What you have to understand, especially for the older games, is that they were designed to be viewed on older monitors with larger dot pitch displays.
The artists often made the graphics certain ways to take advantage of the older technology, to make things possible that were not possible on the hardware itself.
For example, if you make a single pixel checkboard pattern on a low res monitor, it does not show up as a chekerboard pattern. Instead, it shows up more like a shadow. A darker color, but you can see thru it. And since the game hardware has a limited color palette, and may not even be able to do transparent colors... that was a trick they used to overcome the limitations. When viewed on a pc monitor, hires or higher dot pitch display... the checker pattern shows up.. and you lose the effect.
Another example is color mixing. Use of two different single pixel colors next to each other would often make it look like there was only one color, or a shade of color inbeteen that does not exist on the games palette. Such as putting a red pixel next to a yellow, to make a fire-orange.
Another easier to see benefit, is that the game on an older arcade monitor tends to cause the lines to be less jagged. With smoother lines, it made even the lower resolution games look a lot better... almost as if the artist actually had a higher resolution to work with.
Also, if you note something like the Hard Drivin pic, you can see that the lines help add a "Texture" to the screen. And with that texture, it again helps create the illusion that there are more colors to work with. It adds more detail and looks more like a painting, rather than a nightmare of bland flat inked in color fills. Note how the sky gradients seem to blend much better together, and how the grass seems to be more 'grassy', with that extra textural effect.
I have a suspicion that Some of the games were intentionally de-tuned a little bit at the factory, to give them a slightly better look. And or, they anticipated that focus, alignments, excess monitor dust, would also contribute to making the game look a little different.
Finally, I want to mention that Dot pitch as well as the ShadowMask do play a factor in look. The thicker the Shadowmasks lines... the more clearly you will see them from far away. It will also impact the look of the colors. The finer the dot pitch, and smaller the masks wires... the less the light would leak. Leaking light actually added to the mixing / blending effects.. but in new hi-res monitors, theres almost no light leak at all.
Thus again, jagged pixels that were never intended to be seen like that.
So, to recap:
To make the game look better using natural smoothing, texture, and special effects: like color blends, fake transparency, and more... with pixel arrangement.
Btw, A great example of is Outrun viewed on an original arcade monitor. The game is low res, but still holds up much more beautifully than compared to some of the high resolution 3d modeled racing games, that have gotten outdated.
Mostly because of the brilliant use of colors, shading, texture, and effects. Many of the levels look like an oil painting. It becomes a work of art.. instead of an outdated eyesore.
But without the proper display, it really hurts the look. It becomes a bit too blocky / jagged looking. It has less smooth, shaded look. The lack of texture takes away from its colors and hand painted look. It ends up looking much more flat, lifeless, boring. And as said, it was never intended to be seen like that.
I guess the simplest example, is if you blow up a font letter too large. It will look completely different than what you see when its small in its intended view size.
Edited by xiaou2 (05/17/11 12:33 PM)