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Composite / RF consideration in homebrews


Mugi
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Hey guys.

 

We've been hard at work on Dimension Shift lately and yesterday we ran into something that has been bothering me for a while in the game and we finally did something to the fact.

We implemented a lower case font into the cutscenes a while back which made everything look WAY better than it used to with a typical ALL CAPS font, however, after sitting on it for a while, it just really wasn't readable enough on a CRT, especially on smaller tv's and / or when using RF that nicely smudged it allover the screen... so what do?

our solution was to implement a font selector int othe game's settings menu to toggle between the full font (upper/lowercases) and a CAPS only font (screenshots at the end), which looks a bit silly but its extremely readable even on small tv's and RF, which is always a good thing.

 

So I started wondering, do people generally pay attention to composite/RF CRT compatifbility in design nowadays or do people just test things on emulators and call it a day ?

share ideas and solutions if you like, Im really curious as to how people approach this issue.

game_200.png.c33657b6ee6635aecbf464b36dba3726.pnggame_201.png.c5e2f856dabe4709d7e113bf285a0212.png

 

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When making an NES game specifically, it's definitely relevant to consider composite artifacts, at least on text and other central UI elements. Especially due to the "jitter-effect" build into the NES, which gives its composite output a bit of a unique look.
But you also have to be real and realise that most people will play your game on an emulator, and you'd be catering to a niche market, for the sake of authenticity. But hey, that's what homebrew is all about, right? That said, I wouldn't go out of my way to consider composite artifacts for every piece of graphic.
I also wouldn't worry about RF. RF signal is a real shitshow, and anyone willingly subjecting themselves to that is asking for it themselves 😂 Besides, the artifacts introduced from that is similar to composite.

On consoles with a higher fidelity, like the SNES, there is typically less of an issue, as larger color palettes usually makes graphics stand out more clearly. Also, I'd assume a lot people who are hardware-nerdy enough still play SNES games on an original console are probably using better quality cables than composite, as both RGB and S-video are supported out of the box.

As a side note, I think your text actually looks better in caps, even on the emulator screenshot.

Edited by Sumez
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14 minutes ago, Sumez said:

When making an NES game specifically, it's definitely relevant to consider composite artifacts, at least on text and other central UI elements. Especially due to the "jitter-effect" build into the NES, which gives its composite output a bit of a unique look.
But you also have to be real and realise that most people will play your game on an emulator, and you'd be catering to a niche market, for the sake of authenticity. But hey, that's what homebrew is all about, right? That said, I wouldn't go out of my way to consider composite artifacts for every piece of graphic.
I also wouldn't worry about RF. RF signal is a real shitshow, and anyone willingly subjecting themselves to that is asking for it themselves 😂 Besides, the artifacts introduced from that is similar to composite.

On consoles with a higher fidelity, like the SNES, there is typically less of an issue, as larger color palettes usually makes graphics stand out more clearly. Also, I'd assume a lot people who are hardware-nerdy enough still play SNES games on an original console are probably using better quality cables than composite, as both RGB and S-video are supported out of the box.

As a side note, I think your text actually looks better in caps, even on the emulator screenshot.

My approach is more or less that really. I mean... I am making a nes game, so i do want it to be playable on the actual thing without extra hoops (NESRGB 😛) but on the other hand yeah, realistically speaking, who's actually using RF nowadays. I mostly made this topic to see how other people actually making content approach it, Do they care and to what extend.

as far as my screenshots go, I personally love the lower case font and from the few people that have seen it so far in use, the feedback has been more or less positive, so i didn't want to change it really. That said, the ALL CAPS is what was originally implemented and so, rolling back to that as a safety option seemed like a logical choice.

good news for you though, now you can pick whichever you want so if you prefer the all caps, it's there heh.

 

I totally agree with you on the whole fact of "not bothering" to check EVERYTHING for artifacting, and I have a few things in the game too that do get slightly messy on composite but I just decided to not care heh. Overall I've been trying to do stuff in a way it doesn't get TOO bad though.

