Next Generation Graphics on the Commodore 64

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By Kodiak

Not that long ago, someone challenged me on my YouTube channel over my use of the term Next Generation Graphics for describing the graphical style used in my Deep Winter tech demo on the Commodore 64.

His exact words were:

"It looks very cool, but still being 320x200 and 16 colors... Not exactly nextgen (16-bit) like."

Obviously exceeding 320 x 200 px resolution is impossible on the Commodore 64's native hardware, so that was a bit of a big ask for start!

He also clearly did not notice that some non-standard colours are used in it, taking the palette beyond the base 16, but both of those issues aside, I now feel I should at least try once more to define what "next gen graphics" on the Commodore 64 might consist of.

However, before I proceed to attempt to provide such a description, I do accept that the term is substantially subjective and may also be a little inadvertently pretentious, but I have to define it somehow and do so in the least offensive, uncontentious manner possible.

In other words, this is my personal definition of "next generation graphics" on the C64 and has no broad consensual backing from the wider C64 scene:

  1. As a fundamental rule, next gen eschews the wanton use of blocky multicolour mode (MCM) graphics and instead emphasises the use of smoothing expedients, such as hi-res, anti-aliasing where hi-res is impossible, and other methods to avoid totally or to reduce, where avoidance is impossible, any unwanted jaggedness from MCM. MCM thus becomes a tool of last resort, with priority instead given to hi-res graphics and Extended Color Mode (ECM).
  2. Rather than using the Silkworm style of stippling (or dithering, as it's better known nowadays) to produce half-tones, next gen uses non-standard colours, either the Alternate Line Method so popularised by Mayhem in Monsterland or the lesser known Dynamic Colour Mixing - see my Luma Driven Graphics for a detailed description of these techniques.
  3. Silkworm
    Silkworm: A blocky stipple-fest.
  4. Next gen c64 graphics requires all sprites to be visible against their backdrops, which means they must have predominant colours that strongly contrast with those in the backdrop, so as to avoid what I call "Flimbo's Syndrome", in which the sprites and backdrop have such similar hues as to make it hard to differentiate between them (Flimbo's Quest is not the only culprit in making this design faux pas, but stands out to me as the premier example given the scale and ambition of the game). In practice, the sprite visibility remedy would normally entail making either black or white the main sprite colour in instances where the backdrop is colourful (as opposed to the blackness of a space-based shooter, for example).
  5. Flimbo's Quest
    Flimbo's Quest: Spot the main sprite.
  6. Next gen gfx should also use parallax scrolling where possible and other graphical effects to enhance the gaming environment, such as warping effects, transitions, char-enhanced sprites, sprite-enhanced char blocks, etc., as part of an effects-driven gaming environment.
  7. Next gen might even use a synthesised 80 column mode font, as my game in development, Parallaxian, does in its panel zone, to further endow it with a 16-bit look / aspiration.

While I am always keen to avoid or minimise the use of clichés in design and gameplay, that is not the primary driver behind my fixation on next generation graphics on the C64.

My main objective, rather, is to raise the bar, design-wise, in pursuit of closing the gap on the 16-bit platforms that followed on from the C64.

And in doing so, by no means am I saying all gfx styles that preceded my own are automatically inferior; I acknowledge and accept that, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, some people will dislike my design style outright and prefer the old school stipples and blockiness.

I also concede that, despite a surfeit of horrible exceptions, there are many outstanding pieces of standalone artwork and in-game graphics availing of the traditional methods, some such works still being made today; all I'm saying is that for my games, I prefer the next generation graphics style described herein.



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