AuthorTopic: Holy Background Pixels Batman!  (Read 14408 times)

Offline Arne

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Holy Background Pixels Batman!

on: September 11, 2009, 05:37:26 pm
I was just playing Air Fortress and noticed how inefficient it is with its tiles (Yeah, it's probably an old mapper, but I looked at the tile tables and there was a lot space left for fun).



So, I came to think of Batman 1 for the NES, and I ended up writing down some notes.

The Video Game Atlas has the delicious level maps.

The game backgrounds on the NES seems to be limited to 4 palettes with 4 colors each, with one color being shadow black in the case of Batman. The highlights in Batman are often gray (resulting in a cold look) or saturated (giving a chrome-ish look).



Shadow black amoebas consume large parts of the background, and even the walkable tiles use a lot of black. Because of the variation in the background structures, the shadow shapes are organic, like an ominous amoeba, setting the mood right.

A top left light source is common. Drop shadows come from the roof, but also from the floor in some cases (black floor fog effect), and corners (resulting in an ambient light effect). All this prevents the background from becoming a boring monotonous flat fill of some texture. The spacing using shadows also helps to isolate the collide-able tiles from the background ones.

There are also a lot of vertical elements in the background which break against the floor. Horizontal ones might cause a "can I continue to walk on this?" confusion (and maybe the human platform player's eyes are wired to see horizontal shapes as walkable).

Dithering is used, in particular between the dark color and the black.

Sometimes the middle color is not that far from the darkest, but the highlight pops (see red ramp). Ramped colors do not need to be evenly spaced.



Animated tiles with shadow casting for the gears, sewer blenders and other stuff. The effect is lost with this static image.

There are hardly any wear marks or embossed cuts. Structures like plating seems to be clean. The Dithering into black provides enough noise as it is, perhaps. There are some vertical some rust lines on a few background plates though.





The background tiles aren't really that much darker. Instead it's established which tile color or style the player can stand on.

Note use of highlights on the top (or sides) of the tiles which the player can stand on or collide with. Sometimes the topmost pixel row is not the brightest, giving the shape a more round look.







Little chunks of tiles with a different palette are used to spice up monotonous areas. Note the excellent drop-into-cold-shadow effect on the red pipes.

Pipes with bends are used, but often often bend in the same direction because there are not enough PPU mem for more variants, and in some cases it gives a consistent look.



The same vertical stripes tile is used in both the FG (orange) and BG (green). It also appears with different lighting (flat, top, bottom, side).



Tempo with calm and busy areas, like music. See the big red flat chunk in the roof versus the 6 little keys. It's like sections in a music track. There are repeating structures, yet variation. It's not just structureless greeble noise or monotonously repeating square blocks. The segments play into each other.

Also note the gray little wires spicing things up. 



Dotted lines and various textures break up the monotony of solid lines or solid fields.



Water effect with palette swap. The sewer blenders animate just fine halfway submerged of course, and the effect is quite nice.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2009, 04:19:05 pm by Arne »

Offline QuickSilva

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #1 on: September 11, 2009, 06:09:14 pm
Excellent analysis, Batman sure was a looker of a game. For me it remains one of my best memories from the NES era for atmosphere. I really love how the game uses black to such great effect, infact there were plenty of other NES games that made great use of the fading to black that Batman does so elegantly. Back then you had to use your imagination to fill in the details. A true classic!

Jason.

Offline ptoing

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #2 on: September 11, 2009, 07:09:27 pm
Nice writeup :)

IIRC then the background colours on the NES are 4 times 3 plus one global colour (black in the case of batman).

There are no ugly colours, only ugly combinations of colours.

Offline Carnivac

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #3 on: September 11, 2009, 07:24:12 pm
Nice post.  Always enjoy looking at NES Batman screenshots.  Still own the cartridge and play the rom on my PSP often.  This game's graphics have definitely inspired me in the past.  Music's fantastic too.
NES, Amiga & Amstrad CPC inspired
I know nothing about pixel art
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Offline Arne

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #4 on: September 11, 2009, 08:29:04 pm
Glad you like. It's mostly for myself though ;). It helps to formalize stuff like this. I'm editing it as new insights appear. I haven't written much about pixel placement yet.

There are obviously no outline stuff going on - contrast/ shape separation is achieved by using shadow and light instead. Some lines and shapes are suggested/implied but not actually drawn (unlike the [black lines around everything] approach).

Most of the dithering is done with the darkest color of the ramps because the NES palette didn't have any really dark colors. The brightest color is used pretty sparingly, sometimes there are just a few dots of it, if any.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2009, 08:31:35 pm by Arne »

Offline Helm

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #5 on: September 13, 2009, 02:30:58 pm
Yes, very good write up, Arne. Thanks for posting stuff like this :)

Also yeah, there's mostly sharp specular highlights on most things. I think they thought 'well, we have black, a dark color, and then the main color. How do we keep color identity but still push highlights here and there? We do this by making the highlights pretty small, but brighter. ' Not sure why they used grey for highlights, though, I'd expect warmer colors.

