ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Last Artgroup —


In the BBS Documentary, I dedicated an entire episode to the Artscene, the massive collection of groups doing ANSI artwork for bulletin board systems. I interviewed members of iCE and ACiD (and a bunch of others) and showed both the breathtaking variety of art they’d make, the political battles over the membership and releases, and a whole host of in-danger-of-being-lost aspects of this scene. This was released in 2005.

ACiD released one more artpack during the editing of the movie: ACiD 100. At over 450 megabytes, it contained mp3s, ANSI art, raster art and a whole other range of files. It was RaD Man’s sendoff of his group as a live entity – he wanted a big bang, not a quiet whimper. iCE, the other big remaining artgroup, had a website and unfortunately shut down slowly, in pieces, and is now a placeholder.  Mass Delusion, who is interviewed in the documentary, states it quite well when he says they’re no longer young and able to work on this sort of thing like they used to. I do hope it comes back, though.

ANSI shows up here and there – it has officially joined the semi-new classification of “lost digital skills” – skills which we have with computers which have lost favor or relevance. Some of these skills, like being able to open a hard drive and manually force the thing to work, are a product of the hardware getting smaller and resistive to our fat-fingered meddling. Others, like manipulating front-panel switches, harken to a type of setup no longer in favor. Without a doubt, some of the flavor of the computing experience is lost when these skills are no longer needed, but it’s usually for a good reason they’re gone. Ideally, new skills show up in their place, maybe with a completely different flavor and sometimes even more fun and productive.

And like a lot of artistic lost skills, seeing them alive again can cause a range of reaction: wide-eyed wonder by people who never came into contact with the original stuff, delight from people who thought they’d never see it again, bemusement from souls who consider only the newest to be the best and all things dead for a good reason. ANSI, I think can cause these reactions, and more.

A testimony to the power and wonder of well-done ANSI is that a version of it still announces the information about warez released on torrents in the present day. The elaborate, involved block artwork announcing a new movie screener or a cracked version of an Adobe product is, I have discerned, often utilizing artwork made over a decade ago. I’ve had the occasional ANSI artist profess concern about art they did when they were 21 still lurking about as they’re 34, with their old handle attached to it and the back-of-the-mind fear that, somehow, their current employer will discover this tentative but existent link between them and the “warez scene” and fire them. You may think this odd or overparanoid, but it’s not your livelihood at stake, either. I don’t know of a single case of this actually happening, of course.

In 2008, a new group announced itself: Blocktronics. From the About page, the following description is apt: “The idea was to create a refuge to aggregate remaining ansi artists from the “extinct” textmode scene. The group grew faster than expected, mainly because of the interest of “retired” artists that decided to join it and now has 37 members from several countries.”

The idea of “retiring” from ANSI art might seem odd, but that’s what happened, because once you lost people to pass the skills onto, once your stuff wasn’t needed for artgroups, you just kind of moved on, as many did, to working at games companies or becoming tattoo artists (several did) or just pure software development. But somewhere, in the back of your mind, were these unique skills to create ANSI art.

Blocktronics has now released pack #2: “Code Name Christian Wirth”, referencing RaD Man’s real name. It’s just wonderful.

You have a flash viewer to see the packs online, a top-notch piece of software that really lets you enjoy the works. You can download the whole pack as a zip, or read about who did what for this pack. And in what I think really shows off what’s going on here, a number of videos have been released by the group showing the creation of a piece of artwork from start to finish. It’s maybe too much to ask that new artists be inspired to work in this medium from all this demonstration, but you never know.

I’m always fascinated by these old skills rising up – it’s a project of mine, always, to highlight these lost skills and present them in a way both contemporary and respectful. This site, this group, is doing that very thing. Good for them.

Update: I didn’t mean to imply that this group was the only functioning artgroup still in existence, and that all others were completely dead – for example, Chemical Reaction is still in existence and even though they skipped 2007-2008 for releases, two packs came out in 2009; they include ANSI and a variety of other formats, and are of excellent quality. Mostly, I was taken with the sense of craftsmanship and presentation (and youtube video tutorials/demonstration) that Blocktronics has assembled, along with the cross-ex-group-members nature of the roster.

