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SaGa alive?? Also, retro color scheme talk

Hey all,

Progress on SaGa is moving along slowly but surely, and we’re shaping up for a final release in a month or two? Until then, I figured I’d write a bit about some of the design decisions and technical tidbits we’ve run into while developing the game, mostly about capturing the Gameboy feel from both a programming and design perspective. So expect a mix of game design theory and obscure SaGa technical details!

I’ll start off with some notes around our color scheme (which is coincidentally where I left off on design stuff like a year ago…) Some history first though! If you played SaGa on the original bricklike Gameboy, you’ve experienced its original monotone green color scheme.

As you can see, it’s very green and looks a little strange on modern screens. That’s because the original Gameboy LCD screen didn’t have a backlight, and the simulated greeniness looks strange on a monitor. It’s supposed to be more of a black and white feel, which is why modern emulators (for backlit PC screens) usually just render grayscale.

It looks fine, but we can get more authentic than the clean palette even without simulating the original GB greens. On the Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance (where I played a lot of SaGa), original Gameboy carts would be rendered with a colored palette. Because the original GB carts didn’t provide a palette, just intensity, the GBC would infer a palette. Each of the shades of gray gets mapped to a color.

Interestingly enough, the game now has more than four colors. What’s happening here is that the GBC is treating tiles and sprites differently. The Gameboy rendering pipeline makes a distinction between static maps and moving sprites, so there are actually seven colors here: four shades on the map layer, and then three shades plus transparency on the sprite layer. It’s pretty neat, you could even change the palette by holding different buttons on startup. Full list here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_video_game_console_palettes#Game_Boy_Color

Things were starting to look a little better in SaGa4. Characters were actually brown, water was actually blue (or at least green-blue). But the GBC false color palettes were also not designed for a backlight, so the colors look pretty saturated on a PC monitor. To put together the final palette, we toned down the color scheme a bit until things looked only GBC-ish enough to be mistaken for monochrome.

Not too bad! All of this is done in a shader at a pretty high level so we can still do animated transitions like fade-in fade-out and the shader will enforce the palette. (If you’re curious, full source here: https://github.com/psywombats/mgne/blob/master/saga/res/shaders/gameboy.frag) Of course, the downside is it’s pretty easy to tell what’s on the map layer and what’s actually a sprite.

Hmmm, not suspicious at all.


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Very interesting and informative read.
I'm looking forward to the final release.
I actually liked when things you were able to interact with didn't blend perfectly with the rest of the scenery. After all, there is always this game logic where you can go and search a bomb to destroy this fence, but you can't just try and jump over it. Or you can't pick up this sword because it's part of the scenery. This way I can at least know in some way what the character is thinking.

I love the new pallete <3.
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