Doing pixels...

...was my earliest experience as a digital designer in the early nineties. Under the umbrella of my alter ego nero, I did and do them inside an alternative cultural community called the demoscene focused on the creation of demos – executable non-interactive realtime-calculated motion graphics.

There have been a number of friends who have given a home to my efforts and motivated me to accomplish even ambitious things, such as scrolling images consisting of multiple screens. So without people like Madstop, Meta, Skyphos, Sharon, Pixtur, Mad, Degauss and Bifat there wouldn't be much of what follows.

...on ancient machines

Although I use the similar techniques and the look is familiar, my focus is a little bit different from today's indie game graphics. 

The pixel graphics I make are usually made for old Commodore computers like the Amiga 500Amiga 1200C16/Plus4 and C64. They are not only palette-based, but also tailored for ancient and exotic (and sometimes tedious) screen modes that use e.g. rectangular pixels, hardware-based colors (not a full RGB range) or block modes, where the number of colors used in a given 4x8 pixel block is limited. Nevertheless, they can be quite rewarding. 

Back to Amiga (since 2019)

We will be back – Amiga AGA 256 colors 640 x 512 px

Crap Box Packmenu background – Amiga OCS 16 colors 352 x 272 px

My first computer– the Amiga 500 – has always been a longing place for me. With it my journey started, but at that time I only made a logo with it and used it most of the time for gaming. In the last years I kept meeting people from the demoscene asking for Amiga graphics and finally in 2019 my friends Timm (Bifat), Olivier (Ok3anos) and Ozan asked me for help to optimize the design of their Trackloader demo for the legendary 7 MHz "fast" 16-bit machine. 

The effects and title logo for "Hologon" were mostly done (some of them are quite a technical feat), so it "just" needed some design. I started with some overpaints and rearranged the pieces within a rough storyboard. My idea was to use a"medical" theme to tie the various parts together, and I played around with the look of instruments. Unfortunately, the news soon railed up more and more with Covid-related stuff, so this became more contemporary than I had hoped.

I also started some pixel images for the demo. The platform allows palettes up to 32 colors using hex3 RGB space (perchannel in a color depth of 0 to 7, while, for example, 8 bit TrueColor has 0 to 255). If you want to display more than the image, you typically have 4 to 16 colors. The Amiga also has a strange gamma (the bottom 25% is almost black) that is optimized for CRT monitors. OK, so I got my old 14" Mitsubishi EUM out of the basement again.

After three months the demo was more or less done, but now the party we were going to release it at had dwindled to an online-only party because of Covid. We were still hoping to release it in a "real" competition (with a live audience of Amiga enthusiasts and a big screen with PA). We were still hoping for summer, then fall, but even now no one can say for sure when these parties (usually almost every weekend somewhere in Europe) will return. 

So Bifat came up with the idea to release it via the (until the early 90s) "traditional" way instead: via "mailswapping". My three buddies made a smaller announcement with the message "send us a letter with a disk" to get it back including the demo. We made a nice sticker, ordered some fresh 3.5" disks and waited. It started slowly, but so far about 50 packages have been sent. Some of the recipients were so excited and at the same time worried we might miss the nomination for one of the "scene Oscars" Meteoriks, that they posted the demo for it on the internet.

8 Bit Games (2015-2019)

Bauknecht – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Plus4 Allstars – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Majesty of Sprites – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

MOS End – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Based on our expertise from the demos my friends and I created on the Commodore Plus4, my friend Mad wondered if it would be possible to make better games for this device than the usual "3 colors, mostly gray" block game.

He started working on a jump'n'run around an untypical female hero which he called Majesty of Sprites (MOS) - a tribute to one of the key chips of the Plus4. In the end I finally made some title pictures and supported him with additional graphics.

We released it digitally, and I called it a day. That was in 2015, but since then Mad (with the help of Kichy, Luca, Starbuck, Daley and Degauss) has been cranking out these games continuously, usually one a year, while the Plus4 community watches him with awe.

