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Why does 8-bit Quake look so good?

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 3:37 am
by o n o d a
Let's find out.

Before I begin, due to encoding in this post, don't click the image itself as it will bring up a lower res image- I've put url links below each image which should display full size. Also, before viewing screenshots make sure you view in full screen [right-click > open image in new tab], because the white background of this website will obscure detail.


How light or dark a tone or value appears also depends on what other tones are near it. The two vertical bands of tone in the image below are of a consistent tone, yet seem to get darker or lighter depending on how light or dark the adjacent tone is. [see below] ... eeb177.jpg

Notice the ball in the bottom image is very different to the tonemapped image above it. [see below] ... 1270022334

Without an adjacent tone to provide tonal accent, an image loses detail. This is down to how the human eye works. Some games, film, photography use soft light or hard light, but rarely is linear light a desired outcome, not only because mid tones are de-emphasised, but because detail in whites and blacks appear crushed because of this.

Artists like those who create Arcane Dimensions create very punchy and defined textures, which works great to counter the problem, if it's even seen as a problem at all to these artists. After all AD was designed with a high colour depth in mind. The problem can also be mitigated to an extent by disabling bilinear filtering in both Quakespasm and vkQuake, but it will not mitigate overall lack of definition due to the colour depth smoothing between gradients, which is rather like an automated process of "filling in the blanks" of the limited colour palette. In GLQuake no surface ever appears completely flat i.e., light hitting a flat surface will have the appearance of a rounded object e.g., instead of a steel beam, it looks more like a pen. ... sition.jpg

Moreover, here's an extreme example of how the OpenGL [also Vulkan] renderer can obscure detail. In film and photography this is referred to as linear light. There's almost no midtone visibility.


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Further demonstrated here:

Linear ... 1331842900

Corrected image ... 1331842900


In this shot there is also a bright skybox with dark area below. Notice detail is not obscured in whites and blacks, with good contrast between mid tones.


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GLQuake variants do have brightness and contrast cvars, which is meant to address the GL washed out look. However, the "curve" is still linear i.e., a straight line. [graph in link below] ... onemap.png

Modern games developers, like NaughtyDog Studios started using filmic tonemappers to solve the problem, and it looks superb on the latest hardware.

The problem affects GLQuake so much because Quake's art was not designed for colour depth over 256. It could be argued otherwise post-1997, but I digress.

Quake's palette is similar to a filmic curve, meaning high shoulder, which accentuates midtones, creates soft fall off at whites, and an accented toe, giving texture indentation, also prominent at blacks. [graph link below] ... 1441314136

Here's a shot of Star Wars Battlefront after tonemapping by Martin Bergman.

To demonstrate how detailed a limited palette in 8-bit software render can be.


Screenshot from "The Crucial Error" by mfx

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HUB from "Map Jam X: Insomnia" (mod admin is Ionous)

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"The Mire" (ad_dm5) by Ionous

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"Marcher Fortress" by Kinn

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Finally, two images of the same scene at 1680*1050.

Quakespasm Win64

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In summary, Quakespasm has much better performance. It uses your GPU rather than only CPU. However, Super8, WinQuake and even the DOS version can be run effortlessly even on today's lower end CPUs, which is a treat for those who live in the dimension of the past.

I'd still recommend Quakespasm to most people because of mod compatibility and superior frame rates. However, I swear by Super8 because SP maps are so much about the art and immersion for me.


Re: Why does 8-bit Quake look so good?

Posted: Sun Jan 24, 2021 1:51 pm
by func_qbism
This essay really nails the "how" of a color rendition strategy that many perceive, but which few may be able to explain why it's preferred.

Just like classic software Quake's pre-baked table, Super8 generates color lookup tables based on squared color matching. Squared comparisons put more weight on value than hue as compared to linear matching. The result is better contrast and dithering of hues.

Early on I tried other methods with intent to improve colored lighting accuracy, including a blended squared/ linear comparison approach and removing overbrights. But the trade-off of weakened contrast was not well received.