What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

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Professor Hastig
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What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Professor Hastig »

Recently a small but notable number of projects has surfaced that try to replicate the visual style of the original Playstation. Anybody who ever owned one will remember the extremely chunky graphics, the very unstable 3D with frequent polygon bleeding, warping textures and various other artifacts that often served as a distraction from the original content.

Back in the day it was of utmost concern to developers to minimize these effects as much as possible but yet, here we are, where hobby projects try to replicate this - and not in a way that shows the strengths of this system but often in a way that merely emphasizes its weaknesses.
Overall this seems to be a trend with some retro looking games, where developers show an extreme focus on the limitations of past technologies without any understanding of what developers back then did to keep the impact down, often resulting in retro games that, despite pretending to revive the 'look of the past', ultimately produce something that even in the times when these limitations were part of state-of-the-art development would have been considered looking cheap and unprofessional.

Rather than polluting this help thread viewtopic.php?p=1236447#p1236447 let's better start a separate discussion as this is something I am really curious about.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by wildweasel »

I'm not technically-minded enough to give a nuts-and-bolts explanation about this, so I'll do it allegorically instead. And as my example, I'm going to cite... Benny from The Lego Movie.

In creating The Lego Movie, every character and every special effect on display is created with computer rendering. They could have settled for rendering the Lego characters exactly like they appear in the video games, with impossible joints and pristine plastics, and rely on the strength of the Lego aesthetic alone to carry the movie.

But with Benny, they specifically didn't. They wanted to really sell us on the fact that he's literally from the 80s, by layering on the little imperfections. The way the logo on his chest is beginning to rub off. The break on the bottom of his helmet. The little nick and chip marks, and the seam going up the center. They could have ignored those details altogether, figuring nobody looks for them. But for the people who always used to play with Lego figures years ago, these are all ways the figures would break down over time. Fancy logos would eventually start rubbing off. The chin strap of the helmet would inevitably break down the middle like that. There'd be those little nick and chip marks with repeated attachment and detachment.

We're in a stage of game development history where the people who are making games now, are the people who were playing games back when the Playstation was the newest thing available and always wanted to make a Playstation game. Those people have the tools and techniques now to do that, and include the warping and distortion as that last little helmet-break to really sell the look. It's an acknowledgement that, yes, they were there too.

Where the recent games don't quite sell it, though, is that the people making games now don't have the full-on art departments that the 32-bit games of yesteryear had, and some rely on the distortion effects to mask poor quality textures. This is not the fault of the distortion effects.
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Scripten
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Scripten »

There's also something to be said both for the nostalgia of those tech limitations and, more accurately, the uniquely disquieting atmosphere of most games of the time. Even in AAA games of the late 90's and early 2000's, you couldn't really avoid a sense of liminality in your environments: either you have render fog that makes large areas feel more isolated than they normally would or you have cramped corridors that highlight the inability to render models with high numbers of polygons or high-resolution textures. Plus all of the difficult-to-hide graphical glitches inherent to early 3d rendering mentioned already in the thread.

Add to all of that the perspective of being kids creating formative memories that don't really discriminate between what was actually happening and what your mind fills in, and you have a recipe for adults attempting to recapture that mix of strangeness and familiarity. After all, a lot of the games that aim for PS1-era graphics aren't doing so to replicate the technical aspect, but the aesthetic sensibilities, and many utilize that in the service of building horror.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Graf Zahl »

I have a different perspective on the whole thing because I a) played games on a real PS1 back in the day and b) actually developed on that platform or ported games from it to PCs.
If you ask me, this kind of nostalgia without actually understanding this era of game development and how people worked back then is somewhat misguided. Back in the day it was considered the greatest achievement not to fall victim to the technical limitations of the poor PS1 hardware or 8 bit palettes on non-accelerated graphics, developers desperately craved for better solutions and wanted to leave these behind as quickly as possible.

A game that flat out embraces all the PS1's technical limitations to brazenly show them off would have been considered an oddity, while managing to get around them was considered a great achievement.

So this entire trend seems very weird to me - it simply does not fit into my view of the 90's and I am quite certain that the people behind it are at least one generation younger.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by okbuddy »

What is the attraction of doom or any other game's pixel art graphics? What is the attraction of playing an antiquated FPS that lacks such novel features like looking up? What is the attraction of listening to vinyl records? Why did they make "Happy Days", set in the 1950's, in the 1970's? Why did they make "That 70's Show", set in the 1970's, in the 1990's/2000's? What goes around comes around. It's like being in the Vietnam war, if you weren't there you wouldn't understand. (Full disclosure I was not there.)
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Rachael »

"Retro" art style is something that has to be executed carefully in order to be successful. It's not an excuse to just throw any sort of low-poly low-res work at it and call it a day.

I think Ion Fury really set the standard for what modern "retro" gaming should be - they worked within the confines of their engine (EDuke32) and executed the art style based on the limitations of that. Not as an excuse not to do more modern graphics, but as a reflection of how art actually was done in the era that the game is trying to mimic.

Even if such an engine is limited to sprites (EDuke32 is not, but, if I remember right, I don't think models are enabled in the default "polymost" mode), the way art was done back in the 90's was much more colorful and clean, and that helped with its charm and in turn of the charm of the Ion Fury game, itself.