He has even managed to find another enthusiast, Kenz, who publishes and sells the games in physical form including beautiful packages on his label Psytronik! So far, five of them have been released: Majesty of Sprites (MOS), Lands of Zador (MOS 2)Slipstream (also for C64), Pets Rescue and Alpharay, while the next developments are already underway.

Unfortunately, my support shrank over the years from "everything including the box cover" towards some single logos or cover images due to a lack of time.

Slipstream – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Slipstream Menu – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Lands of Zador (original by Helge) – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Lands of Zador 2 – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Alpharay – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Fire and Fury – C64 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Rocket Science (2014)

Boyknect – Plus4 HiRes 320x200

Nowhere – Plus4 Multicolor 160x200

Inspired by the heavy productions on the C64 by Booze Design and Fairlight Mad, Degauss and me decided to do something bigger, but without time pressure. So far, this was my most intense project done with my long term friend Stefan (Mad) and mastermind Ingo (Degauss) with a little help from Krill and my friend Tom (Pixtur). Two years later we finished "Rocket Science" – knowing this would be our "first and last try" to do such a huge thing. During my work on this project, I streamlined my workflow doing 8 Bit graphics. 

It starts by doing a painting in higher resolution using the original machine colors. I like to separate the more creative work from the more technical one to avoid getting the latter in the way of the first. 

As a second step I downscale it to the final resolution e.g. 160 x 200 px anamorphic (multicolor screen mode using landscape pixels) and fix the whole dithering and antialiasing. 

Then the image is "pixeled" and looks right on a modern computer. To make it work on a 30 year old machine I use a tool by Mad that checks and indicates which blocks work (=use no more then 4 colors, 2 of them fix) and fix the non-working blocks one after the other. Afterwards it can be converted into code using our toolchain.

The demo runs on a vanilla Commodore Plus4 (and C16 with memory extension) – a computer with 121 colors (half of them green) and a sound comparable to a calculator watch. Mad, Degauss and Krill crammed it on two sides of a 5.25" floppy disk showing effects,  that would be considered as black magic when shown back in the 80ies. It can be downloaded here.

Smoke in the Cabin – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

The Arrival (done with Pixtur) – Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Planet Green –  Plus4 Multicolor 640 x 200 px - 3 days to paint and 10 months to pixel and fix all blocks (2 fix and 2 flexible colors for each block).

Planet Green (Detail No.1) –  Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Planet Green (Detail No.2) –  Plus4 Multicolor 160 x 200 px

Plus4 demos (2011/2012)

Pilot Loader – Plus4 1 color 160 x 200 px

Metamerism – True Color 1600 x 1050 px converted to FLI

Back to pixels

After having done multiple PC demos and 4KB intros together in 2004-2010, my friend Mad told me someday, that he started a cross development pipeline allowing him to create releases for a Commodore Plus4.

He asked me to do some graphics, I said "Why not?" but I was not convinced at all. In my teenage days, unlike the C64, the Plus4 was one of the "least sexy" home computers you could imagine: cheap, blocky and ugly games in 3 colors per screen on black backgrounds accompanied with beep-sounds. Even more impressive how it turned out. 

It also took me some time to get back to pixels. It has been almost 10 years since a did my last images using this technique.

States United (2011)

My first attempts for States United looked not so different than typical Plus4 games in the late 80ies. Later, when I discovered the big Plus/4-palette (and Mad and Degauss eventually "allowed" me to use some colors) pixeling for it started to be a fun and meditative hobby.

The demo was the first Plus4 demo to use Krill's magic trackloader, which allows seamless loading and playing of effects on the screen while the music never stops. Mad and Degauss crafted a sequence in which some effects use all the processing power while others don't, while secretly loading the next parts.

Metamerism (2012)

The experience of the widespread recognition of States United led to new effects by Mad and Degauss and finally to another project. While I was going through one of the most stressful times of my design job, I didn't do much until the summer. At the end of June I quit my current job and showed up at Mad's place. Within a handful of sessions we tweaked most parts - and back then that really helped me get back on track.

