The gritty VGA look: Why do you like it?

In vanilla Doom and ports such as Zdoom, you get that classic 256-color look, which is ugly by today's standards but an important aesthetic to many old schoolers. I've often wondered what's so damned captivating about it, and I think it has to do with the contrast. The darkest shade of grey in the Doom palette is many shades from black, so when exploring very dark areas, both the monsters and the textures have this contrasty look that dissipates when using a port that utilizes a larger color palette. The light diminishing almost creates a bump map-like effect in very dark areas too, as the limited palette eliminates a lot of visual details in a very compelling way. It's a shame that a lot of newer gamers probably regard this look as rather crude and ugly.

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I love the contrast and darkness it gives. I always use software when playing/mapping/testing maps, but sometimes I check out my maps in opengl mode just to have a look (as I figure most players use opengl these days), and the nice dark and gritty atmosphere simply disappears.

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The lighting is much different than in GL ports I've tried, and yeah, it can give things an interestingly gritty appearance. The Doom palette's red range is atrociously inefficient, though.

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GoatLord said:

The gritty VGA look: Why do you like it?

I don't. Despite having played Doom almost from day 1, I have no special attachment to the original appearance nor do I have any particular ideas about how Doom is "meant to be". I think GL ports improve the appearance and I see no real need to play on something that I don't find as attractive.

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Very few new games have the level of contrast Doom does without looking like a cartoon or Wipeout XL. One thing that always stands out to me more than anything is how awful high-res sprites look. Even if they're done well, they don't stand out like the originals. The original pixelated sprites are all pretty instantly recognizable. The high res versions, even the good ones, don't stand out like that for whatever reason.

So I prefer to play with all of the original sprites and textures but with the game at a higher resolution. The advanced OpenGL effects are too much. Colored and dynamic lighting is always too dramatic and causes weird artifacts (like seeing light from a torch on the other side of a wall). Fixing the geometry when looking up and down is cool but I never have freelook turned on anyway.

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I've never been able to put my finger on it - maybe it's just familiarity? - but I can have the resolution as high as it goes, as long as its the software renderer rather than a 3D one the games just looks better to me. The way the lighting works must be quite a big part of it.

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I do like the gritty appearance, but that probably has more to do with the low resolution than the color degradation. Personally, I prefer true-color software rendering, but I still prefer 32 steps of lighting as opposed to 256.

darkreaver said:

I figure most players use opengl these days

Hmm, are you sure? Perhaps we could start a poll to find out.

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Like essel said, lighting and distance fading is handled much differently in software than GL renderers, and that's primarily what gives it its look. It's not a matter of software being limited to 8 bit color either, Mocha Doom in hi/true color still looks closer to 8 bit than GLBoom's fog-based renderer (the only one I know of that does good distance fading). I hope more software ports implement true color in the future.

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I'll give an honest answer and the only one that makes sense: it's nostalgia and the sense that "that's just how Doom looks". There's nothing superior or "captivating" about the limitations brought by a 256-color palette, and any of you who think otherwise are kidding yourselves.

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fraggle said:

There's nothing superior or "captivating" about the limitations brought by a 256-color palette, and any of you who think otherwise are kidding yourselves.


The only ones kidding themselves are those who speak for other people.

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fraggle said:

I'll give an honest answer and the only one that makes sense: it's nostalgia and the sense that "that's just how Doom looks". There's nothing superior or "captivating" about the limitations brought by a 256-color palette, and any of you who think otherwise are kidding yourselves.


Uhm. Fail. Try again.

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darkreaver said:

Uhm. Fail. Try again.

What Fraggle said makes complete sense. I don't see how he "failed". :/

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Did anyone here forget that Fraggle is the guy behind Chocolate Doom?

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Okay here's the thing. Yes it's nostalgia, but it's also that Doom's conventions were determined around its limitations. Mappers tend to prefer making maps that look like Doom maps, go figure, and Doom's entire art style was predicated on said limitations. Smoothing out those graphics makes it look limited, while keeping them pixelated is a more compatible aesthetic.

I designed a map in Timesplitters 2 based on my preference for Doom - blinking lights, multi-choice corridors with large antechambers connecting. I preferred browns and contrasting colors. It looked awesome; it would not have been improved by gritty pixelation at all.

Honestly a big part of it is this: Doom spriting is probably among the best spriting there is. Look at SNES FX chip masterpieces and tell me those games don't look beautiful. Spriting is an art form that was refined to a great point. Smoothing it over as a "step up" is a step down - like early 3D, technically more impressive than spriting, looked like crap. Use the photoshop setting that smooths edges on a Doom screenshot and it does not improve the quality - gradients remind people of the early internet and that was NOT good visual design. 3D graphics took about two generations to begin looking really good, to the point where 3D games had memorable graphics. I don't think anyone will argue that Wolfenstein has amazing spriting.