You can do that in modern engines - maybe you wouldn't use sprites - but a retro look can still be achieved even with modern gimmicks like PBR and raytracing - you just don't follow the standard cookie-cutter art style of modern AAA games - you wouldn't put grime and grit on every surface, you can have colorful interiors (and even exteriors) - I think if you're looking for a good example of this, modern World of Warcraft expansions actually do pull off this art style quite nicely without skimping on polygons and rendering features. I haven't played Fortnite much but what little I've seen, it would be a good example of this, also.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Graf Zahl »

Ion Fury is a good example how to do retro right. It looks like a game from the 90's would have looked, had the computers of that time had more memory and computing power.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Chris »

Largely, nostalgia. The PS1 was a very popular console, it was the first gaming system a number of people had, and thus they have a fondness for the kinds of visuals produced. I have that kind of soft spot for the SNES, for the visuals and audio it produced; even though modern capabilities objectively blow it out of the water on every front (and I even remember wishing back then it could be "better"), there was something with the way it could handle palettes and translucency with a large underlying range of colors, and the way it handled audio compression and mixing, that created a rather unique presentation that I remember fondly.

In regard to Doom in particular, I'm sure it helped that PlayStation's Doom port included improvements to the original engine, like colored lighting and enhanced audio with completely new sounds and music, which let it stand apart from the original. People remember what it was like (or feel bummed for missing out), so want to capture what the game was like back then. Doom 64 sees similar treatment, where even though the N64 had perspective-correct texture mapping and mipmapping like modern systems, it used a simpler 3-point texture filter instead of the bi/trilinear filtering used by systems since then, and people try to replicate that.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Professor Hastig »

Nostalgia is all fine and well - but it doesn't answer my main question why so many of these titles does not build upon the strengths of these old systems but on their weaknesses.
Compared to original content from the 90's these rehashes put their entire focus on the hardware's shortcomings, as if the texture warping is one of the defining elements of PS1 games.

Another non-PS1 related case is Cultic. This is a game that goes out of its way to showcase the shortcomings of 8 bit paletted graphics in a way that simply wasn't done when 8 bit paletted graphics were the best available option. If you look at the relevant games, i.e. the Doom and Build engine games plus Dark Forces it is very apparent that their assets were carefully crafted to look good, even with only 256 colors available. What we got here looks like a poor downconversion of higher fidelity assets that look nothing like a retro game.

Like already mentioned by others , Ion Fury is a game that really manages to evoke 90's art style and development philosophy without looking like a poor rehash. Its graphics are well made not to fall victim to the limitations and as a result the game overall looks great - like a real blast from the past taking advantage of today's hardware to really show off how 90's game design worked.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Chris »

Professor Hastig wrote: Wed Feb 01, 2023 1:27 am Compared to original content from the 90's these rehashes put their entire focus on the hardware's shortcomings, as if the texture warping is one of the defining elements of PS1 games.
Because it was. The PS1 wasn't strong enough to do perspective-correct texture mapping, so 3D polygonal rendering would always use affine texture mapping/texture warping. It mat not have been desirable for developers who tried to hide or minimize the effect, but it was something users would always see, and would associate with 3D PS1 games.
Professor Hastig wrote: Wed Feb 01, 2023 1:27 am Another non-PS1 related case is Cultic. This is a game that goes out of its way to showcase the shortcomings of 8 bit paletted graphics in a way that simply wasn't done when 8 bit paletted graphics were the best available option. If you look at the relevant games, i.e. the Doom and Build engine games plus Dark Forces it is very apparent that their assets were carefully crafted to look good, even with only 256 colors available.
Yes, and this is what "retro inspired" things miss. They focus too much on the shortcoming itself, rather than what developers managed to to do within those shortcomings. Limiting yourself to 256 colors or affine texture mapping to simulate retro hardware is fine, but that's only part of how those retro games worked, and where most people stop thinking about it. You then need to consider what you could actually do with the hardware while still staying in its limitations. For example, with the SNES, you could change certain properties between scanlines, so even though you could only have properties set one way at a time, they can be changed throughout the screen (see here for how this could be used in practice, working within the Mode 7 limitations of only one background layer transformation with affine texture mapping). So if you're going for a retro look, you need to keep in consideration what could be done within the limitations of the retro hardware you're simulating, rather than just the limitations themselves.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by JPL »

Brian Eno in 'A Year With Swollen Appendices' wrote: Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Graf Zahl »

Wise words - but I'd still rather see that people focus on the things that were GOOD about 90's games, not the things that weren't... ;)
There's so much to cherish about these early generations of 3D games that still holds value and yet we see this weird focus on the ugly side - like people no longer see the substance - only the surface of what made that era tick...
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Nash »

To be fair though, IMO, games like Cultic and Dusk are good games. The substance is definitely there. The visual polish though, whew. At least in Cultic you could turn off the crunchy filter, and Dusk has an upcoming model asset upgrade.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by AmissaAnima »

Wait? Cultic is an PS1 style game? I actually didn't know that.
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Re: What is the attraction of PS1-style visuals?

Post by Nash »

Nobody said Cultic is a PS1 styled game. In fact, it was specifically stated "non-PS1 related case". The game was merely mentioned in the conversation, as an example.

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