Imaginary Consoles

I like pixel art. And one thing I really love about pixel art is the constraints imposed by ancient technology. You have to make something look good using X colors in X frames.

So, ages and ages ago, I dreamed up a console with slightly different constraints. Eight colors per palette instead of four, like the NES, or sixteen, like the SNES, and a slightly different button layout. I called it the Game Dragon.

And then, just because I would make games (and, later, comics) for the imaginary console that were meant to run on modern machines, I decided this console spit out graphics in 16×9 instead of 4×3.

I even mocked up a controller in 3D.

My idea was that someone making a game console late in the NES’s lifecycle, but before the SNES’s lifecycle might notice that Start and Select on the NES were kind of redundant, and try a shift button instead.

At the time, I assumed, wrongly, that the NES stored its controller state in a dedicated byte. After all, eight buttons means eight bits. It’s very elegant.

It’s also not at all how controllers work on the NES. But to this day, I’ve adopted it as my imaginary controller constraint.

And then, I was handed an epiphany by someone else who makes up retro consoles in his head.

So that’s it! From this day forward, the Start button sends impossible D-Pad Directions, and there is a third face button on the Game Dragon controller. We’ll call them A, B, and J, under the assumption that the most commonly needed “extra” button is a jump button.

I have yet to make a 3D version of this gamepad.

I like three face buttons. One of my problems with SNES and later control pads is that you often have three face button functions — e.g. dash, shoot, and jump — that you want to do at separate but overlapping times in games, but because of the four face buttons, one of the buttons is nearly impossible to get at.

Anyway, a while back, while working on my sprite comic, I decided to envision a handheld version of the GameDragon. The “Dragon Egg” perhaps.

I mocked it up in 3D to use for the Twitter panel (Twitter displays 16×9 panels best if there are four; whereas a 5×8 print book works best if there are three, so having a fourth “title panel” for Twitter makes the comic work smoothly across multiple media).

Well, I’ve tinkered with the handheld over the last few days. I’ve decided that in modern times, the company that makes GameDragons made a keychain version using state of the art tech, similar to the NES Mini: that is, with a library of nostalgia-bait games stored right onboard.

I’ve fattened it up so it can look small while still having room for batteries and electronics, added the keychain, a power LED and speaker holes. Moved the shift button to the top. Added labeling. This is about as good as I can make this model. To do any better, I’d have to make a new model from the start, which is fine, but not high on my priority list. This will do extremely well for many title screens to come. This model is not a well-made thing, having a ton of shortcuts taken and junk geometry generated, but I can swap out the graphic on the screen and change the colors of the casing to signify different story arcs etcetera.

Theoretically, this is the world the comic would take place in. Because the ROMs of dozens of classic Dragon Egg games are stored inside the Dragon Egg Mini, all the game characters can live together and interact. Because it’s newer technology, it can use a color screen with separate foreground and background palettes for games that were originally 100% black and white.

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