art design

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Necronomiclones: Gigeresque Imagery in Video Games is an ongoing series that covers Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s influence on video game art design.

Contents:
Introduction
Contra

In continuing the theme of covering Contra games, this post will explore the gigeresque imagery in Super Contra and Super C. The popularity of the original Contra led to a bevy of sequels, each of which drew more liberally from Giger’s vision. The first of these was Super Contra, which was released for arcades in 1988.

Super Contra -- Promotional Art

Super Contra — Promotional Art — Alien reference: check, Predator reference: double-check

Super Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: Arcade
Release Date: 1988

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Red eye

The aliens from the original have returned, and this time they’re possessing human bodies. If there’s one thing (get it, human possession, The Thing) aliens are terrible at, it’s staying dead. Bill and Lance are sent to an infected military base to eradicate the alien menace once and for all!  This one’s a real tear-jerker, because our heroes are forced to kill their former comrades. Comrades be damned, we’ll burn the aliens out of them if we have to!

Super Contra -- Opening Cinematic

Super Contra — Opening Cinematic — Gas mask skulls

The game starts with an opening cinematic that features a one-eyed xenomorph. It’s lucky that Konami had the license to produce Aliens games, because otherwise they’d have had good cause to fear a lawsuit. Then again, in the wild west days of 80s arcade games, lawsuits probably weren’t much of a concern. Continuing the opening cinematic, Bill and Lance are seen running down a hive-like corridor. Jutting from the corridor are, for lack of a better term, the “gas mask skulls” that are commonplace in Giger’s artwork. An obvious example is the space jockey head from Alien, which was later revealed to be a helmet in Prometheus.

Super Contra -- Stage 3 Boss

Super Contra — Stage 3 Boss — Strange…

Super Contra commences with what would later become a trope in Contra games: our hero is dropped into the enemy base from a helicopter. He proceeds to fight his way to an assault helicopter boss, and then enters an Ikari Warriors-esque overhead stage where he destroys a large enemy tank that looks as if it was teleported in from the G.I. Joe universe. Continuing onward, he traverses a jungle, and encounters the first real Giger moment. Fixed to a wall is an alien head that fires red homing lasers. I’m really at odds with describing this boss. Even for a Japanese creation, he’s pretty strange-looking. He has an incredibly happy grimace, sort of like a really content alien cat. Scuttling across a platform below are several octopus cyclops that vomit pink goo. This boss is all kinds of weird.

Super Contra -- Stage 4

Super Contra — Stage 4 — That xenomorph is about to get sucked into the vagina door

Proceeding onwards, our hero enters the real meat of the game: the alien hive. This time around, the hive is fairly different looking from the arcade version of the first game. The color pallet is considerably grayer; in fact I think the mix of grey with purple in the original game’s hive is significantly more attractive than Super Contra’s abundance of grey on grey.

I’d like to take this time to point out one of my major criticisms with the arcade Contras. Man, the colors are ugly. The contrast is totally off; instead of any strong colors, the screen is dominated with muted grays. I’ve never seen any other arcade games that suffer from this problem. Because of the overabundance of grey, any time there’s a hint of colour, it looks incredibly jarring. Enough ranting, back to the game…

The floor of the hive consists of a skeletal webbing, and the ceiling is a network of what are best described as intestines. For the first time in a contra game, regular-sized xenomorphs are featured as enemies. They attack in droves; literally running at the hero. They’re in such a hurry that they’ll run offscreen should you jump over them. Even real xenomorphs aren’t this persistent. After killing dozens of xenomorphs, you’re confronted with one of the coolest bosses in video games: a giant winged xenomorph! The xenomorph has one eye, and a massive inner jaw that extends to at least eight feet (judging by the height of the protagonist). Coincidentally, one of Giger’s paintings features what looks like a winged xenomorph.