Metamerism was quite a success. It helped to make the Plus/4 being recognized as a demo machine. While doing two trackloader-demos together, we grew together as a team (Mad, Degauss and me with some help by Krill and Decca). 

States United – Plus4 1 color 160 x 200 px

Roofwatch – Plus4 4 colors 160 x 200 px

The Fulcrum (1998)

MonteVideo – PC TrueColor 256 colors, 2608 x 240 px

MonteVideo (No. 2) – PC TrueColor 256 colors, 320 x 240 px

MonteVideo (No. 3) – PC TrueColor 256 colors, 320 x 240 px

This project was the crowning finish of my active time in the demoscene 1994-1998. We tried to do something different: a cinematic type of a demo and ended up with an experience I would now  consider "deep in the uncanny valley". Nevertheless it was my first directing experience and executing it with close friends felt really amazing.

Starting in summer 1997 I began a script and a 3D-animation with my now brother-in-law Martin (Aurelius / Espen) where he did all the modelling and animation while I did many textures and the imagery. Skyphos did the audio track and Digisnap extended his Spotlight 3D-Engine. So eventually the result finally ran as an executable in realtime on a contemporary Pentium PC (the first 3 minutes in the video).

Unfortunately this was just 30-40% of what we planned and the planned release at Christmas was 3 weeks away. So the main part based on another 3D-engine by my other longterm scene-friend Sharon was somewhat in progress but although we crunched to the very last day on The Party 7 in Denmark we reluctantly decided to keep working on it and aim for another release in Spring.

When released it was a huge success, even today I occasionally meet people who remember the presentation on Mekka/Symposium (later Breakpoint and now Revision) 1998. During the production and via Martin I eventually met my now wife.

MonteVideo (No. 5) – PC TrueColor 256 colors, 320 x 240 px

MonteVideo (No. 8) – PC TrueColor 256 colors, 320 x 240 px

First steps (1994-1997)

I got my first computer, an Amiga 500, in 1990 and played the many games accessible for three years before I realised that my drawing hobby could help me to do digital stuff on the computer.

As most artists did, I started learning basic pixel techniques like dithering or antialiasing on the Amiga 500 and then Amiga 1200 while copying existing motives from comics, photos or album covers. 

This was common sense in the beginning, but during the nineties the discussion began to heat up while single artists began original work boldly labeled as "no copy". 

I tried this, was disappointed by the poor results and found the compromise to hint at the original artist in the corner and thus, make my process transparent.

Boheme 29 (original by Jamiri) – Amiga AGA 256 colors, 320 x 256 px

Meat Puppies (Gom Jabbar band photo) – Amiga AGA 256 colors, 320 x 256 px

Nebula Alpha (orig. by Juan Gimenez) – Amiga AGA 128 colors 320 x 256 px

And if I fail? (orig. by S. Bisley) – Amiga AGA 256 colors 320 x 256 px

Full-screen images were always welcome within the demo groups I participated in. Bonus: You could also take part in the individual graphics competitions at one of the many demo parties, we were visiting throughout the year.

Nevertheless, there was also a strong demand for logos. Starting with small crack intros that run before you could play the game you just copied, to small intros and finally demos - there was always a need for a logo that names the group or production.

Funnily enough this helped me to experiment with my own forms, looks and finally compositions. Of course: In the beginning I also copied the typography. But I also started to create collages from copied parts into something new. Though, it took me years to create pictures really from scratch.

Gom Jabbar – Amiga AGA 64 colors 320 x 256 px

Matrix – Amiga AGA 64 colors 320 x 256 px

Generation #25 diskmag cliparts – Amiga AGA 128 colors 256 x 128 px

Cosmic Trance BBS – Amiga AGA 64 colors 320 x 256 px

Evil Moon BBS – Amiga AGA 64 colors 320 x 256 px

Using Format