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Thread: Genesis color palette

  1. #1
    Outrunner Orchid87's Avatar
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    Blinky Genesis color palette

    I'd like to know your opinion on it. What are the best examples of using the limited genny palette? What are the worst?

    Also does anyone know what was the reason behind the "64 colors at once" during the Genesis development? Cost saving? I wish they did 256

    On the games - I love how Treasure games look. Color choices are so vivid and beautiful. On the other hand - most of the arcade ports by western developers (like Sculptured) look really really bad.

  2. #2
    Super Robot Raging in the Streets Obviously's Avatar
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    I think my overall favorite creative use of the limited Genesis palette is Ranger X.

    The one level where you're in a forest and you fight above and below the canopy of trees really stands out in my mind with the quick switching between light and dark palettes.

    It could easily be mistaken for something on the SNES.

    Also the Sonic games did pretty well. Ristar and Rocket Knight are both really vibrant. The already mentioned Treasure games all look great.

    The disparity gets really obvious with games that were also released on the SNES where developers didn't put as much effort into making the game look pretty for Genesis.

  3. #3
    Wildside Expert Furnessly's Avatar
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    People often say along with the sound that the Genesis colour palette is a weakness due to that "it is dark and gritty". Personally I think it was a cost cutting measure due to that the PC Engine had a better palette a year earlier but it was presumably by design due to that it has Master System hardware in it and was an evolution of Sega's previous consoles. I wouldn't say that a limited palette is bad though, just harder to do and requires more effort.

    Anyway, apart from the mentioned games I would also say Adventures of Batman and Robin that looks quite colourful, Puggsy that could be mistaken for a SNES game, Misadventures of Flink in terms of the art style and with the detail, Panorama Cotton looks bright and not over saturated. There's more but I can't think of any at the moment. Usually the games that have the best art/graphics use the best ability of the palettes.

    For worst use of the palette, I would say the SNES ports especially the majority of the American made games that are sports games or games like Wheel of Fortune. There are some games that have an okay palette but could be a bit better or games that have a good/okay palette for the sprites but a poor palette for the backgrounds (many fighting games apply here). Also Back to the Future 3 is pretty dark and a bit bad but that is because of a programming bug that prevents showing the correct palette in game.

  4. #4
    Master of Shinobi GeckoYamori's Avatar
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    I think the color argument is a bit overblown. It's not about how many colors you have at your disposal as it is about how you use the colors you do have. Any accomplished artist is generally going to stick to a limited set of colors to accomplish a certain theme, and not bombard your eyes with an entire spectrum all the time.

    There's plenty of both vivid and washed out looking games on both the Genesis and SNES. 256 colors is a natural advantage, but I really don't think the Genesis suffered as much as some might claim from the smaller palette.

    Same thing goes for NES vs SMS palette really. In the big picture, was there really such a dramatic difference between the two?

  5. #5
    Loves Lori Bazzil! Raging in the Streets 108 Stars's Avatar
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    The 64-color limit is really annoying. I don´t care much for the overall palette of 512, but I 100% agree that the MD should have been able to display 256 colors at once.

    It can be a real pain to draw the detailed graphics with lots of sprites that the MD is capable of, but to have to rely on such a limited number of colors.

  6. #6
    Death Adder's minion ShinobiWan1's Avatar
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    A lot of paintings I do are using limited palettes, as Gecko stated, 'It's not about how many colors you have at your disposal as it is about how you use the colors you do have'

    True on all accounts! I have some paintings here that are using 3 colours each, but proper placement and usage still show the message I'm trying to convey





    Not to say I'm super awesome or anything and yes I do mix the paints to create more colours I'm just trying to state that limited palettes can still be done right.
    Last edited by ShinobiWan1; 01-09-2011 at 02:42 PM.

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    WCPO Agent Mista_Ed's Avatar
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    cool paint jobs yo...

    likin the portrait

  8. #8
    Hard Road! Raging in the Streets Barone's Avatar
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    I go with Magical Taruruuto-kun... I really enjoy seeing my Mega Drive putting some SNES-like graphics on screen, but with higher res!

  9. #9
    Loves Lori Bazzil! Raging in the Streets 108 Stars's Avatar
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    ShinobiWan1, your painting doesnot have 3 colors, but 40400 of them.

    Seriously, of course you can do with the 64 colors if you have to; but it is an annoyance and requires compromises.

    You have to work with it to actually experience it. 64 colors for every gradient of everything on screen is just not much. This is the main reason for many people to find the MD´s graphics inferior to the SNES´ graphics.

