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Pixel Spaceships

NOTE July 2014:

This page has been restored from my old defunct site circa 2006 - not all links will work. Also, regarding licensing - consider the code and algorithm below as public domain, do with them as you please. Certain "creative" output images I do retain copyright to.. just don't try to duplicate my "artistic" aspects and you'll be fine using it however you like to generate the individual "sprites". There are plenty of opportunities to clean up and otherwise improve the code as given below, so be my guest. If you publish a modified version and would like to include a "based on" or "inspired by" that's fine. Or don't, go ahead and claim it's your own original idea, and I still won't care (though of course I'll know otherwise :-p ). Also, please refrain from naming any derivative works "Pixel Spaceships", as that's MY name - surely the least you can do is come up with your own name! Enjoy. :)


Pixel Spaceships harken back to the olden days of video game sprites in the era of the Apple ][, MS-DOS, font-based graphics and monochrome monitors. They are algorithmically generated in the millions by combinatorial methods. The algorithm is explained in more detail below and is an outgrowth of the algorithm used for the Pixel Robots.

Pixel Spaceships Samples


The demo applet uses a random box fitting strategy to fill the image with colored spaceships of varying sizes.

Launch Applet


(much of this description is just borrowed from Pixel Robots and modifed as appropriate)

The spaceships are generated within a grid of cells that is 12 columns wide by 12 rows tall. Each cell may be either on (black) or off (white). Without any further constraints this would allow for 2^144 combinations - a monstrously ridiculously impossibly huge number.

Unfortunately, most of those combinations are not "interesting" in the context of this project. So the cells are constrained in several ways to limit the total number of combinations while focusing in on those that produce interesting spaceship shapes.

The first constraint imposed is that the cells must be horizontally symetrical. This reduces the effective grid size to 6x12 cells, reducing the number of combinations to 2^72, which is still impossibly huge.

Pixel Spaceships Algorithm

The second constraint imposed comes about after flipping the problem on it's head. Instead of asking which cells to turn on in order to create spaceship shapes (which is a non-trivial problem) the question becomes which cells to avoid turning on because they constitute the "interior" of the ship. Then once the interior is defined, simply draw an outline around it, thus producing the desired spaceship-like shapes.

In the end, 32 cells are directly controlled, allowing 2^32, about 4 billion, unique spaceships. A single 32-bit number is used to control the shape of the spaceship, with 26 bits controlling the main body portion, and the remaining 6 bits controlling the cockpit area.

Pixel Spaceships Mono

Or, if you prefer color, here are some more...

Pixel Spaceships Color

Or, if you want LOTS of them, here are 7500 more in wallpaper form...

Pixel Spaceships Wallpaper

color 1600x1200
.png 967k

Further Exploration

For now, just see Pixel Robots and let that suggest possible ways that various 32-bit values might encode for specific spaceships, and vice versa.

There's a "Galaxian" or "Phoenix" clone just waiting to be born from this work. :-D

And here's a sneak peek at a higher resolution version I'm working on:

Pixel Spaceships 24x32

Creative Commons License

© 2006 Dave Bollinger