Friday, March 25, 2011

Tileset Reflections: The Classic Tileset

Classic Tileset
Creator: Nintendo
Updated By: Phantom Menace, War Lord, and _L_
Notable Games [to be filled by votes submitted by the community]
Highlights [to be filled by votes submitted by the community]

It would be pointless to start a history of ZQuest tilesets without mentioning the one that started it all, the Classic tileset. It is from this one tileset that the original batch of combos, animations and sprites came from. As it is well-known, the graphics of the classic tileset are exactly like that of the NES game, the Legend of Zelda. Therefore, the ultimate credit for this tileset, and, indeed, all of the ZQuest appropriately belongs to Nintendo. However, as will be discussed, it was this classic tileset that would be shaped alongside the development of Zelda Classic, and it would be improved by the sheer process of Zc's creation.

Shallow Water is a new combo type as of 2.5, and true to form, the Classic Tileset gets the addition added to itself.

How did Nintendo's graphics wind up in the magical world of Zelda Classic? Once upon a time, a person named Phantom Menace took a ROM of the original Legend of Zelda that we all know and love, and then he used the magic of coding (and the virtue of patience) to start the program Zelda Classic (ZQuest was not originally conceived). The program was only meant to be used as a means of playing the original Legend of Zelda on the computer. However, as an extension of this, Phantom Menace wanted to create a system capable of making his original goal possible. ZQuest was therefore originally meant to design an exact clone of the original Zelda game He worked long and hard on his programs, but there are always flaws developing a new system (consider the five-year development of ZC 2.5), and, as a result, progress was slow.

Eventually, he was starting to make some progress, but there was enough bugs and glitches to start discouraging him. Enter War Lord, who inspired Phantom Menace to continue, for War Lord had made his own Zelda clone. Together they successfully completed Zelda Classic and ZQuest 1.0. To the modern community, the limitations of ZC 1.0 would be horrifying. It designed solely to make a Zelda I clone, and thus all the “necessary” features of ZQuest (millions of tiles, an attractive interface, the many combo types, etc.) did not exist. Not long after his bold achievements, Phantom Menace would help to improve the system further by adding in items and basic capabilities from various other Zelda games, particularly BS-Zelda and the ability to make basic tilesets. This all came to being in ZC and Zquest 1.84. It was very sophisticated in relation to ZC 1.0. Phantom Menace’s last contribution was to make one of the hardest Zelda fan games of all time: Demo.qst (which we will discuss in depth later in this history project). Then having completed his heroic duty and proved his courage, Phantom Menace went off to seek other pastures.

Development did not stop with his leaving. In fact with War Lord and the growing body of programmers working and with a rapidly growing fan-base the historic ZC 1.90 was soon after released. It featured many of the “bare-essiential” features of ZC. It allowed for use of new and different items, dungeon templates, three packed in tilesets (Classic, Newfirst and BS), along with many smaller things. However, it only allowed for five pages of tiles, which, to we who used it or who still use it, it remains an endearing mark of the past (to everyone else it must be close to horrifying). To those of us who have used (and who may still be using) ZC 1.90, we can all appreciate the sheer revolutionary features that were. Afterwards came the beta ZC 1.92 came, and it completely melted fans’ minds with the modern 256 pages of combos/tiles, new enemy tiles and (of course) new weapons. 2.10 made vast improvements to the ZQuest interface, though it only introduced a few new items and enemies. The last major jump is still in development (that’s right ZC 2.5). The insane changes we all know about are still being perfected, and this chapter will be completed in some distant day.

How does this tie in? As ZC and ZQuest were developed, so also was the Classic tileset being developed. It was and the first thing that is seen when ZQuest is first opened. Although 1.90 contains all of the original tiles, 1.92 and 2.10 each added small chunks to the tileset (adding in new enemies, terrain tiles, etc.). Not different enough for a new tileset release, the changes were meant mainly to ensure that users knew that the next installment of ZQuest was going to be bigger and better than ever. The Classic Tileset was then boosted to be just as “advanced” as the majority of the tilesets. The new items have all been implemented (thanks to _L_) . New tiles, new palettes, NPCs, Warps, and alternate dungeon tiles are not new, but when applied to the Classic Tileset, it enhances the original Zelda experience tenfold.

New tiles and palettes make everyone happy

Not to say that is perfect. The tileset was at one time incomplete. It may have had all the tiles, but the original Classic Tileset possessed the wrong color palette. The Satellite, a PureZC user, on November 2nd, 2007 issued a corrected Classic Tileset to fix this, on the grounds that the imperfect color scheme was too bright. The Satellite’s changes were later molded into ZC 2.5, and thus the palette is fixed, thus marking the official completion of the Zelda I replication. The Classic: Corrected Palette Tileset will be discussed later in this history.

