Understanding Tilesets: Benefits, Types, and Planning for Game Environments

What are Tilesets? ​What are the advantages of using tiles when designing a game?​ How to plan the tiles for game environment? What software to use?

Creating game environments that are engaging and look great is essential for keeping players interested. There are several approaches to creating a 2D game environment, each with strengths. The approaches include hand-drawn backgrounds, parallax scrolling, and procedurally generated environments. One of the most popular methods is using tile sets.

tilesets in game design

What are Tilesets?

Tilesets are collections of small, reusable images called “tiles” arranged in a grid. Each tile represents a small part of the game world. A tile can represent a piece of ground, a segment of a wall, or a decoration. By arranging tiles in different combinations, detailed environments can be created quickly and efficiently.

What are the Advantages of Using Tilesets?

Using tiles for level design is particularly well-suited for games that require consistent, modular environments. Tilesets enable the creation of large environments with no need to draw every detail separately. Since the same tiles are used throughout different parts of the game, it ensures a consistent visual style. Tilesets simplify the design process. Tiles make it easy to modify the environment layout. Tiles can be moved around, new ones added, or old ones replaced without the need to redraw entire scenes.

Popular Games Featuring Environments Crafted from Tilesets Include:

The ground, pipes, blocks, and background elements are all made from tiles that fit together seamlessly. One of the key strengths of the tilesets in “Super Mario Bros.” is their versatility. The same tiles can be rearranged and combined in countless ways to create new and engaging level designs.
Besides shaping the visual aspects of the game, tilesets also influence gameplay in “Super Mario Bros.” Different tiles have distinct properties and behaviors. Touching specific tiles affects Mario’s movement and interactions. For example, certain tiles may be solid platforms that Mario can stand on, while others may be breakable blocks or dangerous obstacles.
Each environment is built from tiles that include grass, water, trees, and various structures.

Understanding Tile Types

There are three main types of tiles commonly used in game design:
modular terrain tiles environment
Ground tiles make up the base of the game world, showing different terrain for players to walk on.
Common ground tile types include:
Lush, green surfaces
Earthy, brown tiles
Light-colored, grainy tiles
Hard, rocky surfaces
White, icy surfaces
Grey, solid surfaces
Brown, plank-like surfaces
Shiny, reflective surfaces
Bright, glowing tiles
Object tiles represent interactive or static elements within the game world. Object tiles add detail and interactivity to the environment. 
Common object tile types include:
object tiles for tile based isometric game
Decorative tiles add flair and personality to the game world. These tiles include elements that contribute to the ambiance and atmosphere of the environment.
Common decorative tile types include:
modular decorative tiles for game environment
While ground, object, and decorative tiles are the primary types commonly used in game design, other specialized types may be utilized depending on the specific requirements of the game. Here are a few additional types of tiles:
These tiles trigger specific actions or events when the player interacts with them. For example, stepping on a switch tile may open a door, while touching a teleporter tile may transport the player to a different location.
Common interactive tile types include:

These tiles cause harm or negative effects on the player. They can be used to create challenging environments, protect valuable areas, or simply increase the difficulty of certain levels.

Used to create various types of water bodies. Water tiles add depth, realism, and complexity to game environments.
Common water tile types include:
Weather tiles are used to simulate different atmospheric conditions in a game. These tiles can change dynamically or be set to specific regions. Weather effects can be purely aesthetic, or they can have tangible effects on gameplay. Weather conditions can affect movement speed, visibility, and more.
Common weather tile types include:
Transition tiles bridge the gap between different terrains or levels in a game. Crucial for creating a cohesive and visually appealing game world.
Examples of trasnition tiles:

Planning Your Tileset

After the decision about the concept and theme is made, you can start planning how the game environment will look like.
The first step of the tile set planning phase consists of identifying the necessary tiles for various elements. 
Start by identifying the essential tiles needed to create a game environment. Decide what type of ground tiles will be used. What interactive elements, objects, and props will fill the environment? Think about elements that can add detail and enhance the visual richness. What type of interactive elements will be included? Obstacles?

Tile Size and Grid Alignment

Tile Size:
modular terrain tiles environment
Determine the size of your tiles based on the scale of your game environment and the level of detail you want to achieve. The chosen tile size determines the level of detail that can be achieved within the game environment. The larger the tile size, the fewer tiles you need to cover the screen. Larger tile sizes can lead to a more repetitive-looking environment. Small tile sizes are more suited for pixel art style.
Tile Variations:
Depending on how your game looks and how detailed you want it to be, you might need to make different versions of some tiles. Adding variations can save the game from looking too repetitive and make it more interesting to look at. 

Modular design allows for more flexibility and creativity when constructing levels. Design tiles with the ability to be easily rearranged, to construct a wide range of environments. Design tiles that smoothly transition between different types of terrain. This helps create more natural and visually pleasing environments.

Tools and Software for Designing Tilesets

Creating a complete tileset typically requires both design software and a tile editor. Design Software is for creating individual tiles. A tile editor tool to assemble and organize the tiles into a cohesive set. While it’s possible to create a tileset using only design software, using a dedicated tile editor tool can greatly simplify the process.
drawing tile art uisng grid system

Efficient Tile Organization for Enhanced Performance

Efficiently organizing tiles within a tileset image is a key factor in optimizing game performance. During the rendering process, the game engine loads textures (tiles) from memory. Each time a new texture is needed, a texture swap occurs. This process can be resource intensive and slow down performance.
How to Organize Tiles Efficiently?
Group Similar
Place tiles that are likely to be used together in the same area of the tileset. Try to mirror the tile used in the game world. For instance, if certain tiles often appear adjacent to each other in levels, place them next to each other in the tileset.
Power of Two
Ensure your tileset dimensions are powers of two (e.g., 256×256, 512×512). Many graphics hardware and engines are optimized for these sizes. Avoid leaving large gaps or unused spaces in your tileset. A compact layout maximizes the use of available texture space and minimizes the overall texture size.
Texture Packer Tools:
These tools can automatically arrange your tiles into a single image, known as a texture atlas. That can significantly reduce texture swapping and improve rendering speeds.
Ensure the export settings are configured to match your game engine’s requirements.
Popular Texture Packing Tools:


Game creators need to understand tilesets well to make their game worlds feel real and work smoothly. Now, after we’ve explored the benefits, types, planning considerations, and efficient organization of tilesets, it is time to start drawing some tiles. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will go through the process of creating your tilesets, with plenty of examples, insider tips, and some helpful templates.
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