Anyone remember Color cycling from the 90s? This was a technology often used in 8-bit video games of the era, to achieve interesting visual effects by cycling (shifting) the color palette. Back then video cards could only render 256 colors at a time, so a palette of selected colors was used. But the programmer could change this palette at will, and all the onscreen colors would instantly change to match. It was fast, and took virtually no memory. Thus began the era of color cycling.
Most games used the technique to animate water, fire or other environmental effects. Unfortunately, more often than not this looked terrible, because the artist simply drew the scene once, picked some colors to be animated and set them to cycle. While this technically qualified as “color cycling”, it looked more like a bad acid trip. For an example, just look at the water in this game.
However, there was one graphic artist who took the technique to a whole new level, and produced absolutely breathtaking color cycling scenes. Mark J. Ferrari, who also illustrated all the original backgrounds for LucasArtsLoom, and some for The Secret of Monkey Island, invented his own unique ways of using color cycling for envrironmental effects that you really have to see to believe. These include rain, snow, ocean waves, moving fog, clouds, smoke, waterfalls, streams, lakes, and more. And all these effects are achieved without any layers or alpha channels — just one single flat image with one 256 color palette.
Joe has generously shared the code for this too, so you can try it yourself!
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