Monthly Archives: January 2015

Agent Smith Receives The 16-BIT Shock Treatment

Recently a fellow on twitter known as Dodekatheoi (we’re following each other) requested a pixel-art icon from me for his various social media and gaming accounts. In particular he wanted those icons to represent the infamous antagonist of the Matrix trilogy – Agent Smith. He also required that these icons be at screen dimensions of 100 x 100 and later on at 400 x 400. An intriguing prospect to say the least, which I was happy to dive into.

The Matrix movies are fairly stark visually, this works particulalry well in context. Everyone should have an idea of what these movies are about with their rather pessimistic, cyberpunk flavour. Mostly monotone colour hues are used throughout the trilogy, painting a grim alternate reality. Fortunately, pixel-art with it’s reliance on limited colour palettes is a perfect fit for such renditions in low-rez. Capturing the very essence of what Agent Smith is about would be a key goal. I, therefore opted to work directly from a still image from the movie which perfectly depicted this.

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Agent Smith as originally depicted in video form (left) to a pixel art icon (right)

At first glance, it would seem that by merely dithering the image the desired result would be produced. However, this is not the case as dithering such a low-quality image only produces a terrible, uneven pixel texture. Images like these, typically found with a google search and of standard definition video quality are overwrought with screen artifacts. At best, this image would only result in a cheap, dirty digitized look and not that of carefully crafted pixel art.

Nevertheless, the image was not completely useless – after all the depiction of Agent Smith was ideal. I decided to apply a hard contrast and then mask the image, giving me a good trace of the character. The mask was then layered in a new image to work on at a screen resolution of 100 x 100 pixels. After this I proceeded to clean up the image, getting rid of some nasty, rough edges and those odd pixels that were just at the wrong place.

Next came one of the most important steps in putting together a colour palette that would do the image justice. I decided to work in 8-bits per pixel from the get-go and narrowed the palette down to 12 colours. Initially when I started allocating colours and testing them out, I was already up to 20 colours but quickly ascertained that that’s too much. I gradually got rid of the unneccessary colours, keeping only those that worked best with the others within the palette.

I always keep a Wacom Intuos tablet handy for drawing purposes even though I’m proficient with a mouse. For pixel-art I feel the mouse is often the better choice but there are certain aspects that a pen and tablet handle better. In respect, to drawing organic imagery a pen and tablet beats out the mouse more often than not. Ditto for shading purposes, I’ve found there is a greater speed advantage with the Intuos. And in the case of the Agent Smith icon, the tablet came in as an indispensible tool.

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Pixel Edit of Agent Smith from 8-bit right down to 1-bit colour mode

The process from here on was a matter of working on those dots diligently, for a small image size such as this I seldom use more than 3 layers. Once the image looks satisfactory, it’s time for some minor colour balancing. Finally the image is complete and we have ourselves a nice rendition of Agent Smith with only 12 colours. I decided to further reduce the colour down to 8 colours on a secondary image and then down to 1-bit colour depth which comprises of only 2 colours.

Generally the process as a whole is not terribly complex, nor is it the only way to go about doing this. But I believe this one of the more efficient methods for pixel pushers. In my next pixel art article I will reveal some similar work I’ve done on Raiden, the main protagonist from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Top 10 Articles Of 2014

We’re almost a fortnight into 2015 and I hope it’s been going great for everyone. Here at 16-BIT Shock HQ, things are moving along at a brisk pace. Work on game projects resumed early last week, after a short holiday break.

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Before moving on with fresh content for the new year, let’s take this opportunity for a brief recap of top posts on this blog. Several articles proved to be quite popular with readers and it would be great to showcase them again. Particularly for those who discovered this blog, only recently. The following list features a quick rundown of those posts truly, resonating with folks during 2014, and my personal viewpoint of why that is the case.

Just click on the relative heading and you will be taken directly to the article:

  1. Tools Of The Trade – GameMaker : Studio – Certainly the most read article on this site by a large margin, and quite understandably so. With the explosion of indie game development in recent years, everyone is looking around for the best ways to make games. This article gives a brief overview of one of the most popular game engines in existence today.
  2. Project MSG – Early Development – The game project I’ve been working on and has fortunately excited a few people. It’s a 2D retro-style shooting game with a top-down view perspective set within a cyberpunk universe. Many folks loved the logo and the pixel-art style, and in turn generated some interesting conversation between us. I appreciate all the input I’ve received and will be sharing more about this project in the near future.
  3. Developing For Vintage Hardware – It’s a no-brainer why this post struck a nerve, after all the number of retro gaming and computer aficionados keeps growing. Homebrew development is both intriguing and reinvigorating within the game development scene. Vintage consoles and computer systems, with their limited capabilities offer alternative, frankly more interesting roads for creative expression.
  4. Cybermanga – I’m a huge fan of anime & manga, particularly from the 80’s – 90’s. And it seems so are plenty of people visiting this site, even attracting significant traffic from Japan. The influence of these art forms play a big part in my own creative path and this post gives a brief overview.
  5. This Is For Retro Lovers – On the 2nd of June 2014, I wrote this blog’s very first post. Short, sweet and straight to the point – ultimately setting the general tone for future articles. Surprisingly it attracted a far larger audience than I was expecting, considering it was very early days for the blog.
  6. The 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy – Probably one of the more important articles I’ve written here. The goal was to convey the direction that my game development projects were to take. Worth a read for recent visitors.
  7. Prototyping And Arcade Presentation – A fairly recent article, managing to gain far more traction than I was expecting. I covered an issue in games that I feel should gain more attention, and that’s the matter of how they are presented. Arcade games in particular are a great example of how this could be done.
  8. Anti-Establishment – Another one of those articles that had a significant impact with readers. Further reiterating key points from the 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy article. Perhaps a tad more cheeky, but still attracting small trickles of traffic several months after it was published.
  9. Tools Of The Trade – GraphicsGale – At one point, pixel art seemed like it was a dying art form. Fortunately it has been rejuvenated recently with all the interest in retro and indie gaming. One of the better, if not the best pixel art editor is GraphicsGale. A personal favourite of mine which I go into more detail in this post.
  10. FM Synthesis & Video Games: Kick Drums & Toms – Last but not least, is this excellent article by Joe Giliver from Ocular Audio. Joe’s vast knowledge in music composition and FM synthesis is a great help in understanding what is substantially niche subject matter. Lately FM synthesis, is enjoying growing interest which is in line with the resurgence of retro gaming, computing and 80’s synthesizer music.

Plenty of reading there, great way to start the new year I would think. Future articles will tread similar ground for the most part. However, there will be a shift in focus around the periods when I’ll be releasing my game projects. Naturally there will be greater emphasis on these as should be expected.