Twice something is four times something

Some months back I posted about doing some of my earliest computer graphics work.

My first computers were Atari 8-bit machines, and the most widely supported graphics mode for “art” purposes was had a resolution of 160×192 pixels, and in that mode I could have precisely FOUR colors on screen picked from a total palette of 128 colors. Below is a very early image I drew in that mode, probably created in the first few months of 1985.

Early pixels. 160x192 in 4 colors.

Now, the things about computer tech is that it’s always changing, and by the time I got my first Atari its days were numbered. Eight months later Atari released a 16-bit computer with much better graphics. Instead of 160×192 pixels with 4 colors from a potential palette of 128, this new machine allowed for 320×200 pixels with 16 colors from a potential palette of 512 (eight levels each of red, green, blue). The older computer used two bits per pixel, meaning there were four possible combinations of zeroes and ones (00 01 10 11), thus any pixel could be one of four colors. The newer computer used 4 bit per pixel, meaning there were 16 possible combinations of zeroes and ones (0000 0001 0010 0011 0100 0101 0110 0111 1000 1001 1010 1011 1100 1101 1110 1111) ergo sixteen possible values per pixel. In the case of binary, doubling the number of bits squares the possible combinations. So, 2 bits = 4, but 4 bits =16. Twice something is four times something.

Anyway, one of the first things I did when I got a simple paint program for it was to see how much of an improvement the resolution and more colors on screen would permit. I did this by recreating an early image from the older Atari on the new one.

What I could do with twice as many pixels and four times as many colors.

By modern standards it doesn’t look like much. But still, just having four times as many colors not only allowed me to add a background, but also to have enough colors to make the energy bolt animated via color cycling. The animated GIF here doesn’t cycle these colors anywhere near as fast as the Atari would, so the strobing effect the original had is somewhat lost, but you get the idea. Yes, it looks gaudy as Hell, but then these modern flatpanel monitors don’t have the same softening effect the older CRT monitors did, so every pixel stands out more sharply than it did back in the day.

I’m still amazed that these two images were created within nine months of each other.

But I still had a lot to learn.


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