February 12, 2015
As most of my readers are apparently American, I thought this might be an intresting topic. A lot of you will propbably never have had to experience any of the problems we have here in Europe when it comes to Retro Gaming! Heres just a few things that annoy me.
Easily the most famous problem with PAL gaming, the standard TV refresh rate in the early years of gaming was only 50Hz, this means that most of the games were in fact slowed down greatly compared to their NTSC counterparts!
Missing out on exclusives!
Plenty of games that we used to read about in magazines never came out over here, and we were left with two choices, spend a lot of money on importing and missing your chance to be able to play it, or simply forget about playing it all together.
Do they even care??
And when we did get a game, it was released far later than America and Japan, sometimes games didn’t come out here until YEARS after, if at all! Usually in limited quantities which made them extremely hard to find after the initial release, and now the prices have soared for anything even slightly uncommon, especially for the SNES.
Due to the difference in screen resolution between PAL and NTSC, it meant that a lot of lazy programmers didnt bother to fill the extra pixels, resulting in ugly black bars and a squashed image. These days it can mostly be resolved by using the zoom function on the TV, but back the, its just something you had to put up with. Heres an example of Soic 1, see how the screen is squashed and has thick borders compared to the one on the left? It’s not a problem until you see how much better the 60Hz version looks in comparion, then you ~NEVER~ want to go back!
Do you have the right TV, the right cables etc?
During the time of the Dreamcast / PS2 / Gamecube etc, companies finally began to take PAL areas a little more seriously, giving players the option to display games in either 50 or 60Hz modes. There was still one problem however, not all TV’s were compatible with the new 60Hz mode, causing the screen to possibly go black and white, or not work at all. To make matters worse, some games weren’t optimised for PAL 50 at all, such as Metroid Prime 2 Echoes, which will only run on a 60Hz TV.
PAL 60 ONLY! A blessing or a curse? All depends on the Type of TV you had!
Just as the games were slowed down to fit with the PAL format, the music was also slowed down by the same ammount, (16.7%) which makes once catchy tunes play at an excriciatingly slow pace and completely ruins them most of the time! Remember Greenhill Zone from Sonic 1? Now imagine playing and listening to it in slow motion, thats what we had to put up with in the early 90’s!
Some companies sped their PAL games up to match the NTSC speeds, although this was never something to be relied on as it seems completely random how and when the companies started to do this. For example, Sonic 2 was sped up to match the speed, but Phantasy Star IV (Released two years later) wasn’t! 🙁 Compare the PAL music from Bubble Man’s Stage in Megaman 2! It gives the stage a completely different feel. Sometimes I actually prefer the slowed down version, its a bit more relaxing for an underwater stage I think!
Due to many games being heavily delayed or cancelled entirely, the only way people would be able to play those games was to import, usually from an independant game shop that dealt with imports.
They were usually quite expensive though and this was only really an option for more serious gamers, everyone else just had to hope that one day they would get a chance to play the games.
It’s not all bad!
Very rarely, we did get a superior port of a game, mostly because, in the attempt to speed the game up to match the NTSC standard,t he developers actually made the PAL version faster! An example of this is the original Super Mario Bros which plays faster on PAL systems than it does on NTSC!
Another thing was that sometimes companies would take advantage of the extra screen space by adding more graphics to fill the gaps which would usually just show black bars. Mostly this was done by british studies such as Rare, who made a very good PAL optimised games such as the Donkey Kong Country series.
It’s possible now to get pretty much any retro console modded with a 50/60 Hz switch and get it region unlocked, theres plenty of websites that do it and i’d definitely recommend it if you take your retro gaming seriously, or just want to play the games the way they were intended! Here’s my modded Snes which allows me to play games from any region, as well as speed up the games I already owned! It really does make a huge difference and I’d highly recommend it!