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Transform Your Photos Into 1990s Sierra Games

Because your selfies aren’t that attractive anyway.

I was supposed to be writing this story 30 minutes ago, but then I got caught up playing with an app that I was supposed to be just “testing.”

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The app is called Belowrez (and it’s free). By Adam Mathes, Belowrez is basically a pixel filter, a way to scrub out all the fidelity from your fancy iPhone camera and replace it with fat blocks of color.

“I’ve always wanted to create photography that evoked the look of 80’s/90’s PC adventure games. Especially some of the later Sierra ones that started to use a bit more photo-realistic imagery like Police Quest 3,” Mathes tells me. “We didn’t really have access to digital cameras back in the days when 16/256 color and low resolution was the standard, so viewing the world through that lens today can be quite interesting.”

Maybe my love for Belowrez stems from my passion for Police Quest (along King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and all of those early ’90s point-and-click adventures that kept me indoors as a child, countering the lack of sun with carton after carton of vitamin-D-fortified milk. And indeed, watching as a complex landscape is simplified into a handful of bits, I have a new appreciation for how much those early digital artists implied through so little.

Even so, to pin Belowrez’s appeal to mere nostalgia would diminish its more intrinsic relevance. Whereas most of us use faux-analog retro filters to spruce up our Instagram feed, Belowrez uses a more earnest digital simplification to augment a photo.

“Pixel art and low-resolution photography are authentically digital in a way that “lo-fi” filters simulating old analog cameras and film effects are not,” Mathes writes. “As technology and digital photography becomes ever-present in our lives and high-resolution displays reach the maximum level of what the human eye can view, pixel photography that exposes the underlying digital nature and representation becomes an artistic statement in itself.”

Of course, it helps that Belowrez is pretty deftly made, powered by a simple, ingenious gesture driving the experience. You just pinch to pixelate.

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“I’d love to take credit for this because it *is* brilliant, but my original version had a terrible slider to change pixel size,” Mathes tells me. “One of the beta testers, Mark Christian dm’ed me. ‘Idea: pinch to zoom to control pixellation level. *drops mic, walks away*’. And now anything else seems broken in comparison.”

Download it here.

[Hat tip: Prosthetic Knowledge]

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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