This week's episode of Retronauts will probably be one of the polarizing ones. Not because we say or do anything particularly controversial, but because the topic we tackle is one of those things you either care about very deeply or not at all.
This week, Gamasutra's Christian Nutt and Digital Eclipse's Frank Cifaldi join me for a discussion of the arcane and expensive art of finding the best possible presentation quality for classic games. I wrote about this a few months back, and in fact this episode was recorded around then and has been sitting in the vaults waiting for an optimal moment to shine. As it happens, Frank just delivered a presentation at Game Developers Conference on the value of emulation and the technology's unfortunate demonization at the hands of overbearing (and arguably hypocritical) publishers, who have incorrectly painted the act of emulation as being synonymous with piracy. This episode looks at classic games from the other side — how to optimize original console hardware and cartridges for use in the modern era — and honestly our coversation makes a solid case for emulation. Getting old systems to run on today's televisions, or hunting down the world's dwindling supply of old CRT televisions, is an expensive and time-consuming task.
I've also discovered over the past couple of years that it's an extraordinarily complicated task. Even if you can deal with the expense of upscalers and RGB mods and all of that, you still have to understand a lot of technical terms that no longer have any real relevance to today's technology. Want to give yourself a headache? Read up on video sync and try to understand why a cable that works for one console gives you a video error on another system because one uses sync-on-chroma and the other displays via sync-on-luma. Or reel from the realization that no matter how fancy your video output, no matter how you curtail video frame lag, you'll never be able to play Duck Hunt on an HDMI-modded NES console. It's a skull-splitting, hair-pulling nightmare.
What's the best way to play old games in these modern times? Jeremy Parish, Frank Cifaldi, and Christian Nutt plummet down the CRT-hunting, 240p-upscaling, console-recapping, and RGB-modding rabbit hole.
But is it worth it? Oh yes. Well, maybe. Decide for yourself; listen to this week's episode and weigh our lamentations over costs and complications versus the thrill of playing Battletoads in perfect RGB glory — or head over to our YouTube channel and check out some of the video streams I've hosted from modded and upscaled consoles. Do crisp visuals and vivid colors really matter to you? And if so, do you really care if you play on real hardware versus on a PC emulator? Again, this sort of pursuit tends to be all-or-nothing, so you'll either enjoy this episode a great deal or find it utterly insufferable.
And, just as a word in advance, this episode embodies the very spirit of Retronauts — that is, exploration and discovery. We're all still learning the fine details of these processes, and I know I made a few remarks that I've since learned were inaccurate. It's a complicated subject! But don't worry, people love to correct us, so you'll be able to find plenty of rebuttals to our glaring errors before long. In any case, enjoy! Or don't enjoy, but please don't hate us. And don't hate the backer who requested this topic, John Rademan — he was just following his dream, see?