Mode 7 is definitely one of the coolest features of many SNES games. Remember hopping into your first go-kart in Super Mario Kart and seeing your favourite characters drive around "fully-3D" courses? Or playing Secret of Mana and getting on Flammie's back for the first time, and looking down at the world map? Don't forget Star Fox's polygonal Arwings blasting their way through space!
That's only a small handful of games that utilised this unique feature, but as kids it dazzled us. Finally, video games could be in 3D! if you're like us, you've probably always wanted to know how Mode 7 works.
YouTube channel Modern Vintage Gamer has done all the hard work for us. They've posted a video that breaks down just how the famous SNES graphics work; while Mode 7 is likely what you'll be watching the video for, the channel also looks at all eight different modes - with Mode 7 being extra special.
This table breaks down the seven of the modes (excluding the most famous) that developers could choose from. Essentially, each mode sacrifices layers for more colours, but there are some exceptions (as you can see with Mode 5 and 6). Mode 1 was the most common, with games like Super Metroid using this. Mode 2 allows two layers with the same number of colours, but both layers scroll individually - pretty perfect for side-scrolling beat 'em ups, then!
What makes Mode 7 tick, then, is that it supports scaling and wrapping effects such as translation, scaling, reflection, and rotation. Thus creating that wondrous 16-bit 3D effect. You can't create verticality in Mode 7 - which explains why downs look squashed in your RPG world maps and why coins are just lying on the ground in Super Mario Kart - but it's hugely impressive how this retro technology creates the illusion of 3D
We don't want to spoil any more of the video, so go and check it out for yourselves! And let us know what your favourite use of Mode 7 is, or any fancy graphical styles and features, in the comments!
[source youtube.com, via venturebeat.com]
I'm still impressed by how they managed to get games like this, Star Fox, and F-Zero working on the system.
Super Castlevania 4 and Super Contra impressed me the most with their implementation of Mode 7.
Even though it isn't true 3D, a majority of the Mode 7 and chip compatible Super NES games beat out even earlier PS1 games by a mile. Donkey Kong Country look and ran so good even some journalists at the time didn't believe it was a Super NES game.
My favourite Mario Kart of all time!
I always enjoy these technical dives, and have seen explanations of SNES modes before. The SNES was a good system, but it demonstrates that it was a system full of compromises as no mode offers all the system's features at the same time.
And just for clarification, the chart is easy to misunderstand. It looks like Modes 3 and 4 are way better, but it's using a different color mode. The other modes have 4 and 16 colors per palette, but with 8 palettes, it's up to 32 and 128 per layer respectively. There are other limitations like shared colors. I just add this because the idea that it's limited to 16 colors total per background is easy to take away from the chart and is clearly not the case with the SNES. It also explains why Mode 1 was considered so useful.
@Patendo you my friend have good mario kart taste!
What did ZEO Battle Racers use?
Mode 7 goodness - in the right hands and used correctly used this changed the face of driving games.
Was interesting how the Megadrive developers pushed that hardware to make up for a lack of mode 7 (Road Rash, Toy Story driving section) a great example how healthy competition benefits all.
thanks for the terrific article.
Watched the vid yesterday. Very interesting.
And that's why it's my favourite console ever!! Loved the tech then. Love the tech now. Some of the best games ever created exist on this wonderful system.
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