AuthorTopic: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast  (Read 22131 times)

Offline Helm

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Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

on: November 04, 2006, 07:25:28 pm
Shadow of the Beast. Native platform: Amiga 500. Year of release: 1989. Developer: Reflections (two 19 year old demoscene guys apparently) for Psygnosis :powl: Category: quintessential frustrating run-and-puncher that sold millions of Amigas.


YE OLDE SCREENDUMP OF STARK ROGER DEAN LANDSCAPAGE FOLLOWS:














All these are Amiga screenshots. The game has been ported to many platforms, we will use the Genesis port for the related Commercial Critique Challenge. All these were made in deluxe paint or some equivalent program, so you should keep in mind Lighten/Darken tools seem to have been aplied pretty liberarly, on some cutscene screenshots very apparently. Yet this isn't blurred to death so no soften brushes. Remarkable consistency in design, even if it's marred by several proto-pixel art flaws (pillow shading, clean ramps) but I'll let you guys dissect for that's what we do!

Remember, the point of this activity is to study commercial pixel art closely, outline the good and the bad both on an individual artistic piece level, and on the whole. It would be best if the participants play the game a little (genesis version is easier to emulate, naturally, and moderately faithful) or watch the youtube videos at least, so you can see how a lot of this works in-game. It's remarkable how things like multiparalax at the time pulled you in to the point where you didn't mind spraycan trees as much :)
Let us commence!

When you're done with the dissecting of the art, it's time to participate on the Commercial Critique Challenge!
« Last Edit: November 04, 2006, 08:16:16 pm by Helm »

Offline Cow

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #1 on: November 06, 2006, 02:33:01 am
This is really small, but I really like the grey highlight they used on the character. It's so smooth. :y:

Still haven't played yet, when I will I'll go a little more indepth. :)

Offline Xion

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #2 on: November 07, 2006, 05:10:03 am
Such a strange mesh of good and bat art in this.
The title's lettering has completely inconsistent lighting. There's pillowshading galore. And what is with that bright red flying thing in pic#2?
On the other hand, the wooden BG is pretty great. But still, theres one trunk with deeper cracks/higher contrast that bugs the crap outta me.
Those skeletons in the last pic are just terrible.

What's this look like in motion? Anyone got any animated sprites?

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #3 on: November 07, 2006, 05:38:02 am
There's youtube video links in the text.

Offline Gunne

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #4 on: November 07, 2006, 11:39:24 am
I think it's funny how the enemy's just fall down once you hit them. I was wondering if there's a chance the enemy's can hit you, if I see the gameplay I would say no :-\, unless they're flying right into you ofcourse...
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Offline Cow

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #5 on: November 07, 2006, 03:08:47 pm
The death animation [at least, when you hit the spikes] is hilarious. The character just seems to crumple into pieces.

I'm gonna hop on the bandwagon and tell you: The game looks a lot better in game. Like... more pretty than scary, even though the screenshots may suggest otherwise.

Also: What's up with the zeppelin in the background?

Offline AdamTierney

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #6 on: November 08, 2006, 08:38:06 pm
The palettes, inconsistent light and occasional pillowshading are driving me nuts. There's some okay pixelling in terms of dithering and design, but it's hard to focus on it with so much bad in there as well.

- Adam

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #7 on: November 08, 2006, 08:49:05 pm
I like this effect: everything having its own little monochromatic palette pushes things into being very visible. For a game as difficult as SotB such a thing is very important. The gameplay elements are very visible and clear at all times. However, this makes everything seem very much on its own plane and not cohesive with everything else. The design is concurrent thankfully, most of the time, bar the occassional flying technocyber ship of absurdity, so it's held together stiill. As usual, a big of good and a bit of bad for SotB.

Offline Ryumaru

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #8 on: November 08, 2006, 09:27:13 pm
for its age, very well done. the tecniques used hadnt been fully examined enough for people to recognize how horrible they are i suppose. the scrolling is really quite beautiful and gives energy to these monochramitic pieces.

Offline Lackey

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #9 on: November 09, 2006, 01:09:06 am
I noticed when I did my put high contrast sprite remake over one of the actual SotB backgrounds that large parts of it disappeared.  All the sprites in the game are drawn with colours from the upper half of the palette.  This is an interesting reversal of high contrast sprites on low contrast backgrounds.

The paralax effect in the plains, which the game is probably best known for, deserves further examination.  It's pretty much the pinnacle of paralax backgrounds.  There's just enough detail in the different layers to give a very definite sense of perspective: look at the rocks which are present in each slice, they get progressively smaller but are never positioned so as to break the horizontal lines.  The rest of the field, the noisy green parts, blends really well together.  It's practically seemless on the Genesis version which I'm most familiar with.

