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Thread: Low resolution mode (like X-Men, etc.): Why?

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    Japanese Sonic CD FTW!!! Master of Shinobi Ecco's Avatar
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    Question Low resolution mode (like X-Men, etc.): Why?

    I know there was a thread about this, but I didn't find it.

    There was a lot of discussion but I'm still wondering if we ever figured out why some games use the Genesis' lower resolution mode? Like, what was the benefit?

    It's easy to imagine some kind of benefit, in putting out less sharp graphics, but in such games, it's not easy to see it. Like in X-Men, we have the low-res graphics but the game still seems sluggish, even with only one or two enemies on-screen.

    I won't try to list other such games but you guys surely know what I mean, and X-Men is the one that always stands out for me, in my mind.

    I think Eternal Champions also uses low-res mode but there's at least a lot going on lol. Still, SFII had sharper graphics, with just as much going on.

    Does anyone really understand the benefits of using low-res mode in those Genesis games that did?

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    I think they used it to upset Yohko16!

    New user who wants access to the forum? PM Melf!

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    X-Men runs at 30 FPS so let's say it probably wasn't the most optimal use of the hardware either.

    In fighting games it's obvious as it means sprites can be smaller and hence take up less ROM space, which matters since this is a genre that has to keep a lot of uncompressed graphics (as each fighter has lots of sprites and they have to be streamed as there's not enough video memory, and decompression on the fly is not something most people are willing to atttempt as it's far from easy).

    Racing games can also benefit from low resolution because it gives more room for the road graphics — with the higher resolution mode, that means there's only 192px off-screen for the road, while the lower resolution mode gives 256px (which matches the screen width!), which is a lot more of margin to move around. The alternative is to switch to a wider tilemap, but the only wider tilemap is also shorter vertically (1024×256px), which is a problem as the tilemap needs to hold a line for every possible road width, and if running out of that it'd need to start resorting to swapping planes as well, which eats into video memory which is already restrained due to scenery at different sizes and such… you can see how much they push against the limit.

    For platformers and such it doesn't make much sense unless they're ports of a game that's already in that resolution (in which case it's best to keep it that way in order to avoid risking wrecking the game balance) or the game is already on the limit of what can fit in the ROM (it wasn't uncommon for publishers to skimp on ROM size in order to make it cheaper).

    Something weird is that games that do software rendering usually do not use the lower resolution. Sure, the transfer bandwidth is slower, but it's proportional to the pixel size, so if it looks the same size on screen, it'll take up the same amount of time. Meanwhile, having to render less pixels is definitely a significant gain that can make it worth the effort. Kawasaki Superbike Challenge and F1 World Championship (which share the engine) run at the lower resolution mode, but most 3D games don't…

    Kind of related, special stages in Sonic CD use the lower resolution mode for a similar reason: less pixels that need to be rendered (even if it's done by hardware in that case). Although the ASIC seems to have little trouble throwing around more sprites so I'm not sure if they gained much there.

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    VA1LT CHIP ENABLED Master of Shinobi OverDrone's Avatar
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    I've started to notice where games switch between the two modes, mainly since it sometimes, but not always, makes my Sony LED think it lost the signal so it shows the OSD status thing.

    Examples: I'm pretty sure El Viento uses Hi res for the gameplay but then switches to low for the cutscenes, which makes sense. (Impressively, Musha Aleste's lavish intro cutscene appears to be hi res despite being an early 4 meg cart). Castlevania Bloodlines/Vampire Killer's map screen appears to be in low res (were Konami that hard up for space ?) Power Instinct is low res all the way, but whatever it's doing to display it's crappy graphics makes my TV hiccup like I described earlier, lol.

    There's more of course.

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    Hero of Algol Kamahl's Avatar
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    Castlevania Bloodlines even replaced specific stair walking animations with generic walking animations to save space (which is why the stair walking looks completely broken). It doesn't surprise me that they'd cheapen out on the map, that's the least of that game's problems. Mega Turrican is 8 megs too, and that game has scaling and rotating enemies with more frames than the entirety of Castlevania Bloodlines.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert Aleste's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OverDrone View Post
    I've started to notice where games switch between the two modes, mainly since it sometimes, but not always, makes my Sony LED think it lost the signal so it shows the OSD status thing.
    Didn't the forum have already a list that sorted Genesis / Megadrive games that were either in H40 or in H32 resolution? (for the main game itself of course, not for cutscenes or menus)?

    I can't find it anywhere but I'm sure I consulted it extensively in past.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingNameless One McValdemar's Avatar
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    Well, Megadrive has many resolution modes:
    NTSC: 320×224P
    NTSC: 256×224P
    NTSC: 320×448I
    NTSC: 256×448I
    PAL: 320×224P
    PAL: 256×224P
    PAL: 320×240P
    PAL: 256×240P
    PAL: 320×448I
    PAL: 256×448I
    PAL: 320×480I
    PAL: 256×480I

    And given that the VDP has a limitation to 64K (only on Teradrive it has the full 128K implementation) the lower resolution yelds more available VRAM and probably even faster update of the screen.
    So, my guess, is that is an easy way of having a smoother game.

