I’ve often wondered myself what is the secret to creating really nice looking Commodore 64 graphics? So many games out there already are far surpassing these standards.
To accomplish this, first of all I believe its important to understand what Commodore 64 graphics actually are. A closer examination of your screen will reveal tiny dots concealed in a character space. These are known as pixels.
What are Pixels?
Pixels are created when a Commodore 64 character set is copied from ROM to RAM memory and altered individually. These characters exist in an 8×8 pattern making that a total of 64 pixels (or “dots” if you prefer).
Often placing different altered Commodore 64 graphics characters side by side will produce so nice looking backgrounds. When you line up these characters against other characters in a pattern you design what are known as “tiles”.
A great tool to design your own professional looking graphics is called CharPad. CharPad will allow you to actually load existing tilesets into memory or create your own. CharPad can design a tileset from as small as a 1×1 matrix even up to 10×10 or larger. You have complete control over these. It will also allow you to export (save) your graphics and import (load) them into your own projects.
Learn to Draw
Being a good artist will also help here. You can check out my website Fine Art Pencil if you want to get some drawing tips. On my website I also share some of the artwork I have designed. Here is an example of a mountain background I reproduced by looking at another game example that was created back in the early 90’s.
Having the ability to draw will help when designing your Commodore 64 graphics for your latest demo or game.
I’m at work on the Commodore 64 Game project that I started on YouTube in 2020. This project has really tested me with getting better on seeing how things appear on a screen.
I like to practice creating individual tilesets and pair them against each other to see what they look like in CharPad. Then I load up my project using the VICE C64 emulator and see how everything appears.
If I can offer any other good advice I’d like to say, just take your time when designing your own background or map. If you really want it to look good look at other examples out there.
Probably one of the more important things I’m learning is to get a sketch of paper and begin constructing what objects you want in your world. Have a plan.
Another thing to be aware of its that there is a limitation of only 256 characters in a Commodore 64 character set. When using CharPad, it will keep track of this for you.
What are Sprites?
If you have ever played old school games on the Commodore 64 or even the Nintendo Entertainment system, you likely came across a bunch of characters that moved on the screen and even one your controlled. These are known as “sprites”.
On the Commodore 64, a sprite is a graphical character designed in a 24×21 pattern of pixels (“dots”). Just like you were earlier learning about the characters in CharPad, a sprite can be designed in a similiar way. A great tool for this is called SpritePad.
A sprite can also be designed on graph paper, but it takes much longer to design. A sprite can be moved against a background without affecting it.
Sprites can contain their own colors (from 0-15). If you stack sprites on top of each other you can also get layed colors.
The best thing to do is learn how to reuse other characters in different parts of your map. For example when I’m designing a wall with patterns, later I try to see other places I can utilize these individual characters for.
The result is a pretty decent map (for now) that you can drop a sprite inside and begin creating that next great masterpiece. So go out there today and as Roberto Blake says “create something awesome today”.
Steve has always had a passion for computers even before I owned one. His first personal computer was an Atari 65xe purchased at Children's Palace around 1986. In later years he attended DeVry University and received a Computer Science degree and worked as a Web Developer for a short season.
"In order to get what you want, you have to really want that more than having fun, chilling, or playing." - Roberto Blake