Going 8-bit

In last week’s iDevBlogADay post I talked about how I was considering making my next game in the “doodle” style, but I eventually decided otherwise. This week, I’ll talk about the style I’m going with instead: 8-bit.

What is 8-bit?

The 8-bit name comes from 8-bit computer architecture, but the 8-bit style itself is really based on games from the 8-bit console era (NES and Master System). These days, the name “8-bit” seems to cover stuff from the 16-bit era as well. 8-bit graphics are called pixel art, and they have low resolution and low colour depth.  The music in 8-bit games has a very distinct sound and is often called “chiptunes”.

Why 8-bit?

Let’s be honest: it’s just plain cool. Unlike doodle graphics, I get the sense that using pixel art adds credibility instead of taking it away. It’s been used a lot, and yet it never really seems overused. Pixel art is also a ton of fun to create. It requires a certain amount of skill, but it’s much easier to make (for me) than the style I was originally considering for my next game (pre-rendered 3D).

8-bit inspired music is also awesome, with a style all its own. I’m planning to make the music for this game myself, mostly because I’d love to dabble in making music that sounds like this: http://georgeandjonathan.com/.

Implementing 8-bit

I’m not 100% certain of the approach I’m going end up taking to get the graphics to look right. The general idea I’ve seen in most 8-bit iOS games is that they double the pixel sizes, so that each in-game pixel takes up four real screen pixels(sixteen on the Retina display). For now, I’m actually using double-sized assets and rendering in 480×320 but I may move to using a half-size buffer and assets so that it’s truly low-res.

I’ve seen different 8-bit games use different approaches. For example, Super Quick Hook has low res in-game sprites, but the text is actually pretty small and high res:

8-bit tools

Sprite Something

Sprite something is *awesome*. It’s an iPad app for creating pixel art sprites, and it’s what convinced me that 8-bit was the right style for my game. You can use it to easily create pixel drawings, which it’ll export as transparent sprite sheets. Well worth the $2.99

SFXR

SFXR is a simple 8-bit retro sound generator that was created as a way for devs at Ludum Dare to create sound effects really quickly.  It’s open source, and has been ported to Flash for convenient in-browser use: http://www.superflashbros.net/as3sfxr/

SunVox

SunVox is a free cross-platform music making application.  I have to admit that I haven’t used SunVox yet, but it looks really cool, and I’ve heard some awesome music created with it. For music creation on the go, there’s also a SunVox iPhone app ($4.99).

Inspirational 8-bit iOS games

The Incident

Super Quick Hook

Canabalt

Gravity Hook HD

This entry was posted in Game Design, iDevBlogADay, iOS Development, The Future Game. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Going 8-bit

  1. Mike Berg says:

    Funny, I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few days about how I want to do some pixel-art characters, to see if I’m any good at it. I’ve never tried before, but it looks like a lot of fun. Can’t wait to see your next project, Matt!

    -Mike

  2. I’m into Pixel Art too for my upcoming game using mostly The Incident and Canabalt as reference, also, of course, tons of SNES games (the sprite archive). I recommend visiting http://wayofthepixel.com and http://pixeljoint.com for anyone considering pixel art. Ah, and you can do amazing pixel stuff with GIMP!

  3. wadevondoom says:

    Be aware that both Sprite Something and Pixen and REALLY, REALLY prone to crashing. I have both and tried to use both. Both decide to crash at any given time. I spent about 2 hours on a sprite only to lose it to SpriteS dying on me. I haven’t seen an update to the app since I bought it about 5 months ago. I gave up and used GIMP instead. I really wanted to use these, especially Sprite Something. @alfred Kwigbo is correct about the bugs in Pixen also.

    • Matt says:

      Hmm, yeah that matches what I’ve heard about Pixen. Everyone seems to warning about bugs and crashes.

      As for Sprite Something, I’ve used it for a few hours and haven’t had any problems. There was just an update (1.11) released for it 6 days ago, which include “Improved stability, bug fixes”, so maybe that’ll fix your issues with it :)

      • wadevondoom says:

        Oh boy. That would be swell. I know it sounds lame but I really liked this for pixel art. You really had to focus on a small space with limited tools and just ‘do the art’. (I can’t believe that I have no wi-fi at work). I am going to download that ASAP. Thanks Matt.

        • Matt says:

          Yeah I think that’s part of what makes Sprite Something so awesome. It really shows what the potential of the iPad as a content-creation (not just content-consuming) device.

  4. Michael says:

    It’s expensive unless you already have a copy, but I found that Photoshop is pretty good for pixel art. There’s a good guide for configuring it to work well at the pixel level here: http://www.gamedev.net/reference/art/features/pixelart1/page3.asp .

    With photoshop you can use scripting to output data about your textures directly into a format that can be loaded by your game. I used this when developing my iOS game to output texture coordinates into a plist file.

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