Fact: Retro Games Really Did Look Better Back In The Day
The disappointment associated with the failure to quench our Nostalgia thirst when we try to play old games on new systems is one of the deepest feelings a true gamer can experience. Why do these games look worse than they do in our memories? Is it the Mandela Effect? Did we just have a really low bar for games back in the day? Well, contrarians of the Internet rejoice for we finally have proof that at least one thing used to be much better way back in the past. No, not music – that has always been bad. We're talking about video game graphics! Wait, we'll begin to make sense shortly. Ever since the beginning of the ‘2010s, we’ve been witnessing the release of at least one big 2d pixel art title every year. Games like Terrarria, Stardew Valley, Celeste, Shovel Knight, Undertale and so so many others absolutely own, but they all share a weird peculiarity that only a few have caught. These games are attempting to replicate the look of the 2d games of the SNES and Genesis era by creating highly pixelated characters and worlds, but the thing is that old games didn't look nor did they want to look like that at all.
Good pixel art isn't about making cool-looking pixelated characters, it's about making players forget that they're looking at pixels in the first place. Why? because our ancestors were aware that visible pixels suck ass.
Are the creators of the new very pixelated pixel art games evil monsters? Maybe, but this isn't their fault. We should blame the transition from the old CRT (short for Centenary-Ray Tech, probably) TVs and monitors to the Liquid Crystal Display tech, or LCD. Most customers believe the new displays provide an all-around superior viewing experience but the only aspect in which the new tech 100% beats the old is in terms of space occupied. LCD displays do some things better, but it's always a trade-off. Think less about that time when cars replaced horses and more about the inevitable future when Elon Musk's tunnels replace some other awful way to get buried alive.
One of the aspects where LCD displays clearly lose out to the old ones is when it comes to video games. A perfect comparison is the one we got from CRT Pixels that features Dracula from Symphony Of The Night for the original Playstation. While the LCD bloodsucker is but a pixelated mess with two red squares for eyes and no discernible mustache, the CRT features “scanlines”, a filter responsible for a sort of natural anti-aliasing that removes the pixelation and results in a total chad complete with beautiful glowing red eyes.
Old 2d characters were designed for CRT monitors, meaning that devs made them under the assumption that they'd always be seen through a magical grill that filtered out all of their shortcomings. The CRT monitors give these characters so much detail that it feels like we're showing remastered versions, but it's exactly the opposite of that.
And it's not just about 2d games, even. Many gamers nowadays tend to hate pre-rendered backgrounds like the ones made popular by the Resident Evil and Final Fantasy series. This really doesn't look great nowadays, sure,
but we need to note that this was made to be seen on a CRT monitor at a time when the devs probably didn't know LCD was ever going to be a thing. When viewed in the right hardware, it still looks gorgeous.
Silent Hill is fully 3d, but even it benefits from the ol' CRT experience.
Final Fantasy IX, one of the best-looking games ever released for the PS1, goes from looking like a janky 3d game when on an LCD monitor,
to a beautiful moving painting when played on a CRT screen.
Last but not least, one of the most clowned-on screens from old games shows Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII complimenting the main character's looks. They're obviously not great
However, if we look at how the devs intended players to see it, we'll realize…
Anyone interested in finding out more about this subject should see Digital Foundry's beautiful video where they claim that CRT monitors outdo LCD displays even for modern games (for those who can get a hold of one nowadays, that is). Another takeaway is that, interestingly, it's not even just about visuals and types of displays, as even actual remasters made for much newer hardware can fail to run as well as the original versions. The best way to play the old games that we love is in that past that we'll never be able to return to.
Top Image: Polytron Corporation, CRTpixels