April 2nd, 2007

Smile

(no subject)

Shortpacked!: Nobody asked for him, yet you got him.

April 3 is my birthday! But that's not important. Twenty years ago, I created my first distinct, enduring cartoon character. Through much of early elementary school, most of my original designs and concepts were transparent knockoffs of G.I. Joe. You know, military-minded groups of army dudes with specialized sci-fi vehicles. The sort of thing that It's Walky! built from. But then I created Ultra Car one birthday afternoon, and it stuck.

To the left is a photo of myself when I was nine years old and Ultra Car had turned one. My late grandmother, rest her soul, would ask me what I wanted on my birthday cake each year and would wholeheartedly oblige all my source materials. It made me the happiest boy in the world, which I damn well better have been because my grandmother had arthritis and Ultra Car was like 30 different colors.

Why the thirty different colors? Well, I was also a very... special boy. In the head. You see, each part of Ultra Car was colored a certain hue to camouflage that part against a certain environment. See, the orange front would blend into the plains, the brown rear end would blend against the mountains, the tires would blend into the water and the sky, and the green and yellow detailing would blend against forests and the desert, respectively. Oh, and the body was red because red is awesome.

What's not awesome? My grasp of how camouflage works.

The drawing up to the right is my first-ever drawing of Ultra Car. Other drawings on the same page showed him in jet mode (wings flipped out from underneath) and submarine mode (that's what the periscope and the little propeller on the exposed exhaust pipe was for). Ultra Car originally had giant yellow pontoons on the side, as you can see, but those were dropped fairly early.

Ultra Car rapidly grew a universe around him. David Hughes, a friend who rode the schoolbus with me, and I would "play Ultra Car" against the face of the seat in front of us, like a finger-puppet version of a side-scrolling shooter. Different hand positions stood for different villains. Crawling five fingers across the surface of the bus seat depicted a "Tyrancugun," a spidery robot ship thing. (I apparently couldn't spell "tarantula.") Opening and closing your palm like a chomping mouth represented a Power Builder Color. (Curiously named after one of the learning systems in our classrooms.)

Ultimately, as I grew older, it was Ultra Car's cast that rapidly outshone him. The self-insertion avatars of myself, David Hughes, and my best pal Dave Ressman evolved into the Roomies! characters Danny, Howard, and Joe. Monkey Master, the leader of the evil Obsticon army and Ultra Car's arch-enemy (left above), was repurposed as one of the Head Alien's creations in It's Walky!.

But Ultra Car is 20 years old today, and nostalgia must reign. As a retroactive birthday present to my eight-year-old self, I decided to create a side-scrolling shooter computer game that not only put Ultra Car back in his original environment and his original fictional backstory, but also against his evil nemeses as they existed at the time. There's Enemy Ships and Tyrancuguns and Power Builder Colors and Zytrons and Tryanno Rex and the Electric Man and they all build up to the ultimate end-of-game boss, the Monkey Master. It's the fifth-graderest thing ever made. It even features 25-year-old versions of our eight-year-old selves. (The actual 25-year-old versions of ourselves are probably kinda chubby, and haven't worn the same coat for 18 years.)

My pal Graham had a huge hand in its creation, since he's a bit of a side-scrolling shooter afficionado and I'm not. For example, it was Graham who realized that when Ultra Car died in the game that flinging a dead me from the remains wasn't enough. I also had to be on fire. Even under water and in space. Mostly he understood why this game was going to rule. Stuff when you're in fifth grade is always awesome. You're not weighed down so much by logic and realism. When you're in fifth grade, a giant robot Snoopy with a gun for a tail, named Guardmaster, is totally awesome.

So if you can mentally place yourself back that far into your upbringing, check out this game.

Ultra Car: Obsticon Onslaught
This version will expand to fill your screen! This is how it's meant to be played.

Ultra Car: Obsticon Onslaught Alternate Build
This version stays at 320x200, as the size-changing was screwing with some playtesters' screens. Of course, the downside is it's harder to see. It is tiny.

All you need are the spacebar to fire and the arrow keys to maneuver.

Enjoy my childhood!