Truecolor graphics in Allegro

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Author: Shawn Hargreaves
Created: Sun Feb 14 10:58:38 1999

Overview of the differences between 256 color and hi/truecolor graphics modes in Allegro.

(1998 comment: I wrote this back when Allegro 3.0 was just going into
beta, for the benefit of people who were used to the old 256 color
functions and just wanted to know what was different about the new
truecolor modes. If the wording sometimes seems a little strange,
that is why: it was written to explain some new features to
experienced users, rather than as a tutorial for beginners. But it
can probably serve in either role, which is why it still exists

Well, here it is. Lots of new graphics code, millions of additional
colors, and the end to those pesky eight bit paletted images. There
aren't actually very many new functions, though: it is more a matter
of the old routines working in slightly different ways. Details can
of course be found in the main library documentation, but I thought
this guide might be useful as a quick-start for people who are
already familar with the 256 color API, and simply need to know what
is different in a truecolor mode. So, how do you go about using a
truecolor resolution?

-------- SHORT ANSWER --------

Call set_color_depth() before set_gfx_mode().

-------- MEDIUM ANSWER --------

Call set_color_depth() at the start of your program (before
set_gfx_mode(), and before you read in any bitmap data from the

Use the makecol() function (or makecol15(), makecol16(), etc, if you
know for certain what color depth you will be using), to convert
color values from red, green, and blue intensities into the format
being used by the video hardware, and then pass the resulting integer
color to any of the drawing functions.

Use magenta (maximum red and blue, zero green) instead of zero as a
marker for masked pixels.

-------- LONG ANSWER --------

As well as the standard 8 bit paletted mode, Allegro now supports 15
and 16 bit hicolor and 24 and 32 bit truecolor resolutions. In the 15
bit modes, there are 5 bits each of red, green, and blue, and one
unused bit to pad out the size of each pixel. In a 16 bit mode there
are 5 bits of red and blue and 6 bits of green. In 24 bit modes each
pixel is three bytes, one each of red, green, and blue (this tends to
slow things down quite a bit due to bad data alignments!), and 32 bit
modes are the same as 24 bit ones but with an extra spare byte per
pixel to keep things nicely aligned.

Which modes you can use will depend on your graphics card and VESA
driver. Most cards support both 15 and 16 bit resolutions, but if at
all possible I would advise you to support both (it's not hard...) in
case one is not available. Some cards support both 24 and 32 bit
truecolor, in which case it is a choice between 24 (saves memory) or
32 (faster), but many older cards don't have any 32 bit mode and many
newer ones don't support 24 bits. As to what screen sizes you can
use, most cards will support all the standard SVGA resolutions, and
with UniVBE you may also get some lowres truecolor modes like
320x200, 320x240, etc. On a card with one meg of video RAM you will
be able to use 640x480 hicolor modes, and also 800x600 if you have a
linear framebuffer. With two meg of video RAM you will be able to use
640x480 hicolor with two pages, 800x600 hicolor (two pages if you
have a linear framebuffer), and 1024x768 hicolor, plus 640x480
truecolor (also 800x600 truecolor if you have a linear framebuffer).
With four meg of video RAM just about  anything is possible :-)

Allegro maintains a global color depth setting, which can be changed
by calling set_color_depth(newdepth). This does nothing in itself,
but it affects all subsequent calls to set_gfx_mode(),
create_bitmap(), and any of the bitmap or datafile loading commands,
so typically you will use it once at the start of your program to
specify which color depth you would like to work in.

All truecolor pixel values are passed to the drawing functions as
regular ints, just as in eight bit modes. How the individual color
bits are layed out within these pixels can vary depending on the
resolution, though, so you should avoid hardcoding any bit patterns
into your program (other than zero as black and all ones as white).
Instead, use the makecol() function to pack red, green, and blue
values (range 0-255) into the correct format for the current color
depth, or the faster versions makecol15(), makecol16(), etc, if you
know for sure what color depth you are using. Use getr(), getg(), and
getb(), or the faster getr15(), getr16(), etc, to extract the
individual color components from a pixel value. All of these
functions depend on knowing how the color bits are layed out (RGB or
BGR format), which isn't detected until after you call
set_gfx_mode(), so you should always select the video mode before
using these routines.

