Pixel Perfect

Zorgon's Revenge... another hero saving a princess, but this guy appears to be wearing a flat cap and pullover!

I’ve been at this a long time.  Gaming, I mean.  Ignoring the drab ASCII based games of the ZX80, my first memorable immersion in the sea of gaming came in December 1983 when I opened up the long, rectangular box and saw the beautiful cobalt blue stylings of the Oric-1 packaging illuminating my face like a box of Terry’s All Gold with a halogen lamp retrofitted for added effect.  While it never really had the catalogue of games that the Spectrum could boast to (I believe there were around 450 made in total), the quality of the graphics and sound of the Oric-1 meant that the games themselves were able to have an element of precision that wasn’t being offered by other machines of the same era, at least not to the same degree.  The typical Space Invader type games such as “The Ultra” or “Xenon 1″, or the Froggeresque “Hopper” didn’t exactly require much in the way of eagle eyed precision but others such as “Zorgon’s Revenge” (follow up to the aforementioned Xenon 1) absolutely depended on making your move at exactly the right point or the effort would be wasted.  In the pteranodon and spider level, jumping up to catch the moving zipline at any point other than the exact pixel would mean certain death and if you were lucky enough to catch it as it came towards you, you were left with the same impending doom if you attempted to jump from the zipline to the platform on the other end at any point other than that one precise pixel.  This, as you can imagine, made Zorgon’s Revenge one of the more difficult games on the Oric-1 and that’s before even reaching the horrendous Quadnog level.

Click to enlarge to show paths

Moving on to what may be perceived as the “next gen” in home computers, the fantastic “Pinball Dreams” was unleashed to the Amiga community in 1992 by Digital Illusions.  This not only included some pretty damn realistic physics, and tables that would put Bally themselves to shame, but the precision involved to send the ball up the required ramps and traps to achieve the goals of the table were made even more difficult by that same pixel precision. Of the four tables on offer within the game, it was always “Nightmare” that stole my time away… the 1930s horror movie cackle, the creaking doors, the Theremin style soundtrack… and those bloody ramps.  The ramp on the far right of the table was a loop that extended right around the back of the table, with a repeating multiplier that would send the score skyrocketing but right next to this immensely profitable ramp was another ramp which would just send the ball back down the track to the right flipper, which meant having to manipulate the ball once again to gain control with the left flipper.  The difference between hitting the “scupper” ramp and the “beneficial” ramp was one pixel.  If, like me, you relied on the “bitmapping” on the resting flippers to determine when you hit the ball… then your eye knew exactly which point to hit that left flipper but, as invariably happened, one pixel too early would send the ball up the return ramp to the other flipper.

Delphine Software’s Flashback was another 1992 Amiga game that relied heavily on precise movements, albeit to a slightly lesser degree than Zorgon’s Revenge and Pinball Dreams.  Its rotoscoped animation was one of the earliest games to feature such fluidity in motion and, with it, came a high degree of precision when it came to traversing chasms or jumping to a higher ledge.  A pixel or two out of place and your character would fall to the level below and you’d be left with no option but to drag yourself kicking and screaming through the lower level to reach that same ledge… only to forget which pixel you’d previously used as your jump-off point.  It may not have come down to one precise pixel, but it was pretty damn close.

With the advent of the 3D rendered first person vantage point, game progression has become less about precision and more about forging ahead and taking down as many enemies as possible en route.  That’s not to say that gaming has become simplistic through development, but the need for that eagle eye seems to have been negated in favour of a more free flowing gaming experience.  While I certainly enjoy traipsing around in the first person, solving puzzles, blowing heads off and picking up health boosts and other assorted trinkets on the way… I do also long for another game where the difference between progression and stagnancy rests on the ability to hit a button at a specific point on the screen.

