Tiles & Sprites

I may have been wrong in a previous post where I stated that character sprites were often double the height of a single tile in 2D games. I’ve been working out some background tile to character sprite ratios, and firstly have found that there are very few recurring ratios, and secondly that there are a lot of games which use character sprites that are exactly the same height as their background tiles.

Most interestingly is that I hadn’t noticed this yet in any of the game I’ve previously written about on this Blog. In my head, I think I assumed that character sprites needed the extra detail provided by double height.

In Fez, Gomez measures the exact same height as the background tiles (with the exception of The Fez which sits on top of this height).

Again, in The Archer the character sprite and tile height are very similar, except for hats which seem to cause the illusion of height in games!

In Jonathan Lavigne’s Ninja Senki, the character sprite is not only the same height as the background tiles but is a pretty similar width too!

And in Cave Story, the character sprite for main character Quote is the exact same height as the tiles, however the NPC character is slightly taller.

What confuses me about this selection of new(ish) games, is why they all decided to work to these proportions. From an aesthetic point of view, I think it makes everything look neat and tidy, as every aligns nicely to a consistent grid. I can imagine that from a gameplay perspective, these proportions work in the favour of the player who must calculate jump and fire distances etc. However when I looked back at old NES platformers like the original Castlevania, Contra, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins and Metroid it seemed that traditionally, character sprites were double the size of the background tiles (actually, in the case of Contra I couldn’t decide what size the tiles actually were, so I could be wrong!)


Background tiles half the height of character sprites:

One slight exception I found amongst old NES platformers, was the original Super Mario Bros, and similarly Kirby’s Adventure. In Super Mario Bros, Mario starts the game as a half-sized sprite, which is roughly the same shape as the background tiles.

However, this reduced size is probably just a way to leave room for growth when a mushroom is eaten:

This might similarly explain Kirby’s small size in Kirby’s Adventure, as Kirby expands when swallowing an item or enemy.

In this case, it’s probably just more likely that Nintendo have tried to show how small Kirby is in comparison to the world!

Even as we move into the world of 16-bit, sprite sizes remain consistent with previous versions of games. In Super Mario Bros 3, the sprite proportions remain pretty much the same as the original. In Super Matroid for SNES, character Samus seems slightly taller than before. She does wear a helmet though, so this additional height is another one of those hat things…

So the question is “who is right??”
After reading various forums, the general consensus is that it all dimensions are entirely the choice of the designer. There is no right or wrong, or good or bad. Which leaves me at a point in development where I need to make a choice… So for now, I’m going to concentrate on creating a sprite equal to the height of my (hypothetical) tiles. This means creating a sprite which is 16 pixels in height, rather than the 32 I was expecting to be using. Personally, I think this makes the game look nicer and hopefully will make it play fluently. I will have to convert if I find it difficult to add a decent amount of detail to my sprites, or if the space limitations make it difficult to animate, although I’m feeling pretty confident and inspired by my Indie Heroes who have proven 16px sprites to be ideal!

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