The sprites in the game are hilarious though.  I mean really, consider that there are loads of enemies which are functionally identical.  They're like notebook doodles made real!  I'm certain the artists had no unifying plan in mind when they were doing them; just draw more enemies.  There are still a few surprising moments.  Like the monster who bursts out of a statue only to be punched down like everyone else.  Also notable is that many of the plains enemies in the Genesis version share the same legs.  I'm not sure if they actually combine sprites and palette swap them or if they were just lazy about making a four frame walk cycle.

Oh, and the orbs/owls/eyeballs!  I have this notion that it's meant as a coy reference to the demoscene origins of many of the psygnosis team members.  I doubt it, but still; being attacked by oscillating orbs!  I can't help but form the association.

Offline pixelsforhire

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #10 on: November 11, 2006, 12:46:28 am
It remindes me somehow of Abe's Odyssey. I'm certainly not at a level where I could crit this, but I'll mention some funny things I noticed. First off, I love the slinky dude. I'm so making one when I get Spore! In the second video, those giant hands coming out of the ground look like they have ribcages. The bosses seem pretty easy. He just walks up and trades hits until they fall three seconds later. Yeah, and apparently the way to kill something really big is to punch its toe several times. I hope the ants don't figure this out. This certainly doesn't look like its going to win any awards for gameplay. Nonetheless, I think they really acheived the mood they were looking for, and that's pretty cool.

Offline Willows

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #11 on: November 12, 2006, 08:44:39 pm
It seems to suffer a lot from enemies seeming to be behind the platform, rather than on it, thus making the giant fireballs being shot look like they'd just go right past the beast. Is there any particular reason for this, and would lowering said sprites a pixel or two, so they're actually on the same plane as the beast be enough to ruin that illusion, or is there something in terms of contrast/colour selection that would do better to fix that prollem?

Also, what are the restrictions on this system? Monochrome enemies don't look good, in my opinion, and I'm curious if it was just a lesson not yet learned or a restriction that I don't know about that led them to actually use some of those.

Yap. The backgrounds all look rather good (Yes, INCLUDING the spraypaint-tree), but the sprites seem... well, ugly, and depth-lacking.

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #12 on: November 12, 2006, 08:50:10 pm
No forced limitation of the A500. Just a lesson not yet learned as you say. The art was as far as I know, made by one guy. All of it. He used whatever techniques he invented, as this was in 1989 and there wasn't a lot of... academic information on drawing with pixels. I think it's that special sort of naivete that almost in-spite of everything, creates a very strong and enduring aesthetic coherency for the artwork.

The plane issue is further amplified by that the Beast sprite has sharp highlights and dark areas, as it should be, covers the whole span, whereas enemies are 3-6 colors mostly, covering the lightness scale from 0 being black to 100 being white, somewhere around 20-60. This pushes them naturally... to the background. Thankfull they're animated and going about so you can't exactly miss them for decor, especially in a game so deadly as Beast, but it does its damage, sure.

Interesting thoughts, Willows.

Offline robotriot

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #13 on: November 25, 2006, 10:38:19 am
I'm wondering if the release year of 1989 can count as an excuse though, since Defender of the Crown was already three years old at that time and Xenon 2 came out the very same year (maybe at a later date though). Imo, both these games are far superior to Beast concerning graphics, but maybe that's just my personal taste :)
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Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #14 on: November 25, 2006, 11:29:11 am
Defender of the Crown was a gem in any age though. Jim Sachs amognst others, some of the best index painted graphics on the amiga. Ever. It's unfair to compare. Xenon I can take or leave.

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #15 on: November 25, 2006, 12:35:51 pm
This may be a bit random, but could someone give me a link to play the game?  But only if its free  :D

Offline TheAbyss

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #16 on: December 10, 2006, 05:04:04 pm
One word. Google. http://free-game-downloads.mosw.com/abandonware/amiga/games_sa_si/shadow_of_the_beast_1.html

Ps. You may need an emulator, I don't know, and I didn't feel like finding out.
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Offline Mathias

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #17 on: March 24, 2007, 08:08:03 pm
Looking at the screenshots more, I just can't believe the monotonous color ramps this guy used for everything. Amiga500 I know, but come on!'

Pixeling has come a long way indeed.

Offline Mixel

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #18 on: April 14, 2007, 08:06:25 am
Sorry if this is considered necroposting, it's a few weeks since the last post, and the topic was posted ages ago!

Wow.. This thread was the straw that broke the camels back and got me to join the board.. It's really good to see people discussing SOTB. Was one of my favourite old Amiga games, and though not 100% because of the graphics, it was in large part.. The combination of graphics/music/atmosphere really grabbed me.. Well something must have, as the gameplay wasn't too hot!

