The Joy of Palettes

To yammer on one moment longer about Columns, there’s something undeniably eye-catching about the game and it obviously has a lot to do with an abundance of colour. The arcade/Genesis/MD version really excels in this area with rich palette selections for not just the jewels but also the backgrounds & interface, and as far as inspired uses of the oft-maligned Genesis/MD palette, Columns is top tier. For me, this version of Columns is a wonderful example of how a relatively static, single-screen game can remain visually interesting over long play sessions by way of well-crafted, kaleidoscopic graphics.

Columns (Genesis) – Flash mode

One of the major goals when getting started on Eight.Domino.Heart was to give the game a super clean & minimalist look, and I knew accomplishing that would mean keeping the number of simultaneous colours pretty tightly locked down. Working with low resolution pixel art makes it quite easy to closely manage colour usage, and through some amount of fooling around I found that a 10-colour palette provides plenty of room for a few different families of nicely shaded, easily distinguishable elements. It’s imperative that each domino be readable in an instant, that unoccupied slots for dominoes not be confused with an inactive backdrop, that the whole thing be smooth on the eyes despite the fairly chunky 320×180 resolution (which I’ve grown to love for its gosh darn perfect integer scaling versatility)… are 10 colours enough?

Eight.Domino.Heart – Palette 1
Eight.Domino.Heart – Palette 2
Eight.Domino.Heart – Palette 3

I think these graphical objectives are all more or less met with the look of the game today, and everything’s set up for dynamic recolouring to quickly switch betwixt a handful of palette presets (with the capacity for a multitude more). The drawbacks to the current colour replacement implementation are 1) it causes the game to stutter on underpowered machines when elements are actively recoloured versus animated to achieve, say, a colour cycling flash, and 2) it doesn’t work at all on MacOS, on mobile or in browser. Combined, that’s plenty to have me reconsidering this approach to dynamic palette swapping since consistent multiplatform performance is another goal with this project. Ultimately, I’ll probably just wind up baking all of the palettes in as unique frames to be swapped between on demand for each asset, a cumbersome & annoying task that means gutting some beautifully efficient stuff. Bit of a motivational buzzkill. With such a limited number of on-screen colours, the freedom to switch between a variety of diverse palettes on the fly is vital to staving off visual boredom over longer sessions, so I really just need to get my shit together and grind through it.

Asteroid Mining Puzzle Thing

For this brand new asteroid mining puzzle thing, I’m trying a different angle on minimalism by running with the 16 colour Intellivision palette, a self-imposed limitation to encourage bold simplicity in the game’s look. Setting the scene in space necessitates a black background with some version of a scrolling starfield, both easily accomplished with what’s available, and there happens to be an interesting span of colours in the INTV palette for the assorted gameplay-related crap to be plopped on top. Good representation of primary, electric colours makes for sprites that stand out brightly against the startfield, and enough closely related tones allow a few convincing gradients to be assembled. Those cohesive colour families mean both the game’s standard building blocks and collectible ores can come in an easily-identifiable range of low to high durabilities & values respectively, and there are more than enough colours left to ensure everything else be drawn distinct and nice-lookin’.

Hexagon Maze Puzzler

This hexagon maze puzzler utilizing the cute alien/robot/??? character sprites from SineCannon is the most radical experiment personally attempted in palette minimalism. Shooting for a 1-bit style reminiscent of a graphing calculator or LCD game means single colour sprites, but in any colour you’d like! …As long as the colour is black. Black is all, black is everything. The subtle drop shadow helps sell the LCD vibe and keeps the screen from feeling completely dead, but the fact remains: this is drab AF by design. I dig it, though, and it’s been an enjoyable challenge to take a “less is more” approach to an arguably ludicrous extreme like this.

Of these 3 in-development puzzle projects, the asteroid mining puzzle thing is by far the most visually stimulating and alive. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the one I’m feeling most motivated by. It’s definitely no coincidence with Columns kinda-sorta glued to my mind as of late that the art has gone in this direction, and fingers crossed the elegant gameplay of that stacking puzzle legend offers a little of its influence, too.

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