AuthorTopic: GR#088 - Plain Dark Tiles  (Read 12499 times)

Offline PypeBros

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GR#088 - Plain Dark Tiles

on: January 12, 2012, 08:31:48 am
I hope thewexxlorz won't mind if I pick his (unfinished) level/tileset to show my case:


I'd love to have some artistic comment of that habbit of having plain, black (or tinted dark) tiles in the middle of areas. I've seen it used a lot, but I fail to grasp the rationale for it.

Of course, I get the purpose: avoid a repeated tile over the whole (non-playable) "wall" area, unlike what I did myself and can be seen in 16-bit games like e.g. Superfrog.

I understand that lightning condition can turn an irregular wall into a dark area, where only some details pop out,
or that some foreground element can be dark areas because of contrast-blindness like here.


 That works well in caves, and to some extent, we could simplify the 3D degression of lightning into a 2D tileset. But then, only when you have a large chunk of rock and a small corridor in it ... not for small platforms like those seen on the mock up.

Any alternate understanding to suggest ? Any reference on who's seminal style is duplicated here (I thought it was from Cave Story, but it turns out that I was wrong with that :P)
« Last Edit: January 12, 2012, 09:49:32 am by PypeBros »

Offline HughSpectrum

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #1 on: January 12, 2012, 11:35:44 am
I am guilty of having done this myself despite finding the approach unappealing (I hope to remember to avoid it in the future).

A lot of games simply just show the side of the tile, and if they fade to black it's to imply certain lighting conditions (like in Super Metroid where you see tiles fade into darkness often times in caves, but there are still many rooms that display the walls fully even in enclosed areas).

Offline Corinthian Baby

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #2 on: January 12, 2012, 11:36:43 am
I was thinking about this too recently. Basically, it's irrelevant visual information so it is cloaked in black, similar to how interior roofs are in rpgs with a 3/4 top down perspective. To justify it, I guess the idea is that the deeper into the cliff/dirt/soil you get, the darker it is, until it fades completely into black, but some transitions are more abrupt than others.

I'm also curious about where the idea originated, can't think of anything off the top of my head. My preferred method would be to have a kind of strata system, with different layers of dirt/rocks/cliffs, where you can see bones and other misc. details down there, to make it visually interesting rather than stark in your face black. But of course, it is important not to get distracted with too many details in unplayable areas.

Offline HughSpectrum

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #3 on: January 12, 2012, 11:47:25 am
Quote
I'm also curious about where the idea originated, can't think of anything off the top of my head.
Besides when used appropriately, I think this is mostly an indie thing that dates back when people first started making games with stuff like Game Maker.  When I see this style I think "first time platform tiles" and not any certain game I might've played.

Offline API-Beast

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #4 on: January 12, 2012, 02:28:11 pm
It makes things simpler. You don't have to make complex transitions, variations, etc. I do that not only for dark surfaces but also for water (with plain blue in that case), I could of course give the water some structure but for that looking good I would need multiple animation frames per water tile as well as quite a lot tweaking... thats simply not worth it.

So basically it decreases the work needed for a tileset without attracting much negative attention.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2012, 03:51:36 pm by Mr. Beast »

Offline HughSpectrum

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #5 on: January 12, 2012, 02:38:26 pm
Out of curiosity, what complex transitions do you mean?  I have a hard time imagining it taking more tiles than you would use already.

Offline API-Beast

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #6 on: January 12, 2012, 03:54:10 pm
I was just referring to the generally decreased complexity there: a transition to black is easier than a transition between two structural elements.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2012, 04:01:38 pm by Mr. Beast »

Offline Wes

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #7 on: January 12, 2012, 04:11:08 pm
i like it for two main reasons.

1. i'm lazy
2. readability

the first one is obvious—less stuff to make tile perfectly.

the second one is more important—i'm a fan of not bothering with making the player worry about stuff that doesn't matter to the game. if an area is blocked out, then it's immediately obvious that it's not important—that it's impassable. a wall is a wall and there's no point in looking at it or thinking about it. I'd rather spend my time and effort (and the player's attention) on something that will have more of an impact on the gameplay itself—like animations.

Quote
I'm also curious about where the idea originated, can't think of anything off the top of my head.

i do it because i started with RPGs—and interior RPG maps would have the "ceiling" areas blacked out. that's where i got it from.

Offline HughSpectrum

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #8 on: January 13, 2012, 05:03:13 am
Quote
i do it because i started with RPGs—and interior RPG maps would have the "ceiling" areas blacked out. that's where i got it from.
I mean for outdoor platformer tiles, which I feel this topic is about.

Offline Conzeit

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #9 on: January 13, 2012, 11:21:19 am
Who's style is being imitated isnt as important as knowing what real life phenomenom is instinctively being referenced with the effect. Also, just because want to "black" things out to a certain color, doesnt mean this color has to be black :blind: :lol:. Blacking things out is imitation of a real life phenomenon of things disappearing in the dark, this phenomenom is even more true in photography, and it's called the "terminator" color, it's when things are so dark the camera cannot register differences in the lightness, so there's this terminator black killing all the subtle shades :p . In photography things also fade to white, when the subject is whiter than the lens can register it is said you are "burning" the picture, I'm sure you've all seen it when you try to photograph someone close to a light source, they seem to disappear into it. You can also make things fade into a mid-bright color if you think of it as mist, this is what happens with mist in real life and it's basically floating water particles so you could give it any hue, as water has the color of the light that hits it.

