tile, one of the ceramic products used in building, to which group brick and terra-cotta also belong. The term designates the finished baked clay—the material of a wide variety of units used in architecture and engineering, such as wall slabs or blocks, floor pavings, coverings for roofs, and drainage pipes. In these products the distinction between terra-cotta and tile is often vague, and any small flat slab of ceramic material used for veneering is also called a tile.

The Ancient World

Tile-making evolved from primitive pottery manufacture, and the earliest architectural sites give evidence of the use of tiles. As soon as the art of glazing was discovered, it became possible to use the thin slabs of hard-burned clay, decorated in colors, as a decorative adjunct to architecture. This aesthetic use of tiles as a facing for walls distinguishes them from other ceramic products, such as brick, terra-cotta, and roofing units, which are essentially structural. Colored glazed tiles dated from 4700 B.C. have been found in Egypt.

Ancient ceramics were perfected in Mesopotamia. Large wall surfaces were faced with bas-relief decorations executed in enameled tiles resembling modern bricks in shape, most notably at the palace at Khorsabad (722-705 B.C.) in Assyria, near ancient Nineveh, and the Ishtar Gate (c.7th cent. B.C.) in Babylon. From these regions ancient Persia acquired ceramic techniques for the fine bas-reliefs of animals and archers in the palaces of Susa and Persepolis (5th cent. B.C.).

The earliest tile sewer pipes are those excavated at Crete (c.1800 B.C.). The Greeks also employed tile drains and conduits as well as tiles for roofing. Their architectural ceramics were mostly confined to cornices and cornice adornments and are customarily classed as terra-cotta. The Romans made wide use of floor tiles of various shapes and of floor mosaics, as well as a variety of wall tiles, including a type similar to modern hollow tiles, which were used in bathing establishments for the passage of warm air and smoke and as insulation. Roman tiles received no colored or glazed decoration.

The Islamic World

The Muslim peoples brought tile to its greatest splendor as a decorative medium. In the countries that came under their influence the tradition of a brilliant ceramic art is still active. Muslim architecture is distinguished by the lavish tile incrustations upon the exterior surfaces of walls, domes, and minarets, as well as in rooms, mosques, and patios. The Persians remained masters of tile decoration. Unsurpassed masterpieces of tile design were produced in Persia from the 12th to the 16th cent. Examples are the 15th-century Blue Mosque at Tabriz and numerous structures at Esfahan and Shiraz.

Europe and the Americas

Firmly established by the 11th cent., ceramics became an integral element of architectural decoration in Spain, chiefly for floors and wainscots, their richness exemplified in the Alhambra at Granada. From Spain the art was transmitted not only to Italy and Holland and from there to England, but also into Mexico by the Spanish conquerors. The Spaniards in Mexico developed a distinctive style from the 16th to 18th cent., especially applied in the external decoration of domes.

At Delft, Holland, tile manufacturing began early in the 16th cent., and by 1670 numbers of factories were making the celebrated blue-and-white Delft tiles, which enjoyed great popularity in N Europe and were exported to the American colonies for fireplace facings. In Holland tiles were used to cover large wall spaces in rooms, often being arranged to form complete pictorial murals. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland tiles were used to cover heating stoves as early as the Gothic period and into the 19th cent., and numbers of these, decorated and beautifully executed, still remain. In modern times the vastly increased use for tiles, as in bathrooms, kitchens, and swimming pools and in industrial buildings, has created an extensive tile industry.


See A. A. J. Berendsen, Tiles: A General History (1967); and C. H. de Jongé, Dutch Tiles (1971).

A tile-based game is a game that uses tiles as one of the fundamental elements of play. It has different meanings depending on how it is used. There are many traditional games which use tiles, but when referring to video games, normally a tile-based game means a game which uses tiles as part of its graphic output and/or unit movement system.

Traditional games

Traditional tile-based games use small tiles as playing pieces for gambling or entertainment games. Some Board games use tiles to create their board, giving multiple possibilities for board layout, or allowing changes in the board geometry during play.

Each tile has a back (undifferentiated) side and a face side. Domino tiles are usually rectangular, twice as long as they are wide and at least twice as wide as they are thick, though games exist with square tiles, triangular tiles and even hexagonal tiles.

Traditional Tile-based physical games

Tile based games that use non-rectangular tiles

Tile-based board games

Video games

A tile-based video game is a type of video or computer game where the playing area consists of small rectangular, square, or hexagonal graphic images, referred to as tiles. The complete set of tiles available for use in a playing area is called a tileset. Tiles are laid out adjacent to one another in a grid; usually, some tiles are allowed to overlap, for example, when a tile representing a unit is overlaid onto a tile representing terrain. Tile-based games usually simulate a top-down or isometric view on the playing area and are almost always two dimensional.

Tile-based games are not a distinct game genre; rather, the term refers to the technology a game engine uses for its visual representation. For example, Ultima III is a role-playing game and Civilization is a turn-based strategy game, but both use tile-based game engines. Tile-based game engines allow developers to create large, complex gameworlds efficiently and with relatively few art assets.

Early video game consoles such as Intellivision were designed to use tile-based graphics, since their games had to fit into video game cartridges as small as 4K in size. Regardless of their outward appearance or game genre, all Intellivision games are tile-based.

Notable tile-based video games include:

Most early tile-based games used a top-down perspective. The top-down perspective evolved to a simulated 45-degree angle, allowing the player to see both the top and one side of objects, to give more sense of depth; this style dominated 8-bit and 16-bit console role-playing games. Ultimate Play The Game developed a series of computer games in the 1980s that employed a tile-based isometric perspective. As computers advanced, isometric and dimetric perspectives began to predominate in tile-based games. Notable titles include:

  • Ultima Online, which mixed elements of 3D (the ground, which is a tile-based height map) and 2D (objects) tiles
  • Civilization II, which updated Civilization's top-down perspective to an "isometric" (more accurately described as dimetric) perspective.
  • The Avernum series, which remade the top-down role-playing series Exile with an isometric engine.

Hexagonal tile-based games have been limited for the most part to the strategy and wargaming genres. Notable examples include the Genesis game Master of Monsters, SSI's Five Star Series wargames, the Age of Wonders series and Battle for Wesnoth.

Some entirely 3D games have been tile-based; one notable example is the Neverwinter Nights series from BioWare.

Some games, like side-scrollers, are technically also tile based (that is, the playing area is made up of graphic tiles), but are normally not referred to as such. Lode Runner is another example.

Early tile-based games shipped with pre-constructed levels or generated levels at game startup (for example, with SimCity and Civilization) or on the fly (as with Roguelike games). A feature of tile-based games is that they allow for the creation of easy to use map editors, and many tile-based games come with an editor that allows players to construct their own levels. While completed levels for a game may hide all traces of tile-based technology, use of an editor for such a game strips away all polish and reveals a game's tile-based framework.

See also

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