While creators of classic games often seem more than content to keep repackaging and reselling you the same software with little in the way of improvement, others are eager to add new features and quality of life improvements which can improve the overall experience, rather than, say, playing the game for you. A number of these improvements, such as save states, were popularized if not outright pioneered by hackers and homebrewers before being co-opted and implemented by larger organizations.
As such, looking at what hackers are doing today might give us an idea of new ways to play classic games in the future.
One such instance comes in the case of Gradius III. Released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 as a launch title for the new platform, it bore impressive visuals but suffered from extreme slowdown. This relegated it to something of a curiosity more than a true standout among the system’s library.
Enter: Vitor Vilela, ROM hacker from Brazil, who has created a patch which eliminates the slowdown which plagued the original release:
Following “three months of researchment [sic], disassembly, code analysis, memory remapping, and code editing,” Vitor has found a way to utilize the SA-1 chip found in some later Super NES releases to create a version of the game which runs two to three times faster than the 1991 original. Of course, the improved running speed does come at a cost — the game is now quite a bit more difficult, and it was no slouch to begin with.
While gameplay is one way hackers can punch up a classic title, there are also ways to improve on the visual side of things without losing too much of the game’s original appeal.
The introduction of the Super NES’s seventh graphics mode, aptly named “Mode 7,” opened up a world of possibilities to developers at the time. Thanks to this feature, they could create a variety of 3D effects with various forms of zooming and scaling, elevating the platform well above its 8-bit predecessor in a way more colors and better sound couldn’t do.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite perfect. While the function would allow for images to be manipulated in new ways that could augment gameplay, it came at the cost of those same visuals being a bit rougher around the edges.
A modder by the name of DerKoun has released a patch for the bsnes emulator that is capable of smoothing out those visuals significantly, creating an experience that should be much more pleasing to the eye:
Whereas edges were rougher and details would flicker in and out, the new patch makes the portion of the background that is in Mode 7 crisper and cleaner than ever before, while leaving other pixel artwork as it was originally intended. According to DerKoun, the patch “performs Mode 7 transformations… at up to 4 times the horizontal and vertical resolution” of the original Mode 7 found in the official hardware.
What’s more, unlike the upscaling techniques used for other retro consoles such as the Nintendo 64, which often involves the use of hand-drawn texture packs made for high resolution, this patch doesn’t mess with the original assets at all. “No artwork has been modified,” said DerKoun, and if you’re interested in the technical aspect of how this all works, be sure to check the links below.
With this lies the question: Are the changes good?
While I am a believer in game preservation, I don’t believe that the classics are untouchable. At the same time, I feel that choice is key: While I would love to replay some Super NES favorites in a new light, I feel there’s always a place for the original for historical purposes. On a more drastic sale, Nintendo is remaking the Game Boy title The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the Nintendo Switch, and (graphics debates aside) while it seems they’re aiming for a block-for-block recreation, I feel that not maintaining the availability of the original 8-bit title would be a grave mistake.
Perhaps a better example is Konami’s recent Castlevania Requiem, which features the retranslated and redubbed version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. While I do appreciate the new version, I still feel the original should have been an option in that collection as well, for purists and fans alike.
But what do you think? Would you welcome improvements such as these in new official releases, or do you think they should be left alone, enjoyed or despised on their original merits?