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Remember how great ASCII art used to be in game guides?

90s kids, memories

Featured post Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2 rendered in ASCII art
ASCII art of the Resident Evil 4 title
ASCII art of the Batman Arkham Asylum logo, in the shape of the Batman bat logo
ASCII art of the Lucasarts logo featuring Purple Tentacle from Day Of The Tentacle

Back in the old days (10+ years ago), guides weren’t a thing that websites had a dedicated writing team for. Instead, they were written for free by absolute heroes who toiled away for months on end, updating their guides to new versions until they had cleared it to 100% and documented everything, entirely in their spare time. Go to sites like NeoSeeker and GameFAQs and you can still see their work preserved, their beautiful HTML formatting, and their instructions on the precise font and size you should view the guide in (or it would mess up the formatting and ruin all the work they put into the contents lists).

I used to sit up reading these in the 90s and 00s, a little goblin who wasn’t yet good enough to complete these games without help. You reached out to me, guides writers, and you never even knew it. And the true marker of the dedication of these artisans can be seen in one thing: the ASCII art of game titles they put in at the top of their work. A true craft that has died out but deserves to be seen and celebrated.

ASCII basically just means ‘the standard way of displaying text on your computer screen’, but since humans are an enterprising lot, we have long used it to represent more than just display text. Example: I can make an ASCII smiley face. :D

Back in the before times, before you could easily splash actual images onto the internet, ASCII art was a way to make your guides purdy to look at, and many guides writers really rose to this challenge. I do recommend you actually click through to look at the guides in their original format, not only because image compression mangles the crisp edges of the ASCII art a bit, but also because the guides themselves are often a joy.

Let’s start with a classic game for a classic artistic medium, with some ASCII title art for Doom and Doom II. This FAQ is by Hank Leukart and was last updated in 1994. It is a gift that we are still able to see it.

ASCII art of the logos for Doom and Doom II, combined for the FAQ

It even represents the colour change on the letters! (As a side note, you can learn a lot about Doom from reading this FAQ. The whole first section, before you get to any guide stuff, has info about the different versions of Doom and recent patches, the staff at iD, and what makes Doom different from Wolfenstein 3D.)

I’m a big fan of the use of upper and lower case for this Half Life 2 logo from Greg Slomin’s walkthrough. The use of negative space to form the ‘2’ is a genius touch.

ASCII art of the Half Life 2 lambda logo

This, from ChandooG’s Metal Gear Solid guide, is simple and classic, but I especially enjoy the inclusion of ‘A Hideo Kojima masterpiece…’. Alice0 also liked the use of ASCII art to make a cursive handwriting style title for the table of contents.

ASCII art reading 'Metal Gear Solid' and designed to look like the letters are 3D

Big fan of this one by Iron Knuckle because it makes The Curse Of Monkey Island look like a spin-off from The Fast And The Furious, possibly fronted by Zac Efron, rather than a point and click adventure about pirates. This Final Fantasy VII one has a very similar energy.

ASCII art that reads 'Monkey Island 3: The Curse Of Monkey Island

In a similar vein, well done to Jeremy Martin, who gave his Day Of The Tentacle walkthrough a header with a tentacle in it.

ASCII art of the Lucasarts logo featuring Purple Tentacle from Day Of The Tentacle

JD Cyr’s Chrono Trigger ASCII art is a work of, well, art (and if you like this, you’ll enjoy Toby Goldstone’s Quake FAQ header art, too).

ASCII art of the title of Chrono Trigger, including the fact that the C looks like a big clock

I couldn’t properly decide which Resident Evil 4 art to go with, there are so many good ones. In the end, I picked this from Adori’s Guide and Walkthrough (the full guide includes a lot of cool ASCII art by others, and Adori credits them all right at the top.)

ASCII art of the Resident Evil 4 title

But a special shout out to Adnan Javed’s Resi 4 guide from 2005, GhostOfLegault’s art from J Southgate’s Resi 4 guide, and Heath Lynch’s Guide and Walkthrough, also from ’05. The latter uses the time honoured technique of forming the letters out of smaller versions of the same letter, like a lovely matryoshka doll, so the big spooky 4 is made of 4s.

I had a similar problem picking just one from the many amazing TimeSplitters and TimeSplitters 2 guides. This one by Arognaut is definitely a stand out, but I would be remiss not to mention Super Nova’s slightly eye watering offering for their TS2 guide.

RainingMetal, a frequent Guide Of The Month winner, regularly starts their guides with a large scale ASCII portrait. I’ve used one from a Left 4 Dead 2 guide at the top, but also please enjoy this one from their Command & Conquer 3: Red Alert guide.

An ASCII art portrait of Oleg Vodnik from Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Guides like these started to fall out of use in the late 2000s and 2010s once websites got their act together with proper formatting, and ASCII art became less of a priority as a result. However, you can still find some lovely title art for more recent games. There’s a fun, massive Assassin’s Creed logo, an Arkham Asylum one in the iconic Batman bat shape, and Fable 2’s title rendered entirely out of the @ symbol (that guide is also notable for having an ingenious and user friendly chapter selection system using unique letter codes and the CTRL+F find function). And, obviously, there is always Skyrim:

ASCII art of Skyrim's title and diamond-shaped dragon logo

So God bless you, the internet of 20 years ago. You weren’t better in every way, but better for having these amazing examples of creativity, love, and the indomitable spirit of man. A spirit that looked at the title of a game and whispered, “I bet you could recreate that using commas.”

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Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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