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'80s game designers had to cheat their way to color graphics

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
August 19, 2015
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We take powerful computer graphics for granted nowadays, to the point where we complain when 4K games won't play at 60fps. But YouTube's iBookGuy showed how tough designers had it back in the 80s just to make color graphics work, period, on 16K machines of the day. They had to use a variety of workarounds just to get 16 colors on a 320 x 200 screen, as that would normally eat up your entire 16K of RAM right there. Developers for machines like the NES and Commodore 64 resorted to dividing the screen into "cells" that could each hold only two colors, a trick that used up just 9K of memory.

That meant designers had to be creative to make graphics look good -- in the image above, for instance, there isn't a single 8 x 8 cell with more than two colors. Another trick designers used was to divide elements into "sprites" that operated independently of other screen graphics. Nintendo's Mario, for instance, was actually built from four individual sprites. There's plenty more info in the easy to follow video (below), and he promised more episodes down the road.

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