 

here's an excerpt from an actual dialog screen with both options. I have to say, looking at them like this, the lowercase does look pretty small, but again, lets be honest, who plays nes games on an emulator with 1x screensize ?

game_184.png.01917f8841a9430fa83c0bb712d51cc2.png  game_117.png.5d24849beedcb7cb3425944a22596131.png

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I've worked a lot with typography professionally, and I think there's a point to be made about lowercase characters not working as well in a fixed width font (but VWF on NES is typically more of a hassle than it's worth, or not technically feasable due to CHR space restrictions)

Both screenshots look "fine", but objectively I'd say the one on the right is definitely more intuitively readable. I think keeping it as a setting in your game is a nice approach though. 🙂 

  

16 minutes ago, Mugi said:

I mostly made this topic to see how other people actually making content approach it, Do they care and to what extend.

For what it's worth, I'm making NES content too. 😛  I actually have a lowercase font of my own that I'm planning on replacing, I just don't feel like drawing text, that's boring XD.

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yeah, VWF was out of the window instantly, we never considered it an option honestly. Like you said, it's a hasttle, and secondly, while our game does have cutscenes with dialog, this is a action oriented platformer, so the amount of actual dialog will be rather tame compared to, say an RPG or adventure game of any kind (we dont have npc's or any of such in-game.)

I totally agree on the fact that the capital font is more readable by a pretty wide margin, however, what tipped us over is the fact that the lower case one is just aesthetically so much more pleasing to look at, while still being readable enough.

Im curious though, has anyone ever done a feature such as this, or know of a game that does it, or did I inavertedly come up with (GASP!) something new ?

from an implementation point of view this was so easy to do too. our font chr is just split in 2 pieces, one upper case and one lower case, and the layouts are identical. screen load simply checks which textload mode is selected and if it's caps only, it will load the capitals chr on both slots.

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Even though I use RGB through a pvm to develop on, I always keep my trusty hello kitty crt around to run composite and coax through as a sanity check. The bad quality and bad overscan help developing with a higher compatibility to other’s setups. 

Also so that is a gorgeous screenshot. 

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I've been giving this a little more attention lately and the menu font (which I love so much) also got a little bit of a makeover for that. Being pretty new to all this I really didn't have a solid starting point as to what makes a graphic function better on a CRT or not, so while Im familiar with the basic idea, it's been quite a rollercoaster of experimenting with it. Really fun in it's own way.

One of the late problems I found from DS was that the main menu font, being 1 pixel wide with large vertical stripes really started blending over to the background, so my new favourite thing is giving outlines to things. This made the menu texts absolutely clean on (atleast my own) CRT which is just amazing heh :P

 

if you compare it to the screenshot from the first post, there's barely any functional difference on a pixel perfect screenshot, but it's literally like day&night on a CRT.

game_212.png.e0427eb6ffd1cbd081ed50e0668d7c0f.png

 

a lot of people also keep telling me I should familiarize myself with this thing called blarggs NTSC tool, but honestly, after trying it out and comparing it to my own CRT, I find it to to be wildly inaccurate in it's representation of CRT artifacts. Similarly, using NTSC filters on an emulator has been a huge dissappointment for me, they look NOTHING like my own CRT does. I this a PAL thing or is my CRT just weird ? heh. do PAL filters exist ? :P

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I play NES pretty much exclusively on CRT.  From what I understand, PAL artifacts are completely different from the NTSC ones.  Patterns that are OK on NTSC might look bad on PAL, and vice-versa.  It doesn't seem like any emulators that I use have a PAL filter.  Looking on NESdev though, at the end of this thread somebody wrote a PAL filter for RetroArch.  I have no idea how accurate it is, I have a PAL NES for testing but unfortunately I haven't yet found a TV that will work with it.

https://forums.nesdev.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=12788

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Thank you, that was a fairly interesting read.

I've been working on getting myself a NTSC unit for more comprehensive hardware testing regarding the game but I guess that just became a little more important now. both myself and FIX94 both exclusively own only  PAL hardware so NTSC testing has been pretty much reliant on emulators so far.

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I don't think anyone will pay any attention to all caps text, but if it's lower case and hard to read then everyone is going to notice it.  Also, I think if you're going to do NES dev you should take composite CRTs into consideration since that is what the console was designed to run on.

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On 12/1/2019 at 12:39 PM, Memblers said:

I play NES pretty much exclusively on CRT.  From what I understand, PAL artifacts are completely different from the NTSC ones.  Patterns that are OK on NTSC might look bad on PAL, and vice-versa. 

