Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wavebeam NES Palette

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The many different colors of Super Mario Bros. (NTSC Hardware, FCEUX, Nestopia, Wavebeam)
If you grew up playing the NES as much as I did, then you probably have the 50 some colors of the system forever burned into your memory. The interesting thing though is that the colors you experienced probably weren't the same as someone else. Many have run into this problem after loading up their favorite games on an emulator or the NESRGB and realizing how different the games look from their memory. So what exactly is going on?

While hue and chroma aren't tracked by NTSC and can cause TV sets to look different if not properly calibrated, it seems the TV's NTSC decoder is the main culprit for why no one can agree on what the colors are supposed to look like. TV manufacturers wanted their sets to stand out in the showroom from the competition, so they started sweetening and tweaking the NTSC signal when decoding it to make it more colorful and vibrant. Every manufacturer used different chips with different formulas, and to make things worse, not even all TVs from the same manufacturer treat the signal the same. (Note: see the Sony CXA2025AS palette in the comparison images at the bottom. It was reverse engineered from a consumer Sony IC and shows what this processing can do to the image) So because of this it seems impossible to ever come up with a single NES palette that everyone can agree on.




For me, this all started after getting an NESRGB. I wasn't happy with the colors on its stock palettes so I started researching more about it. I began to learn of the great work people like FirebrandX were doing to create very accurate palettes based off the raw composite signal coming out of the system. My hope was that if I fed their raw capture palettes into my RGB CRTs I'd have something identical to how an original NES displayed on it. Unfortunately, it looked the same as the raw capture since RGB inputs skip the TV's NTSC decoder.

I decided then to create my own palette that looked great on CRTs and brought back my nostalgic memories. I do not claim that it's accurate in any way to a single CRT or mathematical formula or even Nintendo's intentions. It's only based off my preference and the many CRTs I've owned. The palette was created on a calibrated IPS screen and then tested on several CRTs. I went through dozens and dozens of games, cross-checking eight different palettes for consistency and tweaking the colors to hit the sweet spot between authentic and vibrant. While the palette is meant for display on a CRT, I think it works great on digital displays as well.



View the full comparison

Download the .pal

Download the NESRGB Firmware Pack (older version, to be updated)




13 comments:

  1. Wavebeam doesn't seem like a massive departure from Consumer. Some of the blue values are different.

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    1. Yea, it turned out pretty close. I didn't know about the Consumer palette until I was nearly done with Wavebeam, so it was reassuring to see them line up in the end. Overall Consumer has hotter colors with higher overall contrast that I didn't think looked as good (not to mention the crazy blue push).

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  2. There's some other palettes to check out. There's a few that are official attempts by companies at making palettes. Such as the Virtual Console palettes, Rockman 9, and the NES Mini.

    http://emulation.gametechwiki.com/index.php/Famicom_Color_Palette

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  3. What was the process like for making your own palette? I love these screen comparisons.

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    1. I should have mentioned it above, but the post was getting too long with all the lead-up explanation. I think I probably came at it much differently than the others. Instead of capturing the colors from a specific CRT or signal, I tried to create an idealized palette based off all the CRTs I've used. I started with an existing palette generated from an NES palette generator, and then began the long process going through games and tweaking the colors to where it felt right for each scene. I also compared the scenes to numerous other existing palettes, and if another palette did something better I'd use it as a reference to push mine in that direction.

      I then repeated the same process directly on a CRT tweaking the colors, and again compared mine to numerous others. This helped find problems or inconsistencies as well as to see what worked best on the CRT. After hours and hours of repeating that process it eventually came together, ending up with something completely different than what I started with. Palettes referenced included FBX's Composite Direct, Nestopia, FCEUX, Sony Consumer, RGBSource's Hybrid, and BMF Final 3.

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  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLoRd6_a1CI

    Miyamoto shows off the original planning graph paper for SMB, and it looks pretty close to Consumer and wave beam. He also specifically says it was the first Famicom he worked on with blue skies.

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    1. Nice find! There is also this early Japanese Famicom commercial using what looks like a Sony set with the same colors:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSgTB-tKrNk

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  5. The post says "composite direct" but the file description says "NTSC Hardware", which one is the correct?

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  6. I've been getting emails from people claiming Miyamoto intended for the sky in Super Mario Bro. to be blue. Here's a direct quote from him stating it should in fact have a purple tinge:

    ""At that time, you could only have 3 colors for the blue sky, on the family computer. It took me a while to decide on which one I would use, and I eventually picked the purplish one. I felt that purple had the depth of nature. I was really into that."

    And here's the link to the article segment in question:

    http://www.firebrandx.com/downloads/smb-bluesky.jpg

    Checkmate.

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    1. wow, funny you said that since i asked this specific question on reddit and found it out too ! https://www.reddit.com/r/nintendo/comments/6arw50/do_we_know_which_color_super_mario_bros_sky_was/

      I always knew though that the sky was never intended to be blue :D also someone posted this pic, i found it very interesting https://imgur.com/m1Au9U8

      shows that it was meant to be way more purple than blue

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  7. Where can I download Wavebeam2?

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    1. There's no Wavebeam2, in the end I decided not to version number it. This page will always have the latest.

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