8 bit and the blue chip art world

What was once a technical necessity has become a stylistic device. 8-bit art has emerged as one of the most sought-after art genres traded in the market today. 8 bit art plays a crucial role in the development of blockchain ownership certificates, also known as NFTs, redefining the market for collectibles and fine art.

8 bit artwork of a female wearing a motorcycle helmet
Lazer, Likewolf

What does 8 bit colour depth mean?

The BIT depth also known as colour depth describes the number of possible graduations of a single pixel, it determines how many colours an image can theoretically contain. Each bit can assume two states: 1 and 0. An image with one bit would therefore only have two colours. Black and white. By increasing the BIT depth, more colours can be accommodated in an image. Once an image has been reduced to 8-bit, all original data is irretrievably lost. At a resolution of 8 bits, 256 different colour states are possible.

8 bit artwork of a female model from the series cyber chiq by multimedia artist likewolf
Cyber Chiq 2, Likewolf

Cyber Chiq® features a collection of 8-bit style pixel art images of multiethnic international models. There are exactly 99 of them, each with their own randomly generated personality and name.

Retro 8-bit pixel art explained

Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are a ubiquitous part of the digitised world. Users interact with GUIs to trigger specific actions of a system. As interfaces to the underlying software system, graphical user interfaces offer a wide range of design possibilities.

The selection, presentation and arrangement of graphical elements is essential in this context to enable the most intuitive interaction between user and system. Without graphical interfaces, access to the use of software is much more difficult for a wide range of users.

sheik and gnome 8 bit graphic
Sheik and Gnome, You need IBS

The development of computer graphics is characterised by various stages that often merge smoothly into one another. First and foremost, these development stages are characterised by the technical limitations to which computer-based systems were subject at the time.

Further and new developments in hardware and software technology are constantly opening up new possibilities and solutions to overcome previous limitations in the field of computer graphics.

New developments in the field of computer graphics play a different role for different types of software systems. For applications in the category of video games, the technical possibilities in the field of computer graphics usually represent a central aspect.

Since video games are just as subject to the respective graphics limitations as other applications, creative solutions have often been developed to produce the best possible representations from the given means.

The 8-bit aesthetic - part of our culture for over 30 years

8 bit artwork of yellow-suitcase-in-the-basketball-hoo
Yellow suitcase in the basketball hoop, Likewolf

A particularly relevant stage of development in the field of computer graphics in video games is what is now known as the "8-bit era". The term "8-bit" can be used in the context of computer graphics to describe various technical specifications. The term "8-bit" can be used in connection with the colouring of graphic elements on computer displays.

Colour depth in the field of computer graphics describes "the number of possible colour or grey values that the colour information contains for each individual pixel." This colour depth is primarily determined by the number of bits available to encode different colour values. With an 8-bit colour depth, 256 different binary-coded colour or grey values (0-255) can be defined.

The actual selection of colours can vary, depending on the underlying system. A 4-bit colour depth, for example, would only allow a display with 16 (24) different colour values. For the "true colour" colour representation used by many devices today, a 24-bit colour depth (3 x 8 bits) is available. This makes the representation of almost 16.8 million different colours possible.

Classic Arcade Retro Video Game Art

8 bit artwork
His Master's Voice, Likewolf

Another, more common use of the term "8-bit" in the context of computer graphics, especially in the context of video games, refers to 8-bit-based computer systems. 8-bit is defined as the number of bits that can be processed by a processor within one clock cycle. Systems with 8-bit processors were widespread in the 1970s and 1980s. An early example of an 8-bit processor is the Intel 8008, which was introduced in 1972.

A famous example of an 8-bit system is the "Nintendo Entertainment System" (NES). The NES was released in Japan in 1983 and in the following years also in the USA and Europe. Over 60 million copies of the NES were sold.

There are certain limits to the selection and arrangement of the available colours for graphic representations. These limits are due to the technical limitations of the 8-bit system architecture of the NES. It is not possible to define a colour individually for each pixel.

With a maximum resolution of 256 x 240 pixels, 61,440 colour values would be necessary. Such a pixel-by-pixel design exceeds the computing capacity of the NES. In order to enable the display of varied objects on the screen despite all this, so-called "sprites" are used.

8-bit is the same as 256 colors

silver arrow mercedes 8 bit artwork
Silver Arrow Mercedes, Likewolf

In computer graphics, the term "sprite" is used for a two-dimensional bitmap representation that is integrated into a larger overall image. Sprites are often used in the composition of scenes in 2D video games. The size of sprites is limited, depending on the system environment. On the NES, the predefined size for sprites is 8 x 8 (or 8 x 16) pixels.

To display objects larger than 8 x 8, several sprites must be combined, i.e. placed next to each other. The use of sprites, as predefined image components, has the advantage that no colouring is required at the level of individual pixels. Only the different sprites have to be positioned on the screen.

