So I read with great interest the discoveries made by some clever people on the Assemblergames forums, who have found specific memory addresses in various N64 games which disable the system's infamous anti-aliasing. As a graphical hardware feature employed by practically every game, it was thought this wasn't a "thing" which could be easily removed unless, it has since been unearthed, you have access to a Gameshark/Action Replay/PAR 3 cheat device and an inclination to dig around.
I have always wondered about this, in particular due to the fact that a select few games appear to have the ability to turn off anti-aliasing with in-game cheats (such as Top Gear Rally if I recall, and some others), so surely it could be possible to do with any game? Quake 64, I believe, is the only game to explicitly offer this option to the player outright, hidden in its options menu. Funnily enough, it's a game I have recently been playing (a nice port it is, too) and found that the game looked much nicer with this filter turned off. But what of other games? Armed with my Japanese PAR3 and some codes, I tested it out!
Crowd consensus has it that the Nintendo 64's anti-aliasing invalidates the console's retro credentials, particularly amongst those who think 'retro' must equate 2D pixels and/or crisp textures, or who have grown up with modern consoles only. A "fundamental mistake by Nintendo", according to some, even. Well, having now seen the comparisons with my own eyes (running via S-Video on an XRGB-mini Framemeister - pretty much the best picture quality you're likely to get of an N64 on a non-CRT television) these codes prove that this isn't strictly the case.
Certainly, when you look at static photos the difference is marked, and it's easy to see why the anti-aliasing looks less attractive. Take a look at these comparisons I took with a camera from Super Mario 64:
I definitely like the jagged look - it has a certain charm and gives clarity to textures in particular. But see a game in motion and, in the main, the opposite is true. Anti-aliasing gives Super Mario 64, for example, a look that is obviously more 'rounded' but also more vivid and consistent with it too. You understand, fairly instantly, why Nintendo would have implemented this feature into the hardware as default.
In Blast Dozer, the aliased look is nice, maybe more so than the default anti-aliased graphics, but there are instances of graphical glitches in this mode too (shadows on the models now look a bit iffy, for example). It seems some games benefit better than others, probably down to shading/texture methods used by certain games, so it is worth experimenting.
I love that these codes exist, and in some cases (like I found with Blast Dozer), the effect is pretty satisfying for those of us who like that 'PlayStation' graphical style, or just want to see models and textures given a pixellated look. But I'm not sure I'll ever insist on them either, and better visuals from your N64 can be acheived by using an up-scaler and some tinkering with your TV setup. It's clear anti-aliasing did what it was ultimately supposed to do: giving a smoothed effect to 3D models in particular which just feels 'better'. Nintendo didn't cock anything up - they knew what they were doing (who'd have thunk it, eh?).
I may upload a video to give you a better idea at a later date, but for now let me know what you think: On or Off?