    BTW, what to MD is the lowest resolution (256x224), if I don't get wrong, is the standard resolution of SNES.
    This is why SNES games had way better colors (due to extended palette) but usually MD games are more "crisp".

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    For anyone interested, I found the relevant thread:

    https://www.sega-16.com/forum/showth...sis-Games-List

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    Quote Originally Posted by McValdemar View Post
    Well, Megadrive has many resolution modes:
    NTSC: 320×224P
    NTSC: 256×224P
    NTSC: 320×448I
    NTSC: 256×448I
    PAL: 320×224P
    PAL: 256×224P
    PAL: 320×240P
    PAL: 256×240P
    PAL: 320×448I
    PAL: 256×448I
    PAL: 320×480I
    PAL: 256×480I

    And given that the VDP has a limitation to 64K (only on Teradrive it has the full 128K implementation) the lower resolution yelds more available VRAM and probably even faster update of the screen.
    So, my guess, is that is an easy way of having a smoother game.

    BTW, what to MD is the lowest resolution (256x224), if I don't get wrong, is the standard resolution of SNES.
    This is why SNES games had way better colors (due to extended palette) but usually MD games are more "crisp".
    This is the first I'd heard of the Teradrive having extra VRAM. Does it actually do anything with it?

    For the SNES I don't know if the resolution and palettes are necessarily related, it uses the same resolution as the NES because it was originally designed with backwards compatibility (that's the reason it's got a 65C816).
    What's interesting about the SNES is that many of the early titles don't even use that many colors because they used 3 bpp tiles to save on ROM, so games like Super Mario World and Link to the Past often have only about 45 colors onscreen at once.
    But no one ever complains about the lack of colors in these games, because they still look good in spite of the limitations.

    I've never quite understood why Sega limited the MD to only 4 palettes, the PCE was already out and even their earlier arcade titles like Alien Soldier use more than that.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    This is the first I'd heard of the Teradrive having extra VRAM. Does it actually do anything with it?
    By itself not, you need to write something that takes advantage of it. Though we don't know how much Teradrive-exclusive software exists (I doubt the quiz game is using the extra VRAM…)

    Doubling the VRAM also doubles the transfer speed, meaning it can load graphics into memory twice as fast (this is because it actually doubles the width of the data bus). And while each plane is still limited to 2048 tiles (64KB), they can be assigned to use tiles from either half (so e.g. if you have lots of sprites you can move them into the other half, which gives you both more room for sprites and more room for detailed backgrounds). Sega should have included a slot for adding more VRAM to the Mega Drive (・・)

    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    I've never quite understood why Sega limited the MD to only 4 palettes, the PCE was already out and even their earlier arcade titles like Alien Soldier use more than that.
    They ran out of time to make it fit. The original plan was apparently 8 palettes (4 for background and 4 for sprites).

    The VDP die has some gaps around… it needs some rearranging though to take advantage of the free space. So my guess is indeed that they ran out of time, not so much out of die space. Which also kills all the suggestions that they should have removed something so more colors could be added (because having room to fit it wasn't the issue). Especially since the usual things suggested to remove don't seem to be the ones taking up much space on the die (320px-wide support, on the other hand, makes the sprite block pretty big).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    By itself not, you need to write something that takes advantage of it. Though we don't know how much Teradrive-exclusive software exists (I doubt the quiz game is using the extra VRAM…)

    Doubling the VRAM also doubles the transfer speed, meaning it can load graphics into memory twice as fast (this is because it actually doubles the width of the data bus). And while each plane is still limited to 2048 tiles (64KB), they can be assigned to use tiles from either half (so e.g. if you have lots of sprites you can move them into the other half, which gives you both more room for sprites and more room for detailed backgrounds). Sega should have included a slot for adding more VRAM to the Mega Drive (・・)

    They ran out of time to make it fit. The original plan was apparently 8 palettes (4 for background and 4 for sprites).

    The VDP die has some gaps around… it needs some rearranging though to take advantage of the free space. So my guess is indeed that they ran out of time, not so much out of die space. Which also kills all the suggestions that they should have removed something so more colors could be added (because having room to fit it wasn't the issue). Especially since the usual things suggested to remove don't seem to be the ones taking up much space on the die (320px-wide support, on the other hand, makes the sprite block pretty big).
    Oh thanks that's good to know, I didn't realize that was the reason.
    The only thing I would have removed from the design would be the expansion port, as the 32X shows it isn't necessary for expanding the system.
    But you go back to 1987 when the design work was being done and 64 colors probably seemed like plenty when the main competitor was the NES.
    Even a lot of PC games from back then don't use more than 16.

    It's actually interesting that the Teradrive had double the VRAM in 1991 because that might have been the origin of the idea for an upgraded Mega Drive with twice the colors (the pre-cursor to the 32X).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecco View Post
    I know there was a thread about this, but I didn't find it.

    There was a lot of discussion but I'm still wondering if we ever figured out why some games use the Genesis' lower resolution mode? Like, what was the benefit?

