Written by Robinson Mason
I fondly remember using EA's Adventure Construction Set
to build custom character tiles within the small number of pixels allowed in each. It forced a certain type of creativity that is no longer needed with modern PC games. To be certain, the Commodore 64 was not the only platform that forced game creators and artists to find ways to make convincing "pixel art". And unlike some of those, like the Atari 2600 or Intellivision, C64 based pixel art advanced by leaps and bounds over the decade plus that it thrived in the marketplace, and when it came to "demos", artists were capable of making almost photo-realistic images.
Early C64 pixel art and art for C64 games had a unique flavor, though, and I often wondered if there were some "rules" that C64 artists followed. In the image above from Knight Games, for example, a man is holding a bow with a quiver on his hip. An arrangement of no more than 6 simple beige dots make up his face, and strategically placed dots in his hair give it the appearance of being long and unkempt or wavy. Note the all-white bow, a color choice based no doubt on the fact that a brown bow would not stand out or contrast well against the character.
I doubt many young people today will spend the hours I did on the original C64 in their emulators trying to make something convincing out of a grid of less than 100 pixels in height or width given a limited color template. However, a new toy in my own home did remind me quite a bit of those days - my daughter's new Lite Brite Flat Screen
. I decided to give it a try and buy it for her despite some borderline negative reviews out there that are generally unfair to the product like "my kid leaves the pegs all over the house!" (hey, my 4 year old knows how to keep them in the tray, people), and was pleasantly surprised.
My own review result for the new Lite Brite product here? My daughter loves it and it seems sturdy enough. The use of 3 "D" batteries is a bit unusual - I prefer rechargeable AA's and Lite Brites of the past were plug-in, but it does make the Lite Brite portable and bright. And having "D" batteries around the house is good in a storm, I guess. Every time my daughter finishes a picture she brings it to us rather than screaming for us to come into some other part of the home to see her art. Thumbs up on that!
Lite Brite art works on a very similar concept of pegs in place of pixels, but instead of being limited by tile size (though there is limited space) the limitation of the templates included is by the number of certain colors of pegs included with the toy. This leads to some equally creative and interesting color choices in the templates.
If you miss C64 style pixel art, you might pick up the ~10 dollar Lite Brite Flat Screen for a kid you know this Christmas. Perhaps you can even do a little C64 logo, a Bruce Lee, or a Giana Sister with it for kicks. If you want to get serious and use a lot of one color to achieve a more authentic C64 pixel art look, though, you'll need to break out of the limitations of what comes with the Lite Brite kit and spring for an extra peg and template kit like the inexpensive Transformers Picture Refill + Bonus Pegs
- though even then there are complaints that there aren't enough of one color. My daughter will often substitute one color for another, though - like the green for yellow - leave it to a 4-year old to figure it out!
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