Before the Nintendo 3DS came around to give Ocarina of Time a face-lift, the N64 relied on a different trick to give the illusion of Hyrule’s detailed world. Pre-rendered backgrounds added depth to a generation of games that were unable to render such details in real-time given the limited hardware. Shooting zombies in Raccoon City, walking around Midgar, and waking up in a detailed house to the sound of your fairy: All of these experiences were made better through pre-rendered backgrounds.

ClassicGameJunkie’s video game series “How Did They Do That?” takes a look at this trick in their latest installment. Drawing examples from Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of Time, they break down the process into three main steps.

  • The Environment: Creating the look of each environment with a 3D modeling program by adding in models, textures, and lighting. Camera position is also decided, determining what appears in front of and behind the character.
  • Collision Geometry: A character doesn’t fall out of a level or environment thanks to collision:  literally, what collides with the character to keep it from going out of bounds.
  • Camera Position: After the collision geometry and environment are brought together and placed inside the game, the game engine’s camera must be matched up with it all. With everything lined up, the characters and objects interact and move about perfectly against the pre-rendered environment. When it’s not lined up, well, watch the video and see!

As ClassicGameJunkie points out, this trick is rarely used nowadays. Video game hardware is much more advanced than it was in the ’90s, and nearly all high fidelity environments can be rendered in real time, allowing for more freedom with both the character’s and camera’s range of movement within them. This isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to games like the newer Resident Evil titles. It could be argued the narrowed or skewed environments of the original games added more tension and fear, obscuring what laid ahead. On the flip side of that argument, opening up environments like the worlds inside the Zelda games adds to the sense of exploration, and the hardware is advanced enough to show those little details and bigger surprises that causes the player to dive in and investigate every corner.

For the full rundown of this neat workaround check out the video below, and if you enjoy it, you can find similar videos on ClassicGameJunkie’s YouTube channel.

  • Ryan Haney

    Is that how Donkey Kong County 1, 2, & 3 looked so good on the SNES?

    • JasonBall

      Yeah. Exactly. Country not County, as well. The player models themselves of DK, Diddy, etc used prerendered models too.

      • Ryan Haney

        That’s what I get for letting the phone fill in words for me and thinking it did it right! I know it’s “Country”. I’ve played them too many times to miss spell it on my own.

    • Ryan Haney

      Is there a way to turn off auto correct but leave the suggestions on, like the Wii U Miiverse suggests the right word spelling but doesn’t change the word you typed?

      • JasonBall

        I own no smartphone nor do I own a Wii U. I have a 3DS, which I gather uses similar Miiverse layout, and I do recall what you mean by how it shows the right word but doesn’t do it for you. I’m sure if you google it you’ll find how to turn it off.

        Unfortunately, I’ve only had the pleasure of playing DKC3 for the GBA. So don’t think I’m some expert.

  • Vladislak

    I imagine that’s how the PS1 era Final Fantasy games had their detailed backgrounds as well.

    I kind of miss the detailed static backgrounds, it’s like old Disney films where you suddenly realize the background is a beautifully hand painted landscape.

    • James John Burgess

      She did mention walking around Midgar. 🙂
      (Just read the Authors name xD)

      • draug419

        Yo I’m the author.
        He or They is preferred. (:

        • James John Burgess

          In which case I’m even sillier. xD Sorry!

          • draug419

            Nah, it’s cool. 😀

      • Vladislak

        Ah, I see that now.

        Although I honestly have fonder memories of FFIX than FFVII. Both good games though. 🙂