I am wondering if old games like Golden Axe (genesis) or street of Rage (genesis) used tilemaps or background bitmaps for the levels.

I could not find any resource that explain this and searching around in the web I can find background images, but I never found any tilemap for the levels. This off course, does not answer the question, but it looks like they used background bitmaps for the entire level.

But I am not sure if it was practical for those old consoles to store such "big" images and render those.

Does anyone knows a bit of programming on those old systems and knows how those "perspective" levels were built?


closed as not constructive by MichaelHouse, Josh, Sean Middleditch, Trevor Powell, bummzack Feb 13 '13 at 8:44

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you let us know how this is relevant to your game development? Otherwise we're just talking trivia here (which is not a constructive question). \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Feb 12 '13 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 Working to create a game with this style, I am investigating to see how this was implemented. \$\endgroup\$ – bcsanches Feb 12 '13 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then you should ask how you can implement something like it to achieve the same effect. It doesn't matter how they did it, it matters how you will do it. Surely you don't have the same hardware limitations, so you can likely achieve the same effect with much less effort. You're asking the wrong question. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse Feb 12 '13 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ As per the FAQ, "How did game X do feature Y" questions are off-topic here. \$\endgroup\$ – Trevor Powell Feb 13 '13 at 0:20

Yes, they use tilemaps (more precisely : small 8x8 hardware tiles). The main reason is that background scrolling and sprites display on most 16-bit consoles are hardware accelerated (there is a dedicated hardware chip for that, VDP in case of genesis). The only way to use that feature on genesis is to divide the background and sprites into small 8x8 tiles (even for displaying a single full screen logo).

Video memory (VRAM) was very expensive at that time and using small 8x8 tiles allow some tiles to be reused at different locations on the screen. Even if genesis can render games up to 320×480 resolution, there is not enough video memory (64KB) to hold a full frame.

Here is an example for Sonic (same goes for background) :

enter image description here

This main character is made using several 8x8 sprites, that stick together by moving on the screen at the same time. Same for background which is a 2D array of tiles.

Some consoles allow several layers of tiles (aka planes) to be displayed at the same time (maximum two for genesis). They usually have the same size (a little bigger than the screen) but can be scrolled independently. This is mostly used for parallax scrolling . These layers can give you the illusion that there is "huge bitmaps" moving on screen while they are actually independent layers of tiles.


Games of that age had to make use of very constrained memory. The Sega Genesis had only 64kb of video ram and only a few MB of ROM per game cartridge. They simply hadn't got the resources for large bitmaps. So they used tilemaps whenever possible and reserved large images for special occasions (boss fights or other memorable key areas of the game).


I would guess that they are using tile maps/sprite sheets for their textures, as you rightly guessed I think it was impracticable for them to use those large background images

equally you can see a lot of repetition in areas which shows the use of modular textures

  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought the same about repetition, but you can still think that the repetition was done by the artist when building the background bitmap. \$\endgroup\$ – bcsanches Feb 12 '13 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ true but its not very memory efficient to reuse something in comparison to using an instance of it \$\endgroup\$ – MephistonX Feb 12 '13 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Memory efficiency was very important back then. The Sega Genesis had only 64Kbyte of video ram and 64Kbyte of general purpose ram. Game ROMs were limited to a few MB (exact size depending on how much they were willing to spend on producing the cartridges). \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Feb 12 '13 at 14:57

I think you mean parallax scrolling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parallax_scrolling for "perspective" levels

  • \$\begingroup\$ They had parallax, but I do not mean parallax, if you look at the game image you will notice the "perspective" effect (not parallax): 2.bp.blogspot.com/-jEB67eQn9ls/Tk2XTZLf1LI/AAAAAAAAAZc/… \$\endgroup\$ – bcsanches Feb 12 '13 at 13:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, seems to look like a front and back tile layer for the various sprites. Sprites on the back layer are rendered on a z-axis (front/back sprite) and front layer on x-axis (left/right sprite). \$\endgroup\$ – Jason Coombes Feb 12 '13 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ The sprites certainly is just a back and front, the question is: how about the scenario? \$\endgroup\$ – bcsanches Feb 12 '13 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Im not sure what you mean. Do you have any youtube clips I could take a look at please, which demo it? \$\endgroup\$ – Jason Coombes Feb 12 '13 at 15:25

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