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!