    It is just so much easier with 256 at your disposal, 64 requires great organization and tweaking to have a comparable effect.

  10. #10
    Or did I? Outrunner Vyse of Arcadia's Avatar
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    I always liked the mid-screen palette swap water effect in the Sonic games.

  11. #11
    Japanese Sonic CD FTW!!! Master of Shinobi Ecco's Avatar
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    Sonic 2 is of course one of the most colorful and awesome:






  12. #12
    50fps because why not? Master of Shinobi Flygon's Avatar
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    Shining Force almost never used more than 31 different colours at once, yet it looks more realistic than its sequels, which took full advantage of the palette.

    Art style and skill means more than the amount of colours in older hardware, if you ask me.

  13. #13
    Hero of Algol kool kitty89's Avatar
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    It can be a pretty substantial issue, but it's a problem that's tangent to good art design in general.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...d_RGB_palettes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...nsole_palettes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...dware_palettes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...dware_palettes
    (see these for some reference on some terms and other context/references used below)

    And since we're talking indexed colors it's a multitude of things: 1 is the master palette, the color space that the colors on-screen are indexed from, and in the MD's case it's 9-bit RGB (512 RGB colors -other trade-offs with more customized YCbCr space palettes like some other consoles/computers used, some have argued that the 256 color Y/C palette of the 7800/Atari 8-bits is superior to 9-bit RGB, but it's a complex issue).
    Anyway, 9-bit RGB was OK for the late 80s but not super great:
    It's the same color depth as the Atari ST used as well as the PC Engine (MSX2, some PC8801 models, among others), but much more limited than 12-bit (4,096 colors) of the Amiga, Lynx, Atari STe (and TT), Lynx, and later Gamegear, let alone the various platforms using 15/16-bit RGB (various arcade boards, the MSX2+, SNES, later 32x, VGA used 18-bit and 24-bit became common later -though highcolor rendered stuff was 15 or 16-bit RGB, 256 color was always indexed from 18 or 24-bit on PCs though sometimes from 15 bit on consoles).
    It was definitely a lot better than the Master System's limited 6-bit RGB. (which itself was a fair bit weaker than several previous consoles/computers from the NES to 7800 to 5200 to 2600 to A8, but better than MSX/Colecovision/Intellivision/CGA/C64/Spectrum at least -the 2600 had a really nice Y/C palette for 1977)



    But aside from the master palette, then there's actual on-screen bit depth use of the indexed colors to deal with: and that's the main reason the SMS graphics normally look nicer than the NES, NES is 2 bits per pixels vs SMS of 4 bits per pixel, but we're not talking NES vs SMS specifically here so I won't go through that all the way. (breifly, 4-bits allows 16 colors while 2 bits allows 4 colors, but it's used on a per cell/tile/sprite basis so different sub-palettes could be used on different on-screen blocks, but then there's a varying number of said palettes and restrictions on how they're actually used and the fact that you only get 3 or 15 colors rather than 4 or 16 due to one used for transparent plus one common solid BG color behind everything else -and it's 2 15 color palettes on the SMS vs 8 3 color palettes on the NES, SMS can use either for BG cells but only 1 for sprites while NES has 4 for BG and 4 for sprites plus solod BG color for the maximum of 31 and 25 colors on-screen respectively without tricks -you won't necessarily hit that max though as there tend to be redundant colors)



    ------Back to the MD
    It's 4-bits per pixel (as the SMS, SNES, PCE, and many arcade boards -as well as most 2D on the PSX/Saturn due to memory limits usually making 4-bit textures preferable). You've only got 4 palettes on the MD, that's 4 different sets of 15 colors indexed from the 512 color 9-bit RGB palette and any palette can be selected to be used on any given sprite or 8x8 BG tile cell. That's a maximum (without tricks) of 61 colors, but there's a fair amount of cases where it's significantly less than that due to redundant colors and you've also got a lot of cases where there's much less than 15 colors used per cell due to the limited selection of palettes meaning that you have fewer useful colors for the art you're making on a given tile (or other cases where you'd never have used many colors on that tile anyway as it's a low detail area, or even a solid color -part of the sky, etc).
    And it's not freely used colors on-screen, but segmented into tiles/sprites as such, but still more free than fixed 16 colors as you've got on the ST (without tricks) and a more dramatic break from the SMS due to the much higher depth of the master palette.

