Pssst - Eighties graphic art

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JPEG is probably the most common design artifact present in our daily media. But twenty years ago technology offered a different set of problems, with quite another set of artifacts.

Psst is a cute 80s video game written for the ZX Spectrum home computer. As far as i'm concerned the vivid style of the 8 bit games is still miles ahead the majority of what passes for graphic art today. I love the limited palette, and chunkyness, and the inventiveness of the artists. If you click on the picture it will show an enlarged version. Take a moment to have a close look.

Techniques

One of the major limitations when designing graphics for early computers was the limited palette. You could only use a certain number of colours at once because the memory of the machine was so small (the Spectrum has around 48K of ram compared to 1,000,000K today). So ingenious techniques were devised to give a larger palette for the artist to work from.

In this case the colour information was stored separately based on large 32x24 blocks, while figure and ground can be specified at a much greater detail (256 x 192 pixels). Each of the larger squares is able to determine what will be the two colours used for figure and ground, and some other information such as brightness and blink. If you look carefully you will notice that there is not a place on the screen that uses more than two colours within the same larger block.