Categorised as: computer history | documentary

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  1. enzO says:

    Thanks for the article, Jason. We also admire your work and dedication!

  2. jas says:

    last ACiD artpack=worst artpack EVAR

    also filled with a lot of non-ansi scene crap.

  3. Catbones says:

    Excellent article. Very enjoyable read.

    @jas, who commented above me, sorry you didn’t appreciate ACiD-100. I guess your complaint was that there wasn’t enough textmode art?

    ACiD-100 was the culmination of all that ACiD was, past and (at the time) present/contemporary with it’s end. Sure there was a lot of non-ansi scene “crap”. ACiD evolved over the years to explore beyond ANSI art, anyone who was involved in the “scene” knows that. All the art groups of the day had done the same. Ripscript, “hi REZ”, loaders, music (ala PHLUiD musicians..) etc – ACiD-100 was a snapshot of all that ACiD had been and had become at the end…

    Again, sorry you’re so short-sighted as to not be able to appreciate all of that.


  4. TheJuice says:

    Wow, thanks for this, JS. I need to get in touch with these Blocktronics folks.

  5. jas says:

    catbones i’m not short sighted, nor do i have an uninformed opinion.

    sorry i didnt go into great detail regarding my comment but it’s my experience that it’s shared by a lot of people.

    I have about every ansi artpack available and i’d have to say acid’s last artpack wasn’t an example of evolution, it was just a collection of ‘filler material’.

    i believe this is due to radman having difficulties getting people to supply art and own up to their promises to submit to the pack.

    yes people get busy with real life, or become lazy, so that’s understandable.

    not trying to be a troll here, but ask anybody from the scene and you’ll hear nothing good about acid’s last artpack. infact it’s probably the hardest artpack to find due to its lack of content and 454.6M size

    acid’s last artpack had VERY little to do with the “culmination of all that ACiD was” (did you even see it?)

  6. phOman says:

    Another day, another blog post.

    Thanks for the support Jason.

    As a member of b7, I plan on having quite a few pieces on this next pack. A pack which I surmise will be bigger, better, and more badass than the previous two (two packs that are fantastic in their own right).

    Also, as a member of ACiD and someone who released art in ACiD-100, take it for what it is/was. It was a big moment for this scene, albeit a sad one, and it was a very thorough examination of everything ACiD has done from past to present. If you hated it and a “lot of people” did too, well, that’s just like, your opinion… man.

    I have this funny feeling in my tummy that ANSI is going to make some sort of hip comeback a la 80’s fashion sometime soon. I am extremely glad to be back and in the mix during this day and age.

    Long live b7!

    – phOman
    [b7 / TNT / CiA / ECHO / ACiD]

  7. Catbones says:

    First, *of course* i saw it, seeing as I was an active staffer on it’s release, I helped collect and assemble it.
    As for it being “the hardest artpack to find”, that’s a ludicrous statement; it’s been right here since it was released: http://acid.ord/100
    It wasn’t at all difficult to find contributions for ACiD 100. When Chris put the word out that ACiD was releasing it’s final artpack, everyone we asked was happy to contribute.
    Allow me to be your guide. It contains 25 textmode images (, 75 hiRez images which include multiple textmode to hiRez fusion images (, 60 Music contributions which account for a large portion of the 450mb size of the pack (, and 4 exe’s (viewers) which were current at it’s release (

    I’m sitting here wondering if we’re even talking about the same ACiD pack, and furthermore wondering if *you* even saw it.

    As for the quality of each individual contribution to the pack, that will be left to the eye of the beholder. When it came down to the end, yes, many members were on to greener pastures and it was left to those asked to contribute to send what they cared to send. Some ansi artists were more interested in hiRez works or music at the time, and no one was told what they had to submit…

    You’re free to have your opinion, like everyone is. Your original statement that it was “filled with a lot of non-ansi scene crap” was an understatement of the wide variety of what was included in ACiD 100, and I take some offense at your over-simplification of a fine final release. You are of course entitled to your opinion, but I’ll disagree with you if you say that is the greater opinion of the scene community at the time.

