"impossible" techniques on vintage systems

I‘d say Vagrant Story’s in-game cutscenes outclassed the PS1. Its fantasy noir aesthetic, Alexander O. Smith's localization script, Hitoshi Sakamoto orchestral score, the comic book speech bubbles and clever use of textures to produce facial detail that no other PS1 game could match – I ended up appreciating it much more when finally playing through its entirety on the Vita.

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They probably couldn't do any of this scene lighting in real-time, but just watch the intro story scene where the main character's face is lit in profile and check out the edge of his face. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiZduGodAmE

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More of a clever design, Macross 2036 for PCE has this awesome looking sprite enhanced parallaxing stage (at around 18 mins.) Objects going over on top, reflections. Wowzers

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The MSX2 computer standard has smooth hardware vertical scrolling, but can only scroll horizontally in eight pixel chunks, which looks kind of choppy. But there are some games with smooth horizontal scrolling, like Psycho World:

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How is this done? The system has a feature intended for analogue displays which allows the user to adjust the horizontal position of the image one pixel at a time, so that if your monitor is off centre you can fix it. The game uses that feature along with the eight pixel chunk scrolling to make it look smooth - the whole image is moved by adjusting the horizontal position (don’t ask me how the HUD stays in place, I don’t know), and every eight pixels the image scrolls in a chunk and the position adjustment is reset. The problem with this method is it means the edges of the display area keep moving around and it looks ridiculous. Psycho World hides this by displaying black sprites over the edges of the screen, which works but means the number of sprites available for gameplay is reduced. Here’s the same level with the sprites turned off (and the display area uncropped):

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But suppose you’re making a game that can’t afford to spend all those sprites on the edges of the screen, like a shmup. What then?

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Pleasure Hearts just accepts it.

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I thought at first it was using the sprites trick when there were no other sprites on screen here, but in fact I think until the mountains show up it isn’t actually scrolling. I dunno how it’s doing the ground.

I’m gonna link to this one because it’s got some rapid flashing light in it. This is the midboss of one of the stages, which is a background element - the movement at the edges of the screen matches the movement of the boss. I don’t know enough about the specs of the MSX2 to say that what’s going on here should be impossible, but it feels like it should be. The system can display up to 32 sprites, surely there are more than that at points here? What’s with the awesome pixelated bomb explosion? Are there really never more than 8 sprites per line here (actually there are points in the game where that limit is clearly visible, like the stage 2 midboss)? Anyway, it’s a cool as heck game and seems to push the system to its limits. Oddly, it’s compatible with the MSX2+ and Turbo R standards as well as plain MSX2, but doesn’t use the hardware scrolling they provide, instead having a speed up option and even more stuff on screen. Konami’s Space Manbow (which I don’t have gifs of) has the same moving edges on MSX2 as PH does, but uses the hardware scrolling on the plus to make it look clean.

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I’m not really able to explain it on a technical level, but Kirby’s Adventure on NES feels like a modern 8-bit throwback game than a real legit NES game cause it looks really colorful and often looks like it is breaking the HW limitations on color palette and such. I think NES background layers just don’t ever look this colorful generally.
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(Images from Moby Games)

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Kirby’s Adventure is one of my favorite NES games for how hard it pushes the system’s limits. In addition to the colorful backgrounds, it has over 40 stages, dozens of enemy types, dozens of copy abilities, and handles really well too. It has a beautiful overworld system that is best-in-class on the system, and 3 different minigames (with multiple difficulty levels) too!

Kirby’s Adventure is somehow a 1996 SNES platformer crammed onto the NES in 1993.

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Check out Malasombra at 17:28 here. It really does not appear to care about the nes’s limitations whatsoever

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The first game in that showcase, Former Dawn, also looks insane for NES.

I wonder if these games would have been practical to fit on a NES cartridge during its heyday, or whether they require additional mappers, RAM, storage, etc. that wouldn’t have been financially viable for that time period.

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Lionheart is basically like a Treasure game for Amiga, effects-wise, plus Henk Nieborg’s extremely detailed pixel art. (Gameplay does suffer a bit from the one-button controls, though.)

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For commercial era NES/Famicom games I’d nominate Mitsume ga Tōru with its big sprites and parallax scrolling effects you’d usually think the system couldn’t do (like different background layers overlapping each other in vertical space).