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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 12:10 pm 
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I ask myself this question because of how the homebrew game City Trouble was developped, having on purpose sprites that looks very old-fashioned without sprite outlines. I wonder when the appeared.

The earliest games often had completely black backgrops, as the hardwired 8k of VROM did not allow for fancy backdrops. Sprites were made of simple colored surfaces, and this looked good enough (against empty black backdrops). Then games started to have either bankswitchable CHR-ROM or CHR-RAM, and were able to have more sofisticated graphics with backdrops. Games such as Zeldas or Super Mario Bros. have sofisticated backdrops but no outlines. This looks weird, so black outlines were developed as a response, to have sprites good looking.

When did that happen ? Apparently this spread from the end of 1986 very quickly but I'm not so sure.

Also some games have outlines with another colour than black, such as Gimmick having just "dark outlines" instead of black. This looks better against both a black backdrop and a coloured backdrops, but requires sprites to be very bright coloured (at least in the $1x palette range).


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 1:37 pm 
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I don't think it ever became the standard, it was just another possible style that artists could follow. It may have been a little more prevalent sometime towards the end of the 8-bit era, possibly to isolate them from the backgrounds as you pointed out, seeing as the limit of 3 colors didn't help with the representation of volume. Most 16-bit games I can think of (maybe I'm just not thinking hard enough!) opted for a more volumetric approach though, since the increased number of colors made it possible to better represent shadows and highlights. I believe that the use of the different styles was more balanced by then.

Black outlines sure made a comeback on the GBC and GBA, but it was often done very badly. You see, while black outlines can be used well by a good artist, it's also the "go-to style" for less capable artists, because it allows them to mimic the quick/simple process of drawing on paper and coloring in. I feel like many artists from that era weren't very familiar with the restrictions of color and resolution inherent to 8 and 16-bit consoles, so they played it safe and used mostly black outlines and the color fill tool.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 1:48 pm 
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tokumaru wrote:
You see, while black outlines can be used well by a good artist, it's also the "go-to style" for less capable artists, because it allows them to mimic the quick/simple process of drawing on paper and coloring in. I feel like many artists from that era weren't very familiar with the restrictions of color and resolution inherent to 8 and 16-bit consoles, so they played it safe and used mostly black outlines and the color fill tool.

And now I just realize I'm one of those artists ^^


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 2:10 pm 
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GBC had the same limit on colors per sprite as the NES: 3 per 8x8 or 8x16 pixel tile. But I'll admit GBC had less pressure from overdraw (50% vs. 25%) and unique sprite palettes (8 vs. 4), allowing more games to adopt Mega Man/SMB2-style overlays for their sprites. GBA, on the other hand, had to contend with an excessively dark display as well as skilled staff being reassigned to games for sixth gen consoles (PS2, GameCube, and Xbox).


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:04 am 
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Black outlines are useful for the restrictions of blurry NTSC color artifacting. By using a monochrome outline, you avoid color collisions.

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