CGA Hell

Before the millions of colors today’s hardware is able to push on the screen, we, as consumers of real-time imagery, have had to put up with a number of far more modest color configurations, starting all the way from a palette of two distinct colors.

It seems that the more limited a color palette is, the more recognizable look and feel it tends to produce to a given image. For instance, the Commodore 64’s 16-color palette is so iconic that I, for one, can quite easily single out C64 screenshots from other platforms with similar specs. And besides playing games with the system, the C64 palette burned somewhat permanently onto my mind through extensive use of paint and animation software, which were the cases that made me realize of how restricted the 16-color palette really was.

Little did I know, though, that the 16 colors of my C64 was luxury in comparison to the palettes found in PCs of that era. Back then PCs meant strictly business so they consequently lacked everything that even remotely had to do with producing aesthetic pleasure, both visually and aurally.

Personally, the PC palette I found the most appalling at the time was the 4-color CGA variant that consisted of cyan and magenta as primary colors in addition to black and white. The games using the CGA palette were almost insultingly horrible looking, and to combine that with the screeching sound of the PC speaker, it seems now like a miracle that people, me included, willingly played such games in the first place.

So basically my animation is a study, if you will, of something about which I wrote a while ago, that is using medium specific artifacts as a means for artistic expression. The animation in question adheres indeed not only to the now obsolete CGA color palette, but other technical characteristics and limitations (listed under Content) of that era as well.

On top of that, the animation utilizes the idea of an additional medium through which the imagery is presented, which renders, as I wrote, the content in some cases more authentic and credible. In this one, I decided to simulate a CRT monitor of which parameters are broke down under Simulated Screen. To me, the CRT look just fits perfectly with low-definition computer imagery, which is why I mainly prefer using a scanline filter when playing older games on a TFT screen.

And finally there is the Actual Screen on which the imagery is displayed to the viewer, which is, of course, beyond artistic control. For what I know, someone could be indeed watching my animation even with a real CRT monitor, which would be interesting setting considering the animation attempts to simulate one.

The end goal was to create an exceedingly “mediumized” piece of animation, and as such, I’d consider it a reasonable success. And now, in 2012, I find the three decades old CGA palette actually not that appalling anymore when using it by choice, and not because the technology says so.