Historical game techniques: Part 1

Limitations for games are always going to be present, if your poly count is too high for your targeted platform it is going to lag, if textures are not optimised properly such as not using a texture atlas it is also going to decrease performance. Even with ever growing computing power games still become more power hungry and bigger every year, which means that new techniques, tricks and ways are needed in order to keep performance as smooth as possible.


Modern day game – Battlefield 1

But older games which did not have the advantage of computing power we have today and faced tough challenges, which limited the games on multiple fronts. Many things we take for granted today such as colours which came at great cost back in the 80’s, with 1bit colour taking up 8 kilobytes of ram. When you consider that the majority of computers had 32k it becomes fairly significant, especially when you realise that this is for just black and white. 16bit colour used up 32k which is our course way too high for just colour back then. There was a couple of different methods used to circumvent this and make it more efficient, with colour cells being one of the methods. Colours cells used 8×8 pixels and allowed you to change the foreground and the background colour, giving some flexibility to artists. With it only using 1 kilobyte for each cell also, it meant that this was very efficient with it equalling 9k on a screen, which when compared to the black and white taking 8k it is certainly worth the extra kilobyte. One major downfall to this method however, is that the colours could not cross over into the other cells, which meant that artists had to use clever placement of colours in each cell. Multicolour mode was also an option on the c64 which half’s the screen resolution, but allows four colours in the cells rather than too for the same amount of memory, which as you can imagine was widely adopted on the Commodore due to the worthy trade off. Sprites as we all know was widely used, but some sprites had to be split into four parts such as Nintendo’s Mario. You would not notice that they are four individual parts due to them looking seamless however.


Here you can see Zelda using the colour cell method


International karate with the colour cell method

You can see by both these images that by using the colour cell method they have been able to improve the experience, simply by adding colour. If this method was not used, they would most likely be black and white which would impact the aesthetics and look to varying degrees. It is also worth noting that these games do not seem to be using the multicolour mode, as you can tell from the 8×8 pixels having the same colour in each of them.




Image credit

Battlefield 1 image –

Battlefield 1 Alpha

Zelda image – http://www.emuparadise.me/Nintendo_Entertainment_System_ROMs/Legend_of_Zelda,_The_(Europe)/56066


International karate –



References –



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