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Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Tue Dec 29, 2015 9:19 am

Everybody knows, that the NTSC versions of Nintendos first party lineup on the N64 is superior in any way, resolution, fps, speed etc.
Except for Rareware games.
Google for N64 NTSC vs PAL threads and you will always read the same answer:
Get everything on NTSC, except Rare games.
The story goes, that because they are european based, their games where developed for PAL first and then ported to NTSC, making the PAL version the definitive version.
I also always thought that this was true, because in reallity PAL Rareware games really look and run pretty nice.

But then Marshallh stepped on the scene and told us that this was simply not true:
A lot of people think that Rareware games, since they were UK designed, using native PAL resolution - but that's not the case for most of their games. Here's an example of PAL Conker stretching its 240 high framebuffer to fit the 288 pixels produced by PAL:

These phenomonena never occur with NTSC games. If you're a stickler for best quality you will want NTSC games.

So what about the rest of Rares lineup? Any game using PAL native resolution?
Is there any official info, like an interview with an ex-studiomember about this?

I hope Marshallh will share a bit more of his knowledge about the matter too.

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Wed May 04, 2016 10:25 am

I am curious about this as well. I remember marshallh mentioning it in the UltraHDMI thread, but did we ever confirm that the NTSC versions are the definitive versions of every Rare game? If anyone knows anything about this, or has any screenshots for comparison, it would be much appreciated!

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Fri Jun 09, 2017 4:29 pm

I guess I'm a bit late to the party, but, hopefuly you'll still be interested in knowing this:

Some Rare games do, in fact, run at native PAL resolutions. Not all do, that's true, but some do.
I know this because I personally tested for this. I have a list somewhere, where I tested a bunch of games for this and other aspects, but before I try to dig it up, here are some games I'm certain that have native fullscreen PAL with NO SCALING involved:

-GoldenEye 007 > 288p, no scaling. Oddly, the main menu with the dossier folders for each save, is DOWNSCALED from a much higher resolution framebuffer in both NTSC and PAL)
-Perfect Dark > 288p, no scaling... but I think the reduced version of the game when there's no expansion pak does use scaling/stretching
-Diddy Kong Racing > 288p, no scaling up or down anywhere I have seen.

During that session of testing games, I noticed that some NTSC games also do video scaling to stretch the framebuffer to fullscreen. Some do it just in their high resolution modes, but some do it even in their low resolution modes:

-Body Harvest > both PAL and NTSC render to sub native resolutions and stretch to full screen. I assume both versions render to the same resolution framebuffer. I haven't attempted to compare whether the stretching up to 288p provides any clear advantage over stretching to 240p, though...
-Turok 2 > both PAL and NTSC render under native resolution in "HI-REZ" modes and stretch up to fullscreen. It's hard to see, but I even have comparison captures somewhere. LO-REZ mode is is 240p in both, PAL having black bars.
-STAR WARS Episode I Racer > I'm not sure if there was anything funny or not about 240p and 288p, but I'm certain NTSC 480i and PAL 576i were BOTH upscaled from a lower resolution framebuffer.

Finally, there's the curious case of the original Japanese version of the first Goemon game, the 3D action adventure, not the sidecroller.
The USA NTSC version is 1:1 240p and the PAL version is stretched fulscreen 288p... BUT the Japanese version is a 240p framebuffer UPSCALED to 480i!!! crazy... Don't take my word, just check it. I think I even have comparison shots. Ask if you want them.
Makes me wonder how it would have looked if all these PAL versions with video stretched/scaled to fullscreen (adding MORE blurriness to the N64) would have instead been upscaled to 576i...
I mean, upscaling 240 to 288 will necesarily be quite crude, specially without a very highquality scaling algorithm, which, obviously, isn't available on the N64 hardware, so why not provide more "room" with a much higher target resolution?

So the N64 was ahead of it's time in this too, imitating modern console games' trend of upscaling of sub-native framebuffer resolutions. TAKE THAT PLAYSTATION AND SATURN!!! ... wait... oh...