    It's easy to imagine some kind of benefit, in putting out less sharp graphics, but in such games, it's not easy to see it. Like in X-Men, we have the low-res graphics but the game still seems sluggish, even with only one or two enemies on-screen.

    I won't try to list other such games but you guys surely know what I mean, and X-Men is the one that always stands out for me, in my mind.

    I think Eternal Champions also uses low-res mode but there's at least a lot going on lol. Still, SFII had sharper graphics, with just as much going on.

    Does anyone really understand the benefits of using low-res mode in those Genesis games that did?
    Both X-Men and Eternal Champions run in high-res, not low-res.

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    Hero of Algol Kamahl's Avatar
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    VDP: Half the VRAM it is made to use, half the vram bandwidth it is made to use, half the CRAM it is made to use.
    YM2612: They didn't connect the interrupt lines to the freaking sound CPU, and then gave it a serial banking register as the cherry on top. This made PCM 10x worse than it could have been.
    Expansion Port: Absolutely painful interface between the mega drive and the Sega-CD, specially obvious when contrasted with the PC-Engine.

    Sega royally fucked up the Mega Drive design if you think about it. Is there any other console that is so poorly cobbled together that its hardware is running at 50% capacity?
    Besides the Saturn I mean, great job there Sega.
    What does it say about the SNES when the badly cobbled together Mega Drive still managed to put up a fight

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kamahl View Post
    Is there any other console that is so poorly cobbled together that its hardware is running at 50% capacity?
    Surely there isn't one with a mushroom add-on to provide framerate issues to most regular 2D games.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    The only thing I would have removed from the design would be the expansion port, as the 32X shows it isn't necessary for expanding the system.
    32X uses the cartridge slot in part to remain compatible with the Mega CD (double the add-ons :​D) and in part because it attempts to do some ugly weird shit (and fails catastrophically at all of it anyway, everything came out horribly flawed). I'm not sure I'd try to suggest what the 32X does as good design… (though some of the pins in the cartridge slot would have made more sense on the expansion slot instead *looks at the video pins*)

    Then again the original idea for the expansion slot was to plug in the floppy drive, and they wanted you to be able to download games using the modem (which probably means using a cartridge to run the modem software), so mind that. And probably they also wanted cartridge games to be able to use the floppy to save stuff too, and that means you need both slots in use (or a passthrough like the 32X, but look at the FDS if you want to know how cumbersome that setup would look like).

    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    But you go back to 1987 when the design work was being done and 64 colors probably seemed like plenty when the main competitor was the NES.
    Even a lot of PC games from back then don't use more than 16.
    But the PC Engine specs were well known by then, so no excuse :​O)

    …admittedly this was probably cost cutting. Mega Drive has a single chip driving the entire video. PC Engine off-loads the color generation to a second chip, SNES also splits its S-PPU in two chips because it didn't fit in one. The Mega Drive VDP does support using external color RAM (and yes, it does allow 128 colors), and in fact this is the configuration System C/C2 uses, but you know, $$$ :​P (and the console was already pretty pricey as it is on launch)

    (note: System C/C2 supports 1024 colors, but that's because it also bank switches the palette sets >_>)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kamahl View Post
    VDP: Half the VRAM it is made to use, half the vram bandwidth it is made to use, half the CRAM it is made to use.
    YM2612: They didn't connect the interrupt lines to the freaking sound CPU, and then gave it a serial banking register as the cherry on top. This made PCM 10x worse than it could have been.
    Expansion Port: Absolutely painful interface between the mega drive and the Sega-CD, specially obvious when contrasted with the PC-Engine.

    Sega royally fucked up the Mega Drive design if you think about it. Is there any other console that is so poorly cobbled together that its hardware is running at 50% capacity?
    Besides the Saturn I mean, great job there Sega.
    What does it say about the SNES when the badly cobbled together Mega Drive still managed to put up a fight
    32X :v

    But yeah, also: Jaguar and the whole bus contention hell (32X has the same issue but at least you can somewhat work around it…), 3DO and the CPU not being able to run while the cel renderers are running (because the cels draw on the work RAM and then the whole result is blitted to the framebuffer at the end), N64 was also notorious for its memory bandwidth issues (I sense a pattern here…)

    Though two remarks:

    1) It seems all the major consoles in the 4th generation were stuck with half the VRAM. Mega Drive VDP has a 128KB mode, SNES S-PPU can handle 128KB if connected (which actually breaks Yoshi's Island if you equip the full VRAM), PC Engine's video hardware also supports 128KB VRAM (and I'm not talking about the SuperGrafx, that one just gives a separate 64KB to each chip instead). So uh, I guess the cost cutting here was par for the course :​D Though I think Mega Drive is the only one that also gets a performance boost with the extra memory.

    2) PCM was still going to suck even if you fixed all those issues you mentioned for the simple reason that there's no FIFO, which means samples need to be written at the exact same moment they have to play which is a huge performance drain (you can't process samples in bulk). Yeah, those issues you mention only made it worse, but merely adding a FIFO would have also rendered it all moot by easing the timing requirements.

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