FAQ > Color Cycling 8bit Art > Q: Did you provide the artist with a tool for making images with moving palettes? Or did they work it out as they went along?


A: The ‘tool provided’ to me was the same one that nearly all 2-D computer game artists used back then to make PC games: Deluxe Paint - later Deluxe Paint II - by Electronic Arts. It was the industry standard art tool for 10 years or more in the 80s, and handled both indexed palette management and stencil management better than any other indexed color 2-D art tool I’ve seen since. ‘DPaint’s’ palette management and stencil features, along with the tool’s very useful array of gradient-fill options - were essential to producing this rarified species of 8 bit pixel art.

That said, I did ‘work out as I went along’ how to use these DPaint features in ways no one seems to have intended or foreseen. Ironically, most of the ‘unconventional’ uses I devised for dither, color cycling, and palette shifting ‘back in the day’ came into being partly because I didn’t really know what I was doing yet.

                                                                                                                                          Anyone who remotely UNDERSTOOD how such things worked back when I was first hired by Lucasfilm Games in 1987 would have KNOWN that ‘dither did not compress’ and thus known better than to try making EGA art look like VGA art by dithering those 16 awful EGA colors into more useful and pleasing combinations. But I had no idea that I shouldn’t try that until a bunch of coders charged into my office after I tried using dither on backgrounds for Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders… (Remember when games had titles like that - and humor like Ron Gilbert’s and Steve Purcell’s - instead of just a lot of grunting, squeaking things to punch, stab, and shoot? If you’re thirsty for another taste of that kind of game sensibility, do go check out Ron’s latest computer-game offering, “DeathSpank” :D) Anyway, those programmers set me straight in a hurry, and I finished Zak M using only solid EGA colors, like a less clueless boy would have done to start with. … I didn’t let the issue rest, however, and a few months later, under some pressure from the division head, they figured out how to compress dither at Lucasfilm after all. That’s when we started working on Loom - with backgrounds using extensive EGA dither. That game won a lot of graphics awards that year, as I recall.

Someone who KNEW that Java wasn’t coffee anymore would also doubtless have known better than to imagine that color cycling was good for much but garish bands of moving color or the ‘parlor trick’ effects demoed in the DPaint II example screens. A legitimate techno-savant would also have understood from the start that palette swaps, like the ones that used to happen ‘auto-accidentally’ whenever you loaded one DeluxePaint art file before closing the previous one, weren’t useful for anything either. But I was too out of touch to know that either. ;] 

Sadly for me, the advent of 32 bit un-indexed palettes and algorithm-rendered ‘3-D’ art made all such techniques impossible and/or irrelevant for quite a while. One of the benefits of that age’s comparatively slow-paced technological development was that any one tool COULD be an ‘industry standard’ for ten years before becoming obsolete. This gave people like me time not just to learn the basics, but to master the tool so completely that innovative ‘unintended’ uses became possible. These days, the tools you’re using will be so transformed and ‘improved’ every few months that there’s barely time to become adequately proficient with one version before having to start becoming adequately proficient in the next one. not a lot of potential for mastery or innovative ‘misuse’ now. Who knows what potential lurked in the vast mountain of toys we’ve so briefly fondled before tossing aside hardly explored during the past decade or two?
Just sayin…