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When Colors Clash
Loading Screens and 8-bit Computer Graphics Limitations
Creating graphics on older computers was quite a challenge, and yet many artists and developers put together some impressive results; so I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few of those challenges and present a few screenshots of their work. As I've alluded to in past articles on CGA graphics, most 8-bit computers had graphical limitations beyond just the screen resolution or how many colors could be displayed at once. The precise reason for these limitations varied depending on the computer and specifics of how it's graphics were implemented, but the various, convoluted designs were usually done for the same reasons: to improve speed and/or conserve RAM. In the 1970's and even most of the 1980's processors were slow and memory was very (very!) expensive; to be competitive price-wise cuts had to be made somehow. Going with a black & white or monochrome only approach wasn't going to cut it anymore; although such displays would remain common for quite a while, a system that didn't at least offer the option of color wouldn't do well in the market. So how do you allow a colorful display while at the same time keep performance reasonable and conserve RAM? Here's a quick look at a few of the solutions that were utilized and the distinctive artwork that resulted from working within those confines...
Area 5150 by CRTC & Hornet
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew is Back!
It doesn't occur terribly often that you hear adjectives such as “impressive” used in conjuction with CGA graphics. But here were are once again! You may recall a while back an amazing demo was released into the world which used CGA's composite graphics to generate 1024 colors on the screen at once, quite a feat for a graphics standard most people associate with being able to display no more than 4 colors. If you haven't already seen this, check out CGA in 1024 Colors - a New Mode: the Illustrated Guide on VileR's blog for more technical info, or simply enjoy the YouTube video 8088 MPH by Hornet + CRTC + DESiRE (final version). And now, the team is back again with another ridiculously impressive demo! The latest effort is viewable on YouTube; check it out captured directly from real hardware in the video Area 5150 by CRTC & Hornet (Party Version) / IBM PC+CGA Demo, Hardware Capture or if you prefer view it as being presented at Evoke 2022 in the Area 5150 Audience Reaction video. This time around no composite video techniques are used, instead every trick in the book is pulled out to show 16 colors graphics with a CGA card and RGB monitor. While the demo scene has more traditionally been associated with the Commodore 64 or Amiga, both machines with specialized hardware for graphics and sound, it's nice to see the humble IBM PC given some attention; this demo is quite the accomplishment, congratulations to everyone involved (and a well deserved first place win)! At the moment only the demo videos are available, a more detailed technical write up should be coming soon and once it's available I'll be sure to post an update with the link. For now, enjoy the videos!
Even More Tales of CGA Colors
An Accurate IBM 5153 Palette and Composite Color Consequences
A lot has been written about CGA graphics over the years; while most people seem to immediately have in mind the default pallete of cyan, magenta, white, and black, the card could do a lot more, especially if you had a composite monitor. I've added several thoughts to the mix over the past few years including my preferences for better color choices that games could have easily made. Now, here's some more on CGA colors! Regardless of whether or not a game used CGA well, what would have been seen back in the day depended on a number of factors including whether or not a true IBM CGA card was used (versus, say, a third party CGA card or a later standard such as EGA or VGA emulating a CGA graphics mode) and the particular model of monitor. Introduced in 1983, the IBM 5153 monitor is one such configuration that would provide a subtle difference compared to what is normally seen today with emulators. VileR of int10h.org has written an excellent analysis of the actual 16 colors an IBM 5153 would display and why; I highly recommend checking out his article The IBM 5153's True CGA Palette and Color Output...