Pixel Graphic Resolutions


When you’re playing an emulated classic game on PC like Sonic 2 or a really low-end indie game like Cave Story, do you run the games at full-screen or do you play them in tiny windows at their original resolutions? Recently I’ve found myself going from the former solution to the latter.

It’s one of those things I go back-and-forth on when dealing with low-resolution games. I’ve been having the same back-and-forth with whether or not to use CRT scanlines (currently I’m for them). Both have the same end goal: to cover up the flaws in games that were designed around really old and really small displays.

When I finally got around to going through John Romero’s new DOOM map “e1m8b,” I decided to play it using the Crispy Doom source port for a more faithful experience as opposed to ZDoom which is usually for adding modern visual amenities like 1080p resolution. I played it in a 640 x 480 window upscaling from DOOM’s original 320 x 240 resolution, and was perfectly fine with it. When I played Undertale I went through most of the game in a tiny window on a 1080p screen, but occasionally switched to full-screen.

I wrote a bit about this issue in 2014: indie developers that are actually optimizing their pixel graphics are optimizing them around very low resolutions. I think the developers of Hyper Light Drifter, which comes out this week, admitted the graphics are being optimized around 480p. This is odd because nobody uses displays with that few pixels anymore. I’m guessing everybody just expects these games to be played blown up to get the chunky pixel aesthetic, which works when nearest neighbor scaling is used to keep the upscaling proportional by integers. However, that still isn’t what old console games actually looked like.

Certainly most retro-style games coming out today have graphics that are evoking our memories of retro games more than the actual look of retro games, but even the ones that take a considerate approach to low resolution art seem to be made to be blown up into chunky pixels, not viewed on CRTs. Part of me is starting to think the developers of these games are the generation that grew up playing 8-bit games with emulators on laptops more than with the original hardware on CRTs.

It’s stuff like this that makes me sometimes want to play these indie games on portable screens. I guess that’s a major draw of playing them on the PlayStation Vita, but I still don’t like the idea of buying them again (in addition to PC versions) on a platform that probably won’t last much longer.

Going with tiny windows makes a bit more sense when playing actual old games though, as we know they actually were designed for old displays. I’d say it’s worth thinking about for any game originally made before around 2005 when games started being made for HD displays.

If I ever buy the recent remaster of the original Resident Evil, I’ve thought about simply playing it windowed in its original resolution. Capcom did a decent job of upscaling the game’s pre-rendered backgrounds but there’s only so much it could do with static 640 x 480 art. I’m trying out the same thing with Resident Evil 4 Ultimate HD Edition (where the lowest possible resolution is 800 x 600) because the original game’s textures simply were not meant to be looked at in 1080p. It’ll be another story though when the texture project finishes up.

You may ask: what’s the point of even getting the HD remasters of all these games if you aren’t going to play them in HD? Personally I’ve come to value simply owning these games on PC more than being able to play them in HD. The main value in buying these games is the knowledge that I can install them on practically any computer I want to in the future, and probably won’t have to buy them again.


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