Another Look at Red Alert

And now, a brief interlude. For July 4, American Independence Day, I couldn’t resist temporarily resuming my role as lackey to Josef Stalin. I had left off halfway through the Soviet campaign before, and I’m one level farther along now. It seemed like a fairly by-the-numbers level: start in one corner of the map, destroy all Allied units and structures, and while you’re at it, destroy the nearby village and massacre its inhabitants, because you’re evil. (Honestly, I don’t recall any other RTS taking such pains to remind you of this in the mission objectives. In Warcraft, the mere fact that you’re commanding orcs seemed to have been considered enough.) Presumably there were some new units introduced, but after three weeks without playing, I don’t know which ones they are. Perhaps they would stand out more if I hadn’t already seen every unit in the game from the Allied side.

Coming off Tender Loving Care, I’m amazed afresh at the difference that even as little as two years made to the quality of video playback. I don’t think I mentioned before that the video content in Red Alert is interlaced with black stripes, which is very distracting until you get used to it. This sort of interlacing was fairly common practice for early CD-ROM-based FMV titles, and in retrospect, I find it puzzling. I can understand the need to keep your video at a lower resolution than the already-low-res-by-today’s-standards screen, given the CPU speeds and CD-ROM throughput of the day. But surely once you’ve read a scanline-worth of data and decompressed it, slapping it on the screen twice can’t be much more expensive than once. Copying blocks from one place to another is one of those things that computers do really fast. So perhaps they did it this way because they felt it looked better? More like the then-familiar scanlines of a TV, concealing jaggies in the unused space? I have the feeling that an answer to this would have been easier to come by back in 1996, but at the time, I think I just took it for granted that this is how video on computers looked.

2 Comments so far

  1. Gregory Weir on 5 Jul 2010

    My guess would be the concealing of jaggies; if they doubled the lines, it would be obvious and there could be weird artifacts, but with the black scanlines your mind can believe that it’s a full-rez picture darkened by the horizontal stripes.

  2. Sean on 6 Jul 2010

    Actually, blitting to the screen was awfully slow in those days. I rewrote the Flight Unlimited mode X blitter and got a 10% speedup (of the entire game, I think) back in the day.

    If you want to know 100% for sure whether it was to hide jaggies or for performance, I can ask my boss.

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