The video game industry has changed a lot in the 35 years since its US launch Nintendo Entertainment System.
From Game online to virtual reality, there are many things that the inventors of the NES could never predict. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that the pixel visual style created out of necessity in the 1980s is still relevant today.
The first Nintendo system to be launched outside of Japan, the NES proved to be an unstoppable force, despite the efforts of competitors such as Atari and Sega. Nintendo sold almost 30 million consoles in the US alone in December 1991 and sales have since exceeded 60 million. NES is the definitive console of its generation, such that it accidentally launched “8-bitThis style of play is still used by modern developers even though it has nothing to do with 8-bit consoles.
Latest indie games like Knight of the Spade and Undertale belongs to the realm of “8-bit inspired” gaming because of its pixelated graphics and glitchy soundtrack. However, these tiles were way more advanced than anything retro NES developers could have created at the time.
Despite the upcoming November release PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will make 4K graphics a standard home console, pixelated game still have sect followers. Titles like a farming simulator Stardew Valley often described as “8-bit retro” but this game only has an 8-bit look, not a soul.
Currently, developers can choose whether they want their game to look like an 8-bit game or not, but when NES developers create Metroid (1987) and Castlevania (1987), the appearance of the game is more of a necessity than a choice of style.
What does 8-bit actually mean?
The true definition of the “8-bit” descriptor refers to the processors running consoles such as the NES and Atari 7800 and has nothing to do with the graphics of the games they run. So how strong is the internal SPN?
For starters, a bit is a single binary value, which is the most basic unit of information a computer can process. A bit has two states – one or zero – which can also be represented by “true or false” or “on or off”. Computers basically encode data in this binary unit to be moved, stored, and edited. Think of it as translating how humans perceive the world into its most basic form so that machines can act on information.
The concept of converting data into bits was discovered in 1732 by Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptise Falcon, which uses a punched card filled with a pinhole to make a fabric loom semi-automatic. The term “beet” was first used by the mathematician Claude E. Shannon in his influential paper “Mathematical Communication Theory“Which fundamentally changes the way people transfer and communicate data.
So what does eight in 8-bit mean? It refers to the size of the unit of data a computer can handle, or its “word size.”
1-bit has two possible states (1 or 0), meaning it has two places to store information.
2-bit has four possible states (2 ^ 2)
4-bit has 16 possible states (2 ^ 4)
8-bit has 256 possible states (2 ^ 8)
PS5 memory interface will be 256-bit… I’ll give you that math.
Consoles like the NES have far less space for storing information than modern consoles. This results in developers being very limited in what they can display on the screen at once. You can find examples of this limitation in nearly every title launched on the NES.
The origin of 8-bit
The link cannot be plundered over 255 rupees in the original The legend of Zelda because 256 is the maximum value an unsigned 8-bit value can have. If you reach 256 level Pac-Man (better known as “kill screen”) the game will basically crash and turn into a bunch of letters and ghosts. But this 8-bit limitation is also responsible for the iconic graphics found on Nintendo Kirby and Capcom Mega Man franchise.
The development rules of the strict rules needed to run a game at the NES are like having the artist paint with one hand tied behind their back. Console image processing unit divides what’s shown on the screen into two layers, background and sprite later.
The background layer is divided into 968 8-by-8 tiles. The developer only allows 256 unique color tiles to be displayed on the screen at once so repeatability is key and can only show a maximum of 64 colors but only 13 colors at a time. The sprite layer, or the layer where the protagonist and enemy will move, has a complex set of rules as well.
All of these restrictions lead to graphics we now categorize as “8-bit”, but each of these games is designed to look like they’re unnecessary, not artistic choices. The giant boss enters Mega Man 2 is actually part of the background and not the sprite layer, whereas Batman’s return from the Joker use a circular animated background for fake motion.
In the early to mid-1990s, game developers had become proficient at 8-bit trading tricks, leading to an impressive (for the time) environment. Adventure of Kirby and Spirit. But can what is now called “retro 8-bit” really be called 8-bit?
Technically, no. That’s because they weren’t built with the 8-bit constraints that early developers operated on. As an example, Knight of the Spade it may seem like it could run on the NES, but its developer Yacht Club Games has access to colors that aren’t available on retro consoles.
So, while gaming companies can definitely say their games are “8-bit inspired,” bear in mind that retro titles of the past were essentially Macgyvered along with glorified calculators.
8-Bit Week is Upside down a celebration of the classic – and forgotten – games that pushed the boundaries of interactive entertainment in the 1980s and beyond.
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