The FLC Format, akin to the GIF

19/07/2017   /   bySebastian  / Categories :  1990s, Animations, Hamumu

This is an old post that was initially posted on the very first variant of the Ninja Doggy Inc website as a tutorial for those who wanted to know more about the out-dated FLC format in conjunction with the animation files for the game Dr. Lunatic Supreme With Cheese.

Basics

An animation can tell a thousand pictures, is the favourite saying. Animations in computers have generally made it easier to represent certain things, and do demonstrations easier with graphics, rather than taking pictures, editing them, cropping, and so forth. The main advantage with such media is that you can store them in fewer hard disk space then a video, can change their properties, switch frames and edit them with relative ease. While they may be more labour intensive, they offer a cheaper and often freer alternative to taking videos.

Animations are available in a wide variety of formats such GIF, SWF and so forth. But why are there so many formats out there? The answer may be as follows… Different formats are created for different types of images. Some variants compress data better than others, for instance. They may be created for running on DVD players, but chances are, you may not be able to upload the video files from your DVD and run it on the internet, so a format which is suitable for web pages will have to be created.

Moreover, there are a few types of image qualities; raster, vector and raw. BMPs, FLICs, TIFFs and ICOs are just a handful out of dozens of formats which use raster graphics. Raster is a matrix which represents a rectangular grid of pixels, ever wondered why those developers who created tiles for Supreme, who used BMPs, had their image size always at 640 (width) x 480 (height) pixels?

A Matrix is a rectangular array of numbers, symbols, expressions, or in this case, pixels, arranged in rows and columns.

But there are always pros and cons. No matter where you are in the universe, there is always something wrong. Raster generally has an extensive colour palette, and is used for designing very lush and rich images. But, once you draw those pixels, or save a work in such a format, it’s difficult to modify. It’s set in stone. In other words, raster is rigid non-scalable. It often looks very pixelised when a graphic is enlarged or decreased in size. Often, if an image was done by hand, and you desire to change one of the aspects of it such as the small leaves in a nature-related artwork, you would have to edit certain parts of the picture for it to look aesthetic or realistic.

Tools for designing raster images: The standard Windows Paint program, RasterVect, and if you are really bothered to do this, Old MS-DOS programs (or GIMP).

WMFs, CDRs, XARs, SVGs are instances of formats which use vector graphics. They have an excellent advantage over raster, in which they are scalable and do not appear to be pixelised when modified in relation to their proportions. Vector uses points, lines, shapes, and polygons, which are based on mathematical expressions, to construct an image. Thus the higher quality, but lower file size. The general advantage to vectors is that you can scale an image to whatever width and length without worrying about it becoming ugly. The disadvantage is simply that the colour range of the palette is limited compared to raster files. Vector graphics usually only utilise solid colours.

Tools for designing vector graphics: Inkscape, GIMP, PAINT.NET, and PENCIL.

The raw format is typically found in cameras. Being a lossless format, it can be developed further into a sharper image but its relevance to animations is negligible and so it will not be covered.

Different formats have different compression rates. A compression ratio is the amount of uncompressed data compared to compressed data of the original file. As an example, if a 10 MB file is compressed into a 2 MB file, the ratio would be read as 10:2, or in reduced terms 5:1. The larger the left side, the higher the performance and the less disk space it requires. However, the cost of doing so is usually quality.

History and Properties

The FLC/FLI animation formats were created by Autodesk INC, now a multinational North American software corporation that specialises in three-dimensional modelling applications for personal-use and industrial purposes. These files were initially developed to be utilised during the 1990s exclusively by Autodesk Animator Pro, or simply Autodesk. FLI came first, and had a resolution of 320×240. Quite small, but perfect for computers decades ago. Though it had a low compression ratio. In modern times it is obsolete.

Screenshot of Autodesk Animator

FLC came later, and had a greater resolution of 640×480 as well as a better compression ratio. The FLI/FLC originates from the FLIC compiler and EGI too. These formats were programmed to handle raster graphics, which would explain why they are comprised mostly of BMPs. Unfortunately they were not constructed to hold sound, only video.

The FLC file was designed to be encoded into websites at that time, perhaps much easier than trying to upload a video file. It’s similar to the GIF, but more limited in its colour palette. To conclude, the aforementioned animation formats are strings of images compiled together and played back at speeds of commonly 30 frames per second with an optional cap at the end to halt the playback.

Tools for designing an FLC file: GIMP, DISPLAY (MS-DOS Program), Autodesk Animator Pro and EGI.

In Conjunction with Dr. Lunatic Supreme With Cheese

Now we move on to making the FLC file. It can be rather tedious to develop since it’s raster, and the tools available are limited. The common operation to create such an animation is to have a set of images pre-prepared and compile them in sequence to generate the finished product. One tool that comes to mind where frames can be drawn on the fly is Aseprite, http://www.aseprite.org/

Please note that the speed of the FLC file is 30 frames per second, so to equate to one second thirty frames will have to be added in sequence. For this, you would have to save each frame individually with a successive number at the end of the filename, as Aesprite does not convert to FLI/FLC. If you are feeling adventurous you can download GIMP (highly recommended choice), complete each frame individually within the program and export it as an FLI/FLC. Though, remember to manually add the proper extension at the end which is .FLC.

Here is the tutorial’s page for GIMP, http://www.gimp.org/tutorials/. Keep note that the resolution must be 640×480, preferably in the BMP-256 format but BMP-24 seems to work just fine.

Implementing your FLC file into Dr Lunatic Supreme With Cheese is simple. First, find the directory, copy and paste your FLC file(s) into the User folder, open the game, enter the editor, create a SPECIAL, add the trigger, and in the effects section, find “Show Pic/Movie”, click on it, click on the tab, find your file and you are set to go. However, if you try to run an FLI file it will loop continuously often leading to a crash.

Alas, there is a problem, and I bet you already know this. Where is the sound? As mentioned before, the FLC isn’t designed to have sound, so how do you bypass this in the editor for Supreme? You have to create a separate audio track for it. Dr. L. S.W.C. only accepts OGGs for its music and WAV for its sound. Thereby, WAV would most likely be the preferred audio format. As a recommended tool, Audacity would be the best as its simple to use and free.

With the WAV file, it must be copied and pasted it into the User folder similar to the FLC animation file. Jumping into the sound editor in Dr. L SWC, there are two options available. Add an effect in the same SPECIAL (Play Custom Sound), or have a different SPECIAL which plays at the same time. This can be frustrating as the audio may not execute of a common glitch in the game or you have it in the wrong order. To be safe, have the sound initiate first, and then have the FLC run immediately after. The difference is only a split second.

With acknowledgement to Mike Hommel of Hamumu Software. A segment of one of the FLC files found in the game with reduced playback speed.

Further Reading?

The technical guide on the related FLIC format (not suggested for light reading): http://bespin.org/~qz/pc-gpe/fli.for

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