A look at compressed game video formats

In order to distract myself from the thoughts why most politicians have their heads so deep in their asses that French ones out of all people seem to be the bravest, and what can I do to help destroying russia beside regular donations, here’s a post about completely unrelated REing work.

Since I had nothing better to do, I looked at the format use in Azrael’s Tear game and re-visited Talisman game. And while one of them is a 3D game from a British developer and another one is a 2D game from a German one, the cutscene formats used there have more in common than one would suspect (and their design distinguishes them from the majority of the formats).

It is common for various game formats to represent frames as small blocks with motion compensation or raw data, but I can’t remember any other such format that would use data compression on container level instead of it being a part of e.g. video data compression (of course there’s Ogg Matroska that implements such feature, but beside it I can’t think of any format doing that). In both of these formats (with not so creative extensions ANI and MOV) static Huffman compression is employed to compress several chunks of different data type. In ANI (used in Talisman game) data is split into groups of frames that start with a chunk defining which one of the predefined Huffman trees should be used to pack them all and to what symbols the codes should be assigned. In MOV (used in the other game, naturally) audio and video frame blocks are grouped into larger chunks and those chunks may be optionally compressed using static Huffman tree transmitted in the beginning of chunk payload.

ANI format features another peculiarity: there are other codecs that use motion compensation plus rotation (like formats from Cryo Interactive IIRC) but I can’t think about any other format that performs motion compensation and replaces one of the pixels in a block with a new value. Of course it is not a revolutionary idea but I haven’t seen it implemented like that before.

And that’s why I like those old game formats: they may be not the most effective ones but they contain more originality than the modern formats. The main problem is finding such a format—there are too many games released (which are also sometimes too hard to find) and the majority of them uses FLIC or Smacker anyway (or Cinepak in AVI or MOV for newer ones). But sometimes I encounter a mention of a game in some review and get lucky. I hope such finds happen more often though…

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