Retro games may seem more pixelated to us today than we remember. It is not the fault of our memory, but of the screen used.
Replaying an old game can sometimes turn out to be a disappointment. A game that we cherished younger, and that we found completely disheveling technically, then appears to us as a vulgar mush of pixels. Is it an effect of our memory, which modifies tends to modify memories to embellish them or distort them? Or the evolution of graphics in video games that has opened our eyes since? Not at all, the reason is actually technological.
A difference only visible to the eye, or in photo
The difference actually comes from the screen used. Until the 2000s, we mainly used CRT screens, that is to say cathode ray tube, before the switch to generalized LCD screens with the arrival of HD.
To better understand the difference, the Japanese account Ruuupu1 made several comparisons between screenshots taken on a contemporary LCD screen, and a photo taken of the same image on a tube screen. Without having your eyes directly in front of the screen in question, taking a photo is necessarily the only way to transcribe the difference in display between the two technologies.
We then see how the display on a tube screen seems to erase all the pixelation defects and even goes so far as to give the impression of a more detailed image, with finer writings.
A question of pixel display
As recalled Fenarinarsa sur Twitter, tube displays have a completely different operation for displaying pixels. The artists who worked on these games, like here Final Fantasy VII, took into account the peculiarities of the display on a CRT screen and played it for the display of the game.
More specifically, in a CRT screen, the electron guns (one per primary color) project electrons which react with the phosphorus in the screen. This technique implies that we have a set of light points on the screen, but not pixels in the contemporary sense of the term. The video signal is sent line by line across the screen, regardless of how many pixels the source may want to display.
It is these peculiarities, and the fact that a pixel does not therefore necessarily fall on a bright point, which means that the display of an image on a CRT screen will have a very different rendering from that of an LCD screen.
Technological evolution has happened there
Obviously, this does not prevent games from having also evolved technologically and therefore from being more sophisticated today than they were in the days of cathode ray tube screens. The rendering definition jumped, but also the number of polygons in 3D games, and the processing effects calculated in real time, until the famous ray tracing new generation games, a sweet fantasy at the time.
In addition, a display respectful of the artistic vision of the time is not completely out of reach on our LCD screens. More and more emulators are incorporating options to try to imitate, with varying degrees of success, the display that a tube screen could give.
We now understand better why certain games appear to us today more pixelated than in our memories.