For this purpose, the entire screen is divided into a total of 960 pixel groups, the so-called "tiles" (240/8 = 30, 256/8 = 32, 30*32 = 960). A maximum of 64 different sprites can be displayed on the screen, whereby no more than eight sprites can be positioned in the same tile screen line.

Sprites are displayed in the foreground, on the "sprite layer" and usually contain the "moving" objects of a video game scene. A maximum of four colour palettes with three colours each can be compiled from the 52 available NES colours. Each sprite can only use one of the available sprite palettes for colouring.

Che Guevara 8 bit artwork
Last stop Vallegrande, Likewolf

The picture shows the laid out corpse of Che Guevara in Oktober 1967. He is lying on a stretcher that has been placed on a concrete tub. The image of the dead Che in the washhouse of Vallegrande created the myth of one of the most famous guerrillas in the world.

Sprite pixels that are not coloured are transparent. In addition to the sprite layer, there is a background layer. This has similar restrictions in terms of colouring and arrangement of elements as sprites. Transparent sprite pixels are filled with the respective colour of the background layer at the corresponding position.

Instead of transparency, the background layer has a background colour with which non-coloured pixels are automatically filled. Since the maximum number of different sprite and background elements is limited, representations usually have to be used several times in a scene to fill the overall image.

This detailed description of selected graphics limitations of the NES, as a prominent example of 8-bit systems, is intended to illustrate the challenges that game developers faced due to the technical limitations. These challenges forced developers to develop creative solutions to display entire scenes in video games.

Toda Man 8 bit artwork
Toda Man, Likewolf

The Toda religion exalted high-class men as holy milkmen, giving them sacred status as priests of the holy dairy. Toda people are a Dravidian ethnic group who live in the Nilgiri Mountains of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

However, system constraints, such as the maximum number of different sprites, shaped a distinctive style of video game design. As technology advanced, new possibilities opened up to adapt the design of video games to the ideas of the developers. The design possibilities of the NES at the time of its release were quite advanced compared to previous generations of consoles, despite the many technical limitations.

Images are edited on the pixel level

The limited colour selection and the resulting game designs also led to the distinctive NES look, which maintains its charm to this day. This characteristic has led to the re-release of various console classics such as the NES in recent years.

The term "8-bit" is used today not only in the context of the game titles that were created during the 8-bit console era. Today, new video games are being developed that bear the predicate "8-bit" in their title or description. The group of games with a corresponding designation is very heterogeneous.

Games in which developers (often independent, small studios) adhere to the strict specifications of 8-bit systems, for example from the 1980s, are developed under comparable conditions to titles from the corresponding period. This includes restrictions on both the colour scheme and the choice of different sprites.

Fire Brigade 8 bit artwork
Burn that token, Likewolf

Game art turns into fine art

Apart from these developments under real 8-bit conditions, there are other video game creations that focus primarily on the 8-bit graphic style, but neglect the technical limitations of the corresponding systems. For example, distinctive colours from the respective systems are used, but without taking into account the maximum number of sprites.

Furthermore, there are various projects in which games are developed that can be classified under the collective term "pixel art". In these works, no technical specifications of real 8-bit systems are set as a limit. For example, extended colour palettes, a higher resolution, more varied sprite compositions and image divisions in tiles are used to create more varied scenes in video games.

The distinctive style of titles from the 8-bit era is used as a model to design the individual graphic elements of the video games.

Due to the diverse and ambiguous use of the term "8-bit" today, a clear delimitation or classification is hardly possible. A strict categorisation would only allow titles to be labelled "8-bit" if they were developed under corresponding technical restrictions, then as now.

A broader definition can include all titles that are exclusively oriented towards the graphic features of the 8-bit era, without taking technical limitations into account.

Print for Sale

Art Collecting | Main content

red brushstrokes on dark canvas
How to buy art online

The 21st century will go down in history as the era of the online collector. What was unthinkable a few years ago is now a reality.

blue brushstrokes on black canvas
Why is art expensive

It does not matter if the artist is alive or dead. The rarity of a work of art is what gives it value

red water droplets on black background
How to start your own art collection

Being an art collector requires time, strategy, and consideration. Serious collectors buy art with a long-term goal.

white water droplets on black background
How has AI changed art?

Art is an area that was traditionally considered exclusive to humans. But AI has found its way into the creative world a long time ago.

yellow brushstrokes on black background
Blockchain in the art-world

Blockchain technology enables the trading of digitalized assets. It can include non-bankable assets such as real estate or paintings.

Beige water droplets on black background
Is art a good investment ?

A new use for art has evolved in recent years, and it is the most straightforward of all. Art as a serious investment.