Sprite vs Sprites

Sprite vs Sprites

When Nintendo introduce NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1983, many video programmers had to find ways to animate an object in the screen with sprites. For example, the NES game Mega Man has a character that opens his mouth when he jumps. Another game in for the NES was Little Samson that had gorgeous graphics that had huge enemies: a giant detailed crab that Samson had to fight. Nevertheless, today we have games that rely on 3d wire models and there are very few games that require sprites. So is learning to draw or build sprites in games is dead? NO! Even today's games have some sprites elements and not necessarily look like games made in the 80’s. For example, shovel knight is a game that has sprites for the main character and background art and it was made 2014. Today, people have a hard time finding sprites in 3d games, but if people knew that sprites are found in explosions or in fog, they will argue that it is not sprites. In reality, sprites have evolve more than background art or 2d characters.

Taito America Corp Little Samson (Nintendo NES, 1992)$1k game

So what are sprites? Sprites are 2 dimensional images that could be 1 by 1 pixel or it could be as big as a single bitmap image that contain multiple images. Sprites can be an object that appears in the screen. (Allen Sherrod, pg 84). However, it does not mean sprites always appears in 2d games. In some instances, sprites will appear in 3d games such as fog or explosions. In Nvidia’s website, there are some samples that allows the user to see some demos of the Directx 10 and one of them is using “Soft Particles” that allows the game to have fog and using small sprites is the easier way to make the illusion of fog. Another use for sprites in games or in 3d models such as cars can be implementing sparks and the way to use it is using sprites (White Paper: Sparkling effect, 2007). Now a sprite can be as small as a pixel, but a game developer can use bigger sprites sizes, such as 32x32 pixels, if the hardware is up to the task. Keep in mind that if creating a brickwall.jpg is like 64x64 or 128x128, then the video memory will not be taxed, but if the image goes into 4096x4096 pixels and the surface area is 512x128, then it will consume 64 MB of video memory and you will have wasted memory and space. The best way to solve this problem is to chop the image into pieces (George Geczy, 2001). Sprites are useful if the game developer can smartly use the sprites in games and know the resources of the hardware.

Sunny LandTextures & Material For Unity

Sprites in games are important due to the fact that it brings life to a game and can create a nice illusions to the viewer. One popular game that appeared in the 90’s was Donkey Kong Country that used sprites to create a 2.5 dimensional world. The atmosphere looks stunning and gave the game some depth. The sprites made the game look more colorful and the hardware for the game was a SNES system (which was pushing the limits of the hardware). To achieve this gorgeous game, the game developer created 3d models and then converted to still images. This trick in using sprites convince people that SNES could do 3d images, but in reality it did not (Racketboy.com, 2011). Today’s games has some elements of sprites. For example, in games that involves first person shooting, then explosions and fog will require some sprites to simulate the chaos of debris and mist. However, there are very few games that does not have sprites. For example, there are some games that use wireframes or pure vectors to display images and there are no sprites in the game play. Vib-Ribbon is a good example of 0 sprites in gameplay and relying on wireframes. The gameplay is to doge obstacles that is sync to the music (Verge, 2017). Mostly sprites can be found in health bar, game in hints, Texture packs, fog or mist, debris, game inventory… etc. It’s pretty rare for a game not to have sprites.


The tools to build sprites could be common as using Adobe Photoshop or illustrator. In Adobes website, there is a tutorial in creating a sprite sheet. It’s as simple as 1, 2, and 3!

  1. Select one or more symbols in the Library or symbol instances on the Stage. The selection can also contain bitmaps.
  2. Right-click the selection and choose Generate Sprite Sheet.
  3. In the Generate Sprite Sheet dialog box, select options and then click Export. (Adobe, 2017).

However, it’s a tedious task if the game developer needs to animate the sprites and needs to be perfect. Another tool that reduces sprites size and make the life of the game developer much easier is SpriteUV2. SpriteUV2 is a sprite packer and maker reduces sprites and uses algorithms to reduce space compared to traditional sprite sheets. Even Unity and Unreal game engines has built in sprite managers. For example, in Unreal Engine 4, there is a Sprite Editor that allows to manage and view sprites. Also, there is a tool called “Flipbook” to see the animation. If a game developer does not have the skill to create good looking sprites or animation (like me!) then one way to solve the problem is buying the sprites in a market place such as Gamedevmarket.net. GDM is a market place where artist can sell their creative works at reasonable prices. GDM’s sprites prices range from free to $200.


Gamers have not realized that sprites have evolved and it does not look the sprites that appeared in the 80’s or 90’s. However, all sprites share the same common properties as they are 2d objects. In the end, sprites will never die.



"Create A Sprite Sheet". 2017. Helpx.Adobe.Com. https://helpx.adobe.com/animate/using/create-sprite- sheet.html.

"Gamedev Market | Game Assets For Indie Developers". 2017. Gamedevmarket.Net. https://www.gamedevmarket.net/.

"Games That Pushed The Limits Of The Super Nintendo (SNES) | Retrogaming With Racketboy". Racketboy.com. N.p., 2011. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Geczy, George. "2D Programming In A 3D World". Gamasutra.com. N.p., 2001. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

"Paper 2D Sprites". 2017. Docs.Unrealengine.Com. https://docs.unrealengine.com/latest/INT/Engine/Paper2D/Sprites/.

Sherrod, Allen, and Wendy Jones. Beginning Directx 11 Game Programming. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Course Technology Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

"White Paper: Sparkling Effect". Nvidia. N.p., 2007. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.


Webster, Andrew. "How I Fell In Love With A 15-Year- Old Game About A Dancing Rabbit". TheVerge. N.p., 2014. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

Author: jesueRocha, Jesue Rocha

Oh, I'm the cutest!

Just another programmer/network/security person

Loves technology and retro video games. Likes to program on his spare time and rides a Kawasaki Ninja to the sunset 24/7.