My dream job as a child would have been creating loading screens for the ZX Spectrum.
In about 1984 I asked for a DK’Tronics light pen for Christmas and had visions of myself painting masterpieces for Ocean, US Gold, Ultimate, Durell…
…the reality was that drawing directly on to a 14″ TV screen with the pen’s time-lag made it impossible (at least for me) to create anything other than a mess of lines and shapes!
It wouldn’t be until I bought an Amiga 500+ some time in 1992 that I was actually able to start creating the digital imagery I had in my head. And by then of course the ZX Spectrum was consigned to history.
Recently I’ve been enjoying creating ZX Spectrum loading screens for some of my favourite movies – kind of scratching that itch that I never could as a child. Back in the mid-eighties I could have spent all day working on them, whereas nowadays time as an adult is much more limited and to date my work has simply been creating an image using an app called Retrospecs with some pre-filtering in PS express and occasionally some touch-up afterwards in Photoshop. But I’ve decided now to go a step further and finish them with the name of the game and a company logo to complete the loading screen.
Sometimes these loading screens are for games that did exist back in the day, other times it’s a loading screen for a fictitious game – either a movie that wasn’t made until after the life of the ZX Spectrum, or one that was never made for whatever reason. And with that in mind, Above The Law is the first of the loading screens I never created back in the day for a game that never existed!…
I’m surprised that Above The Law was never a game on the ZX Spectrum. Released in 1988 the movie hit at the height of the Spectrum’s popularity and featured a (nonsense) plot line made for a game…
Ex-CIA agent, sicilian martial arts expert Nicolo “Nico” Toscani must uncover CIA wrong-doing on the mean streets of Chicago. And the film is really just a show-case for Steven Seagal’s aikido skills, as he walks from fight to fight with a little exposition thrown in between to justify another fantastic brawl.
Had this licence ever been picked up, I imagine it would have fallen in to a standard Ocean template and found itself as a slightly modified version of Cobra (1986), where Nico runs from left to right punching generic bad guys and avoiding bullets. But wouldn’t it have been better if it had been a full-on fighting game like Street Fighter or Renegade!
So with that in mind, I’ve re-imagined the game as a US Gold licence of a Taito arcade game in the style of Renegade where Seagal’s Nico has to fight his way through several levels of differently themed Chicago thugs, deploying a range of aikido moves to despatch them, and then facing off against an end of level boss at the end of each stage.
I created this loading screen using Retrospecs to first convert an image of Seagal in to ZX Spectrum format, with some pre-filtering in PS Express to get the levels of the source image to best read and convert. For whatever reason, I’m finding that warmer skin tones convert better to ZX Spectrum images in Retrospecs. At the colder end of the palette the images don’t convert so well – possibly a limitation of the ZX Spectrum palette.
Then I took the the title of the movie from a different poster, cleaned it up a little in Photoshop and then converted it via Retrospecs in to a monochrome image.
Finally, I found some existing loading screens with some nice examples of the US Gold and Taito logos.
Then I took everything in to Photoshop, blowing everything up to 2560 x 1920 and setting a grid to work to, and then arranged everything so adhere to the colour clash rules. I didn’t need to clean up the image of Seagal at-all as that came straight out of Retrospecs in pretty good shape. Given a bit more time I might have looked to tidy up some of the square edges, but actually they make it feel a little more Spectrum-like, so I quite like them. Finally, I shrunk everything back down to 256 x 192 for the finished image above.
I’m pleased with the final result for a few hours work and had I been able to do this back in the late 80’s I’m pretty sure I would have been able to get that dream job creating loading screens!