Colors look different, but the artifacts are roughly the same.

But NTSC colors already look different on every TV (and every emulator) as it is, so there's that.

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This was an issue with the Xbox 360 if you look into it, which was designed for HDTVs but a portion of players still used CRTs. Dead Rising was a game that had a lot of complaints:
https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2006/09/5264/

The developer's response was "suck it", which I believe was the developer response to this issue for most games in that generation. Not saying that's the appropriate response for an NES since the vast majority of the millions of consoles out there are composite and RF only, but that is how some people historically have handled it!

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Homebrew Team · Posted
1 hour ago, DefaultGen said:

This was an issue with the Xbox 360 if you look into it, which was designed for HDTVs but a portion of players still used CRTs. Dead Rising was a game that had a lot of complaints:
https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2006/09/5264/

The developer's response was "suck it", which I believe was the developer response to this issue for most games in that generation. Not saying that's the appropriate response for an NES since the vast majority of the millions of consoles out there are composite and RF only, but that is how some people historically have handled it!

 

d9946486b0b93ea1c1c4680a8e6997dcc4b462fdb8a07c4a9285e541ae94d516.jpg

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That was a bit of a unique situation, as the X360 came out around the transition from CRT to LCD or Plasma TVs. When I got mine in early 2007 (1½ year after its release), I still had a CRT - and despite obviously using RGB video, the text in Dead Rising was still completely unreadable. And Gears of War was actually a significantly worse game because you couldn't spot pickups on the ground, and it was impossible to tell friendly soldiers from the enemy.

I got a 42" plasma HD TV very shortly after, but even at the time those were still really expensive, and having a TV like that was a rare geeky thing - by far the majority of everyone would keep their CRTs for quite a bit longer. It's kind of crazy to think of just how recent and how quick the transition actually was though.

That was really two completely different TV standards, not just a question of some people using "low quality" cables (I still used analog video for my X360 in HD because the launch model didn't support HDMI), and I think by the latter half of the system's life cycle, there are probably games that would have been even more laughable on CRTs, but no one ever played them on one XD

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14 minutes ago, muckyfingers said:

I still play all my 8bit and 16bit stuff on 13” CRT through composite video. This set up satisfies the nostalgia demon living inside of me. So I appreciate it when devs consider potential outliers like me.

There is a big divide actually from campers in your position vs the high definition peoples. Consoles like the Genesis have games that use dithering to simulate transparency (i.e. famous sonic waterfalls) that do not looks as the developer intended if using RGB or high definition options. Same with the heavy dithering algorithms on the PS1, it is much more natural looking through composite a lot of the time and actually counteracts heavy banding of colors/shades. So using composite for many cases is actually a very genuine way to play games and you are looking at them how the developer intended them to look. 

Obviously, on the other end you have your RGB, S-Video and PVM enthusiast that want to count every pixel on screen. 

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That's such a weak argument.

Sure, there are examples of devs abusing the compression artifacts from composite video for stuff like gradients/transperency, but saying the developers intend for their game to look like crap is kinda naive. 😛
It's not like dithering isn't awesome on most composite displays either. You'd need a pretty terrible monitor to smoothen it out entirely, which would result in the graphics looking even worse. I'm not sure why you'd want to argue in favor of that.

Edited by Sumez
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23 hours ago, TylerBarnes said:

There is a big divide actually from campers in your position vs the high definition peoples.

 

3 hours ago, Sumez said:

That's such a weak argument.

Sure, there are examples of devs abusing the compression artifacts from composite video for stuff like gradients/transperency, but saying the developers intend for their game to look like crap is kinda naive. 😛
It's not like dithering isn't awesome on most composite displays either. You'd need a pretty terrible monitor to smoothen it out entirely, which would result in the graphics looking even worse. I'm not sure why you'd want to argue in favor of that.

^^ Found one!!!

In all seriousness I prefer RGB and anti aliasing off on everything. But conflating my words into semantics in which I was not proposing, when you understand my intent and meaning, is a disingenuous way to discount an entire point.

Devs expected their games to be played on composite for the most part. Like 95% of users for the most part. And many affects like dithering depend on it. You are not required to still use composite, but it was the platform in which they expected their consumers to play on. Thusly, the composite tricks and differing, etc on a composit monitor are 'how they intended the game to look' to the consumer. 