I personally enjoy blacking things out because it makes me think of ink and comics and 8bit games, NES games is probably where blacking things out started in games, but games like Batman were referencing this habit in comicbooks, such as Sin City or V for Vendetta, both of which clearly take it from Film Noir...so Film Noir is as far as I can trace it back, but there's likely some classical painter influence behind the Film Noir artists :p
« Last Edit: January 13, 2012, 11:44:19 am by Conceit »

Offline jams0988

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #10 on: January 13, 2012, 06:15:45 pm
Why *wouldn't* you black-out tiles? It makes the scene very readable, and looks great, in my opinion. Imagine having a small room in a top-down rpg. It's only like 6x6 tiles, because it's a little storage room or something. The style is steam-punk - pipes and crap all over the walls and ceiling. Do you really think it'd look good to have a huge screen full of repeating pipes everywhere with a tiny room in the middle of it? It'd look incredibly busy, in my opinion. Plus, it wouldn't make much sense...there should be other rooms nearby, right? But you should be able to see through their ceilings, since you can see through the room you're in. But you don't want the player to know where all the rooms are/what they contain without entering them!

Basically, there are a million reasons to black out un-used space, in my opinion, and no real reasons not to. It increases readability, makes the scene look better by reducing busy-ness, and makes sense from a "fog-of-war" point of view. There's a reason almost all games use it, hahah! X3

I do agree it doesn't make sense in *all* cases, like the small platforms you mentioned, Pypebros, but I think black-out usually looks much more appealing then a bunch of repeating tiles. Or even non-repeating tiles. If It's not a playable area, I usually don't want to waste my attention on it!

Edit: Ah, Wes already kind of said what I did, and even provided a great example of black-out done right. And of course it's from Square, which is also the company that made me fall in love with black-out to begin with. XD
« Last Edit: January 13, 2012, 06:19:37 pm by jams0988 »

Offline PypeBros

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #11 on: January 14, 2012, 03:51:12 pm
Thank all for your replies. That will give me matter to think about over the week-end ^_^

If I pick the case of indoor, RPG environment (thanks for mentioning chrono trigger), I can observe that if the scene on the playable ground is e.g. at Lv 1. and that it's seen from an observator at Lv. 3, then detail at Lv. 2 is black'd out as soon as the light is on Lv. 1 ceiling. That fits the "sunken desert" of Chrono Trigger. From the maps of that game I've dug so far, it looks like the artists used black area to circle the playable area, but that they avoid to use it when there's some blocking element in the middle of the area (maybe avoiding large non-playable element in the middle of the playable area would be a mistake in terms of level design :P)
At other places in the game, we see relatively large, dark, monotonic areas where only irregularities large enough to catch the rare light stands out. Imho, that's well done -- the kind of things I think Ubisoft did with the first Rayman platformer, and indeed, they used it to help tiling of complex objects without sacrificing to the physics of outdoor lightning.

I'm more used to the Zelda series, where non-playable area was light, with low details, but usually not dark unless one wants to suggest a confined place. (as the 6x6 room). That suits labyrinths quite well, imho. I've seen platformers using black "frame" around a small bonus place, and that's fine to me.

Quote
I mean for outdoor platformer tiles, which I feel this topic is about.
Yes, essentially, side-view was more my topic. Either outdoor or indoor, with the question "when should we avoid to do it, even though it's clear we don't want repetitive stuff, nor do we want to distract the player's attention too much from the important gameplay element.

Let me try another example, a mock-up of a labyrinth in the Shantae game:
- vs -

Imho "fade to black" is used appropriately at the ceiling of the room, but it doesn't fit with the "higher ground" element on the bottom-left of the picture. Afaik, there's no such thing in the delivered game, where simple and dark bricks are used at the border. Personally, I think this is the perfect situation where a dark silhouetto can be used, in the foreground, that is zoomed enough to be perceived as out of reach of the scene's lightning (just like the head of someone just in front of you at the cinema will appear as a dark silouhetto while watching the movie). That trick is used a lot in DoTT, and imho, it could fit platformers as well.

« Last Edit: January 14, 2012, 04:06:37 pm by PypeBros »

Offline Facet

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #12 on: January 20, 2012, 05:30:43 pm
I think this is an interesting topic PB, and one which I've given some thought about previously myself. I do think you've over-complicated the issue here somewhat, concisely:

Knowing what to leave out of an image or scene is as important an artistic and mechanistic consideration as what to put in.

The issue as I see it is of keeping focus where it's wanted. You've singled out fading to black here so I'll take that as an example; doing so in lieu of homogeneous detail promotes attention to the traversable area in-game in addition to providing welcome value contrast to background work that is often bright & colourful. 

There are other ways of manipulating visual priorities however, a few of which I've illustrated here.