Offline HughSpectrum

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #6 on: September 14, 2009, 03:41:15 am
Quote
Not sure why they used grey for highlights, though, I'd expect warmer colors.
The screenshots where I see grey highlights in the background give me the impression of highly reflective metal that is able to reflect foreground detail while still being phased into the background, and the buildings around the theatre have the impression of having light shined upon them and revealing the building's true color while its background colors dominate.

And this is an excellent thread, most fitting while doing my first Batman: Arkham Asylum playthrough, and inspires me to play the NES Batman again to enjoy and study its pixel art.

Offline Conzeit

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #7 on: September 14, 2009, 08:56:22 pm
Hey there Prom , excellent spontaneous CC ya got going here  :D it is all very insightful and I really enjoy the more compositionally aware glance you gave me into this old favorite of mine, so I felt joining and sniping in on one or two of your phrases where I thought I had something to add =0. Ya might want to check "Little Samson" on NES or "Trip World" on GBC for more like this....


Shadow black amoebas consume large parts of the background, and even the walkable tiles use a lot of black. Because of the variation in the background structures, the shadow shapes are organic, like an ominous amoeba, setting the mood right.

............

There are hardly any wear marks or embossed cuts. Structures like plating seems to be clean. The Dithering into black provides enough noise as it is, perhaps. There are some vertical some rust lines on a few background plates though.

...............

Sometimes the middle color is not that far from the darkest, but the highlight pops (see red ramp). Ramped colors do not need to be evenly spaced.


I think since tiles are repetitive and palletes are smalll, any attempt of texturing relies a lot on showing a little texturing and encouraging the player to imagine the rest. That is made easier by having large areas of solid color, and any ambience that fits that plan (such as your black amoeba) is used (seems like they could only think of the black amoeba back in NES days tho)

The way you describe the pallete benefits that because the steep rise from midtone to  highlight makes you think of flaring speculars which highlight random tiny sections in the material. The  proportionally almost indistinguishable difference between black and the next lightest tone in the pallete gives the feeling that there's a lot of information hidden within the darkness, because you can see that there IS something there but you cant distinguish it very well, so there must be a lot more.

I really enjoy that look because it is in a weird place between being symbolic and realistic, and gives you a chance to go back and forth a lot.


Animated tiles with shadow casting for the gears, sewer blenders and other stuff. The effect is lost with this static image.
Not to mention when animation is involved it makes the viewer work his mind a lot, since whenever a detail passes trough those steep rises/drops in the lighting it registers visibly, and encourages the player to imagine how it traverses invisibly trough the solidly colored areas, making him imageine a llot more detail than what he's being shown. (Not to mention it's a lot of fun when you animate by making that complex idea of the shape in your head and meticulously stay consitant to it frame by frame :0 )


Little chunks of tiles with a different palette are used to spice up monotonous areas. Note the excellent drop-into-cold-shadow effect on the red pipes.
Amazing! that really looks like it shouldnt work because it hueshifts so harshly, but it has a weirdly rich quality that reminds me of some outlandishly palleted movies like "The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover"

EDIT: UGH, I should've read the replies...I notice you said what I'm replying with here only in a much more concise, succint way...well hope the exposition is helpful to SOMEONE :p
« Last Edit: September 14, 2009, 09:13:54 pm by Conceit »

Offline crab2selout.png

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Re: Holy Background Pixels Batman!

Reply #8 on: September 15, 2009, 02:44:05 am
Oooh, I like that last screenshot from the fight with joker. When I get some time I'll have to take a look at vgmuseum's game endings to see the scene in fuller detail. I like how they don't waste an opportunity to employ a hueshift to good effect. I don't know a lot about the NES palette, but it looks like it wasn't designed to ramp to the degree that the C64 can do it. It makes the daring vibrancy seen in the backgrounds of the joker fight and the gears screenshot seem even more so daring.

I never really thought much of the nes palette before, but I'll definitely give it a shot after this.

Really nice complementary colour scheme used in this level.
http://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/batman-the-video-game_/screenshots/gameShotId,320162/
Nice machinery tiles here
http://www.mobygames.com/game/nes/batman-the-video-game_/screenshots/gameShotId,320164/

Quote from: Conceit
I think since tiles are repetitive and palletes are smalll, any attempt of texturing relies a lot on showing a little texturing and encouraging the player to imagine the rest. That is made easier by having large areas of solid color, and any ambience that fits that plan (such as your black amoeba) is used (seems like they could only think of the black amoeba back in NES days tho)
Lately, I've been realising more and more how powerful those [seemingly] simple flat areas can be. I'm still so far away from being able to use them effectively myself, though, sigh  :P

Thanks for the neat post, Arne. Always a pleasure to read your thoughts.