"impossible" techniques on vintage systems

Related to another conversation here, I started thinking about games that basically outclassed their hardware. Either they did the “impossible” or appeared to, and made it look effortless in the process. I love this kind of stuff in game consoles, and it tends to happen toward the beginning (new technology, let‘s see what we can do!) or end (old technology, we can probably squeeze more out of it!) of a platform’s life cycle.

Consoles or PCs with shelf lives (ie pc-98, fm towns) are welcome! I'll get it started, but I'll probably keep piling on.

**Metamor Jupiter, PC Engine**
this kind of line warping stuff was all over the place, but this implementation on the 8-bit PC Engine is pretty stellar, and the way they hide the transition with a big laser shot is great.

**Tetris, CD-i**
This is basically what the console was designed for, but nobody really did it. Laying a playable game over FMV just gives this bizarre vibe that works so well and you wouldn't see anywhere else.

**Burning Rangers, Saturn**
Finally, at the end of the console's lifetime, they found a good way to do transparent full 3D, basically only for this sequence. If I understand it correctly, the transparency data is passed from VDP1 to the sound chip as a buffer and then read and displayed by VDP2... or something. Anyway it looks nice.

Obviously everyone should watch Low Score Boy's analysis of the Saturn's processors! What a fun time.

There's plenty more out there - what've you got??

Not “impossible” but Double Steal Second Clash is one of the VERY few OG Xbox games to run in 1080i while also being a dense open world


powerslave was a full 3d first person shooter on a saturn before anyone thought that was possible, and its engine was used to port quake to the system. The game had dynamic lighting, water caustics, and complex 3d architecture before anyone thought that could be done.

Besides that, this isn't so much a game as something games rarely utilized, but early PCs that could only output CGA could render far more colors than people assumed was possible if they used the composite CGA mode.

This demo shows off what could be done in CGA


@Tulpa#934 The lighting on all the Lobotomy Saturn games is in retrospect pretty insane

Also want to add Thexeder for the Tandy as the only game I remember on that system being capable of non flip screen scrolling. Mind boggling how its not even like choppy MSX scrolling on a system I mostly remember playing Mickey's Space Adventure on.


Sorry. Though of another couple. Eternal Champions for the Sega CD is the only game on the system I remember having actual full screen FMV. Not like the Lunar the Silver Star animated sprites or the windowed and cropped Digital Pictures look.


Also Starfighter for the 3DO is doing some really crazy tricks to simulate a far draw distance and strikes me as the most fully 3D game I can thing of on the system.


That thexder is cool!! And now I wanna get Starfighter for 3DO, heck. Those effects are pretty fun looking.

In the same vein as thexder, check out this effortless looking atari 7800 game - homebrew, but runs on the real thing


Imagine if *any* game looked (and sounded) like that during its actual lifetime!

Here's another favorite - Batman and Robin for genesis.


We've got - rotation, transparent flashlights (basically), blazing speed, huge sprites, it's all there with this one. The later shooting stage has that rotation stuff, plus clouds that actually look transparent on a CRT - and then they wind up doing double dithered transparency. None of this was impossible, but to put it together was quite a feat.

Bizarrely and frustratingly, the PS1 and Saturn ports of Starfighter are actually much less capable graphically. I think this may be the only case of this happening. Batman and Robin and anything impressive technically on the Genesis is further impressive because unlike the SNES you don't have the usage of expansion chips inside the cartridges (outside of Virtua Racing).

Batman and Robin is awesome.

I was always impressed by this BTW:

Yeah, compile's shooters were always tops in terms of graphical presentation, and especially speed/smoothness.

I was going to mention The Adventures of Batman & Robin on the Genesis, as the pseudo 3D presented in just the first level alone felt like a next generation thing that shouldn‘t work. I’ll post the one fight that still impresses me to this day with the Mad Hatter battle.


Not only is it 3D looking, but also Mad Hatter's face projected on the tiled floor looks great and moves around, and the warping of the platform as the black hole begins moving around in the background is just ridiculous.

Staying on the Genesis, Toy Story's claw machine is pretty impressive for being just the Genesis hardware, and not 32X or anything else attached to it to pull it off, despite not really having much else to do other than picking up aliens.


I was also really impressed with Geograph Seal on the Sharp X68000


Though not necessarily as "impossible" feeling as the previous two, being on a straight up computer, it's still something I don't see much of game-wise on the hardware. It also runs really smooth and feels just like Exact's early idea for Jumping Flash!

@JJSignal#946 I love Geograph Seal! It absolutely is the direct antecedent to Jumping Flash! That soundtrack is amazing.

Among the many early polygonal games for Japanese PCs, those made by “Mark Flint” at the nascent System Sacom are stupidly impressive, especially given the amount of DMA/scanline trickery done in assembly to make them work.



Obligatory Winter Gold intro sequence post…


Haven't seen a lot of these - they are really amazing.

One that comes to mind for me is Star Cruiser for the Genesis. It does full 3d on base hardware (no helper chips), has some really impressive free flight segments, and actually keeps a decent framerate throughout. It holds up shockingly well.


@James-#958 Ah, Star Cruiser. I take it for granted how much the game pushed hardware, starting back in 1988 when it did all of what you mentioned on PCs using practically no advanced hardware for the task.


Arsys Soft did an incredible job of pushing Japanese PC game tech along with creative game concepts. Beyond just polygonal 3D, their programmer Kotori Yoshimura went wild with windowing for 1987's Reviver, which feels like a riff on King's Quest and other classics she likely played/witnessed. I haven't seen any modular GUI system done this well in any other J-PC game from that era, and it rivals what came later.


While perhaps not quite as impressive as some of the other genesis games mentioned, zero tolerance predated most of them. It just couldn’t get a release until after doom, IIRC.


Fun fact: the guy who programmed this ported Mac OS to genesis, and built an engine that ran natively on both genesis and macs to streamline development.

X on the gameboy was pretty wild too:


Oh and Toy Story racer is somehow pulling off FMV backgrounds on a cartridge:

And in another example of FMV in a cartridge, red zone used some kind of dark magic to pull off it’s opening:

@AutomaticTiger#964 What blows my mind about Zero Tolerance is that is even had an early form of LAN play. Which I think makes it the first home console game to do so.


@PasokonDeacon#961 I completely forgot it originally came out that early. I knew it was a port, but dang, that is early for that on basic hardware.

Those windows are incredible. As a person that hates doing code for UIs, I'm really impressed with how smooth that is and all the layers they are able to stack up.

I love how tons of the cool boundary pushing stuff is Genesis. That's where it's at.