In 1991, the Super Nintendo was a graphics powerhouse, but today, some of the tricks it used to create 3D effects on 2D-focused hardware are hard to look at. Emulating classic SNES games on a modern hi-def TV exaggerates those graphical shortcomings, but a modder has found a way to make some titles actually look beautiful thanks to some clever math.
Graphically, Nintendo’s hardware now trails Sony and Microsoft, but in the ‘90s, it often went to great lengths to promote the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 capabilities. When most 16-bit games only featured side-scrolling action, with Mode 7 the SNES could scale and rotate backgrounds to create 3D effects; that’s why it felt like you could drive off into the distance while playing Super Mario Kart, and why soaring over the island in Pilotwings was so convincing.
But Mode 7 was, in a way, an official hack to push what the Super Nintendo’s hardware was capable of, and it traded graphical quality for performance and frame rate. As a result, games that used the Mode 7 technology never looked as pretty as strictly 2D titles did, and the Super Mario Kart effect resulted in ugly aliased graphics and pixelation for areas of the background that appeared to be farther away toward the simulated horizon. At the time, standard definition CRT TVs helped to smooth over a lot of those graphical artifacts, but when those same games are now played on modern HDTVs, or emulated on a computer, those artifacts look even worse.
It turns out there’s a relatively easy solution to fix Mode 7's shortcomings. Most retro games that are upgraded for higher resolutions require all of the source graphics to be first replaced with higher-res versions. That’s time-consuming and complicates the emulation process. A modder who goes by ‘DerKoun’ instead created a small patch for the SNES emulator bsnes that changes how and when some of the image processing calculations are done for SNES ROMs that feature Mode 7 gameplay. No changes are needed for the ROMs themselves; the patch just takes advantage of the power of modern computers to do calculations the SNES couldn’t.
DerKoun shared his modded version of bsnes 107.1 on Reddit, where you can download it along with screenshots showing several before and after shots for Mode 7 games like F-Zero, Super Mario Kart, and Pilotwings. (If you need ROMs, you’re on your own.) Given how simple the patch is, the results are staggering, and if you play emulated SNES games on your giant flatscreen TV, your eyes will thank you for downloading this. To make things even easier, DerKoun’s patch is actually going to be integrated into bsnes’ next major release, reports Ars Technica, so you don’t have to worry about juggling multiple copies of the software.