That is to say, today Megaman is 22 years old. Happy Birthday!
Actually, had I known that his birthday was coming up, I probably would have saved my post about Megaman 10 for this occasion. Still, there’s plenty to talk about regarding Rock and the various mechanical adversaries he faces on a daily basis. One such topic is the art of sprites, and today I’m going to explain one of the interesting trends that occurred as the Megaman series progressed on the NES.
From left to right: Cutsman, Gutsman, Iceman, Bombman, Fireman, Elecman
If you look at the first Megaman game, the Robot Masters had the same basic physical frame as Megaman himself, Gutsman excepted. Over time however, the Robot Master sprites as a whole became larger and more detailed. No doubt this is to some extent due to the improvement of the technology within the NES cartridges, but there was a greater discovery that happened over the course of the series, one artistic in nature.
From left to right: Metalman, Airman, Bubbleman, Quickman, Crashman, Flashman, Heatman, Woodman
What makes larger characters like Airman and Woodman look less chunky than Gutsman? Take a look at their limbs, particularly in the legs. You’ll notice that they’re all colored black, at least before the knees and elbows. Some time in the production of Megaman 2, Inafune and the others working on the game must have discovered that by giving the Robot Master sprites black limbs, it would allow for Robot Masters with larger bodies to have arms and legs that did not look either overly thick or too spindly. It’s also what gives Quickman the ability to bend his knees better for cool poses. By the time Megaman 3 rolled around, every Robot Master had black limbs, and was designed to be larger than Megaman.
From left to right: Needleman, Magnetman, Geminiman, Hardman, Topman, Snakeman, Sparkman, Shadowman
The reason black has such a slimming effect on the limbs (outside of real world settings, I mean) is that the outline of the sprite is already black, and so when a different color is used our eyes tend to focus on that color and use the black as an outline, but when the limbs themselves are entirely black we view the entire leg, outline and all, as a solid block. There are still cases where a Robot Master might have non-black limbs, or cases where the arms aren’t black but the legs are, but you’ll notice in almost every case that it’s from a desire to make one set of limbs look “bigger” than the other.
Let’s use a more recent example, Plugman from Megaman 9, who has black legs and gray arms. I’ve altered his sprite twice, once to show him with black limbs only, and once to show his limbs as gray.
Plugman and Variations
You’ll notice that when I made his legs gray, it altered the perceived angle that his legs are bent at as well as making the outline around those legs more awkward looking, and also that when his arms are black your mind regards them as just a little bit thinner. It’s kind of subtle, but at the same time when it comes to something like an 8-bit sprite, one pixel can mean a lot, as in this case where it comprises about 25% of the width of a single thigh.
So there you have it. To another 22 years of Mega goodness, to another 22 years of smart and effective sprite work.