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger's winged xenomorph

Super Contra Stage 4 Boss vs. H.R. Giger’s winged xenomorph

Super Contra -- Stage 5 Final Boss

Super Contra — Stage 5 Final Boss — The creepiest eyes ever

After defeating the boss, you then negotiate a second portion of the hive, this time from an overhead perspective. The floor is bisected by gigeresque ribbed walls that curl offscreen. At the back of the chamber is the final boss. This guy is ugly, but in the best possible way. His giant head envelopes the center of the screen, and three smaller arms with faces worm their way out of adjacent tunnels. His headpiece has the familiar alien queen triceratops shape, and his arms are ribbed. After pummeling his exposed brain (that can’t be healthy), he does what all good video game enemies do after being shot up with bullets: explodes. And so concludes Super Contra. The world is saved, again.

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Super C -- Box Art

Super C — Box Art — Fantastic cover; nearly every boss is represented.

Super C
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platform: NES
Release Date: 1990 (Japan and USA), 1992 (Europe and Australia)
Alternative Titles: Super Contra (Japanese Famicom), Probotector II: Return of the Evil Forces (European and Australian NES)

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 5 — Into the hive

Following the success of Contra for NES, an NES port of Super Contra was a sure bet. And thus, Super C was born in 1990. Unlike Super Contra, Super C has two additional levels spliced between the jungle and hive: a green techno base, and an uphill mountain climb. Following the mountainous level, we’re presented with a short cinematic of our hero entering the hive.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — More gas mask skulls

To its credit, the NES version’s hive is considerably more attractive than its arcade counterpart, thanks in no small part to a much better defined, and more lush color palette. The floor of the hive is composed of a blue spiral texture, and grey gas mask skulls adorn the walls. Lethal red balls are released from chasms and proceed to home in on the protagonist. Balls and chasms: we’re in Giger territory.

At the far end of the chamber is the final boss from the arcade version. His first form has the familiar triceratops head that we know and love. This time around, his eyes are especially creepy; they follow you as you manoeuvre the screen. Adding to the spooky atmosphere, the walls of the chamber are ribbed, Giger-style. You know what, from now on I’ll just call this style of wall a Giger Wall. After you destroy the boss’ first form, he morphs into a conjoined three-headed monstrosity.

Super C -- Area 6

Super C — Area 6 — Creepiest eyes ever x3

Super C -- Area 7

Super C — Area 7 — Kangaroomorphs

After felling triceratops head (I know, he probably has a real name), you continue onwards to the final hive level. This is an attractive stage; the floor is ribbed, vagina doors and gas mask skulls litter the walls, and xenomorphs run at you in packs. Aliens galore. In an interesting video game gimmick, the final segment before the end boss forces you to maneuver an area where the ceiling continuously drops down on you. Should you survive, you’re greeted with an final boss that looks as if it was spawned from a lovecraftian nightmare. To be honest, this looks nothing like anything from Giger. The creature scuttles around on crab legs, has a giant muscled appendage protruding from its abdomen, and has two connected heads, one is a female face, and the other looks kind of like… Alf. After defeating this hideously awesome creature, you ride off into the sunset in your trusty helicopter.

As I promised, Super C and Super Contra delivered even more gigeresque goodness. The next post may or may not cover Contra III: The Alien Wars and Contra 4. Kind of like eating too much candy, I feel like I’ve consumed an unhealthy amount of Contra. We’ll see if the sugar rush fades before I sit down to write the next installment. Until then, please Like the Xenomorphosis facebook page! Later folks.

Super C -- Stage 7 & Final Boss

Super C — Area 7 & Final Boss

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Super C and Super Contra-related images

Necronomiclones: Gigeresque Imagery in Video Games is an ongoing series that covers Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s influence on video game art design.

Contents:
Introduction

“It’s time for revenge… Let’s attack aggressively!”

For this first installment of Necronomiclones I’ve decided to cover a series that’s especially fresh in my mind. Namely, the infamous Contra series. Does a better old-school co-op series exist? The answer is no. Everyone worth talking to has a great Contra story to tell. The first time I beat Contra III: The Alien Wars on normal difficulty, it was 3 in the morning and my co-op partner was high on shrooms. Needless to say, Contra is the stuff of basement legends. This entry will explore the gigeresque art design in Contra for arcade and Contra for NES.

Contra (NES) Box Art — I would pay so much money to see this movie.

