2bitcrook’s pixel art is as good as his puns. His demakes pose the question “what if” for what a modern game might look like on the Game Boy. He’s been a pixel artist, and artist in general, for nearly 10 years and been demaking games for the DMG for seven. I recently had the opportunity to talk with 2bitcrook about the process behind them.
Limitations Breed Creativity
2bitcrook described the appeal of pixel art being the limitations, which led him to Game Boy/2-bit pixel art. The 160×144 resolution, 8×8 tiles, and four colours gave him a framework.
“I had the entire spectrum of colours to work with, I could make any piece of artwork any size, unlimited canvas and unlimited colours ironically gives one zero imagination,” he said.
It led him to something from his childhood, the Game Boy.
Windows Vista MSPaint
Windows Vista MS Paint, that 15-year-old program along with his mouse are the tools of choice for 2bitcrook. “Older versions of paint are just a little bit too stripped back, and newer versions tend to be a bit bloated,” he said. For 2bitcrook this is what he’s used to.
By his own admission he’s tried programs like Graphicsgale, Gimp, Aseprite, Pyxel Edit, Photoshop and many others but none were quite the same.
“I can see their appeal and for more traditional artists that are accustomed to working with layers and brushes and such, hands down I’d always say try them out where possible. For me I don’t need layers and my animations are typically quite simple, when I need to save images with transparency that’s when paint.net swoops in for the save but overall, it’s always back to the loving arms of MS Paint.”
The process of creating a demake is one built upon the foundation of research, which could take anywhere from a few days to a week. “This can range from the basic, getting reference images of each scene and working out how to transpose that to 2D and greyscale, but beyond that I’ll study concept art, model sheets, sometimes interviews or trivia from the original designers, promotional art and old magazine spreads,” he said.
Following this however the final tier of research is playing the entire game. If it’s a game from 2bitcrook’s childhood longplays or let’s plays may be enough to bring back his memories. But this isn’t always the case for every demake.
“In the instance of Sly Cooper I had never played it and felt it would be poor form to try and create something of which I had zero experience with/just working off second hand experience.”
“With research done, then comes the ‘easy’ part haha.”
The next stage involves a quick sketch of each screen.
“This is in part because seeing an extreme before and after is always fun/satisfying [but] it also evades the bane of anyone in, probably any field. The blank “X” problem. Canvas, page, word document, piece of wood, marble, stone, clay, and so forth. Let’s stick to blank canvas for my situation, it’s daunting. One can theorise and think and try and plan the entire thing in one’s head but one can drive themselves mad this way. To circumvent this, I just get SOMETHING down, no matter how crude and scribbly the moment I get something down, I know I can look at it and know I can just start chipping away at it and mould it into something better.”
Since 2bitcrook began using GB Studio he’s been more conscious of tile limits, for example, “192 tiles for a scene that needs dialogue boxes, 256 if that’s not needed, and 360 in ‘Logo mode’ for static screens with no animation.”
“At the end of a demake I’ll only have to tweak each screen to drop around 10-20 tiles give or take. Sometimes I even come under and get to include more flourishes which is always a bonus,” he said.
“You can only improve so much until you need to try out different things.”
After nearly a decade of demakes pushing the boundaries of what he can do has been “challenging but in a good way” for 2bitcrook. Safe areas for him were platformers, something he loves, but top-down Zelda/final fantasy sprites along with the perspective took some practice to click.
But due to this practice he was able to work on Anguna Scourge of the Goblin King for NES.
“[It] not only put my new top-down skills to the test but I also practiced more larger sprites for the included bestiary.”
The shift over to NES pixel art was closely tied to what he learned working on the Game Boy. “For a good deal of Anguna I simply treated it like ‘a big Game Boy game, with colour’ haha. Spriting sprites/focusing on just the form of the piece, and then coloured in greyscale,” he said. Because of his familiarity with Game Boy limitations, the NES actually offered more freedom.
“Everything and anything” inspires 2bitcrook. Of course, there are the demakes of existing games but he’s also tried out more theoretical ideas.
“The first of these was a turn-based strategy game based on the Berserk manga but after a while they turned into more of a ‘well…….what if,’” he said.
“Two of my favourites in this style were Banjo Ooie, a prequel to the Banjo Kazooie series that showcased how the bear and bird met, and Daisy & Luigi Couple Curse, an action platformer (metroidvania if you will) game that stars the titular Daisy wielding a Luigi who was turned into a power staff by the sorceress Cursula.”
This, along with an extremely long list of demake options from community suggestions and his own ideas means there’s always ideas to be realised.
A 30-year-old handheld, 10 years an artist, seven years of demakes. 2bitcrook isn’t expecting much to change even so close to a decade of demakes. In the last two years learning about GB Studio is the main technological change he’s taken.
“I always approach demakes with the intent to show my love for a certain franchise/game or just give a long standing fandom of something, a new thing to talk about.”
Even with such an old device, 2bitcrook sees teens retweet/blog his stuff, so the audience continues to be diverse with an ever-evolving future.
“This ancient brick of a device which is so limited today, which was so limited in its time, still resonates with a lot of people. And I look forward to what the next generation will bring to the table.”