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I'm just creating this thread to explain how far I am.
Currently I have an engine that can display images on top of a background. On top of that I have palette functions, which allows me to do fancy stuff with palettes (color swapping, making certain shades darker or lighter, etc). Basically 2D lighting. It's a LOT faster than alpha blending and it's more powerful.
That's it for now, I'm hoping to finish tiling this evening.