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My Retro Video Game Jack-O-Lanterns



Over the past few years, I've been making retro-gaming designs for jack-o-lanterns. As we approach Halloween, and without a Halloween-themed episode coming up (spoiler alert: Dino Dudes is not scary) I thought I would share some of those, even though none are Jaguar-related. My son suggested I carve Skylar this year, but I'm nowhere near that talented.

Most jack-o-lanters are basic binary designs: either there's a hole in the pumpkin, or there isn't. You can create a lot of cool designs like this, faces and silhouettes and so forth, but it wasn't sufficient for video game graphics. At a minimum, I found I needed three different "colors": uncarved, carved all the way through, and carved to a thin depth, where you don't quite go all the way through. That allows light to pass through, but not as much light as where it's carved completely out. I have a couple cheap tools for making these, gathered from pumpkin carving kits over the past few years.

I'm including the patterns I used as well as pictures of the finished product. To transfer the patterns to the pumpkin, I print out the patterns, tape the paper to the face of the large orange winter squash, and use a scoring tool along all the edges of the image.

This renders the pattern on the pumpkin's skin as a series of dots, used as a guide for cutting and digging. The black areas of my patterns indicate where it should be cut all the way through, and the grey areas are where it should be dug out just enough to let some light through.

2012 - Haunted House
This was my first one. I mentioned it in episode 70 of the Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast, and it looked pretty cool with the flickering light within.
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I seriously doubt any of the kids walking by got the reference. :( My kids did, though, so at least I'm doing something right. The pattern includes a Haunted House ghost, but I ran out of time to actually carve it.


2012 - Portal
My son was really into Portal, and asked me to carve him a Portal-themed pumpkin. It's not retro, and I can't find my pattern for this one, either, but hey, Portal is cool.

2013 - Pac-Man Ghost Monster
Since it's orange, I guess this would be Clyde. Being from Pac-Man, it was widely recognized by trick-or-treaters. I apologize, I can't seem to find the pattern I made for this.
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I wish I had some blue cellophane to tint the pupils, but I always tend to carve these at the last minute, without much prior planning. My original intention was to use a ghost from Atari 2600 Pac-Man, but they don't scale well. I don't know if even I would have been able to recognize it.

2014 - Adventure
The closest I got to recognition from trick-or-treaters was one kid who said, "Cool! Minecraft!"
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2015 - Space Invader
Here's my design for this year (2015). I'm including a step-by-step guide for those who want to duplicate the process. We'll start with the template.
I originally planned to cut the eyes out completely, but my wife suggested I leave them fully intact. It's more consistent to the actual arcade game, so that's what I did. Anyway, on to the steps.

  1. Download the template, resize to fit your particular pumpkin, and print it out. Cut out the pattern itself, and tape it to the pumpkin (regularly-placed slits in the paper help fit it to the rounded surface). Use the scoring tool to go around all the edges. blogentry-1220-0-85769500-1446326372_thumb.jpg
  2. Once you remove the template, you'll see the pattern rendered in the pumpkin's skin as a series of small punctures. These are your cutting/digging lines. blogentry-1220-0-61583700-1446326409_thumb.jpg
  3. Use the depth carving tool to remove the outer skin where appropriate. Don't go too deep at this stage. blogentry-1220-0-27771600-1446326432_thumb.jpg
  4. Now you can go deeper. Dig down to a consistent depth throughout. It doesn't need to be too deep, probably around 8mm. blogentry-1220-0-14537700-1446326431_thumb.jpg
  5. Now, scrape out behind the image from the inside of the pumpkin. Scrape scrape scrape. Scrape until the pumpkin's minimum thickness is about 5mm. This should provide sufficient light that the image will glow when a candle (or other light source) is placed inside. blogentry-1220-0-02990700-1446326430_thumb.jpg


2016 - Zool 2 Eyes
For 2016, my design was based on the box art eyes from the game Zool 2, to be covered in episode 16 of the podcast. I'm really pleased with how this one turned out.
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2018 - Jaguar Logo Slash

My 2018 design used the slash marks from the letter "r" on the Jaguar logo.  It seemed like something that might be appealing even if you weren't intimately familiar with the Jaguar logo.  I didn't have any good way to make it glow red, but I had a strand of green battery-powered LED lights which I stuffed inside, and it still looks pretty cool.



2019 - Minecraft Creeper

Arguably not retro.  My plan for this year was not just to create a pixel-accurate Creeper head from Minecraft, but also to wire it up to a Raspberry Pi with a motion sensor so that would play the Creeper's fuse sound and then explosion when a trick-or-treater approached.


All the existing Creeper patterns I found out there were simply holes cut for eyes and mouth.  But that's not how they actually look in the game, so I took a different approach, with "pixels" carved to various depths to represent the different shades of green.  The strand of green LED lights from my Jaguar slash mark design in 2018 provides the color.  It took hours to carve this thing, and toward the end, I was regretting my decision.


I had planned on putting a Raspberry Pi, battery pack, battery-powered speaker, and motion sensor inside the pumpkin, but there simply wasn't room, so I put it all in a box underneath the jack-o-lantern.  A Python script was launched on boot that would watch for motion from the sensor, and when detected, would play the hiss-boom sound lifted from the game.  That part worked pretty well.  So, sure, this project may not be terribly retro, but it sure is nerdy.



2020 - DOOM Cacodemon

What's big and round and pretty scary when you don't have a chaingun?  A Cacodemon from DOOM!  I used scrap chunks from this and other jack-o-lanterns to form the horns, held in with pieces of thick wire, and put some colored film to more-properly represent the blue mouth and green eye seen in the game.  The colors didn't photograph well, but I'm still pretty happy with how this big beast of a pumpkin turned out.



Edited by Shinto
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I've edited this blog entry to include pictures of the completed Space Invaders design, and for this one, I included a step-by-step guide. Have a great Halloween!

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