairly simple- you play as a nameless assassin who has been tasked with shooting someone.

Although this might sound like a ludicrously simplistic plot, it actually works really well since it sums up a lot of the gritty moral ambiguity that makes the cyberpunk genre so interesting. After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a compelling film is the fact that Deckard probably isn’t the “hero” of the film. Likewise, the fact that we are told very little about both the assassin and his victim leave a lot of room for us to “fill in the gaps” with our imaginations.

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s nothing spectacular. You walk around slightly slowly, you have to shoot flying robots before their searchlights touch you, you have to scare or kill (the graphics leave this fairly ambiguous) some guards by firing your gun near them and you have to carry out an assassination.

But, given the game’s tiny length, it doesn’t really have time for complex, detailed gameplay mechanics. So, the simple “walk around and shoot” gameplay actually works really well. In fact, it’s far more well-implemented than the clunky combat system in another cyberpunk game called “Gemini Rue” which is an actual commercial game!

 The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

However, one interesting (albeit chilling) thing about the gameplay is probably the final scene of the game. Once you’ve shot the character that you’re supposed to shoot, he staggers off to a nearby balcony, where you have to shoot him again. This is in stark contrast to the “clean” violence found in most action games and – in this one little scene – the game is almost more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner”.

After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a unique film is the fact that it isn’t an action movie. Whenever violence is shown, it is subtly shown to be an ugly, horrific, immoral thing rather than the kind of “heroic” violence that is common in Hollywood movies. This game is able to re-create this complex portrayal of violence in less than thirty seconds, using 1980s-style graphics. Now THAT is an achievement!

 Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

As for the music and sound design, most of it is really good. All of the sound effects (eg: rain, gunfire etc..) are all suitably thunderous and dramatic.

Likewise, the game’s background music is the kind of ominously relaxing 1980s-style synth music that is pretty much synonymous with the cyberpunk genre. The only criticism I have of the music is the fact that the song that plays in the nightclub sounds a little bit too much like 1970s disco music.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song - with vocals - into the game is really cool.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song – with vocals – into the game is really cool.

All in all, despite a couple of really tiny flaws, this game is AMAZING! Seriously, in just three minutes of gameplay, it contains better graphics, more atmosphere and a more compelling storyline than many large-budget games probably have. It’s like “Blade Runner”, “Cowboy Bebop” and the Hong Kong level of “Deus Ex” all rolled into one game. And it was made in just six days! Seriously, play it! Right now!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six!

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Today’s Art (12th September 2015)

Well, I was still in a “1990s nostalgia” kind of mood (when aren’t I?), so I thought that I’d make some fake pixel art for today. If you’re curious about how to convert digital images into fake pixel art (using nothing more than an old version of MS Paint), then here’s how to do it.

As a blog exclusive, I’ll also provide a copy of the original watercolour painting that today’s picture is based on.

As usual, both pictures in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"The City, A Million Pixels" By C. A. Brown

“The City, A Million Pixels” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the original painting, from before I converted it into (256 colour) pixel art:

"The City, A Million Pixels (Original Version)" By C. A. Brown

“The City, A Million Pixels (Original Version)” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of… Pixel Art

Yes, this picture is - technically speaking - fake pixel art that I made in about ten minutes (using a digital photograph and MS Paint). But, well, I wanted to spend less than five hours making it....

Yes, this picture is – technically speaking – fake pixel art that I made in about ten minutes (using a digital photograph and MS Paint). But, well, I wanted to spend less than five hours making it….

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite art styles. I am, of course, talking about pixel art. Technically speaking, all forms of art that are viewed on a computer screen are pixel art (since they’re made out of pixels). But, I’ll be talking about types of art that have been designed so that the individual pixels are clearly visible.

In case you haven’t seen much pixel art before, here’s a really cool horror-themed cyberpunk music video by a band called Perturbator that contains lots of expertly-drawn pixel art animation. So, yes, pixel art is digitally-created art in the style of old computer and video games from the early-mid 1990s (and probably the 1980s too) and it’s amazing.

