Older console games from the same system tend to have similar visuals compared to games from another system. Why?


Playing older games got me thinking that you can usually tell the system even if you aren’t familiar with the game itself, even if they are from the same “generation” of systems and you may be able to do this even on the same game. You can probably do so from Atari up to the PS3 or maybe even later.

Trying to figure it out it seems the SNES used a sort of scaling effect to zoom (see Zelda or Super Mario,) but I’d like to know more about this topic. Is it a hardware thing? Studio design rules?

In: 3

Well, you’ve already stumbled on the answer, and you have it right in the title.

Games from the same system were, well, all written to run on the same system, which means they have the same set of parameters to run under, the same tools to use, etc. All SNES games have access to “mode 7,” the background scaling effect you refer to, for example. There’s a really good video series on the various features of the SNES by a channel called Retro Game Mechanics Explained, [available here](https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHQ0utQyFw5KCcj1ljIhExH_lvGwfn6GV).

Is it really any wonder that games built using the same toolbox would end up looking similar to each other?

Old systems had some pretty severe graphics limitations. In order to stretch those capabilities, preset graphics modes were built into the hardware. Game developers could use these modes to display the various levels of their game, but because every developer on the system had to use them, games all looked similar.

Most older consoles were tile-based, The background and moving sprites was composed of 8×8 to 64×64 tiles. They were always a fixed size on the screen, any zoom or scale was done with changing the tiles to use different graphics.

SNES (and Gameboy Advance) had a special mode which could do transformations, rotate, scale, zoom. It’s part hardware, part game code. The images are still tile based, but the game code can program a different math equation transformation (matrix) on each scanline (for perspective mode) or for the whole screen (for whole screen scale/zoom).