I think the 1989 thing is a good "excuse" for the odd technique.. Some of it's definitely sloppy and pillowy.. But a lot of the gradients remind me of some older airbrushed fantasy art - which you don't see so much anymore.. The smooth gradients showed off what at the time was a crazily big colour palette, too. Its hard commenting on such an old game.. Where would this guy have learned spriting back then? Messing around in the demo scene as practice with DPaint, and no online communities for feedback or anything - I think he did an insanely good job. Especially if what I've read is true, and the entire game was put together in 9 months.

As Lackey touched on; I love the consistent inconsistency in the monster designs too.. They are totally random seeming.. But they add to the alienness of the world and made it more rich, I think. The world/backgrounds though I'd say were very consistent - something jarring there and the atmosphere could be completely broken.

Has anyone played the Marty/FM-Towns version of SOTB? I think that showed that increasing the colour palette and "improving" the graphics could seriously mess up the atmosphere.http://sotb.free.fr/Fichiers/screen_fmtowns.html - a bit of a travesty, it's like they completely missed the point when redoing the graphics *and* music..

Technical spec of the A500.. 32 colour palette + 4096 colour copper gradients (the background sky) except using 64 colour halfbright mode (which I'm pretty sure SOTB didnt, as it ran on the A1000).. By making the critters all 4-6 colour mono, at least you got some variation between the different enemy cols within each section of the game.. In games like Xenon2 (mentioned earlier in the thread) the palette of each level could be pretty overpowering.. Everything coming at you in orange/grey. :) I think the field you start off in, with the parallax and the sky and everything is what really sold the game, and lots of Amigas..

Looking at it now I still think it looks crazily good for 32 colours + a sky gradient.   Brings back memories.. Watching the youtube movies.. The "paff!" noise when you punch enemies, and the way they just fall off the screen.. Brilliant, haha.. Shame he didn't do enemy death anims for some of them at least. .. Sorry I haven't really added anythign new to the thread here, its.. Just.. SOTB!! I had to write something.  :lol:

Offline Helm

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #19 on: April 14, 2007, 07:34:36 pm
Thanks for the post, don't worry about necroposting. These threads will stay around forever, that's how they're made to be.

Quote
I think the field you start off in, with the parallax and the sky and everything is what really sold the game, and lots of Amigas..

That's quite the case. First of all the rest of the game is nowhere near as imaginative in design or coding as that section, though there's a few bits just as atmospheric (treehouse, castle) and secondly, it's so damn hard I can see a lot of people never even seeing anything than the plains-roaming stage.

Offline JJ Naas

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #20 on: April 14, 2007, 08:50:16 pm
In the games that Psygnosis released during this era, including Sotb 1 and 2, Ork... and several more, the fact that the foreground was less saturated than the parallax background constituted to a feeling of otherworldliness, which I still find quite unique and.. kind of spooky, exciting. So, totally wrong in terms of colour theories and such, but combined with odd creature designs and musics by Tim Wright ( esp. in Sotb2 ), an atmosphere was created that I haven't experienced anywhere else.

Offline Rob

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Re: Commercial Critique - Shadow of the Beast

Reply #21 on: January 11, 2009, 02:53:50 pm

Sorry for necro-posting but I thought I'd point out some technical details that could be interesting for anyone analyzing these graphics.

The game uses two layers of 7 colours + transparent in all scenes. This is a hardware limitation and a necessity. You could manually draw 10 layers of 63+t colours if you wanted to, but in this 1985 system it would run in just a few frames per second, and it was always desirable to have your game run in full frame rate. The game does a bit more pushing of limits and a bit less of being sloppy, for necessary reasons.

Most moving enemies are sprites, true hardware sprites with limitations as opposed to the current popular use of the term for just anything that is moving around on the screen. The system has 8 sprites of 16 pixels width and 3+t colours, with the possibility to combine two sprites into a single sprite of 15+t colours. While the system can generate 4096 possible colours you can't select any 3 or 15 colours for your sprites, they are bound to certain ranges in your 32 colour palette, which imposes even more restrictions as this palette is shared with the bitmap graphics.

Where the sprites didn't suffice to draw the moving enemies, they would be drawn into the front bitmap layer, and so they would have to make whatever use they could of the designated 7+t colours for that layer.


Someone mentioned the zeppelin in the outdoor scene. I think it makes an excellent detail, hinting of something unknown and greater than just open plains and distant mountains. I like the overall style of the graphics and environments, but I agree that the shading in some parts wouldn't look good no matter how many colours were thrown on it.