The term “sprite” refers to a graphical element within a two-dimensional game that moves around the screen - often representing a character, powerup, or other actor. The term likely was coined in relation to its older definition - a small fairy creature.

Traditionally, sprites are a part of two-dimensional games, and are a raster graphic (one composed of a regular grid of pixels, aka a bitmap). As the sprites are simply an array of bits representing pixels, and the scene being presented on screen is also just an array of bits representing pixels, we can place a sprite on-screen by simply copying its bits into the right location.

Hardware Sprites

The earliest implementations of sprites did this by substituting the sprite bits for background image bits as the bits were streamed to the screen as part of an analog frame signal. This was done by specialized hardware that supported a limited number of sprites (hence the name hardware sprites).

Bit Blitting

Later games used bit blitting (an abbreviation for bit-boundary block transfer), a technique for copying a smaller bit array into a larger one. Early graphics hardware implemented bit blitting as a hardware instruction, meaning it could be performed very fast, provided the sprite was drawn to scale.

Textured Quads

Modern games (and MonoGame) often use the 3D hardware to render sprites, which means they are represented as textured quads. A textured quad is essentially a rectangle composed of two triangles that always faces the screen.

While it is more complex than traditional sprites, there are several benefits to this approach:

  1. It is far easier to scale sprites composed as textured quads than bit-blitted sprites (and scaling is impossible with most hardware sprites)
  2. Textured Quad sprites can be rotated to an arbitrary angle using the graphics hardware. Bit-blitted sprites could only be flipped (mirrored) in the X or Y direction, true rotations required additional sprite images drawn from the desired angle
  3. Textured Quad sprites can take advantage of the Z-buffer to do depth sorting. Traditional bit-blitted sprites had to be drawn using the painters algorithm or similar techniques to ensure proper layering.
  4. Textured sprites are rendered using shader programs on the graphics card, so many unique effects can be applied to them.

In this chapter, we’ll examine how the MonoGame implementation of textured quads works.