Grabbing: It’s a healthy obsession

Is there such a thing as a “healthy” obsession? Some would argue not.

I would argue that an obsession that was creative, and did no harm to anyone else, was not really unhealthy.

Some might argue that playing games too much in itself was unhealthy (I read today that the World Health Organisation added “Video Gaming Addiction” to its list of recognised ailments), and I would agree, to a degree, although I don’t think that I am playing games too much. I am reasonably sensible, and don’t play video games more than I think is healthy. Actually, I don’t play video games enough!

Every time I play games now… Every time. I get into “grabbing mode” and try to get some good screenshots. If I get a particularly good batch I might upload one or two to my Steam profile. The rest go into my Games Grab Archive – my master folder, containing all of my grabs. Listed by system, then alphabetically. Then noted with the year and system for easy searching. I just had a quick look and it is 150GB in size, and contains well over half a million files. And that’s only the stuff that’s complete. There are a few GB of work-in-progress files in the system as well.

Where did it all go wrong for me? I’m laughing here, although I am wondering when I first became obsessed with grabbing.

I guess it was in my first job. As a Staff Writer on a Super Nintendo magazine for Maverick Magazines in 1993.

The King of Grabs' desk back in 1993
The King of Grabs’ desk back in 1993.

Part of the job involved sourcing visuals for associated reviews, walkthroughs and features. To do this we would ‘book’ time on an Apple Mac which had a video capture card installed. The Super Nintendo would go into the capture card inputs and the game would be seen in a window on the Mac monitor. Then it was a case of playing the game in the window, then clicking “grab” in the capture card software and saving the resulting file to the hard drive. That was: if the grab was good enough. If the game wasn’t still when the grab was taken you would often get horrible ghosting on the image. It was a huge pain in the butt if a game didn’t have a pause mode. For a few games that wouldn’t pause, we were forced to deliberately crash the game on a wobbly Action Replay card to freeze the screen. Then get the grab. Then restart the game again for the next grab.

In this first job for me, the toughest grabbing jobs were always the ones making the stitched-together level images for walkthroughs. The ones where you take 500 grabs, then stitch them together in Photoshop, and in the end you have a single graphic of an entire level. Those kind of jobs were the ones that made grabbing an obsession. The ones that were basically four or five straight days of grabbing, and a tough design challenge to undertake (from the point of view of concentration required). To make it through them you had to be determined and methodical. Of course: getting paid to do the job helped too!

Around the same time I also became obsessed about grab quality. I could see that our office Super Nintendo grabber wasn’t as good as the one our sister Sega Megadrive magazine used. Our screenshots were blurrier, and had more colour bleed (where the colours seep into each other due to the nature of the RF video signals used back then), and I wasn’t happy about it. I started thinking about better ways to get screenshots.

Salvation came in the form of promotion: to Deputy Editor of a new PC games magazine, that the same company where launching. From there I discovered Screen Thief and built-in grabbers, and beyond. And it was a welcome change of direction!

I’ll be talking more about my obsession with grabbing, and grabbing techniques, over the coming year. This blog is not JUST an endless parade of screenshots!

The King of Grabs

Early Macintosh video capture grabber 1993
The very same early Macintosh grabber that I used back in 1993. Here being eloquently modelled by Richard.

One thought on “Grabbing: It’s a healthy obsession”

  1. I remember the stitched-together level images being used all the time in whatever Amiga magazine I was lucky to get in my childhood, and even as a young’un it struck me how much of an arse on it must’ve been. Specially for action games, where you could see multiple versions of the main character from each capture, desperately trying to survive as the entire level was captured. Was like a mini story in itself!

    Liked by 1 person

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