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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: PS2 Game Hacking, and Modern Sprites
A guy I know likes to crack open PS2 games and peer into their guts.  He tears into custom 3D datafiles and extracts their gooey bits, works out how they function, and reassembles them in other programs.  Watching him re-create levels and ships from R-Type Final was fascinating.

Recently he turned his attention to Mushihimesama, a bug shooter from Cave.  He pulled out over a thousand .tm2 files, a bitmap graphic format unique to the PS2.


Within these files is everything.  Sprites, backgrounds, explosions, fonts, menus, and a lot of bonus art.  It's a pretty interesting look inside the construction of a modern 2D game, but unfortunately I find that it really just reinforces my dislike of modern games.


Mushihime, which means bug princess, should be a game I love 'cause I love shooters and I love giant beetles and this game has both.  The heroine in this game rides a massive rhinoceros beetle, but it's not enough.  I just don't like the game.  One reason I just can't get into it is the graphics, specifically the pre-rendered shit that Cave and so many other developers are so fond of these days.  Basically, they make beautiful 3D models, flatten them into ugly low-colour sprites, and then slide them around the screen.  It's the same as the ugly old Mortal Kombat technique, but with a polygon source instead of a photograph.  It's as offensive to my eyes as low-bitrate MP3s are to my ears.

One of the less offensive sprites

There are a lot of reasons for doing it this way: once a 3D model is developed it can be rotated and recoloured and re-used for many different poses and applications; it can be scaled and re-rendered for different resolution screens (for example high def, standard def and mobile) and so on.

But it's not a perfect solution.  What is a boon to the developer becomes a problem for the end user: pre-rendered graphics are not as crisp and clear as pixels created the old fashioned way, and they're rendered to a lower colour depth.  This means a 3D model that was once beautiful with 16 million colours becomes compromised and unattractive with (for example) 32 thousand colours. 

What looks good on a black background looks rather harsh on a white one.

The other issue is object borders.  A sprite prepared the old fashioned way has a clearly defined edge, but a pre-rendered one has an indistinct edge, and it typically looks awful when moved around on a background.  It's like in a movie where the actors were photoshopped onto a different background: sometimes their edges shimmer or maintain a colour fringe from the green screen they were filmed in front of.

[Image:] [Image:]
Mario from two eras: Which do you prefer? 
Traditional pixels on the left, pre-rendered on the right

So yeah, pre-rendered graphics suck ass, but that's what Cave does now, and digging through this game really just reinforced the point.  These sprite sheets are ugly.  Even the bonus art is just stuff that someone sketched or drew, then scanned and slapped into the game.  It's not really impressive.

I miss the old days, where every game took ages to prepare and assets couldn't be reused.  Why oh why can't the world bend to my desires?

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