SimCity 2000, 16-color modes and custom palettes

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The original SimCity 2000 had a strict requirement for an SVGA video card that supported 640×480 resolution with 256 colors. I used to believe that this was an inflexible requirement, but it turns out that the hardware requirements were eased in the Windows version. Not only did it allow the game to run in 16-color modes, but it was also bundled with a special VGA driver developed by Microsoft. This driver enabled modifications to the color palette, just like in the 256-color modes. I was completely unaware of the existence of such a feature until recently.

I wrote a full article about this fascinating discovery:

CGA Color Palettes

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The infamous default 4-color palette with pink, cyan, black and white is probably the first thing that comes to mind when somebody starts to talk about CGA. I previously wrote a post about 16-color modes available for composite monitors but it’s good to add also something about the palettes for RGBI TTL monitors. These started to be used heavily when people stopped using TVs with their IBM PC compatibles.

The CGA palettes were designed for good viewing on NTSC TVs. That’s the reason behind the strange color combinations. The default one can, however, be modified using a video chip register – it replaces pink with red but also disables color burst on the composite output. Such trick was used in many games, but it did nothing on newer cards (EGA/VGA).

CGA also supports changing the color 0 (usually black) to any other color. Several games used this with the default palette to get blue, cyan, pink and white which allowed for better color transitions. Anyway, the easiest way to get more visually appealing games was to use the second palette – red, green, yellow and black.