    That's compared to the PC Engine/TG-16 which has a whopping 32 palettes for that 9-bit RGB divided into 16 for sprites and 16 for BG tiles so that's a possible 15x16x2+1 or 481 colors on-screen, but with the limited 9-bit RGB you'd often have much less than that (also strongly dependent on the art design). In any case, extremely flexible compared to the MD.
    The SNES uses 16 palettes indexed from 15-bit RGB with 8 sprite and 8 BG or different configurations for modes including 8-bit or 2-bit tiles. The common mode 2 uses only 4-bit tiles and sprites and has a possible maximum (without tricks) of 241 colors (15 per tile or sprite).
    Mode 7 uses a separate 256 color palette and 8-bit tiles in addition to sprites, there's also the 8-bit tile modes with "256 colors" per tile (technically less than that in practical use as that's sharing sprite and tile color indexes to make 256, so at most it's 241 colors, but less if you really wanted flexible use of the 16 color tiles) but those modes were never used in any 2D games anyway and only a few of the 3D games.
    There's also 2-bit tile modes and mixed 4 and 2-bit modes: mode 1 is one of the most useful as it retains 2 full 4-bit tile layers (like mode 2 or the Genesis) but adds a 2-bit layer, I believe it also splits the BG palette into 32 3 color palettes instead of 8 15 color palettes (which would limit the 16 color layers a bit more if used as such, though I forget if it's forced or not). There's also mode 0 which uses 4 full 2-bit BG layers and that definitely uses the 32 3 color palettes as such, and would thus have a possible maximum of 97 colors on the BG and 120 for the sprites (still all 4-bit/15 color as there's no 2-bit sprite mode AFIK).
    The broad palette and number of subpalettes actually makes that reasonably attractive (also saves a lot of memory -more so with compression on top of that- and uses VRAM space more efficiently), but even so it wasn't very often used. (but notably so unlik the totally unused 8-bit tile mode -other than 3D and splash screens) If games needed 4 layers more often it probably would have been pushed more.
    Heh, I bet the PCE/TG 16 would have used a 2-bit 2 layer BG mode a LOT if available. (more so if the BG palettes were divided into 64 3 color palettes rather than stuck at 16 palettes -there is a 2-bit mode, but it's sort of weak as it uses one layer only, the same amount of VRAM -VDP unpacks it as 4-bit tiles internally-, and is stuck with only 16 3 color palettes rather than redividing the 256 entries as 64 3 color+transparent palettes)



    And then there's tricks: dithering is commonly used to fake more colors or shades, but that's not necessarily a "trick" as such but a general graphics technique:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dither#...age_processing

    All 3 systems can use raster interrupts to reload palettes mid-screen to increase colors and/or for other effects (especially water line stuff as in sonic games -SNES can do it with alpha blending though), one problem with the MD is that there's a bug that forced graphical garbage into active display on the scanline after reloading the colors. (hence why sprites cover up the water line) The Amiga did that in hardware using COPPER and the Atari 8-bit/5200's ANTIC graphics chip could generate specially targeted display list interrupts for such purposes (in the latter case also alloing different color depths and resolutions on a per line basis, the SNES can do that too in software, using different graphics modes on different lines, that's how you have a normal BG above the horizon on mode 7 games -otherwise it would be only a solid color or a BG made with sprites -like SMW boss battles)

    Then there's hilight and shadow and alpha blending. The MD has a primitive luminance only (bright/dark) translucency effect with shadow possible to enable on either BG tiles or sprites and hilight only on sprites: when a shadow index is selected it the pixel becomes translucent (darkening any pixel behind it on a lower layer to 1/2 the brightness) while hilight doubles brightness and is only active for sprites (only sprite pixels can hilight, but any pixel can be hilighted: ie a hilight pixel on a sprite will hilight BG colors behind it as well as sprite pixels behind it).
    What's neat is that it actually outputs 12-bit RGB color, so you can get some colors/shades not possible otherwise as well as increasing on-screen colors. (you don't get a full 3x 512 colors possible though as some of those 12-bit color/shade outputs will fall within the normal 512 colors too, but it's something over 1400 unique colors/shades possible I believe)

    The SNES's translucency is proper alpha blending that averages 2 overlaying colors 50/50 to a 15-bit RGB color output.






