Real-time Imagery That Wasn’t

Speaking of movies, I believe we can all agree on the fact that the 80s was a pretty decent decade in terms of popular cinema. Of course, being born in 1980 may have a slight distorting effect on my personal judgment, but who can genuinely say he or she is utterly immune for nostalgia? I personally very much dislike nostalgia as a concept for the reason that it’s always a false, romanticized view on the past, but there’s just no way of escaping it: everything tends to appear nicer when relived from a distance.

The Last Starfighter released in 1984 is one 80s movie of which I have vague but interesting memories.  The main reason why the movie has stuck with me all these years was the fictional arcade machine that kicked off the story arch. At the beginning of the movie, the protagonist plays this polygon-based space shooter that later turned out to be a recruiting machine in disguise for an alien defense force (or something like that).

I was about seven or eight when I saw the movie at the first time and I remember how impressed I was by the graphics of the fake arcade machine. They easily surpassed everything I had seen so far in terms of video game graphics, but still, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why was that.

On the surface, the flat shaded polygons looked somewhat similar to those produced by Amiga 500 (my frame of reference back then), but what made the graphics ultimately apart, looking in hindsight, was the high and steady frame rate that was light years ahead of stuttering and unstable polygons seen on home systems at the time. On a side note, I believe this was my first realization of what the high frame rate really meant to real-time imagery, which was a lot.

Of course, the graphics on the arcade machine was not genuine real-time imagery but computer animation made to look like it was rendered in real-time. Either way, it fascinated the hell out of me.

Funnily enough, I completely ignored the more sophisticated (and thus logically more impressive) computer animation that was employed heavily thorough the movie. Yes, I learned only later that a big part of the movie was indeed computer animated, but I just had no concept of what computer animation supposed to be or look like, so I didn’t know how to be impressed by it.

Later on I did fell in love with computer animation as well and learned to appreciate it as a separate visual entity. Not superior or inferior, only different.