Its longevity is quite a feat, one that no other tileset has (and most likely never will) usurp. It has maintained a popularity despite the equally enticing other tilesets, as well as the super-giants: the Sun Tower, BS-Zelda, Dance of Remembrance and Pure tilesets. Why is it still popular? Long story short, because it is familiar to everyone, and the charm of the original Zelda raises it head and shoulders above all competition.

It is a very easy-to-use tileset. Most tilesets require a great deal of patience and a good eye. To the beginner who knows not the many functions of ZQuest, DoR and Pure are the scariest thing ever conceived. The Classic Tileset has easily recognizable functions, and just by sitting down for a couple of hours, anyone can figure out the basics (not to say video guides are not helpful, that is how I learned). It also beginner’s friendly in making his or her first quest, which is a very rewarding accomplishment. Not to say that the tileset involves no talent to make a quest. As it is so recognizable, the slightly misuse will be picked up instantly, not to mention that due to its frequent appearance, it takes creativity to make a classic with the Classic Tileset. Also, it offers the simple pleasure to sit down and put a great level idea into physical being right away, without having to wait for a tileset to import. Also to a quest player, the easily recognized graphics and functions of the Classic Tileset immediately eases the Zelda fan into a (hopefully) enjoyable gaming experience.

It is also a treasure for budding tile designers. The simple, well-known eight-bit tiles allow for easy editing. As a statement of its appeal, there are five other official tilesets that are meant to improve the Classic Tileset (Rebirth, Zero, Corrected Palette and the two Demo Qst tilesets), not to mention the many others that were modeled or inspired (in part or in whole) by the Classic Tileset. It is also less daunting, working with eight colors per c-set (or palette), it seems like an easier job. On the other hand, editing the familiar tiles that everyone knows is more demanding. If you botch the Classic Tileset, everyone will notice immediately and the result always looks bad. Then again, design the changes well and everyone will appreciate it more.

As far as quest appeal goes, there are still quests being made with the Classic tileset. As discussed, the ease of the Classic Tileset prompts many newcomers to practice with the original set (and we have all worked with the Classic Tileset sometime during our lives). But even when a new version of ZQuest comes out, what is the natural thing for a person to do? Check for the new features, which, as of 2.5, are completely integrated with the Classic Tileset. When a new feature is released, do you wait to import Origins III to see what that feature is, or do you first examine it in the Classic Tileset (even if it is just a matter of being lazy). As the Classic tileset is so infused with ZQuest, it receives all of the new goodies and capabilities. As a result, every first batch of quests to come out with every new ZC release, there was always one or more Classic Tileset Quests. Speaking of which, those same Classic Tileset Quests are still fun to play. I am still (at the time of this writing - you might be reading this article twenty years from now for all I know) playing Oracle of Secrets and Planet Quest, and I am sure I am not alone in playing 8-bit quests. In fact, do not be surprised when other Classic Tileset Quests are made and people play them eagerly. Why? Because of the simple reason that they are fun. No matter the graphics or the hackneyed use, the Classic Tileset remains the utmost simplest tileset to just plug in and design/play. Anyone who starts a classic quest expects to get knee-deep in that which all gamers like: gameplay. Also consider how a third and fourth quest were added in the classic tileset. As quest development progresses, the Classic Tileset shall not be forgotten.

This, therefore, is the ultimate point to be made of the Classic Tileset. Its original conception by Nintendo was for others to have fun. It was ported to Zelda Classic and ZQuest for people to have fun playing and designing. The Classic Tileset's ease of use and familiarity makes it a fun and desirable means of spending a lazy Saturday afternoon. It is also a common point around which all ZQuest fans can relate .

The Classic Tileset is an essential component of the software and community. In reality it would take what? Maybe a day of coding (with many luxurious breaks) to replace the Classic tileset with ANY other tileset. But, ZQuest will not be the same without having those familiar green tiles to greet us as we open the program. The program, and therefore the community is inexorably tied to this simple, but timeless set of 8-bit colored images. As long as Zelda Classic exists, so will the Classic Set.

Any errors or additions in this history should be addressed at once, please contact me (or anyone else who is authorized to fix such articles) IMMEDIATELY so that we can fix what needs to be fixed.

