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.


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