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Why are so many people unaware of the fact that you can disable (bi/tri)linear filtering in GL ports? You can have your pixelation in a hardware renderer and it still looks nothing like software because of the lighting (and sprite clipping, among other things).

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I usually like the way the art and sounds originally looked in any game, regardless of when it was made, but it does help if some other factors are taken into account, such as the kind of monitor and controls that were used at the time.

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I do it for nostalgia.

Gez said:

Did anyone here forget that Fraggle is the guy behind Chocolate Doom?


What's Chocolate Doom?

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I couldn't give a shit either way whether I'm playing with Software or OpenGL. Whichever renderer I use, Doom's still Doom.

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I mostly play doom on my laptop and old-school is the only way it can run smoothly. I do find that the low resolution of the sprites and textures is made all the clearer when they are well lit though. That grittiness acts to homogenise the visuals in much the same way that film grain does. And like film grain, what once was a necessity of the medium becomes a stylistic choice over time.

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Enjay said:

I think GL ports improve the appearance and I see no real need to play on something that I don't find as attractive.

Basically this. I like my Doom to look as crisp as possible without doing anything to it that compromises the original look and feel (such as those awful 3D models for jDoom).

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I didn't play the PC version of Doom until the late 90s so I "grew up" playing the PSX version, which is gritty as hell. Even now I still remember the weird thrill of looking across a map, seeing movement but not being able to resolve what it was, and watching incoming fireballs gradually increase in size to crash against the wall behind me. Vesperas in Final Doom was the best for this: stand in one of the raised windows and look across a starlit map. It's quite eerie.

It's nice to have modern source ports which clear the graphics up, but they don't always seem "right" if they aren't horribly pixellated, especially when the monsters get close up.

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GhostlyDeath said:

I do it for nostalgia.



What's Chocolate Doom?


I've never played it but I believe it's a source port that attempts to approximate Doom as closely to the DOS version as possible.

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I like how things get brighter as they are coming closer to you, as if the monster is lunging out from the shadows. It's an effect that isn't very well simulated in OpenGL. Also OpenGL and other hardware renderers tend to make the sprites and textures look horribly antiquated when you can so easily view the mosaic of pixels they're made of, or worse, when the textures are all blurred together.

Software rendering really helps the low resolution graphics coalesce by making things looks pixelated at a distance anyway

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I think that the notion that Doom was "meant" to look the way it did with the 256 color limitation is absurd. id themselves intended to have both a hi res mode and a hi color mode, only reason they didn't go through with it is because the most common hardware at the time wasn't powerful enough to make it work very well, and because by their own admission they were shortsighted as to how long people would be playing the game.

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@Sodaholic: I'll respond to your post even if you weren't directing it at me, because I kind of argued for that point...

I don't think it was "meant" for graphical limitations either, but I DO think certain design decisions were based on those limitations, that wouldn't have been made if ID had gone ahead and decided on the higher res options being available... in other words, if ID had intended from the start to work with higher resolution options I think the design would have translated better to opengl source ports and graphical updates. I'm not arguing there's a Godly Ordained Way Of Playing, but rather that I think the pixellated graphics look better pixellated because they were working with pixellation, if that makes sense...

tl;dr: ID wouldn't have used shitty 90's internet gradients overlaying originally pixellated monsters if had been going hi-res in the first place, and their version would have looked way better than the fuzzy opengl version.

Basically I think it's like putting shoe shine on a tennis shoe versus a wingtip.

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320x200 gives me eyesores.

Nothing nostalgic about it. I'd like to see the great architecture in many levels clearly, not in pixelated blur-o-vision.

Fraggle put it quite nicely.

'The way it was meant to be' is the greates pile of crap one can say about this kind of retro-mentality.

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Just to make it clear; I do not use it because "it`s the way it`s meant to be", but because I like it. Period.

ps: are we talking 300x200 vs. other software modes, software vs. opengl, or what? I`m talking software vs. gl here, but I suddenly became uncertain what the topic really is about :P

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I play in a higher res than 300x200 but still pixellated, personally.

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I only use software mode and I do honestly like it. Sometimes I'll try one of my maps in GL mode and the lighting I was aiming for in software mode was ruined in GL mode. I think GL mode looks good though, it's just different.

320x200 gives me eyesores too, yet I'm perfectly happy with 640x480.

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