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Balthazar Auger

Spatial constraint: Gamma 256

constraints2 min read

The gamma 256 contest was held by the Montreal-based Kokoromi collective in november 2007.

The requirements for entering the event were to submit a playable video game whose resolution had to be equal to or less than 256×256 pixels. The event received many brilliant submissions, amongst which were indie hits Passage, Bloody Zombies and Mr Heart Loves You Very Much.

This has “spatial constraint” written all over it!

The convenient thing about gamma 256 is that resolution was the only constraint being put forward. It was also required for all games to be playable using an xbox 360 controller, which is so complex it allows thousands of different uses. There was also the intrinsic time constraint of the deadline for the entries, but it was pretty permissive, giving entrants a few months to complete their games.

The most obvious effect of such a constraint is the very obvious “retro” aesthetic most entries share. Historically, older games tend to have lower screen resolution than newer ones, as resolution increases along with graphical processing power and screen cost. Limited resolution inevitably suggested “retro” to the creators who are long-time players, some of which deliberately made pixels bigger to make them apparent, at the cost of effective resolution.

Please consider the Passage resolution values, as provided by the author:

Image size: 100×16 (100×12 play surface with a 4-pixel scoreboard above)
Aspect ratio: 25:4
Display size: 600×96 (for 640×480 fullscreen letterbox mode)

Passage screenshot

This is a very good illustration of what I had stated in the previous article about spatial constraints. The author effectively makes a distinction between two resolution values: the game resolution (“Image size”) and the display resolution. Even if his display resolution is larger than the allowed 256×256, it was obvious for everyone that the actual resolution was smaller. Following this, a 1-pixel game displayed in fullscreen wouldn’t change the fact that the game resolution is 1.

Also, since limiting the resolution limits the amount of simultaneous information the game can display, most games on the competition have concentrated on a single mechanic, each game concept being easily summed up in a single sentence. Some examples:

Doomed Planet by Nick Sheets: “Abduct Earthlings without getting shot down!”

Dive by namako team: “Dive as deep as you can, getting air from friendly sea creatures and avoiding squids and sharks.”

Dodge Club by James Montagna: “Don’t get bumped.”

Bloody Zombies by Petri Purho: “Mow down zombies and use their blood to get around.”

Sunset Runner by Daniel Guert: “Save your friend from being squished by a very long train.”

(source: gamma 256 site)

As for the time constraint, limited space is often used for contests, since it’s fairly easy to understand and measure. An example amongst many is CODEAR, an argentinian contest to make banner-sized games.

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