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Stretch Modes in Games: Justified Practice or Mangled Aspect Ratios? (1 Viewer)

Jeffrey Forner

Screenwriter
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Jun 19, 1999
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1,117
Considering this is the Home Theater Forum, I think it’s safe to assume that most of us here prefer to watch movies in their original aspect ratios. In most cases, this means viewing a film in a widescreen format with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. Although the picture doesn’t fill up the entirety of the screen, we recognize two very important facts. First, viewing movies in widescreen saves us from pan & scan hack jobs that can remove up to one-third of the picture. We see the whole movie, and we don’t miss out on any of its visuals. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we realize that tampering with the aspect ratio undermines the artistic intent of the filmmakers. We know that the director and cinematographer strive to craft film’s composition, and we want to preserve their efforts as much as possible when viewing their work at home.

So too, do videogame developers work long hours to create the visuals for their games. Just as you can’t have a movie without pictures, you can’t play a videogame without, well, video! Characters are modeled a certain way; detailed landscapes arise from the nothingness of the virtual world, and today’s highly advanced consoles and PCs can add in layers upon layers of atmospheric effects to heighten the sense of reality (or non-reality if they so choose). Graphics have reached the point of fine art in some instances. It’s not hard to appreciate what we see.

Therefore, I find it somewhat disheartening to see so many gamers here tampering with the visuals of games through the use of stretch modes on 16:9 TVs. Worse yet, no one seems to care. Many even regard the practice as inevitable. I hate reading something along the lines of, “No 16:9 mode in that game? We’ll just have to stretch it then!” If you’re only objective is to fill up your widescreen TV, then fine. I guess I assumed that we had all moved past the desire to fill up our TVs with picture. Have we no respect for the efforts of the developers to create beautiful-looking games? Do we justify the practice of distorting their work by saying that games are less of an art form than film? If we all believed that, I could not call any one of us a true gamer.

As an owner of a 16:9 TV, I understand the frustration many feel upon learning that a highly anticipated game does not support a 16:9 mode. I’m also not suggesting that developers need not worry about including such an option with their games. I’ve played several 16:9 titles on my home theater and I tell you, it’s a thing of beauty, especially the game supports 480p (or 720p for some Xbox games). I want to see more 16:9 games as much as anybody.

In the meantime, the majority of videogames do not support 16:9, and like it or not, we have to live with it. For me, that means playing these games in 4:3 mode with gray bars on the side and a pair of mattes covering them. It may not be exactly what I want, but I’ll take that any day over squishing Mario down into an even shorter, fatter, Italian plumber. If we want to truly appreciate a game, we must play games as the developers intended, just as we should view films the way their directors intended.

Discuss.
 

Chris Rock

Supporting Actor
Joined
Jan 10, 2001
Messages
710
This is one reason I chose to stick with a 4:3 TV. I knew that I wouldn't prefer Windowboxed material. The Letterboxing of 16:9 stuff on my WEGA is fine.
 

Romier S

Senior HTF Member
Joined
Sep 2, 1999
Messages
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Jeff, I understand your point of view but unlike a movie a game has no set aspect ratio to "butcher" IMO. Games are not made with 2:35:1 or 1:85:1 aspect ratios in mind nor are pan and scan versions of games being released in the way that a DVD of a movie is. It could be argued that a games aspect ratio is 4X3 and that is the way its to be played and I can see where that argument would be correct to some but I don't agree with it in some instances.
I personally don't feel that stretching a game is a horrible thing to do. 16:9 support is becoming more and more prevelant but in the end its still a bit of afterthought by the developers in question. For me (and again this is my opinion) I take it on a game to game basis. A game like Halo that stretches very well and looks great, I dont see a problem with. On the other hand a game like Shenmue 2 that IMO looks horrible stretched I'll play in the normal mode with the grey bars. I don't find it to be blashpemy if someone prefers to stretch a game on thier widescreen monitor for the reason I mentioned above, I dont find that games have a set aspect ratio to play in. Developers right now pretty much leave that open to interpretation. Unlike a movie like The Shining which I would never watch in a stretch mode byt he way:D.
Do we justify the practice of distorting their work by saying that games are less of an art form than film? If we all believed that, I could not call any one of us a true gamer.
The question to ask here when saying "thier work" is, do the developers worry about how thier games are being displayed? Allot of developers include 16:9 support in thier games but there is no uniformity to it. Smilebit for instance released Gunvalkyrie in 16:9, yet did not do so with Jet Set Radio Future, I find Jet Set to be a more "cinematic" experience but its the choice of the developer. Does the line of thinking that we subscribe to here even pass thier minds when creating a game? You understand what I mean? For instance if a game is released with Widescreen support and gamer A is playing said game on his widescreen, is he now playing the game in its correct OAR? By that token is gamer b who does not own a widescreen set and is playing said game on his 4X3 television bastardizing the vision of the developer? There is just too much greay area there IMO.
I would never question videogames as form of art. They very well are and allot of games are pure labors of love. The problem right now however is that there is no set standard for how to display this artwork. With DVD and movies everything is very black and white. Original Aspect Ratio all the way, no qeustion asked, whether it be 4X3 or widescreen. As of now I just dont think that gaming in general has a set definition of what the original aspect ration of a game truly is. Again its left very open to interpretation by the developer. I hope that got my point across a little better. (My feelings on this whole subject are a bit difficult to put into words.)
My two cents:)
 

