From the pages of the past! Ads of yesteryear – Videomation

uDraw was a big success and an utter failure for THQ’s fortunes. It did well with the Wii crowd in 2010, but when it tried to break into the Xbox 360 and PS3 world a year later, the same enthusiasm wasn’t there leaving the company with millions of dollars of unsold inventory sitting in a warehouse.

It also didn’t help that software support for the tablet was rather weak for all of the consoles involved. No doubt that it was an interesting device resembling something of a Wacom-for-newbies introduction for armchair artists, but ultimately, THQ had stretched the device too thin and with too little behind it.

But would you be surprised to know that this wasn’t the first time that THQ dabbled with an art app for consoles? Before THQ was THQ, it was T*HQ for “Toy Headquarters” back when it was founded in 1989. And in 1990, an outfit called Western Technology, Inc. developed a title for them called Videomation on the NES which hit retail in ’91.

Videomation was the uDraw of its day without the huge tablet. The tiny NES controller with its A , B, Start, Select, and D-pad were all that you had, but the program crammed plenty of options into that device. You could tweak settings such as line width, colors, draw speed, throw in simple shapes like circles and squares, and use tools to help with straight lines and curves. Sorry, no scaling, rubber stamping, or layers up in this drawing program.

You can even throw stamps onto your masterpiece. These were small images like a teddy bear for that post-apocalyptic scene at the North Pole that you spent hours putting together. Animated items, like a (small) race car and a (tiny) jet plane, could also be tossed in after assigned it a pre-determined path to spice up your take of The Last Supper.

And if you made a mistake, no problem. An eraser tool can get rid of those pesky lines or you can just start from scratch. The problem was that if you did spend hours making a drawing that even Rembrandt might grudgingly call inspirational, the only way to save it was to follow its suggestion and use a VCR. That’s right…good old tape. This was in the days before consoles began integrating any kind of storage solution like a hard drive to do more than save games.

If you had an NES and didn’t have a PC with Microsoft Paint or some other drawing program, it wasn’t a bad alternative aside from having to rely on a VCR as a kludge to saving things.  Seeing the sample 8-bit art screens were also pretty convincing, though you have to wonder at how long it took to actually draw those and whether the artist was hanging on every pixel hoping that no one would trip over the power cord.

Videomation didn’t get a follow-up, probably for the same reasons that R.O.B. died off quietly, but both showed how the NES was different from its predecessors. The NES heralded a new era in gaming and no one could blame developers for sharing the same excitement by trying new things every so often to set it apart. But as history would show, they had their work cut out for them thanks to the games which would take the industry, and living rooms, by storm.

Videomation ad 1991

Videomation may not have been so much of a “game” as it was an interesting alternative to saving princesses, the world, or twisting your controller into a black and grey Twizzler after failing to beat the lame racing stage in Battletoads for the nth time.


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