Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor (kistaro) wrote,
Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

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Nintendo's gamma problem

Some of my GBA games look washed-out. Some of them look hypersaturated. Some of them look fine. It's sort of random which ones are which.

I've realized I can trace the graphical quirks of GBA game color schemes to the era of the game. Before the GBASP, games tend to be washed out. The first SP led to hypersaturated colors. Then the redesigned SP with the actual backlit display, and the Micro, and the DS, led to what seems fine on my TV (courtesy of my GameCube) and the systems I'd been using for Game Boy Advance gaming- a Game Boy Micro, and Rakeela's DS when I didn't feel like squinting at a small screen.

Today, I got a package from my parents- the two Game Boy Advance SPs I left when I moved out here. My mother used to play Dr. Mario, and my father was a fan of Advance Wars. The slow inexorable onset of arthritis has denied that to both of them, though, and so they sent the systems and games back.

It's amazing how my perceptions change. At the time I got it, the GBASP was a heaven-sent work of genius- a Game Boy Advance I could play without needing to find a sufficiently intense light source. The colors were vibrant, and the screen was plenty bright- it fundamentally fixed the GBA.

About four years later, I'd given up on my Game Boy Advance SP. I'd been playing my DS for a while, and it could play the GBA games, although not the few GB games I still had left. The GBA's screen seemed so dim, though- the light wasn't very bright, the LCD was desaturated and grey-cast, and it seemed unnecessary to carry two systems around.

Now I have both mine and my father's GBA. He was an Advance Wars enthusiast, but nowhere near as heavy of GBA user as I was. My GBA's screen is visible more washed out than his- but very, very slightly. The brightness of the front light is nearly equivalent. My Game Boy wasn't wearing out at all, my expectations had totally changed. What seemed like the fix to everything was now just an outdated and inferior system.

My DS Phat gave me wrist troubles, as you might expect, especially for button-based games. So I had to put it mostly away as my tendonitis came back- and then the Game Boy Micro had a smaller, much lighter, and much more ergonomic design, and the best screen I'd seen on a Nintendo system. But now some of my games looked washed-out or oversaturated...

This continued as it does, to the DS Lite, and now the DSi, although now Nintendo has left the GBA behind. (Which is a shame. The DS doesn't have enough "traditional" games- I'm all for variety and creativity with what the system allows, but we need more of the 2D button-driven basics.)

The problem with the GBA? No two systems came even close in display attributes. The GBA was insanely freaking dark, so designers started to compensate. Then the GBA SP fixed the basic light problem, but the front LEDs tended to wash out the screen and give it a blue cast- so developers supersaturated the games. All of this was clearly highlighted by the time the SP was revised and the Micro came to market.

Nintendo could have fixed part of this with a contrast dial. The original Game Boy had one, and then we never got one again. Why couldn't that have been included, even as a software filter? Software filters were Nintendo's own solution- late GBA games tended to have display brightness settings, which in practice also altered the color to compensate for the quirks of each platform that had been released by then. Nothing adjusts for the DS Lite's visible green-shift, though.

I guess that's the real problem with backwards compatibility, though. At least the DS Lite and the DSi are consistent on color display, but what will the next major advance in portable lit display technology do?

(And as a side note- I can definitely confirm that the GBASP has much better button-feel than the DSi. It's still clicky, but it's not overly clicky like the DSi- the SP has about twice as much throw and a softer click, which works much better. The GBASP is the best short-throw controller I've used; the Game Boy micro is the best of Nintendo's long-throw handheld controllers. I hope they go back to those switch designs.)
Tags: gadgets, games, geek, nintendo

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