Brett G

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Apr 11, 1999
Messages
147
I'll admit that I stretch most games to fit my 16:9 set. I bought the TV so that I would be able to enjoy the best experience when watching movies in their OAR, and that will never change. Unfortunately there is a tradeoff. Either watch all 4:3 oriented stuff in OAR and risk burn-in, or stretch it. I spent a lot of money on my set and don't plan on buying a new one for a long time.

Because of this, I have had to make some sacrifices. Movies are always OAR because I have placed that as most important. Second to that, though, I place reducing burn-in risk as more important than playing games in OAR. Yes, games are art, and it is very important to recreate the creators' intentions as best as possible. But while movies are watched, games are played. There is so much more going on than just what you see. While a movie has only two tools - picture and sound - a game has those but several more, such as controls, difficulty, playability, etc. If you change the picture of a movie, you are messing with at least half of the entire product. For a game, much less of a percentage.

I'm not saying this makes it right. Eliminate the risk of burn-in for me, and I would do everything OAR. But my point is that stretching a video game does much less damage to a creator's intent than MARring a movie. It does do damage, I admit, but I'm not going to risk damaging my $3000 TV for a video game.
 

Jared_B

Supporting Actor
Joined
May 7, 2001
Messages
580
For me, that means playing these games in 4:3 mode with gray bars on the side and a pair of mattes covering them.
A little OT, buy why do people use mattes anyway? Is it so you can forget that 33% of your TV is not being used?

I stretch my non-widescreen games, mostly becuase I tend to play a lot and want to avoid any burn-in.
 

Hanson

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Nov 1, 1998
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Real Name
Hanson
Burn-in is absolutely the #1 factor in stretching. But while I would never stretch, say, His Girl Friday, that's because a wide Cary Grant looks flat out wrong -- Mario, OTOH, looks fine stretched to me. And I've gone back and forth between a 16:9 and 4:3 set with the same game and I don't notice a difference either way.

See, while I will not get into the debate about whether videogames are art or not, they are mainly for playing, not for just watching. Things like composition and framing take a backseat to the action. And as long as I can make out the action, the distortion doesn't bother me.

If videogame makers won't offer anamorphic widescreen for technical reasons, you think they could at least offer a letterbox version with the display within the 1.78 frame. Then I could at least zoom the game and not distort the image. I think World Driver something or another on the N64 and Jet Force Gemini had this option.
 

JamesH

Supporting Actor
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Nov 28, 2000
Messages
662
Therefore, I find it somewhat disheartening to see so many gamers here tampering with the visuals of games through the use of stretch modes on 16:9 TVs. Worse yet, no one seems to care. Many even regard the practice as inevitable. I hate reading something along the lines of, “No 16:9 mode in that game? We’ll just have to stretch it then!”
Does it really bother you that much when someone else does something that doesn't affect you in any way?(legitimate question, not rhetorical) I think you've sort of made an issue out of a non-issue.

It's kind of like the people who get their panties in a wad because someone else uses the internal clock to time jump in Animal Crossing.
 

Dave F

Effects Supervisor
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May 15, 1999
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Disagreeing is one thing, but summarily dismissing someone's valid question as a "non-issue" is just plain rude.
Games do have a proper aspect ratio. Look at it this way - if the artists and model designers were told that the image would be stretched horizontally, don't you think they would compensate for it?
That said, I play many games in a stretch/zoom mode. Full stretch is always more distortion than I can take. Buffy should be 5 ft 3, not 3 ft 3! :) If a game has recognizable real world proportions, like a human figure, I almost always play in the proper aspect ratio. The distortion is just too distracting.
Beach Spikers is the only game where I thought that the proportions actually improved after streching the image a bit.
-Dave
 

Nathan A

Second Unit
Joined
Mar 3, 2001
Messages
351
but that's just it...most games (at least the ones i've played on my wide set) don't look awkward stretched (while most all TV programming does look weird).
 

