A block of graphic data used in a game.

In many older games where the objects are larger than the size of the system's hardware sprites or program engine's sprites, multiple tiles are loaded into memory and arranged by the game's programming to make the complete graphic. These usually square blocks were often in sizes like 8, 16 or 32 pixels, according to the size of the hardware sprites.

ROM storage space was limited, especially until the late 1990s, so graphics usually designed to fit right inside these tiles with very little wasting of space, often with jigsaw like results. If you ever used the buggy old Game Genie boss codes for the original Street Fighter II for SNES and saw sprites that glitched, jumbled sprites, you were seeing incorrectly assembled sprite tiles. Speaking of Street Fighter II, this CFN interview with Akira Nishitani, Akira 'Akiman' Yasuda and other Capcom staff at that time mention the difficulties of getting Final Fight's graphics to fit in the ROM. It even shows some Dhalsim sprite line art drawn on graph paper, cut and arranged to how they'll fit as tiles in the ROM.

Tiles also allow for the easy customization of sprites by just making alternate tiles for extra heads (a.k.a. headswap), clothing or weapons instead of having to use completely new sprite sets to add a character. Along with changing the colors (palette swapping), game makers could add a bit more variety to the game without taking up much more space in the ROM.

BTW: thanks to Enargy and Delition_Hikari for the helpful feedback that made the street tile demo MUCH better!
Related Terms: head swap palette swap

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