Kids these days wouldn’t know an old-school videogame if it smacked them in the head with a one-button paddle. The closest most of them will get to playing those old classics is through emulated versions on PCs, but because of the vast improvement in technology between then and now, the full experience isn’t quite there. The problem is simple: LCD displays generate sharp, bright images with no ghosting, color bleeding or other quirks that make the picture look like crap and the real feeling of gaming in the ’70s come alive.
Thus it was that students at Georgia Tech made modifications to Stella, a “multi-platform Atari 2600 VCS emulator,” adding settings for “CRT behaviors” including textures, afterimages, color bleed and noise. The changes will be patched into the open-source emulator as configurable options, allowing players to enable or disable them as they see fit. The creators have placed the code into Stella’s repository and say they’re hopeful the software can be put to use in emulators for other television-based systems.
“The results are, to my eyes, fantastic,” Ian Bogost wrote in the Georgia Tech Digital Lounge. “The results in a live game are far more remarkable. Edward [Booth] and his colleagues have done a fantastic job.”
As someone who played, although never owned (thanks for nothing, mom) an Atari 2600 back in the day, I can attest to the fact that a certain amount of the magic resulted from doing such amazingly advanced things on such horribly primitive equipment. These days we take high-definition textures, flawless colors and massive flat-screen displays for granted but in that pioneering era there was an unshakable sense of wonder that any of it worked at all. It may be hard to see these changes as improvements but the experience they offer will be closer to the real deal than ever before.