How were video games in the late 80s/early 90s animated before huge digital advances were made? Additionally, how was music added?



How were video games in the late 80s/early 90s animated before huge digital advances were made? Additionally, how was music added?

In: Technology

they had very little resources to use, so the resources were used sparingly. Mush was 8bit and limited to the notes they could use. Graphics were re-used (for example, in Super Mario Brothers on the original NES, the clouds and the bushes were the same graphic, just some were green and some were white.

So adding onto the other comment, shortcuts like that were used a lot. Any and every way to save a little space was often used it they could get it to work.

Music is an interesting one. So how it used to work, was, if I’m remembering correctly, actual hardware made for making what we traditionally associate with 8-but music. The midi sounds. Instead of having an entire audio file, which could take up a lot of space, the game instead had directions for the hardware which allowed it to output the music without having an entire song saved.

Soundtrack files are a HUGE component of what takes up space in a lot of modern games nowadays. An entire symphony worth of musicians and more. Lots of long, complex pieces, etc. You can’t just tell the game to “loop X sounds until Y action/part of map” or whatever the same way we used to.

On some early machines like Commodore 64 and Vic 20. You would actually take the ASCII characters and re draw them as something else. So a little man might be made up legs and a body as two characters. But the actual characters were originally # and $ symbols. For the legs you might have a few characters so it would look like it’s walking.

Some machines had sprites which were little graphics which you could move around the screen.

The 8 bit guy has a good video on old school graphics

Earlier games like Pong and Elite used vector drawn lines to create the scene, but in the late 80’s early 90’s, a lot of games were made on custom workstation PC’s that were purpose made for graphics workloads. Sprite editors were pretty far along by then though, so not all game graphics required these advanced workstations.

As to music, prior to digital sound and the CD-ROM based multimedia revolution, most music used MIDI files. FM synthesis was also used by most sound cards of the time period for sound effects and some music, but MIDI was easier to work with.

So to answer your real question, the types of computers the developers of those games used were not the same as the ones the final game ran on. They were a lot faster and purpose built for the task of creating graphics, or music.

Game consoles of the 1980s and early 1990s didn’t have lots of storage or processing power to handle large amounts of data, so there was a strong focus on making everything as efficient as possible. In many early consoles, such as the NES, graphics is stored as small tiles, with each pixel in the tile only having a few options for colors, to minimize the amount of data required. To produce images, these tiles are combined together in groups, and to produce animations, the tiles were moved around or replaced with other tiles. That’s why backgrounds and objects tend to look similar or have repeating patterns. Lots of strategies were used to minimize the amount of tiles required; [this video]( shows some some of these strategies. For music, rather than storing an audio file containing the music, the game would store instructions for playing a song as a sequence of notes on a few basic audio channels. The limitations of hardware greatly restricted the complexity of music; the NES can only play up to 5 notes at a time for example.

In case you’re interested, there are some incredible resources for making 8 bit games on retro systems available for free. Arcade Game Designer (AGD) for the ZX Spectrum is particularly fun. Highly recommended!