    ACiD made the transition from the BBS to the Internet, as did every worthwhile art group. Bandwidth became a triviality, and hiRez art and music became easier to distribute. 450 megs is tiny compared to things we download every day. The art scene evolved to appreciate the panorama of file formats that are represented in ACiD’s final releases.
    I was a member of ACiD since ’94, and remember the day when it was hard to get people to accept hiRez art if it wasn’t built into a loader. The packs back then were almost entirely textmode art. This changed due to the natural evolution of technology – as I said, computers and bandwidth became larger and faster, and most people appreciated the idea that we were no longer restricted to keeping everything as small as possible. ACiD and it’s contemporaries at the time had all gone on to release more hiRez and music than textmode art. That’s just the way it was. You may not appreciate that, but it’s the fact of the matter.

    I wonder if your nostalgia for textmode just left a bad taste in your mouth, because the pack was comprised of much less ascii/ansi than it was hiRez and music?

    In closing, and I won’t continue to have this discussion with you on Jason’s blog, you’re entitled to your opinion of ACiD’s final release – but to say that ACiD 100 was filled with “filler” and “non ansi scene crap” only shows your ignorance of the evolution of the art scene, LED BY ACiD, and is in fact short sighted.
    ACiD 100 was, as I stated, a collection of work that represented the artpack de le jour. There was no “filler.” It was not a hard pack to find contributors for. It was exactly what ACiD wanted to release as their final pack.


  8. asciigod says:

    Chemical Reaction released a textmode pack days before this b7 release.
    Also, Jas can eat a phat diccccck.

  9. Catbones says:

    I just wanted to say again that this article was excellent, and I appreciated your making me aware of “Blocktronics”. I greatly enjoyed taking in their site, and have browsed through their works. They’re a fine example of textmode art purists who are keeping the nostalgia alive.

    I apologize to you for my wall of text rants about ACiD’s final release, here on your blog. It wasn’t my intention to detract from the main focus of your article, I was merely taken aback by JAS’s insults toward ACiD’s farewell release.

    Fond regards to you, sir.


  10. lordscarlet says:

    Great article, Jason! Keep up the passion.

    As to the ACID 100 discussion.. I think the fact that ACID had abandoned the textmode medium years before put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. I think many people saw ACID 100 as an ego grab by RadMan.

    I am not one of those people, but many people have an inaccurate view of Chris’s contributions to the scene. Having said that, I don’t think ACID 100 was a monumental occasion in the textmode world. Groups were still releasing then, they are still releasing now. It seems fairly egotistical to act like it was “a big moment” for the scene. To most people it was a last-ditch grab for attention by a long dead group. Whether that was the intention or not is irrelevant.

    It does not mean that the content of the pack was of low quality, but everything has to be placed in context. At the time there were still several groups releasing, and many of the artists in those groups were pulled away to attempt to announce the death of the textmode scene by releasing ACID 100. Not undeservedly, this turned a lot of people off before it was even released.

  11. Jason Scott says:

    I updated the entry to mention Chemical Reaction’s releases, so as not to imply there’s no artgroups left except for Blocktronics.

    Lordscarlet, I have read your comment about 8 times and I’m still not sure what to take from it. “Some people” exist in all manner – I have people who want me to delete all my hard drives and I believe I’ve been informed I should personally jump in front of a train on several occasions. So I don’t know who the “many people” who thought ACiD 100 was something more meaningful and/or terrible other than a guy who’d spent over a decade, since his teen years, doing something and coming up with a nice wrap-up to his efforts. I think it’s pretty accurate to say it was definitely a big moment for the scene, in a historical fashion.

    We do not want to discuss here, trust me, the treatment I received from ‘the scene” during the production of the BBS Documentary’s ANSI/Artscene episode – without RaD Man’s almost constant efforts and assistance, there’d have been no such episode at all.

    And why is sixteencolors down?

  12. jas says:

    sorry if you consider what i was saying an insult, i was just trying to convey that the last acid artpack was absolutely not popular in the least.

    also at that time i was not able to get this pack from the acid website, since then, things have changed.

