Portrait of a white–furred, black–haired, blue–sweater wearing dog creature with a happy expression and perky ears.

Sue Sakomotem

As a disclaimer, the original artist is unknown. I'm sorry we can't indulge in more of their work.

There was a short visual novel called Tem Dayting Sym that I reviewed way back in the day, if two months ago is "back in the day", in that blissful period of time where I could write any old thing that came to mind, package it altogether, bosh, and then people loved me for it. I guess that sums up how that particular novel came together, considering how unexpectedly incredible it turned out to be. An absurd yet never nonsensical parody of everything the original Temmies represented, topped off with some easy feels and one of the most hilarious riffs on anime I've ever seen. It's a hidden gem; damn right I support it.

I talked a lot of shit about Undertale during the course of the Froghand blog. About how it had an idiot plot, its level design was amateurish, it pandered to the worst cultures of the Web, its characters existed as setpieces and nothing else, having a "quirky" tone that wasn't funny at all and made the dramatic parts of the game cringeworthy… and yet I can't hate it. It's hard to hate a game that has such talented fans.

You see it all over the place on the Web. Well, I see it — you just look at YouTube thumbnails and dismiss the idea that the amorphous blob that is video game fandoms couldn't possibly produce something quality, when the blob stops talking about ethics in video game journalism or whatever the hate mob is going on about. Experience has taught us that wading through hordes of shit makes the reward of finding a hidden gem even more worth it. What experience doesn't tell you is that the Undertale fans actually don't have that much shit at all. Even the porn isn't too bad; I'm especially a fan of "Under her Tail: A XXX Parody".

Now that the hype has been transferred from Undertale to Overwatch, which will then be transferred to Team Fabulous 3 when Valve decides to make a game instead of addicting millions of teenage boys because gamers are a fickle bunch whose attention span is equal to how long it takes to download a video game they'll play for an hour and then forget about for six months, I can safely wade through the archives of e926 and enjoy whatever presents were left for me on the two–year–long journey to try to forget about Undertale just enough for me to be able to appraise its impact without me sounding like a bint…

…but you probably already knew how big it was. The reason I chose this piece isn't just because it combined the best portions of two tangentially related indie games (innocent white–furred dog–things are my weakness), but also because of how uncontroversially ugly the original image was. The pixels aren't square dimensions, it's poorly–cropped, the colour palette shows no discipline, it's a bit complicated, and there's not enough contrast. These would have been acceptable, if unprofessional, faults, if not for the biggest cardinal sin you can commit: saving pixel art as a JPEG.

How it's made:

The original was inoperable; the usual methods failed. Indexing the colours lead to too many stray pixels due to the JPEG algorithm. I couldn't properly downsize it because the pixels were 10×10 instead of the more sensible 8×8. A hack job image scale in an attempt to "squash" the pixels to a factor of 2 resulted in a distorted image with the colours seeping over into entirely different pixels. In essence, the image came dead on arrival, and I had to replace it with one that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike its grandmother.

Yes, drastic times call for drastic measures: a pixel–perfect trace of the reference material in an attempt to apply some sense to the 32kB monster. First I created a palette by estimating how many colours I would need and then copying the hues, then I created a separate layer for each component of the image (such as the sweater, backdrop, hair, face, ears, etc.) and traced just enough of the shape to make it similar, before I could pull a hack job and create a monstrous blob hidden beneath another layer to make using the fill tool easier.

And once I had all the shapes in order, deliberately choosing which artistic principles from the original to ignore (such as the unnecessary shading) and which ones to keep (the soft licorice colours and Tem's innocent bubbliness), I went to work altering and chopping off pixels as necessary to maintain proper perspective, lighting principles, composition (basically what the eye should focus on most of all), and of course making Tem a cutie–boot. Because pixel art is such an exact discipline, where the alteration of even a single pixel can cause a serious eyesore, I make a hell of a lot more edits than you would with traditional painterly work. Of course, I was working on a 64×64 copy, making every mistake, when zoomed in, four times more noticeable.

The important thing to realise with hacking is that you're never gormlessly copying off what the artist drew — you're always thinking about what the original artist intends. This also means fixing the original flaws of the artist, as described above, instead of aping every mistake (in your opinion) without any forethought. Remember: a worthy remake takes the best parts of the original and makes them better, while it takes the worst parts of the original and makes them unnoticeable. Sometimes the flaws are a part of what makes a work great, and it takes a keen mind to discern that.

So I altered some of Tem's anatomy here, keeping elements like Tem's head and hair pretty much unaltered in shape, while making changes to its mouth (the lack of shading meant it had to be obviously catlike), cowlick (original crept against the border too much, looking like a faucet), and ears and frops (made them rounder, creating a more nuanced expression at the cost of unashamed energy). Now, that's just anatomy…

One of the absolute best features of pixel art, besides its killer features of being able to take images and exponentially resize them without any loss in quality while being able to use the incredibly small filesizes to create gorgeous applications that will remain both gorgeous and accessible for decades after, is how few the colours are. Some might call this a limitation, to which I reply: limitations give birth to creativity, give birth to discipline, and give birth to skilled artists. You will quickly find what you considered as a limitation to be one of your greatest strengths.

For instance, being able to change a single colour to another colour also allows you to change the entire mood of the image. So when I brightened up the white, made the blues deeper, and swapped the way the hair was shaded, it was a free action. There was no complicated filter fiddling around like with detailed drawings. I didn't need to lasso–select everything to choose the proper areas to change. I didn't have to worry about destroying my piece. All I did was take one colour square, swap it for another, and the entire dynamic of the piece changes without any fuss at all. Plus, it's reversible — just swap the colours back if you like.

All in all, while the original piece had its fair share of problems, it had enough kindness, creativity, and simplicity to allow me to hack together something great that future generations can enjoy without needing to resort to a work damaged by time. It may not be the most awe–inspiringly spectacular thing, but being able to breath new life into an old image, at a 98% size reduction? That's something worth sharing. That's something worth striving to create.


If you can't handle long articles by the third day, you should rethink whether or not you're really into this type of work. Appreciating art isn't just looking at things; it's hearing what artists have to say about their work, learning the processes that go into its creation, and understanding why it matters. If these topics don't interest you — and I assure you, if you're truly interested, no length of text will stop you — then you should abandon ship now. Or look at the pretty pictures and ignore what makes them pretty. I can't stop you from ignoring.

But seriously though, if criticism isn't your bag, but you still enjoy looking at art, then I encourage you to troll through the gallery and see what you fall in love with. The first step to caring about something is having a sincere interest in it, and it's clear that you have that interest. So I'm not going to stop you from doing what makes you happy; that's why I made this gallery. It makes me happy. What I will say is that, if you want to turn what make you happy into what makes you famous, then you should bone up on the articles once in a while.

Date: 2017–02–03. Size: 500 bytes. Colours: Five.

Upscaled Dimensions: 512×512. Original Dimensions: 64×64.