Please offer votes as to:
a) Best quests using this tileset
b) Best loose tiles made from or for this tileset.
c) Best overall use of tileset

Please e-mail me or PM me at PureZC to cast your votes by ballot, and I shall process them and add where they need to be.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Tileset Reflections: The Introduction

What is a tileset? A tileset is a complete set of graphics with which to make a Zelda Classic game.An explanation is in order. The smallest unit of any form of a visual game is a pixel (no matter what game it is that you are playing). In ZQuest, pixels of 256 colors are arranged into palettes of sixteen colors, which are in turn applied into a 16 X 16 pixel grid to form a tile. Tiles can be a single image or part of a larger image, ZQuest currently allows for 256 pages of 260 tiles each. Each of those tiles can be designated as sprites (which make up characters, monsters and items) or combos (which makeup the terrain and structures you deal with). A graphics pack (.zgp) is a combination of all the palettes, tiles, combos and sprites; a palette set (.zpl) consists of all the palettes of a graphics pack (but with no tiles, combos etc.); and finally a tile pack (.til) is an assortment of every tile, but without the accompanying palettes and without the combos and sprite assignments. A tileset can be some combination of these things. Often tilesets are arranged into .zgp or .qst (Quest files) format for the purpose of importing a graphics pack (or in the case of .qst files, exporting then importing a tileset from an existing quest). Some tilesets require a combination import of .zpl and .til files together. Increasingly, tilesets require you to start a quest from .qst format, then to save over it (to maintain the text capability).

Therefore, a tileset is not merely a collection of graphics nor some kind of skin to slap on a quest. It is, yes, primarily a means of graphical organization, but tilesets are more important. A tileset sets the gameplay and tone of a quest. With the exception of a few tilesets, most tilesets lack some functions which are to be manually implemented by the quest designer himself or herself. Most often the case, the tileset designer leaves the assignment of some animation and some items to the designer. Even so, some tilesets are deliberately constraining. A gameboy tileset would be strange if it was turned into some kind of game reminiscent of LttP with eight-part animations for Link, or with complex enemy animations. At the same time, could anyone dare conceive of a modern Pure tileset without complex enemy animations.

Tilesets are designed for a reason. Some tilesets are meant to look pretty and handle complex functions, but many tilesets have a purpose that they try to attend to. Some sets look repelling, but when time is spent, you can see the brilliance of an idea. Even if a tileset is a debacle, there was an idea, usually a good one, behind making it. Even those tilesets tha tare meant to solely upgrade another set have their own purpose.

Every tileset has its own story and many hours of detailed work going into them. Some are legendary and need no introduction, but others are not so lucky. Some have been overlooked, maybe permanently, in the lieu of better tilesets. Indeed, not all tilesets are created equally, but still there exists a wealth of history seeped into a collection of various graphics.

Some would argue as to reason for the effort put into tileset creation. But really, what is the purpose of of even using ZQuest or Zelda Classic? The answer: Because it is a means of expression and it is a foundation on which one of the closet online communities that I have ever seen has been build. Is it going to last forever? Probably not, nothing is permanent. Yet, hundreds of page views (on a slow day) and hundreds of registered users and an untold number of anonymous members of the entire Zelda Classic community (PureZC, Zelda Classic, etc.) would seem to indicate a thriving community. The software exists so that every die-hard Zelda fan can accomplish his or her lifelong dream of creating a Zelda game, one that people will actually play. Months of hard work goes into projects, and those same projects look great. More important than the project itself are those moments of sharing and story telling that into it, and it is on this foundation that the community continues to thrive. As for the community itself, we share in each others triumph of a difficult project, we console each other in sadness and most of all we have a fun time doing what we all love best: designing and playing games. The community is being inducted each day with new members, and it is no surprise that life goes on.

Yet, with the coming of the new, comes the passing of the old. Phantom Menace, the original creator of Zelda Classic, has moved on to better pastures, and every month in passing, another member leaves. Some return, and others will be around until the day they (or their forums) die. We are a community, and it will exists as long as two people are in it. Still, the past must no be forgotten.

That is the purpose of this project to gather what can be said before it is too late. It is important to recall the tales and motivations before time erases them. My contribution to preserving history is to unlock those tales which exist in each tileset. Tilesets have, ever since ZC 1.90, become their own existing entity which has been nurtured hours of communication and planning. It is important to record those now, while people still exist to retell them. The 2D Platformer is far from dead, as is our community, but if we do recognize the work of the past, we can never hope to learn and become better.

Thus, I shall look at each tileset that I obtain. Some are relics and shall be reminisced. Others are new and shall be more or less critiqued. But all tilesets shall be viewed in the light of what type of work went into it, and what is its significance. It is going to be an ongoing project that will require frequent amendments and revisions. Multiple perspectives will (hopefully) be provided to shed different light. The ultimate goal to give each tileset and its creator the appropriate attention it deserves.

This is, however, a community project. And I will open polls for everyone to voice their opinion of a tileset. What were the best quests (if any exist) that were made with a particular tileset? What was the best use of a tileset? What would be a cool improvement? And other questions are bound to be asked. Also I am considering (for the very old tilesets) a re-review, scored not as to how good it is in making a quest (that has already been decided), but a rating based off of what it tried to accomplish and whether or not it met its goal.

This is just the beginning of the project. I am expecting changes, complaints, arguments, frequent correcting and suggestions. Together as a community we can leave a solid mark of our progression.