Let’s face it guys, the old school games you play on emulators these days hardly give you the look and feel that you would get in the good old days. Have you ever wanted to recapture that lost glory? Well, now you can! It seems the culprit for making the games look distorted and not as intended is newer technology, that is LCD and plasma monitors and TVs, as the games in that era were designed to be displayed on CRT TVs.
Using emulators with an LCD or plasma display can change the way the games were originally mean to be displayed and seen and the technology in new screens which upscales and stretches the images actually make the image seem more pixelated or distorted and less appealing compared to CRT TVs, even though they are rendered “perfectly” on newer displays.
Now don’t throw away your sparkly new HDTV yet, because you can change how the games looks and feel (at least for a few video game consoles) by using custom filters in emulators to add bit of blurriness, screen curvature and by playing around with scan lines and brightness instead of using the equipment out there that does the same but costs a lot more. Bear in mind that you need some advanced computer skills and an adequately powerful PC to achieve your objective.
As you can see from first image, upscaling causes each and every pixel on the screen to appear like a nasty sore on your monitor as each of them stands out clearly, while filters can reduce and in some cases completely eradicate that effect and along with some brightness tweaks completely alter the colour tone, transforming individual pixels into solid objects (as seen in the second image).
Your best best in getting older Nintendo games to feel more original is to use bsnes, a highly capable and accurate Nintendo console emulator, which has the Blargg’s NTSC library – essentially filters that include multiple colour presets including composite, RGB and S-Video. In addition, bsnes gives you built-in scan line filters. But as bsnes only uses one filter at a time, you will have to use pixel shaders in order to be able to use Blargg’s RGB colour palette and scan lines simultaneously. The Filthy Pants blog has further comparisons and links to other filters for bloom and CRT curvature, among others.
Shaders and filters are available from the Settings menu in bsnes. In order to use extra filters and shaders you’ve downloaded, simply put them in the appropriate folders within the bsnes folder. Filters should be accessible at once, however, you will have to change one other setting to get shaders working properly as most pixel shaders work only with OpenGL and bsnes uses Direct3D by default on Windows.
All you have to do is go to the Configuration panel from the Settings menu.
Navigate to the Advanced page and switch to OpenGL from Direct3D, and after a restart, you will be able to mix and match shaders and filters from the settings menu and change scaling from 1x to 5x under video mode.
Here are some of the examples of the results that can be achieved by mixing up and experimenting with the shaders and filters.
By experimenting with what works best for you, you can relive some of your old memories of staying up late at night in front of that TV box and playing your favourite games. Different settings can have different effects, scan lines can significantly lower the brightness of the picture and slightly tweaking the brightness can counterbalance this. The best shaders of the lot in my opinion are the ones that emulate the curved screens of the old TVs, while blur, bloom and darkened colours can tone down the harsh edges of pixel art.
As you can probably guess, a single filter is not going to be able to satisfy all your needs and you’re going to have to make a slight effort to reach perfection. For example, in case scan lines makes the picture too dark, adjust the brightness and gamma. You can also read up on the development of these filters and This thread on byuu’s bsnes forum gives you an in-depth overview at the process involved in developing CRT filters.
Have you always wanted your older games to look as they did back in the day? Have you experimented with these filters? Did you run into any snags in the process? Please give us your feedback and comments in the section below.