Super Mario Bros, the way I remember it

by Darius Kazemi on January 14, 2013

in nintendo,nostalgia

When people write about Super Mario Bros., they often include an image like this:


Look at those pixels: clear as a crisp Spring morning! For a lot of people, this signifies a retro aesthetic. It’s also a wholly modern aesthetic, divorced from the experience of playing on physical monitors in the 80s. (Jason Scott wrote a good article about how most old games look better on old monitors.)

Even though I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. on my NES, pictures like this mean close to nothing to me, on an emotional level. I don’t get pangs of nostalgia for it.

This is because when I played Super Mario Bros., it was on a shitty CRT monitor with tons of bleed where I turned the tint control knob up to the max. This resulted in Mario living in a world of day-glo magenta where the barrier between objects was tenuous at best, and everything had a halo. What can I say, I was 5 years old and I loved the little knob that turned things neon!

I spent a few minutes this morning trying to recreate what that original image was like. (To the pedants: the following image is not technically accurate: I just threw it together by learning a little bit about YCbCr decomposition and applying a PAL and a lens filter–I would have experienced NTSC as a kid in America.) Here’s what nostalgia looks like for me:

What Mario looked like, to me.


Roxanna Kazemi January 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

Yes! Sometimes I miss that 13″ TV and its tint control knob. My nostalgia is also a less perfect image: it has that fuzzy halo and color bleed, but a more corrected color than your neon-tinted memory. Then again I didn’t always realize color in its literal sense. I distinctly remember that I would naturally color correct black and white TV into color, not fully realizing that episodes of Lassie and I Love Lucy were in fact wonderfully monochromatic. To reproduce my memory of that little TV with the tint control knob turned all the way up you’d have to reproduce the halo and bleed with a super-saturated version of today’s all too perfect images. I see your hue and saturation change as much more true than the first image you posted, and I do remember it well, but well before Mario took his first castle I’d have corrected the image in my head.

Erin Hoffman March 25, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Insightful. I don’t think I understood WHY the retrogame aesthetic was so appealing before this — only that it was. I think now that it’s almost some kind of psychological revisionism, recreating the symbolic art we saw in our minds but not with our eyes, because we certainly never saw those pixels with such clarity.

Ron Dahlgren May 6, 2013 at 12:48 am

The ‘clear as a crisp Spring morning!’ remark almost made me spray water all over my keyboard. Hilarious!

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