Pokémon Palette Backgrounds in Generation III

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In Generation III, all Pokémon have a 64x64 sprite, using a 16-color palette. However, not all of these colors can be seen in-game, since the first color slot is always treated as "transparent". I will call this transparent color the "background color" since it is cut out and replaced by a background in-game. But even as the color is removed, it is still fully modeled, and stored, with the rest of the palette. This means the background color is not some notion of "transparent" like in a gif; when you extract the palettes the it is just as opaque as the 15 other colors used. If you've ever used a ROM-hacking tool such as Pokémon Suite or unLZ-GBA you will have noticed this, but also that not all Pokémon have the same background color.
But the background colors are not random either, many Pokémon use the same background colors. This implies the background colors are not completely arbitrary.

In Pokémon Ruby (and Sapphire, English version) all Pokémon sprites can be divided into 29 groups depending on their background colors, 28 groups where two or more Pokémon share the same background color, and a wastebasket group for all those with unique background colors. The largest of these groups has 110 Pokémon in it, while only 69 Pokémon belong to the wastebasket group.

My hypothesis is that the background colors are what the sprite artists used in their image-editing programs, as the background color there. If this is true, it could mean different sprite artists are behind the sprites of the Pokémon in the different groups. However, multiple sprite artists could use the same background color, leading to sprites in the same group, and the same sprite artist could also change their background colors up, changing the group.
It's worth noting many, but not all, Pokémon families have all their members in the same group. The rest of the palettes of same-family Pokémon also tend to be similar, so I have included them in the images below. The groups are ordered according to their size, except for the wastebasket group AC which is at the end.

The groups:

Group A is by far the largest group, with 110 members. Most of them are Gen II Pokémon (and most Gen II Pokémon are in this group), though there are also the Gen I starters (except Charizard), and some from Gen III.

Group B is the second largest (non-wastebasket), with 30 members. A blend of Gen I and II + Snorunt (Glalie was in Group A).

Group C is the third largest, with 29 members. Only ones from Gen I, notably all three of the legendary birds.

Group D has 20 members (as do E and F). Only ones from Gen III, notably some starters and legendary Pokémon. The background color here is green, in contrast to the beiges of previous groups.

Group E has 20 members. Only ones from Gen I.

Group F has 20 members. Mostly from Gen I, but also Skitty and Mawile.

Group G has 15 members. Only ones from Gen I.

Group H has 10 members. Mostly ones from Gen III, but also Gastly. There are a few lines (Surskit-Masquerain, Baltoy-Claydol) but as many off-hand Pokémon.

Group I has 8 members. Only ones from Gen III.

Group J has 8 members. Only ones from Gen I.

Group K has 5 members. Only ones from Gen III.

Group L has 5 members. The Psyduck family, the Grimer family, and Breloom for some reason.

Group M has 3 members: Golem, Poochyena, and Jirachi.

Group N has 3 members: the Aron family.

Group O has 3 members: the Ralts family.

Group P has 3 members: Pikachu, Mr. Mime, and Suicune. Raichu is in group B and the other legendary beasts in A.

Group Q has 3 members: Dodrio, Krabby, and Scyther. Doduo is in group X, Kingler in C, and Scizor in A.

Group R has 2 members: Treecko and Sceptile. Grovyle is in the wastebasket group AC.

Group S has 2 members: the Taillow family.

Group T has 2 members: Nincada and Ninjask. Shedinja is in group D.

Group U has 2 members: The Barboach family.

Group V has 2 members: Wurmple and Manectric. Silcoon and Cascoon are in group W, Beautifly and Dustox in the wastebasket group AC, and Electrike in AC too.

Group W has 2 members: Silcoon and Cascoon. See group V.

Group X has 2 members: Slowbro and Doduo. Slowpoke is in group F, Slowking in A, and Dodrio in Q.

Group Y has 2 members: Nidoran♀ and Omanyte. The other Nidos are spread out, Omastar is in group Z.

Group Z has 2 members: Omastar and Lugia. The grouping of these two can only mean one thing (praise Helix!).

Group AA has 2 members: Abra and Weepinbell. Kadabra and Alakazam are in group G, Bellsprout and Victreebel in E.

Group AB has 2 members: the Cacnea family.

Finally, group AC is the wastebasket group, with Pokémon that have unique background colors. It has 69 members. There are many legendary Pokémon in this group, but also several families such as the Slakoth and Spheal families, where each member has its own background color.

I was inspired in making this "article" by the works of the Helix Chamber team, who have thoroughly researched the Generation I games, their 5-part dive into the internal Pokémon list using Pokémon cry patterns is a tremendous read. If you haven't already, check them out! Though I am not sure this article has enough analysis to even compare, rather it is a dump of information wishing for someone to analyze. Maybe that someone is me in the future, otherwise, good luck!

Originally written by Voliol 12022-02-28, HE.