    Quote Originally Posted by ShinobiWan1 View Post
    A lot of paintings I do are using limited palettes, as Gecko stated, 'It's not about how many colors you have at your disposal as it is about how you use the colors you do have'

    True on all accounts! I have some paintings here that are using 3 colours each, but proper placement and usage still show the message I'm trying to convey





    Not to say I'm super awesome or anything and yes I do mix the paints to create more colours I'm just trying to state that limited palettes can still be done right.
    Real life painting is a bit different though... and you still got to chose the limited colors from a broad palette (I assume). On the MD, it's both limited master palette, AND limited on-screen, AND limited in how you can use them on-scree. (if you wanted to have any color on any part of the screen, you could only do 16 total colors like Atari ST pixel art using no tricks... ie a 16 color bitmap, though technically you could overlay both planes for 31 colors anywhere on screen or enable shadow and make careful color choices to allow 16 colors at 2 shades each plus 14 more colors of single shades, or overlay sprites on top of that and use hilight+shadow+more overlaid colors, but that's getting complex)

    Doing pixel art is a bit different... you cant blend colors for shading (other than dithering), and resolution is limited... and you can only use certain colors in certain places due to tilemapping and indexed palettes, if you wanted pixel art catering to the max color capabilities and not just plain 16 color stuff. (an interesting comparison would be some 16 color FMV like Road Avenger compared with Dragon's Lair or Space Ace which not only use some nice error diffused dithering, but also use tile by tile palette optimization and dual BG layers for more color and detail -the added BG layer is static and only updated per scene and it's not only to allow better color optimization, but also ease compression, allowing the actual streaming layer to have much more transparent/empty space)



    In real life, colored pencils would be more like pixel art than paint is... so use colored pencils and no blending of color as well as a limited selection to chose from, especially conforming to RGB color limits rather than colors/shades that are more useful to the human eye, and if you really wanted to make it like pixel art, align all drawing to graph paper with only 1 color per block of the grid. (or to similate a tile map, arrange i in 8x8 segments and have different possible groups of colors for each 8x8 cell)
    Again, the MD is 9-bit RGB http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...ttes#9-bit_RGB
    and you can have 4 different palettes of 15 colors selected from those 512, but only 1 per 8x8 BG cell (or per single sprite) plus one common color used in the far background. (so the far BG layer can be treated as having 16 colors per tile but only 15 that can be changed while the sprites and top BG layer always only have 15 plus transparent)

    Or if you wanted an easier RL comparison, just stick with 16 colors and don't bother with the graph paper, but still avoid blending colors (as you exceed the palette limits that way) and do the whole thing using stippling. (analogous to dithering and digital pixels to some extent)


    Again, not considering added tricks and overlay to combine colors.
    (and the PCE/TG-16 give you the same 9-bit RGB but 16 palettes of 15 colors to use and another 16 palettes dedicated to sprites, the SNES had the much broader 15-bit RGB and 8 15 color palettes for sprites and 8 more for the BG in the most common 4-bit tile modes -there is the 8-bit mode with 241 colors freely used on any tile or mode 7 with a separate full 256 color palette)



    One reason MD games tend to look more "colorful" in some cases than SNES stuff is the sheer limit of colors forcing art design to push for higher contrast colors... in bad cases that tends to make things a bit gaudy, in other cases it looks "colorful" (sort of like comparing the MSX palette to the C64 or ZX Spectrum to C64... all have about the same number of colors, but the C64's is far more focused on a few with more shades than totally unique "colors" -not quite the same case as comparing the MD and SNES as the SNES has more colors and roughly 4x the shades of every color the MD has, perhaps more like comparing the MSX/Spectrum palette to the Atari 8-bit/2600/7800 palette)
    Last edited by kool kitty89; 01-10-2011 at 12:14 AM.
    6 days older than SEGA Genesis
    -------------
    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    Dude it’s the bios that marries the 16 bit and the 8 bit that makes it 24 bit. If SNK released their double speed bios revision SNK would have had the world’s first 48 bit machine, IDK how you keep ignoring this.
    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    the PCE, that system has no extra silicone for music, how many resources are used to make music and it has less sprites than the MD on screen at once but a larger sprite area?

  14. #14
    Let's Go Away Master of Shinobi kokujin's Avatar
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    For me 2 games standout for using the color palette well.Shadowrun and Contra Hard Corps, I think these games actually benefited from having the darker tones, but that's just my opinion.

    Less talk more action!

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    Zebbe's Avatar
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    spiderman

    System Graphics Sound Processing Price
    TG-16 MED LOW MED GOOD
    MD LOW MED HIGH MED
    SNES HIGH MED LOW MED
    NG V. HI V. HI V. HI V. BAD

    All consoles have their strengths and weaknesses. When it came to Mega Drive, it was the graphics, or colours (which is what graphics were about back then). If you want good graphics from the era, pick another console, but then you might have something else to complain on as you examine the game library...
    Got Pier Solar? Good. Please post a comment here.

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