Is ANSI ASCII or is ASCII ANSI?

Text art is having a revival of sorts. If you didn’t notice it yet, you’ll see it in the next release on Chipflip with some goodness from Raquel Meyers. I recently saw some nice work made with Melly’s ASCIIPaint and also good animations made in a program called ascii-paint (which was built from ASCII-Paint).

ASCIIPaint-work by Markham, 2010 (cropped, to avoid artefacts)

But I couldn’t help thinking – despite all the ASCII-names – isn’t this actually ANSI? I remember getting dissed by both Amiga and PC text artists for misunderstanding the terminology. A good friend of mine said that Amiga text art with colours was “ASCII with colours, and definitely not ANSI!!!”.

Yeah. Hm. Since ASCII is the lowest common denominator for all (?) computer character sets since the 1960s, I suppose that most other standards (Unicode, PETSCII, ATASCII, ANSI, etc) can be called ASCII art aswell. But that’s an engineer perspective. From a more cultural point of view, you could argue that each of these charsets has its own function, history, aesthetics and users. So they are more different than similar.

The C64’s PETSCII gave BBS’s (and disk directories, BASIC-games, etc) a special feel, especially since the slow modem speeds made them automatically “animated“. Telnetting to for example Antidote today is an experience that is hard to match. As you read the messages posted in the PETSCII-section, you can see how the text (art) slowly builds up, char by char. Check out Poison’s Notemaker demo to see how it can look. Can you feel the baud rate, aww yeah?!

PETSCII-stuff by Raquel Meyers, 2010, for chipflip.org/02 (coming soon)

Afaik, PETSCII was never released on its own. But on the Amiga scene dedicated ASCII-groups was formed, and the so-called ASCII-colly started to appear as separate artefacts around 1992 [1]. It was mostly connected with warez/hacking but also the demoscene. These cultural settings and the tight monospaced fonts and line spacing led to an eLiTE mixture of graffiti and poetry. When they used colours, they sometimes called it (Amiga) ANSI.

Razor 1911 logo by Skope of Up Rough & Divine Stylers, 2010

On the PC, you couldn’t make ASCII the same way. The most popular characters ( /  –  _  \ ) had space inbetween them, so it wasn’t possible to make continuous lines in the same way. PC ASCII-artists had to find other ways, and they mostly relied on the extra characters found in the 8-bit MS DOS font. It was a new style that the Amiga-people called ANSI, and the PC-people called (Block) ASCII. A couple of years later some PC-users returned to the 7-bit ASCII-usage and called it … newskool! This style became popular on the web, of course, but is nowadays often complemented with Unicode characters.

ANSI then, seems to be applicable to most text art that has colours. But if it’s Amiga text art (which isn’t really supposed to use any DOS/IBM-shit) you should watch out. And of course, if it’s PETSCII, you shouldn’t call it ANSI. You might get seriously injured.

But anyway – it seems that according to the PC’s “art scene” ideas the various ASCII-Paint softwares above should in fact be called ANSI-Paint. But I guess this is a battle that will be lost. For most people it’s not very relevant to distinguish between ANSI and ASCII. Just like with “8-bit” or “chipmusic” or “electro” it gets pretty complicated if you refuse to accept the dominant use.

Besides, is there anyone who wants to discuss the difference between ANSI and ASCII anyway? \o/

Btw#1: if you need more text art, you can also check out these posts
Btw #2: if you know of good resources on text art, get in touch.

[1] Year taken from Freax (p.121). Rotox, Desert and other West Germans are described as the first Amiga ASCII-artists in the late 1980s (which I have not been able to confirm). Early ASCII-groups were H2O and Mogul (de) and U-Man (se). More info wanted!

12 Responses to “Is ANSI ASCII or is ASCII ANSI?”

  1. mcfiredrill Says:

    I think the term “ansi art” mostly comes from the use of colors, which are produced by “ansi escape codes”, funny little sequences that look like this: ^[[32m. Of course its still ASCII if it uses ASCII characters!

    And everyone should have a look at this quite amazing text-art library, which I may or may not be up to something with:
    http://caca.zoy.org/wiki/libcaca

  2. Jonathon Wisnoski Says:

    I think you don’t necessarily have to give up and just go with the majority.

    ANSI is ANSI and ASCII is ASCII, and both are rigorously defined.
    And I do not think that ASCII has any inbuilt way of adding colour to it, even in extended ascii.
    And ANSI does have all the ascii characters already in it, and at the time at least is was more of an extended version of ascii then anything else.

    But then as long as everyone knows that it is not technically correct there is no reason that the whole scene of character art cannot be called ascii art.

    • chipflip Says:

      I’m not sure if there are rigorous definitions of ANSI and ASCII that are indesputable. Atleast I haven’t found them?

      • boomlinde Says:

        They exist (in fact I think both ANSI [escape sequences] and ASCII are names of standards). Of course, in the art scene they are little more than just names and usually refer to different things.

        For example “ASCII” in the PC scene usually includes a bunch of characters that are not part of the ASCII standard at all (horizontal lines, junctions, blocks etc.). I’m not so sure about how it is in the Amiga scene.

      • chipflip Says:

        I didn’t spend enough time digging into this, but as far as I did it seemed difficult to define both ANSI and ASCII and their relation to eachother. The PC ASCII u’re talking about is called extended ASCII or high ASCII, I guess. It’s 8-bit instead of 7. Whether or that’s still ASCII is a cultural decision that even engineers can disagree on, right? btw: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3568_ASCII

  3. radiantx Says:

    “Block” and “newskool” are not the same. Wikipedia actually has accurate information on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII_art

    • chipflip Says:

      Ah, I guess it was a bit unclear in the text. I meant that when PC-users returned to the 7-bit (non-extended?) font, it was called newskool.

  4. iLKke Says:

    If you’re looking for a resource, look no further:
    http://asciiarena.com/

    • chipflip Says:

      yep, I know, I linked to it secretly :). I’m just also very curious about other things than Commodore/IBM-things. Perhaps some Japanese things? MSX? Unicode?

  5. Super.licio.us | Superlevel Says:

    […] Is ANSI ASCII or is ASCII ANSI? design retro ascii […]

  6. A thesis about ANSI that hates PETSCII « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] I mean in this context is that ANSI-art could be disconnected from the ANSI-standard just like the term ASCII-art was. People could make all kinds of crazy text mode graphics on BBS’s if they just added software […]

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