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The ZX Spectrum isometric inspired art movement that is nostalgic about Rareware Maze Games
What is Filmationcore?
Filmationcore is a microgenre of electronic music and visual art style defined by an aesthetic used in games developed by Ultimate Play The Game (Now Rare Limited) during the early to late 80s. It is named after the Filmation game engine primarily used on the ZX Spectrum, as well as influencing other similar isometric games on computers like the Amstrad CPC, the BBC Micro, the Amiga 500, and the Atari ST.
The Filmation engine allowed the creation of 3D flip-screen environments through 8-bit isometric graphics and was designed to be used for platform-based arcade adventures. Player characters could move in four diagonal (from the player's perspective) directions, were able to jump over or onto obstacles, and could even push objects around the game environment.
Filmation can also be defined as “a unique process whereby you have complete freedom within the confines of your imagination, to do as you wish with any of the objects found within the system.” This abstractions creates an esoteric maze game with limited but world-expanding wonder and fascination to it’s game world. “Objects” may take the form of keys, weapons, health, energy, tokens, or anything abstract in the game’s limit. Objects, otherwise known as “blocks,” like pixels, take up space in the world and the player’s interaction. Often the objective revolves around collecting objects and returning them to a center room, finding another player character, defeating scurrying enemies, or simply finding the exit. Hence, Filmation can also be described as a genre of “action-adventure isometric maze games.” Sometimes, games can be in the original 2d, but share the same features of a sophisticated open-world maze from it’s isometric brother.
Filmationcore fans are referred to either as “players” or “Sabremen.” Each Filmationcore “game” begins with the player staring in an isometric “room” filled with blocks. The player chooses which direction to go, finding objects along the way to fill his inventory.
“The map” of the Filmation game is significant, as there is no in-game map. Physical maps are presented in an abstract manner, and included with every Filmation game. Filmationcore worships the ambiguity of the game’s map, and the scene is against creating or showing exact maps with others, as it is up to the player’s imagination to get lost in the open-ended maze. Players may however use their memory or draw out the map. On average, there is around 128 to 140 rooms per Filmation game. Physical maps are an important aspect of the Filmationcore subculture, as each fan collects maps, which are included in every Filmationcore product. Maps must be as abstract and mysterious as possible, but must have a correct logic of direction within the maze.
Puzzles are featured in most rooms, linking many different paths and directions. A teleporter may place the player into an entire different part of the maze. Many secrets and out-of-bounds objects are celebrated in Filmationcore, such as the elusive “Ice Key” found in Banjo-Kazooie. The Filmationcore subculture tries to emulate this mysterious fascination with their own brand of folklore stories.
Themes around Filmation games are an eclectic mix of fantasy, orientalism, science-fiction, dungeon crawl, psychedelic, and even western.
Filmationcore embraces the gamebook as the written art form over the novel or short story. The second-person narrative is the most important factor of the Filmationcore experience. In addition, Filmationcore tends to embrace “low memory” as a movement, often creating digital art under 1mb or around 50kb of memory. Fans tend to ignore modern video games in favor for pulp game books and text-based adventures. Ideally, systems that can emulate the ZX Spectrum are preferred.
The first Filmation games were published on ZX Spectrum cassettes, and many niche microgenres on Bandcamp borrowed such aesthetics. Filmationcore departs from the Bandcamp fad of cassettes, and instead embraces the Floppy disk format. These Floppy disks are ether read on modern computers, or on an actual Amiga diskettes. While most people do not own a ZX Spectrum, Filmationcore embraces the Amiga line of computers, and prefer to publish music as “.mod” files. Filmationcore musicians prefer players to load up an Amiga diskette on an actual Amiga computer and play the .mod files on a mod player, like HippoPlayer. While the Filmationcore scene would like to focus its interest on the ZX Spectrum, the Amiga computer playing Filmationcore music and demonstrating experimental demos is its only exception to the art.
There are 15 core games that define Filmationcore. They are listed below.
1. Alien 8
2. Atic Atac
3. Dragon Skulle
6. Head Over Heels
7. Knight Lore
9. Mire Mare
13. Sabre Wulf
14. The Staff of Karnarth
And 15., UnderWurlde
Other games outside this list that can also pass as Filmationcore include Total Eclipse, The Sentinel, Solstice, Tir Na Nog, and Fairlight. While these games have different gameplay, they share similar aesthetics of the mysterious and unknown maze adventure. For example, The Sentinel has also a mysterious graphical lore to it, and Total Eclipse follows the same Filmationcore rules.
Filmationcore follows a strict code of publishing art.
The Filmationcore rules are as followed:
1. Filmationcore music is released in a game box, and never in a jewel CD case, or published as a vinyl record.
2. Inside the game box, there are four things:
A. An Amiga floppy disk with .mod files on it for the player to listen on an actual Amiga. If they do not have an Amiga, a Filmationcore artist may publish the music as .wav on a normal floppy disk.
B. A gamebook that is similar to The Warlock on Firetop Mountain.
C. A printed map that can be hung like a poster, or used in the gamebook to figure out where the reader (or “player”) is going. Again, these maps are very abstract and not exact to the point. These maps are highly collected in the scene.
D. Inserts and advertisements related to the Filmationcore label. Sometimes, this may also include dice and a few pencils.
And Filmationcore music includes Joe Nally’s Total Eclipse.
There is many more things to say about the popularity of Filmationcore.
Until then, I will let everyone know what kind of Filmationcore art is out there when I find it!
Last updated on 10/24/2021.