One reason why I’m a massive fan of this type of art is because I grew up playing games that used this art style. In fact, I still play a lot of games that use pixel art-style graphics (eg: all of the many “Doom II” WADs that I’ve reviewed here). But, I’m a massive fan of this art style for more reasons than just retro nostalgia.

One of the things you will quickly learn if you ever do any research into making pixel art, or if you actually try to create any of it yourself, is that it is one of the most technically challenging forms of art in existence. It may look like the kind of simple low-resolution artwork that any artist could knock out quickly, but looks can be deceiving..

Yes, you can make fake pixel art fairly quickly and easily (using MS Paint and digital photos). But, if you’re making true pixel art, then you have to work with a limited 256-colour palette, you have to make your art pixel-by-pixel and you have to add a lot of shading effects to your art completely manually.

Another thing that makes pixel art such a challenging type of art to create is the fact that you have to get a lot of detail across using a fairly small number of pixels. This is a lot more difficult than it looks. If you want a good example of this, just look at any game on the original Game Boy console – the main character of a Game Boy game may only take up a small amount of the console’s tiny screen, but they’re often still very distinctive and you can tell what they look like at a glance.

One other reason why pixel art is such a cool type of art is because it has a lot more life than traditional art does. Allow me to explain. This style of art was originally invented for use in computer and video games. As such, it was designed to be easy to animate and quick to load on old computers and games consoles.

What this means is that any piece of pixel art looks like a still frame from a game. As such, when you look at a piece of pixel art, it’s very easy to imagine what will happen next. It’s very easy to imagine the “game” that it could come from. So, although pixel art may look very simple, it has a life to it that most other artforms don’t quite have.

Pixel art is also gloriously unrealistic, which gives artwork made in this style a sense of wonder and fantasy that most other artofrms just don’t have. Ever since the mid-late 1990s, games have been trying to outdo each other when it comes to using “realistic” 3D graphics. And, in their quest for “realism”, they lost what makes gaming so special.

Apart from technical and financial reasons, there’s one good reason why a lot of indie games use “old fashioned” pixel art, rather than more modern 3D graphics. It’s because it hearkens back to a time when actual creativity mattered in computer games. If you couldn’t wow your audience with photo-realistic graphics, then you had to keep them interested by making a well-designed game that was fun to play, contained innovative things and/or which had good writing.

Finally, in a strange way, pixel art looks more futuristic than modern digitally-painted art or modern 3D graphics do. This was the first type of art to ever be created using nothing more than computers (hell, even Andy Warhol made a surreal pixel art version of Boticelli’s Venus in the 1980s).

Unlike modern digitally-painted art, it didn’t try to visually imitate the style of traditional paintings- because it couldn’t. It was a new artform for the digital age and… well… for this alone, it’s still more innovative and futuristic than anything that has been created since.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

How To Turn Photos Into Fake Pixel Art Using MS Paint

2014  fake pixel art article sketch

[Note: This guide will teach you how to convert photos into something which might, to the untrained eye, vaguely resemble something similar to pixel art. It will not teach you how to make proper pixel art.

Anything you create using this method will, almost certainly, be unusable in any sprite-based games that you plan to make. The images you make using this technique will probably only be useful for novelty value only. You have been warned.]

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I felt like making some retro pixel art. “How difficult could it be?” I thought.

Still, I thought that I should probably do some research before trying to make this type of art in case there were any major mistakes that I had to avoid. So, I looked on Google and quickly found two excellent guides to making pixel art (which can be found here and here).

Pretty great, right?

Wrong. It quickly became obvious to me that pixel art is actually one of the most difficult art forms to work in. You have to have a very good understanding of colour theory, you have to manually add a whole host of visual effects to your picture (eg: anti-aliasing, dithering etc…) and you need to be a good enough artist to draw a clearly-recognisable character in a 16 x 16 pixel square.

Making real pixel art is a skill and it is a skill which requires a lot of knowledge and probably years of practice in order to get right. Drawing pictures and making watercolour paintings seems like child’s play by comparison.

Still, not wanting to go away from this experience completely empty-handed, I was able to work out a way to turn photos into vaguely realistic-looking fake pixel art using MS Paint (I’m using version 5.1 of MS Paint – because I’m behind the times). And, well, I thought that I’d share it with you.