Contra
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Featured Platforms: Arcade, NES
Release Dates: 1987 (Arcade), 1988 (NES)
Alternative Titles: Gryzor (PAL Arcade), Probotector (PAL NES)

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 1: Jungle — Is it just me, or does that look identical to the pulse rifle from Aliens?

Contra follows the tale of two army commandos, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, as they take on the Red Falcon Organization. The original japanese version is said to be set in the year 2663 on an island off the coast of New Zealand, whereas the American NES port’s manual establishes the events as taking place in the present day. Because we all know that American NES manuals are about as official as that Star Wars fanfic you wrote in high school, we’ll assume the Japanese version is the more accurate of the two. To put it candidly, Contra is big love letter to American 80s cinema. If Rambo, Predator, and Aliens had a japanese baby, its name would be Contra. In fact, the American NES cover features Schwarzenegger and Stallone posing with a xenomorph.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alien boss at top of waterfall

I’ve chosen to cover both the arcade and NES version in tandem because despite having fairly different visual styles, they share nearly identical level layouts. Both games start with our hero flipping shirtless into the jungle. Real men don’t jump, they flip. He then proceeds to fight his way into a base, traverses to the far side of the base, and ends up at the foot of a waterfall. Funny story: after years of playing Contra, I only recently found out from a friend that you can duck the bullets in the base… The first Giger moment presents itself at the top of the waterfall, where a giant alien boss lies in wait. In the arcade version, the alien has two heads, four arms, and is protruding from a metallic structure. Although far from a blatant xenomorph clone, the basic ingredients are all there. In typical Giger fashion, the arms are ribbed, and the jaw is evocative of a xenomorph.

Contra (NES) — Stage 3: Waterfall — Alternative alien boss on top of waterfall

The NES version of the same boss is fairly different looking, but no less gigeresque. Instead of having two heads, its cranium has the same triceratops-like shape as the queen alien in Aliens. One thing’s for certain: its arms are also about as useless looking as the queen alien’s; they flop around in circles while shooting fireballs at the hero. The alien shares another similarity with a xenomorph: it has rod-shaped dorsal fins extending from its back.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair

After killing the alien, our hero explores a second base, a snow field, an energy zone (?), a hangar. and finally, the alien’s lair. As the name would imply, the alien’s lair is essentially a large alien hive. In the NES version, the ceiling is composed of what look like skeletal shapes, and the floor is crisscrossed with red organic matter. Giger would be proud, very proud. Interspersed among the ceiling are pink protrusions that spew out white, fluffy balls that home in on our hero. The pink protrusions look like vaginas with teeth. As you’ll remember from the intro to this series, Giger loved to incorporate sexual imagery into his art. The arcade version of the lair is even more overtly gigeresque. The floor of the chamber consists of bone-like shapes, skulls, and gaping holes that look identical to the vagina doors in Alien’s derelict.

Contra (Arcade) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Mid-boss

Mid-way through the alien chamber, our hero finds himself face-to-face with what can only be described as a massive xenomorph head. In breaking with tradition, the xenomorph has horns distending from its carapace. Spewing from its mouth are small xenos that look as if they’re curled into a fetal position. How cool is that? A massive alien that barfs out smaller aliens.

Contra (NES) — Stage 8: Alien’s Lair — Final Boss

Continuing onward, the hero encounters the final boss in the core of the alien hive. If video games have taught me anything, it’s that every good alien hive is controlled by a massive internal organ. In this case, the organ looks like a giant heart, and is attached to the ceiling and floor by a network of veins and arteries. Defending the heart are a collection of eggs that look identical to those in Alien. And what do these eggs release? Face-huggers. Dozens of face-huggers that pop out and lunge at the hero. Some people are bothered by such obvious plagiarism, but personally I love it. Being the big Aliens fan that I am, I love to see its influence whenever possible.

After killing the heart, our hero is whisked away in a helicopter and the world is saved. One thing I’m still not clear on: why are the terrorists aliens? Doesn’t it seem redundant that a malevolent alien be classified as a terrorist? Evil aliens kill people, that’s what they do. Anyways, the next installment of this series will explore Super Contra and Super C, which contain considerably more gigeresque content than the original Contra. Look forward to it, and enjoy the following gallery that I put together!

Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of Contra-related images

There’s something really heartwarming about trudging knee deep in alien goo as you cut your way to the core of an alien nest. Actually, that sounds pretty awful. This first series covers a topic that I’m especially fond of: gigeresque aliens and alien environments in video games. I’m going to assume that if you’ve found this blog, you’re probably well aware of what I mean by gigeresque imagery. In a nutshell, describing something as gigeresque means that you’re likening it to the style of the legendary swiss artist H.R. Giger. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Giger is basically my hero. As far as this blog is concerned, he’s a God.

Again, I’m going to assume that most of you are more than familiar with Giger, so instead of going into a longwinded account of his life history, I’ll just quickly outline the visual tropes that roughly define his style. First, Giger loves to incorporate ribbed shapes into his art. When I say ribbed shapes, I’m literally referring to the look of a human rib cage.

How about some coleslaw with those ribs?

This leads into another common element, which is the use of bone-like shapes. It isn’t uncommon to see skulls or spinal cord-like structures in Giger’s images.

Skulls and spines.

Next, Giger’s art wouldn’t be what it is without the abundant use of phallic or yonic imagery. As I write this, I’m staring at one of Giger’s airbrushed paintings, and it’s actually just a penis entering a vagina, repeated six times. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her within five miles of Giger…

I’d hit that.

The next common theme in gigaresque art is the concept of an organic/metallic synergy, which Giger himself coined with the term “biomechanics”. To many people, the word biomechanical is most commonly associated with the style of tattoo that Giger spawned. How many artists can be directly credited with instigating an entirely unique style of tattoo? One day I may write a post on how I think that biomechanical tattoos rarely look all that gigeresque too me. They often rely on dagger-like shapes, which I’ve never seen in Giger’s art, but that’s a topic for another day. Back to the point, the biomechanical nature of Giger’s art translates into imagery that looks somewhat mechanical, or industrial, but has a very organic shape and flow that you rarely see in actual mechanical objects.

Is it organic? Is it mechanical? Only Giger knows.

An important point to stress is that Giger’s art has a very organic feel. Every shape blends into the next, creating a structure that flows throughout the work of art. Finally, Giger’s artwork is almost always incredibly dark. It’s rare for him to use any color; meaning that the bulk of his work consists of various shades of grey (no, not those shades of grey…). So as a quick recap, gigeresque art often includes ribbed and bone-like shapes, relies on sexual imagery, has a biomechanical synergy, and is dark, like Giger’s heart. Giger’s a dark guy, and we like him that way.

Now that you’ve had a crash course on gigaresque aesthetics, let’s take a step back and see how this relates to the alien art design in the video games that this series will be covering. Giger’s real claim to fame were his designs for the movie Alien. As far as I’m concerned, the xenomorph is the most original and genuinely terrifying alien ever conceived by man. The dark aesthetics of Alien and its sequel Aliens influenced a generation of video game designers; not only in North America, but worldwide. Most importantly, from roughly the mid-eighties to early nineties, most alien designs in Japanese video games were directly influenced by these seminal films. Don’t believe me? This series will undoubtedly change your mind. The range of influence extends from almost blatant plagiarism, to subtle visual cues that evoke images of the hive from Aliens or the derelict’s corridors in Alien.

Super Turrican on SNES — No xenomorphs to see here.

I should probably point out that many of the games that I will cover in this series may seem only vaguely gigeresque. My reasoning is that every organic alien environment in a video game owes a debt of gratitude to Giger. The design of the Derelict in Alien and the hive in Aliens (yes, I know the hive wasn’t designed by Giger), are the main source of inspiration for these types of environments. Therefore, there may be times when I’ll cover environments that don’t seem particularly gigeresque, but by virtue of the fact that they’re somewhat hive-like, I feel they’re at least indirectly inspired by Giger.

So what can you expect from this series? My plan is to start with the classics: Contra, R-Type, Gradius, Turrican and Metroid. Next, I’m really looking forward to delving into more obscure games. Expect to see a lot of coverage of japanese shooters from the mid-eighties to the late ninteties. And as always, if you have any suggestions for games that I should cover, please email me at xenomorphosis@gmail.com. Stay tuned folks!