JamesH

Supporting Actor
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Nov 28, 2000
Messages
662
Disagreeing is one thing, but summarily dismissing someone's valid question as a "non-issue" is just plain rude.
I don't really have any opportunity to disagree seeing how I went with a 4:3 HDTV. However, why get upset about what someone else does with their own equipment in their own home?
 

Romier S

Senior HTF Member
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Sep 2, 1999
Messages
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If a game doesn't feature a 16:9 mode, then the developer expects (or at least hopes) that you play the game in its native 4:3 mode.
Thats a bit of speculation on your part as none of us really know what the developer "expects" or "hopes" from the player. Thats not something thats spelled out as obviously as a movie. We don't even know if the thought process of aspect ratios and how they should be displayed comes into play when developers are creating a game. Which games get 16:9 support and which ones don't? What is the criteria? How is that decided? Many of use here simply don't know enough to comment. All thats left is speculation on our part.
The current director of the Resident Evil series for instance, when asked about 480p support in an interview really didn't seem to concerned either way whether it was there or not. He simply noted "We'll try to get that in on the next game". That doesn't deal much with aspect ratio but it speaks volumes exactly what kind of issues developers are really looking at.
I'd be curious to speak with a few developers to find out the criteria for adding 16:9 support and how they truly feel about the use of stretch modes on a widescreen set.
For now Jeff, we'll just have to agree to disagree:D.
(Good discussion by the way guys)
 

Mark_Arelius

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 16, 2002
Messages
12
Some manufacturers have good stretch modes, and some don't. My HD widescreen Mits seems to make all games look good via X-Box progressive whether the game is 16 x 9 or not ( Halo for a example since everyone thinks Halo is the almighty, Myself , I found Enclave to be supreme master as of yet and I don't think that was 16 x 9 either )

The Game Cube does a great job as well but I decided against the PS2 after renting it and finding the picture very unacceptable.

I have witnessed some bad stretch modes on some RPTV's out there and wont list names for the sake of not stirring anyone up, and they would make watching TV or gaming unpleasant
 

Romier S

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Sep 2, 1999
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Halo for a example since everyone thinks Halo is the almighty, Myself , I found Enclave to be supreme master as of yet and I don't think that was 16 x 9 either
Nope, Enclave is very much 16:9. Believe me, the game IS a true contender for best looking game on a 16:9 hi-def display. Its just gorgeus. Dead or Alive 3 is the only game that can go toe to toe IMHO.
 

Mark_Arelius

Auditioning
Joined
Nov 16, 2002
Messages
12
Nope, Enclave is very much 16:9. Believe me, the game IS a true contender for best looking game on a 16:9 hi-def display. Its just gorgeus. Dead or Alive 3 is the only game that can go toe to toe IMHO.
No wonder it had me so hooked! Can any game go toe to toe with DOA3? Too bad its not my idea of a fun game but it is without a doubt Demo material for those that arent convinced of the power of the X-Box on a progressive TV
 

Trevor Harveaux

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
May 9, 2001
Messages
116
The best looking game out now in Unreal, IMO, widescreen AND FSAA. Looks very nice, I havetn noticed any real sowdown either.
 

Jason Borchers

Second Unit
Joined
Jan 14, 2001
Messages
437
This is one reason I chose to stick with a 4:3 TV. I knew that I wouldn't prefer Windowboxed material. The Letterboxing of 16:9 stuff on my WEGA is fine.
Me too. At this point in time, it's simpler to have a 4:3 set.
I otherwise agree with Jeffrey, though. When I do eventually get a 16:9 TV, I won't ever stretch my games. I always notice that type of distortion right away and consider it completely distracting and unacceptable. Black or gray bars are an OK compromise.
EDIT: I meant to mention this, but forgot. The situation is similar to playing Game Boy Color games on a Game Boy Advance. The GBA offers a stretch mode, which widens the squarish GBC image to the dimensions of the GBA screen.
I keep the GBC games at their OAR at all times. :) Nothing looks right in stretch mode.
 

Brett G

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Apr 11, 1999
Messages
147
Besides, the gray bars are there to prevent uneven burn than can arise from black bars. Believe it or not, they are a good thing.
Nothing can prevent burn-in except non-static images. Gray bars are not a good thing, just much better than black bars. But even with gray bars you risk burn-in, granted it would take much longer to occur. But while movies are usually only two hours, I sometimes spend much more time than that playing a game. Because of this, it is usually stretch mode for me. It doesn't usually bother me.
 

Jeffrey Forner

Screenwriter
Joined
Jun 19, 1999
Messages
1,117
Brett;

That is why you should try to remember to take a break from playing games every hour or even every two hours. If you're that concerned with burn-in, you probably shouldn't be playing games on an RPTV anyway. After all, the heads-up displays in most games are probably worse for your TV than the gray bars.
 

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