If you want to talk realism (although I don't think this should be a priority necessarily); either photo or visual-perceptual, you can only focus on a relatively small amount of detail from a scene at any one time. The fovea can only distinguish both detail and colour in the very centre of your vision, the rest being extrapolated post-hoc. A similarly adaptive response also tailors the relative levels of detail you perceive in light and shade; you only get a full compliment of range in either one or the other that you happen to be focused on; examples of this phenomenon being contre-jour foreground silhouette and the 'white-out' of an exterior as seen from the window of an interior scene.

Applied in the context of game tiles, the previous would suggest to me that localised detail/interest is both more effective pictorially and also more realistic in an appropriate sense.     

Offline PypeBros

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #13 on: January 21, 2012, 02:11:35 pm
Interesting recollection of techniques you present here, Facet. I may be more a "level-of-detail" and "chroma" kind of guy, and that could explain why it always tickled me when contrast/lightning alone was used.



Let's give it a try with a more "platforming" scene. I think, as a "level designer", I'd only use 2 levels of details for a mid-air platform, even if it gets to e.g. 5x5 tiles. I'd keep the lowest level of detail (the equivalent of fading-to-black) for situation where I have a long corridor at 2/3 of the image's height, or when approaching the map border, to really hint the player "there isn't anything else beyond that area".

It could be that one of the issues I have is that a fade-to-black tileset will somehow constraint the way I can use tiles in the level, while I'd rather want them to bend to the situation.

Quote
A similarly adaptive response also tailors the relative levels of detail you perceive in light and shade; you only get a full compliment of range in either one or the other that you happen to be focused on; examples of this phenomenon being contre-jour foreground silhouette and the 'white-out' of an exterior as seen from the window of an interior scene.
Yep. I'd consider bonus and boss room to be such places where contre-jour is welcome. A focused place, where ambiance prevails and readability may not be compromised at all.

Quote
I do think you've over-complicated the issue here somewhat
That would be very me-ish from me ^^" ... i'll meditate on your concise suggestion when working on my next tileset/mockup/game.

Just one last thing ...

A mock-up by st0ven (iirc), that was posted here some tilmes ago, and which I keep as an evidence that, when used appropriately, that technique can contribute a lot to the atmosphere of a scene. I haven't figured out what was so special about it that make me thumb it up while I'd have disapproved so much lack of information (plain black) in so many other context.

Offline Facet

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #14 on: January 21, 2012, 06:41:10 pm
Great, interesting applied examples ;D

Of course you have the freedom to experiment & combine many methods in order to achieve an effect that you like. In addition to the aforementioned you can also use signposting and compositional effects to lead the eye, crudely:


Quote
It could be that one of the issues I have is that a fade-to-black tileset will somehow constrain the way I can use tiles in the level, while I'd rather want them to bend to the situation.
Yeah, foreground interest should ideally be positioned for a balance with that of the background; a plain BG encourages a busy FG and vice versa.

Quote
That would be very me-ish from me ^^"
I really respect & enjoy attempts to explore possibilities and promote discussion. Please start more technical threads as they occur to you :D
« Last Edit: January 22, 2012, 08:00:42 pm by Facet »

Offline Mathias

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #15 on: January 21, 2012, 07:15:04 pm
Facet - awesome abstraction of the concept of priority, great job.

Pype - I also think the plain dark tiles in St0ven's mock work well. One thing that hits me about why that might be is that the upper mart of the mock kinda mirrors the effect, on top, that the bottom dark tiles have, creating a defined, visually prioritized middle 2/3, while the upper 1/3 and lower 1/3 frame the middle 2/3. Our eyes are drawn exclusively to the middle 2/3 of the composition, which has a very pleasant, easy to gander upon effect.

Offline Facet

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #16 on: January 24, 2012, 06:10:47 pm
A bit late, (I thought PB might have more to add) but thanks Mathias ;D I've noticed you champion the cause before and previous commentators had it absolutely right but it's such an important/prevalent issue in pixel/game art that I thought it needed diagramming.

Offline PypeBros

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #17 on: January 25, 2012, 10:00:14 pm
I've been pretty busy, lately... And I would like to find and study how the desert tiles were used in the original Turrican on Amiga ... It seems to me like it's a good alternative, using level of detail and darkness, but still keeping a rendering that avoid structures to appear as "hollow" to my eyes ... if only ...

Offline Facet

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #18 on: January 25, 2012, 10:26:30 pm
Hey, I didn't mean to prod you into replying ;D I think the quite high visibility Turrican tiles work primarily because the backgrounds are so sparse; flat colours mostly. If those priorities were reversed, ie, the background was fully rendered I'd expect the tiles to be much simpler.

The reason Stoven's forest mockup may appeal more to you could be because it's basically a rim-lit cross-section as oppose to a diminishing gradient of rendered tiles.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2012, 10:28:08 pm by Facet »

Offline surt

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Re: plain dark tiles

Reply #19 on: January 27, 2012, 08:01:38 am
Flashback makes particullary nice use of blacked-out solids:

It makes perfect sense physically as that's where a solid wall is cut away and there wouldn't be any light coming from inside a solid wall.