ADDITION: When a framebuffer of 240 (it's usually 237, but they map that 1:1 to display lines) is upscaled for a 288p display, given the relatively low quality scaling algorithm on the N64, every few lines the framebuffer and display line up perfectly and no scaling is needed for that line.
This happens every 6 lines: 1st line matches, 2nd one needs some blending with neighboring lines, 3rd some more, 4th is almost unrecognizable, 5th is similar to 3rd, 6th is similar to 2nd, and 7th is really 1st again.
The beat frequency of 240 and 288 is 288-240=48. This means, 48 times across the vertical axis of the screen, 240p and 288p lines match (they happen at the same height.
240/48=5 and 288/48=6. Every 5 NTSC lines turn into 6 PAL lines, and 1 in these 6 PAL lines matches perfectly with an NTSC line.

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Sat Jun 10, 2017 12:53 am

This is pretty much unrelated, but... sometimes N64 games running on the wrong region hardware do have game breaking bugs.

I recently played a faur chunk of South Park, the shoddy fps made from the turok 2 engine. USA ROM on PAL console.
It seemed to play fine for the most part, until I defeated a certain boss. It was a genetic abomination that was in a closed space at the town's library or school (can't remember). After it dies and melts away in the cutscene, you unexpectedly recover control of the game, but are left in the same area, music keeps playing and you can move, but you are trapped there and there's nothing to do nor place to go. You're stuck. I repeated 3 times with same result.
Then I tried running in NTSC hardware, and after the cutscene played, the game cuts away to the scoring screen, as expected...

There are region related bugs, apparently, even after spoofing the region value. Makes me slighty paranoid about playing NTSC ROMs on PAL HW as I usually do, fearing I may encounter another stupid thing like this.

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Sat Jul 15, 2017 12:25 pm

Hi Radorn :) Are you sure about this?

I'm a bit of an obsessive about the N64's image and have both PAL and NTSC RGB modified N64s connected all the time to a very low use (around 100-200 hours) pre-100Hz Sony CRT (absolutely no image processing). A low use CRT like this is a great way of observing the image as the image is still very sharp and also completely untouched by image processing - RGB in, RGB out unlike when using a flatscreen or later CRT. I have PAL and NTSC versions of Diddy kong racing, Goldeneye, Conker and Banjo to directly compare.

I think there's some scaling going on somewhere as I can say with 100% certainty that all the PAL versions of these games display exactly the same characteristics as Marshall shows in that image of conker - i.e. significantly more blurred in exactly the same way.

Perhaps you're right though and there's another reason for this - but those games are all definitely much softer in PAL than their NTSC counterparts. Funnily enough, I still actually prefer Conker in PAL as in pal the scanlines are much less evident which suits that game more to my eye.

Can I ask how you tested for this? I do know that Marshall did a lot extremely in depth analysis of the N64's signal for this project so I would be surprised if he was wrong..

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Fri Jul 21, 2017 1:14 am

I checked this by capturing S-Video with a PCI Bt878-chipset capture card and DSCaler; obsessively scouring all the configuration menus, to make sure the capture is as "raw" as possible. There are some framebuffer captures taken with a parallel port ActionReplay, too.

I'm too lazy to make a proper presentation, so I'll just drop the files in a ZIP and let them talk to you.
These are old files. I currently don't have an N64 near my computer to make new captures. Not all games that I mention are fully represented in these files, but I think you'll find them interesting.

+EDIT+ I forgot to mention that all the FB captures were taken from original cartridges, all PAL, except for XG2, which was an NTSC cart running on PAL console. Interestingly, XG2 not only doesn't have any region protection (other than the CIC), but also changes display mode to 50hz fullscreen if the TvType (hardware region) variable is PAL. Sadly, it's still scaling anyway.
Also, the presence of the ActionReplay monitor needed to take the FB captures forced PD into no-expansionpak mode, so these shots are not really representative of the full PAL game, which, I assure you, is, like GE, true 288p.

