Take 10 minutes to learn how Super Nintendo graphics work


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I have to admit I never really knew what “Mode 7 graphics” meant when I used the term as a kid. Through context cues, I found out that it was referring to games with a faux 3D look. But until now I didn’t know what was going on under the hood of the Super Nintendo to make that possible.

A new video from Modern Vintage Gamer on YouTube shows Super Nintendo displaying its footage. In just over 10 minutes, MVG covers the tiling system that brings background layers into memory, as well as the various graphics modes (the Super Nintendo actually had eight “modes”).

While Mode 7 was definitely the most well-known graphics mode on Super Nintendo, many games used Mode 1. These modes refer to the number of colors and effects developers could apply to the system’s four rendering layers. Mode 1 supported three layers. Super Metroid, a prime example of Mode 1 visuals, featured a 16-color front layer and a 16-color background along with a 4-color third layer for its HUD.

The other modes can add more colors or more effects, but mostly by sacrificing those extra layers.

Mode 7, meanwhile, only had support for one background layer. But that layer could use 256 colors and, more importantly, it could support some scaling and distortion effects. This allows the layer to scroll past the player’s viewport, creating that faux-3D effect.

Visualize how Mode 7 graphics work

MVG does an excellent job of showing what happens to Mode 7 graphics in Super Mario Kart. Look at this:

Mario Kart spins on the left and on the right are the tiles that the Super Nintendo pulls from. The highlighted area is the current part of the map that is in the player’s viewport. But with Mode 7, the Super Nintendo can warp those flat tiles and transform them into something that’s skewed. This makes it look like Mario is driving on the 3D track.

Of course, this also has its limitations. You cannot create verticality with Mode 7, as the console again takes all information from flat tiles. The Super Nintendo was also unable to scale and transform the sprite layer simultaneously with the background layer, preventing it from doing native 3D games. For that, Nintendo needed the SuperFX graphics chips built into the cartridges.

The video has a lot more information, including how the Super Nintendo faked the transparency by averaging the color of multiple layers. You can watch the whole thing for yourself by clicking play above.

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This post Take 10 minutes to learn how Super Nintendo graphics work

was original published at “https://venturebeat.com/2022/03/14/take-10-minutes-to-learn-how-super-nintendo-graphics-work/”

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