What Is ANSI Art, and Why Was It Popular in the 1990s?

 

A Red Wolf ANSI Art Example
The Cave BBS / Nukemaster

Throughout the age of the dial-up BBS, a particular model of digital illustration emerged that utilized 256 textual content characters and 16 colours to create a vivid array of artworks. Right here’s a take a look at why ANSI artwork emerged and the way it nonetheless serves as a singular hallmark of early on-line tradition.

What Is ANSI Artwork?

Within the days earlier than house web hit the mainstream, a special digital medium known as bulletin board programs (BBSes) supplied the web gateway to chatting with different pc house owners, exchanging recordsdata, and even taking part in video games.

To connect with a BBS in the course of the golden period, you wanted a private pc, a dial-up modem, a phone line, and a text-based terminal emulation program. Terminal emulators (corresponding to Procomm Plus) on the IBM PC) may solely show 16-color textual content and ASCII characters—no bitmapped graphics. This limitation was handed down from the teletype days, the place particular codes transmitted in a serial vogue represented completely different letters on a web page. As terminals acquired extra subtle (together with the usage of video screens as an alternative of paper), producers added new methods of controlling the textual content output, together with positioning the cursor wherever on the display or switching between types of textual content.

The Cave BBS ANSI Art by Nukemaster
An ANSI created for the creator’s BBS within the early Nineties. The Cave BBS / Nukemaster

ANSI artwork is a particular kind of pc artwork that originated on the IBM PC within the Eighties and was used primarily as a means to offer colourful digital illustrations for text-based BBSes. The ANSI artwork palette consists of the 256 characters current within the IBM PC “prolonged ASCII” character set (additionally known as Code page 437.) Particularly, Code Web page 437 allowed a brand new dimension in text-based artwork as a consequence of its block characters (that could possibly be used equally to pixels,) gradient blocks for shading results, and particular single-width and double-width traces for drawing packing containers and menus.

ANSI artworks can make the most of 16 foreground and eight background colours as outlined by ANSI.SYS in MS-DOS. ANSI artwork depends on particular terminal management sequences known as “escape codes” (a type of these terminal management codes we talked about earlier), and that’s the place the “ANSI” half actually is available in.

IBM Code Page 437 Characters
The characters in IBM Code Web page 437.

ANSI stands for “American National Standards Institute,” which is a corporation that maintains requirements in the US. ANSI artwork will get its title from its use of ANSI escape codes outlined by the ANSI X3.64 customary adopted in 1979. These escape codes present a text-based approach to ship management codes to a text-based terminal to alter colours, place the cursor wherever on the display, and extra. That cursor management capability additionally permits ANSI artists to create animations and fancy animated results corresponding to spinning cursors at BBS command prompts.

ANSI artwork was the newest in an extended custom of text-based character artwork practiced as ASCII art on BBSes and teletypes earlier than the IBM PC—and even on typewriters for nearly 100 years previous to the PC period.

RELATED: What Are Teletypes, and Why Have been They Used with Computer systems?

Why Did Individuals Use ANSI Artwork?

With out every other graphical capabilities to fall again on, many PC-based BBSes utilized ANSI artwork as ornament and embellishment that added persona to their programs. And BBS callers typically traded or collected ANSI artworks (with the file extension .ANS) for enjoyable.

Additionally, BBS door games (corresponding to TradeWars 2002 and Legend of the Pink Dragon, for instance) used ANSI artwork for title screens and colourful illustrations that added ambiance to the sport expertise.

TradeWars 2002 ANSI BBS Intro Screen
EIS

To create ANSI artwork, folks typically used a particular program known as an ANSI editor. The earliest recognized specialised ANSI editor was ANSIdraw, launched round 1985. The next yr, Ian Davis launched TheDraw, which grew to become the preferred ANSI artwork editor for a few years. Later, devoted ANSI artists switched to extra subtle applications corresponding to ACiDDraw and PabloDraw, which is presently maintained as we speak.

As soon as ANSI grew to become a well-liked artwork kind on BBSes, it didn’t take lengthy earlier than a devoted ANSI artwork group sprung up. Totally different teams corresponding to ACiD Productions (initially quick for “ANSI Creators In Demand”) and iCE (“Insane Creator Enterprises”) would collect the most effective artwork from a gaggle of artists and distribute them often in “art packs” (compressed recordsdata stuffed with ANSIs) that had been traded on BBSes.

What Occurred to ANSI Artwork?

Within the mid-Nineties, the rise of the graphical net made serial terminal text-based communications appear out of date. The graphical net may present bitmapped pictures, completely different high-resolution fonts, and could possibly be interacted with utilizing a mouse in a contemporary graphical person interface (GUI.) In distinction, the terminal-like expertise on a BBS was largely a vestige of an earlier age earlier than the GUI.

A Legend of the Red Dragon title screen ANSI art for BBS
Seth A. Robinson

As soon as the web got here alongside, BBS utilization dropped dramatically within the mid-to-late Nineties, making ANSI artwork much less essential. Additionally, round that point, Home windows grew to become extensively adopted within the PC world, and a lot of the fonts didn’t embrace the particular “prolonged ASCII” characters of Code Web page 437 that made ANSI artwork work. So even in the event you known as a BBS in a terminal emulator operating beneath Home windows, the fonts would sometimes not render ANSI artwork correctly. Additionally, proportional fonts (with variable spacing) made each ANSI and ASCII artwork break, since they relied on fixed-width fonts to work correctly.

ANSI art examples today

Nonetheless, whereas ANSI artwork died again dramatically within the early 2000s (and a few ANSI artists transitioned to bitmapped artwork launched as JPEGs), a resurgence in BBS nostalgia has introduced the artwork from again from the sting over the previous 15 years. At the moment, some die-hard ANSI artists still create ANSI art each for modern BBSes and for viewing on the internet because of particular web sites.

In truth, in the event you’d wish to view ANSI artwork as we speak, you’ll be able to view in depth archives at each 16color.rs and Artpacks.org. Each websites allow you to view ANSI artwork as graphical pictures in your browser without having to any particular software program. If you wish to view ASCII artwork, ASCIIart.edu has you coated. Have enjoyable!

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