+EDIT2+ I just remembered that I recently noticed that the 40 Winks prototype is also PAL 50hz 288p fullscreen no-scaling. So that's another one for the small, but glorious, list.

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Fri Jul 21, 2017 3:21 am

Thanks for that :) I can't tell from the photos if they are truly 288p but I don't doubt you as you've obviously been thorough in your investigations! Just out of interest, how did you get the definitive readings that the images are 288p? What I mean is how did you for sure tell that they were that resolution from your equipment?

Unfortunately I can't view the relevant 2880 Goldeneye and Diddy kong racing photos because the TIFFs appear to be broken :/

If these games output 288p, I wonder what makes them so blurry compared to the NTSC versions? It's a puzzler really - but the games really are much blurrirer. I have these games on RGB modded PAL and NTSC N64s so I'm not biased, I can play them on either region.

The odd thing is that some games like Mario 64 and Mario kart 64 look way less blurry in PAL than the Rare games. These looked really nice and sharp on PAL and the telling thing is that they were bordered - so blatantly there was no internal blurring or scaling as they simply shrunk the vertical resolution that the games were displayed in.

All this makes me think that even if the output was technically 288p in the Rare games, there must have been something else going on here that made the image much softer..

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Fri Jul 21, 2017 3:00 pm

I use IrfanView as a picture viewer.
For this, it is very useful to use pointscaling (non-smoothed pixels) to really see what's going on.
Look, for example, at the SSB example. Pay attention at the diagonal edge on the great fox's top. compare closely PAL and NTSC.
You'll see that PAL has the 5 to 6 cycle: every 6 lines there's a non blurred line, but those in between are all blurred.

Now look at DKR. There's nothing there, all lines are their own.

As for the FB shots, look at the vertical resolution of in-game GE shots. too high for NTSC's 240p.

Now, I have no idea what's your problem with real PAL resolutions looking blurrier to you.
Maybe your CRT doesn't like them? I have no idea. They definitelly look sharper to me. I have a consumer level PAL 25inch non-flat SONY Trinitron.

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Sun Jul 23, 2017 9:20 am

Well it turns out you're right, nice detective work! The thing that initially threw me was that the more prominent scan lines of the NTSC version can give the appearance of a sharper image, especially on an aperture grille display.

The only thing that puts me off the PAL versions of these games is the frame rate. Funnily enough I was starting a new file in Goldeneye a few weeks ago and I tried each version to test which to go with. As I'm sure you know, the games run at the same speed as Rare optimised the PAL version, but the frame rate was that much better in the NTSC version I went with that one. 5 frames per second doesn't make too much difference when a game initially runs at 60Hz but I find the difference between 25 and 30fps quite significant in fast moving games. Just a personal thing, I'm sure it wouldn't bother a lot of people..

PS. Props on the 25" Sony for the N64 - I have some technically much better CRTs but none do the console justice like my 25" Trinitron!

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Re: Rareware games on the N64: NTSC vs. PAL

Mon Jul 24, 2017 1:26 am

I can't say I have proof for this, but, somehow, at least for GE and PD, I actually perceived the PAL versions to be faster. My assumption for this unverified observation is that they had a little more time to optimize the code. I was surprised to see this, as I assumed that the lower resolution would yield faster framerates, but somehow PAL seemed smoother and react faster.
I can't verify any of this. I guess someone with a frame counter could.
This doesn't take into account actual bugfixes in PAL. Like PAL GE allowing more than 6 remote mines to explode by staging their explosions in batches of 6, unlike NTSC, where whatever you place after 6 just vanishes when the explosion is triggered.

One way to do this could be to let the games play out their automated scenes (the demonstration gameplay in GE and the cutscenes in PD), take an equivalent section of the footage and manually count the actual frame changes. I don't think I'll have time for that anytime soon.

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