Anyone who can remember playing GoldenEye 007 on the N64 probably remembers having to take into account the “screen cheaters” that would take a look at another quadrant of the split-screen shooter to gauge an opponent’s locations. There even is a modern game that forces players to rely on the tactic to follow unseen opponents.
Now, 25 years later Golden Eye‘s launch, a museum has managed to do something about those screencheaters, by coming up with a way to play a game of Golden Eye across four TV screens without changing the original cartridge or N64 hardware.
4 screen GoldenEye on the original N64 hardware! No screen cheating here! …but how?
Come and experience this at our GoldenEye evening, celebrating 25 years of GoldenEye for Nintendo 64: https://t.co/F918hEQ20v pic.twitter.com/05jA82upb8
— Computer history (@computermuseum) May 4, 2022
The multi-screen Golden Eye gameplay will be featured as part of the “25 years” Golden Eye” event in Cambridge, England Center for Computer History this weekend. A proof of concept for the unique playing style (with all monitors awkwardly pointing in the same direction) attracted some attention through a tweet on Wednesdaywhich led to Ars reaching out for more details on how the museum managed it.
“It’s not elegant”
Center for Computing History CEO and Trustee Jason Fitzpatrick tells Ars the idea for multi-screen Golden Eye began when some museum staff discussed their particular frustrations with split-screen first-person shooters on consoles. “We talked about it and they said, ‘The problem is you’re all on the same screen, you just have to look at the top right and see what they’re doing, and you can counter it,'” said Fitzpatrick. “And we went, ‘Oh, actually we might have a way around that.’ So we messed around and tried it and thought it was just kind of fun.”
Fitzpatrick was in a good position to break up Golden Eye‘s split-screen signal due to his day job at Pure Energy TV and Movie Props, where he says he is often called in to put up old cathode ray tube TVs on set. That means he “coincidentally has some devices to mess around with video,” he said.
In this case, the key is “little equipment”: a C2-7210 video scaler, a defunct video production technology that allows professionals to process a live video signal in a variety of ways. That includes the ability to zoom in on a specific portion of up to two inputs and then upscale the result to a full-screen output on another monitor or TV.
For multiple screens Golden EyeFitzpatrick said he just broke up the standard PAL N64 signal in four identical copies and then fed two inputs each in two scaler units. Then you point each scaler at a different quadrant of the input signal and send the resulting output to different TVs. A second input on one of those TVs also receives the unmodified full screen signal directly from the N64 to make navigating menus easier.
“It’s not elegant because you’re actually taking a 704×576 [pixel] image, and you just zoom in on a quarter of it and then take that quarter and stretch it across a full screen,” Fitzpatrick told Ars. “Even though we’re dealing with something like 352×288 [pixels]give or take, as a resolution for each of those quadrants, by the time it gets to full screen, it looks good.”
That’s partly because “the original game didn’t look great anyway” and because the continuous horizontal line scanning technology of the CRT “hides a great many sins,” Fitzpatrick said. “Old video CDs were 352×288 anyway, so we watched movies at that resolution,” he added.
This kind of signal splitting can be reminiscent of the huge CRT video walls that you sometimes see in art installations or old music videos. But Fitzpatrick says using a video wall controller for this kind of processing “would take hours to set up as you would have to do them all separately…you wouldn’t have had the fine control of going into that exactly [split-screen] Surface. That would have just taken the screen and cut it into quarters. It may be that some bits and pieces have been missed.”