Edited by TylerBarnes
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I wasn't referring to you as much as the argument in general. It's been coming up a lot lately since some joker decided to write an article about it passing it off as some kind of objective truth. I'm tired of hearing "what the developer intended". No one intended for video to look blurry and wavy. I can buy your argument that the developer expected certain things, but not as far to rely on it.

I mean sure, NES games don't really give you much of a choice by default, but even going into both SNES and MegaDrive, RGB was built into the console from the factory. Even the original Master System had it. Sure most consumers would just stick to the cables shipped with the consoles, but it's not like no one considered decent video quality, and I'm sure a lot of developer test stations had decent images, also.

I don't believe dithering was ever intended to abuse composite video at any point. Sure, it might have been used for a reference which helped the effect along a bit, but it's not like composite magically makes dithering looks completely smooth and gradient, while an RGB image will make it come across as a solid mesh.
In fact, dithering was probably more popular on PC games than anything else, and those are definitely expected to run on super clear RGB (VGA) monitors! The effect comes across just fine as long you're not intentionally focusing on the individual pixels. 🙂 

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I guess I just don't understand the evaluating peoples statements on the matter as simply equating what they have to say as 'making blanket generalizations that don't hold true'. All while at the same time asserting what you believe to be true, even posing this belief on behalf of the original developers. Per your statement "I don't believe dithering was ever intended to abuse composite video at any point"
 
   The graphics history behind composite video is rich and while not every dev in history took any mind to it and it's affects, a very large number of them have took very careful and calculated approaches to maximizing composite and, yes, designing their graphics for it. CGA for example makes incredible use from exploiting composite video for rich and colorful games that are otherwise impossible for the technology to produce. 

   I implore you to do some supplemental research on the subject before imposing your personal opinions on the intent of certain technologies/techniques on the entire community. Also before speaking on behalf of another dev. 

CGA Artifacting through Composite:
https://int10h.org/blog/2015/04/cga-in-1024-colors-new-mode-illustrated/
https://bytecellar.com/2019/01/06/my-first-taste-of-cga-composite-color/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niKblgZupOc

I'll leave any dithering research to you since you seem to have made up your mind on the matter. 

 

Edited by TylerBarnes
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I'd try to argue my case, but it seems like you're massively misunderstanding what I'm saying anyway.

The only thing I'm actively dismissing is the absurd claim that composite video could ever be considered in any way "superior" to component video such as RGB - which is starting to become a recurring thing recently.
The rest is really just semantics. Such as the statement that developers "intended" for their games to be played on composite video, which is a very different thing from taking composite video into account - which is also what this thread is originally about.

Edited by Sumez
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I made this thread simply for gauging interest on how much people actually pay attention to it nowadays considering that CRT technology, while still around, is definitely a thing that is being subsided by pixel perfect output methods for things such as nes propably mainly due to availability and improved performance of emulation.

Personally I'm a diehard CRT user myself and like earlier stated, I do pay moderate amount of attention for ensuring that my game will function nicely on such a monitor, to an extend that in Dimension Shift, several graphics were reworked to be less detailed or different from their original counterparts simply in order to improve displayed detail on a CRT.

The other reason for the thread was also to share tips and tricks people use when doing such optimizations, as I'm a newcomer on the whole business and while I already have a fairly good idea of how things work, Im fairly sure that there are things and/or general observations long-time devs have made Im simply not aware of.

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Honestly, I think today you need to take at least as much consideration to how your game will look on an LCD screen via an emulator. That is how most people are going to see it. (again, that doesn't mean your game should be intended for that)

Of course that isn't hard, since that's likely the display you'll be using to create the graphics. 🙂 

2 hours ago, Mugi said:

Personally I'm a diehard CRT user myself and like earlier stated, I do pay moderate amount of attention for ensuring that my game will function nicely on such a monitor

Let's keep in mind that there's a huge difference between CRT technology and composite video here! Composite video still looks like garbage on an LCD screen, while even a crystal clear RGB monitor will share some assets with one showing only composite video. Like, you're still gonna have 240p scanlines lit up in phosphor which affects how your graphics come across, too.

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