This is the exact point in Fruity Loops that prevented Victor from progressing beyond the next obstacle

It is, perhaps, why I enjoy playing Trials HD as much as I do or… more specifically… why I enjoy spending so much time developing custom tracks.  In terms of overall complexity, they’re probably not THAT much more difficult than any custom track out there but they DO rely very much on that pixel precision of games gone by.  Adjusting the position of the rider at exactly the right moment will send the bike over any given ramp at the required velocity and angle to safety, but the tiniest slip either way… leaning back on the seat too far or leaning too much into the handlebars… would send the rider careering into whatever obstacle was carefully placed in JUST the right area to completely destroy any chance of moving forward.  Pixel precision at its best.  Watching our very own Victor play through my “Fruity Loops” custom track for 30 minutes without progressing beyond the second obstacle certainly reinforced just how difficult some of my tracks are, and I certainly felt more guilty than I’d ever expected.

The draw of these pixel-dependent games is still very much ingrained with me and I’ve been known to lift my iPod Touch for another few rounds of Pinball Dreams, just to infuriate myself trying to hit that flipper at exactly the right moment.  In between attempts at the big money “Midnight” phase on the Nightmare table I can still, hypocritically, immerse myself in all manner of 3D rendered first person games and that’s probably where you’ll find me…
forgetting altogether about pixel precision.

Last five articles by Mark R



  1. Ste says:

    I remember Flashback. That was a double hard bastard of a game. I never did finish it.

  2. Iain Iain says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m perfect, but I’m honoured that you wrote an article about m…..oh :( :p

    I personally don’t like games that require exact, pixel perfect timing because I always just feel cheated by the game. I know to an extent, computer games are about skill but there’s only so much one man can endure :(

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    The article was originally titled “Pix3l Perfect” but I figured that most people visiting wouldn’t get it, and would think I was an idiot… so I refrained heh heh. I know what you mean though, and watching Victor going over that same point time and time again for 30 minutes made me realise just how awful my Trials tracks must be to anyone playing them. I’m a bad man.

  4. Iain Iain says:

    If you put ‘Pix3l’, you’d get “Teh n00b cnt spellz pixel” type comments. Only from me though, everyone else would insult you normally…

    It’s pretty funny watching people playing through your levels and failing though, I’ve played through my LBP levels with quite a few different people and most of them get stuck on my puzzles/traps. I just breeze through them because I know exactly how they work and feel smug about myself :)

  5. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I’m with Ste on Flashback. I still have a copy of the Megadrive version, and that fucker was possibly the most infuriating game I had on the system. I never finished it without cheating. Every time I come across the box in the cupboard I keep my older games in, I get a shudder of fear up my spine.

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    @Preacher… that’s because there’s a spider sitting on the cart ;)
    @Iain… I’d love to say that I can breeze through my Trials tracks, but I really can’t. I can do them better than most, but still end up with faults all over the place. They walk the line between impossible and just about possible. Perfect really ;)
    @Ste… I never finished it either, but almost bought it for the iPod a few months ago to see if I could do it now!

  7. Ste says:

    Speaking of old games on the iPhone has anyone noticed that Final Fantasy 1 & 2 are on the app store now? Abit minty though. Think I’ll wait to see if they drop in price a little.

  8. Rook says:

    I can remember playing Flashback, just not much about the game. Not sure if I played it just on my mate’s Amiga or if I played it when I finally got my own. I know I played and beat Another World and pretty sure I beat Flashback.

    The early Tomb Raider games always required perfect jumping. You would walk to the edge, take one jump back, and then run and jump to clear the gap or make it and hang off the edge of the other side.

  9. Lorna Lorna says:

    Many of the Speccy titles were very much like this and I remember the Amiga’s Pinball Dreams well, though ‘Ignition’ and ‘Steel Wheel’ were my tables of choice.

    I recall that the original Prince of Persia on the old brick GameBoy was a pain in the arse when it came to precision jumping…in fact, I believe that this was why I chose to give up on it. Games these days tend to be a little kinder in terms of leeway for hitting jumps, but just occasionally you get a demon game like Trials that brings those old memories flooding back!

    Can’t recall any Xbox titles where I have come across this yet, but my pantheon of games is considerably less than that of others.

  10. Kat says:

    Teh n00b cnt spellz pixe3l!

    Very good read :)

  11. Kat says:



  12. Simon says:

    I know exactly where you coming from with the pinball games. I have just finished the ‘Dreams’ but the Billion Dollar Gameshow on ‘Fantasies’ does nothing but kick me in the balls and laugh at me.

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