For this guide, I will be using a photo called “Immaterialization” by Marendo Müller, which was released onto Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons- Public Domain licence (and is therefore free for anyone to use without copyright issues).

"Immaterialization" by Marendo Müller (Released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Licence - Image from Wikimedia Commons)

“Immaterialization” by Marendo Müller (Released under a Creative Commons Public Domain Licence – Image from Wikimedia Commons)

First of all, you need to make a backup copy of the photo you want to convert into fake “pixel art”, in case the conversion doesn’t work very well. After you’ve made your backup copy, you need to resize your picture in order to make it smaller.

For the purposes of this tutorial, I have shrunk “Immaterialization” to 300×200 pixels – but you should probably make your image smaller than this.

The resized 300 x 200 pixel version of this photo.

The resized 300 x 200 pixel version of this photo.

You can either shrink your image in MS Paint by using the “Select” tool and then moving the corners of the selected area or, if you want more precision, you can use another image editing program to resize the image. I resized the image in this tutorial using my (ancient) copy of Paint Shop Pro 6, but most other image editing programs probably have a “resize” feature too.

Once you have a smaller version of your image, you then need to click “Save As” and, when MS Paint asks you which format you wish to save it in, select “256 Color Bitmap” (I’m not sure if this format is supported in modern versions of MS Paint, but it’s certainly there in version 5.1 at least). Once you’ve selected this, a dialogue box which looks like this will appear:

Click "Yes" - losing colour information is all part of the process.

Click “Yes” – losing colour information is all part of the process.

Once you’ve done this, you will be left with a version of your photo which only contains 256 colours. This is important because most old games consoles from the early-mid 1990s and many old arcade cabinets from the same decade could only display 256 colours.

Yes, real pixel art often uses fewer colours than this, but reducing your image to 256 colours will instantly make it look at least slightly retro (although we need to do more than just this to make vaguely convincing fake pixel art). Anyway, your 256 colour photo should look something like this:

With 256 glorious colours! [I had to re-save this image as a ".PNG" because WordPress won't allow 256 colour bitmap images to be uploaded]

With 256 glorious colours!
[I had to re-save this image as a “.PNG” because WordPress won’t allow 256 colour bitmap images to be uploaded]

Sometimes converting a photo to this format can mess up the colours or make them look surreal.

For example, when I’ve converted some of my own art to this format for animations (to keep the file size down and to allow easy editing between saves), I’ve noticed that pale skin tones can sometimes become a strange shade of pale green (this shade of green can be seen on the front of the woman’s vest in the 256 colour version of “Immaterialization” in this tutorial).

But, if any surreal colours appear in your photo, all you need to do is to use the “Pick Color” tool in MS Paint (the one that looks like a dropper and will change the paintbrush colour to the colour of the pixel that you click on) to click on areas that are the right colour and then use the other drawing/painting tools to smooth out any strangely-coloured areas.

Anyway, now that you’ve got your small 256 colour version of your photo, you need to change the brush colour to black (from the colour menu at the bottom or side of the screen) and select the “pencil” tool or the “line” tool.

Once you’ve done this, you need to zoom in and start drawing thin black outlines around all of the significant parts of the photo [eg: people, buildings, animals, cars, trees etc…]. These lines should only be one pixel wide.

Unfortunately, the cursor disappeared when I took this screenshot. But, hopefully, you get the idea....

Unfortunately, the cursor disappeared when I took this screenshot. But, hopefully, you get the idea….

Once you’ve done this, you should end up with something that looks at bit like this:

The 256 colour photo with outlines.

The 256 colour photo with outlines.

Now all you have to do is to use MS Paint or, preferably, another image editing program to resize the image again. This time, we’re making the image larger (I increased the size by 300%, but you should probably see what works best for your photo).

After you’ve done this, you will need to save the image as a “.PNG” file (and NOT as a a JPEG, because this will blur your image slightly and ruin the “pixel art” effect.)

You should end up with something that looks like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. This sort of looks like pixel art when it's viewed at full size.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. This sort of looks like pixel art when it’s viewed at full size.

Congratulations! You’ve just made some fake pixel art 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