    So, yes i saw it, i even downloaded it again to refresh my memory. as someone who is a big ansi art lover, and someone who’s viewed every artpack i can find, i feel it’s something that’s really out of touch with what ACiD was.

    to me, a lover of ACiD’s artpack, it’s filled with a bunch of mp3s that nobody cared about and sub-par artwork in .png and jpg form.

    sorry but i dont feel it did the group justice. i guess because you are part of it you feel differently.
    i also dont recall it being such a big moment in the scene. it was like ‘meh.. here you go’.

    and i DO recall posts regarding finding people to contribute and people who said they’d contribute to it, yet didn’t. i think anybody looking at the pack can see that’s pretty self evident.

    and sixteencolors has been down for quite a while. i think it’s on it’s last leg ;[

    sometimes it works , sometimes it works and bombs out, sometimes it’s just down. ;[

  13. lordscarlet says:

    Jason, I definitely disagree with the treatment Chris has received. I don’t know how people have treated you, but I can imagine it is very similar. I was merely trying to explain where people are coming from.

    I think the key thing I did not express is that when ACID 100 was released, the group itself was irrelevant to the textmode art scene. They tossed it aside years earlier and decided to become a hirez and music only group. I think it seemed rather disingenuous to many people that ACID 100 tried to gain fanfare by bringing textmode art back into the fold. That is what reduces the impact of the release to “many” ANSI artists and followers.

    I have attempted to defend RaD Man many times in the past. I don’t understand the dislike people have for him. I wish I could apologize for the way people act, but I can’t. The scene would be very different without the great efforts he has gone through over the past 10 years to keep the past alive.

    Sixteen Colors is down because it is a piece of crap. 🙂 It goes through phases where it dies constantly and I don’t know why — then it magically comes back. I am trying, yet again, to actually complete a new, stable version. Hopefully that will actually happen, but unfortunately that takes time to complete. Feel free to email/im/whatever me if you notice it is down and I can give the server a kick. If anyone can help with coding the new version, I could definitely use a hand. I know it seems like it should be simple to do, but I’m very busy, and I’m trying to make it more than just a file structure that is browsable.

  14. Aaron Frick says:

    Love the hard work and dedication, thank you.


  15. retribution says:

    Hey Jason!
    I just wanted to say thank you for blogging about the pack. We may be still somewhat unheard of but the people that know about blocktronics know about us because of word of mouth style communication like this. I think I can say, along with enzo, that we really appreciate the little… shout-out here, I guess. Me no good with words! Anywho keep up the good work, and I promise to do the same (even though I’m a no talent hack who has to do terrible, terrible things to get his art in the packs!)


  16. jas says:

    lordscarlet : tracker hosts that site for you right? did you ask him for help?

  17. lordscarlet says:


    He does. He is supposed to be doing a hardware upgrade soon — if there’s not a new version by then, we’ll see if that helps. I can probably fix the code to make it function better, but I would rather put the time and effort into the new version.

  18. Sorry for my music contribution that nobody cared about in ACiD 100.

    Can someone tell me how to draw ascii on my MacBook? I can has codepage 437?

    Looking at the Blocktronics stuff, I feel like firing up Terminate to call Moose City. Damn. Nostalgia kicking in.

  19. Cool T says:

    I never saw much point in Acid releasing anything other than ansi art since that is the only thing that really made them stand out.

    For those of you too dumb to understand what I’m saying, let me put it this way — If you were to randomly grab half a dozen art students from anywhere in the world and release their “high res” artwork, I have no doubt it would be equal or better to any “high res” we’d see in an acid pack in the last 20 years. This isn’t to say that the “high res” artwork was bad, because it wasn’t. It just wasn’t anything extraordinary. I’m sorry if those of you who released music, poetry or tattoos in the acid pack are insulted by this, but let’s be honest. Back in the day, you downloaded acid for the best ansi. You went to a museum/theater/etc for the rest of that shit.

    As far as Chris is concerned… my only qualms are with how he has been portrayed as being someone who at one time actually was a real ansi artist. The truth is that the only ansi art he ever released that was of any merit was actually plagiarized from artists that actually had talent. No, this is not a theory. Just fact. Old facts. Rad Man’s ego could be forgiven if not for this.

    – Cool T (Acid)

    Those of us who were actually there back in the day are well aware of this. He was a good leader (acid is proof of that), but portraying him as ever having been a real ansi artist is a disservice to all those who really were.