Bitmap objects can be read in from datafiles (any color depth), .PCX
files (8 or 24 bit color), .BMP files (8 or 24 bit color), .LBM files
(8 bit color), and TGA files (8, 15, or 24 bit color). By default the
data will be converted into the current color depth format, but you
can request it to be left in the original form by calling the
set_color_conversion() function. The image loader routines need to
know what pixel format your display hardware is using, so you must
set the video mode before reading in any graphics (if you load the
images while still in text mode, your program will be prone to
obscure bugs with colors being displayed wrongly on certain graphics
cards). If you use any compiled datafiles containing truecolor
graphics, you should call the function fixup_datafile() after you set
the screen mode, to make sure the data is in the correct format.

For marking transparent pixels in sprites, zero cannot be used in
truecolor modes, because unlike a 256 color paletted image it is
required for storing black pixels. Instead, Allegro uses bright pink
(maximum red and blue, zero green). You can obtain this value by
calling makecol(0xFF, 0, 0xFF), or using the constants for specific
color depths, MASK_COLOR_8, MASK_COLOR_15, MASK_COLOR_16, etc, or if
you want to know the transparent color for a specific bitmap, use

In general, Allegro is designed to be used in only one color depth at
a time, so you will call set_color_depth() once and then store all
your bitmaps in the same format. If you want to mix several different
pixel formats, you can use create_bitmap_ex() in place of
create_bitmap(), and call bitmap_color_depth() to query the format of
a specific image. Most of the graphics routines require all their
input parameters to be in the same format (eg. you cannot stretch a
15 bit source bitmap onto a 24 bit destination), but there are three
exceptions: blit() can copy between bitmaps of any format, converting
the data as required, draw_sprite() can draw 256 color source images
onto destinations of any format, and draw_character() _always_ uses a
256 color source bitmap, whatever the format of the destination.
Expanding a 256 color source onto a truecolor destination is fairly
fast (obviously you must set the correct palette before doing this
conversion!). Converting between different truecolor formats is
slightly slower, and reducing truecolor images to a 256 color
destination is very slow (it can be sped up significantly if you set
up the global rgb_map table before doing the conversion).

There are no hardware palettes in truecolor modes, so the palette
fading functions no longer work. You can still call set_palette(),
though, to specifiy what palette should be used when converting
bitmaps between 256 and truecolor formats. There is a global array
called palette_color[] which lists the values of every entry in the
palette, in the correct format for the current video mode. So if you
are in a truecolor mode and want to draw a line using color #3 from
the current palette, pass palette_color[3] as the color parameter to
the line() function.

Translucency works totally differently in truecolor modes: the
color_map table is no longer used. Instead, you must call
set_blender_mode() or set_trans_blender() before drawing any lit or
translucent objects.

If you want to access the contents of a truecolor bitmap directly,
you can use the bmp->line[] table or the bmp_write_line() function
just as you would in a 256 color mode. In a 15 or 16 bit mode you
must cast the line pointer to an (unsigned short *) before you
dereference it, or use the _farpokew() function, and in 32 bit modes
you must cast the pointer to an (unsigned long *) or use _farpokel().
In 24 bit modes a pixel consists of three bytes, which makes
accessing it rather more of a pain: you could use three consecutive
writes into the 8 bit line data, or cast and use one write to a short
and another to the single extra byte.

The _putpixel() and _getpixel() inline functions only work in 256
color modes. All the other graphics functions will work in any mode.

If you want to use the GUI routines in a truecolor mode, you must set
the global variables gui_fg_color, gui_mg_color, and gui_bg_color to
sensible values (as returned by the makecol() function, typically
black, grey, and white respectively).

I hope somebody will find this document useful, because otherwise I
just wasted my entire morning writing it :-) Send any comments,
questions, problems, etc, to

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