I’d like to deepen this aspect, since it may be worth it.
I know this will be a wall of text, sorry.
MI1 was designed in 1989 and came out in 1990. MI2 came out in 1991.
The fact that the games straddle the change of the decade is a meaningful coincidence: I’ve always considered MI1 as a product of the 80es, or to be precise, the latest, greatest product of 80es adventure game art, at its maximum peak.
Conversely, MI2 is one of the first adventure games of the 90es.
I had the feeling, back then, that Ron Gilbert and Lucasfilm/LucasArts were sending a message to the other devs: “OK guys, we definitely won. Just on the finish line of the 80es we have made the Latest And Greatest™ adventure game so far, MI1. Now let’s move on to the 90es! But, be prepared to fight: MI2 is the first game of the new era and it sets a new high benchmark! Try to make better, if you dare!”
It is incredible to me how two games that share (or, at least, overlap) the same development and have the same universe, characters and engine can be so different in style.
You can tell the great effort of improvement between the two games. You can tell more people and more money was involved in MI2. Even the name of the company changed between the two games!
I mean, VGA existed in 1990. But MI1 reached its peak with a “retro” 16 colors EGA graphics, and with the awesome pixel art composed by Mark Ferrari, pixel by pixel.
MI2, conversely, makes extensive use of the possibilities of the 256 colors, and was one of the first games with entirely scanned backgrounds, as far as I recall.
Do you remember our feeling, back then, when we used to see a 256 colors 320x200 GIF of a scanned real life picture? Man, that was THE FUTURE…
And the team was onto it. And onto the new sound technology: the Sound Blaster came out in those very months, it was needed for iMuse to work and for such astounding new music, and the debs didn’t miss the opportunity of taking advantage of it.
All these peculiar features and their historical meaning make the two games great AS THEY ARE.
But if you want to compare the two games and find out which one is better, well, every difference between them has its pro and its cons.
It is easy to say that that the same song is better in MIDI, with a SB sound and with iMuse than in AdLib.
And MI2 has nice tunes, but the main theme that is in our mind is the one from MI1.
It is easy to say that 256 colors are better than 16, and the hand made
Steve PurcellPeter Chan’s drawings for MI2 are stunningly beautiful. But that’s not pixel art. That’s scanning of hand made drawings, downscaled to such a low res that everybody, back then, was feeling the need of a higher resolution.
MI1’s pixel Art by Mark Ferrari are an example of incredible mastery in the use of the pixels and the palettes.
Luckily who redrawn the 256 color version over Mark Ferrari’s EGA backgrounds did a very good job.
Too bad he was too lazy to make the sunset version of the dock on Melee, which is lacking in the VGA version.
It is not so automatic that adding colors makes better result… look at what they have done to Loom!
In MI1 the mood in 256 colors is preserved, and the overall polished aspect of the CD version of MI1 (256 colors, MIDI Roland soundtrack, MI2-style UI and inventory icons, live recorded SFX, newly drawn and scanned close-ups) makes the game almost perfect, and feels fresh even today, especially in the Ultimate Talkie Edition by @LogicDeLuxe.
The biggest hardware constraints you could feel in MI1 are, in my opinion, the number of colors and the awful AdLib sound. And they are wonderfully bypassed with the CD 1992 version.
In this version, MI1 has the same technical requirements of MI2 (even if the technique of development is different).
If you play any MI1 VGA version (the CD on or the ultimate talkie) you won’t feel any technical limitation, you won’t desire better.
Conversely, if you play MI2, you will immediately desire an higher resolution, since the backgrounds feel sometimes messy and fuzzy. And you know it is not
Steve PurcellPeter Chan’s fault, but fault of the scanner technology and of 320x200.
But there’s nothing you can do for that. if you want to see the background in a beautiful high res, you should also redrawn ALL the characters, which would totally change the style and mood of the game.
Maybe this is the reason I think, even more modern and technologically advanced, MI2 feels today more dated, while MI1 is still fresh.
Well, just my 256 cents.
EDIT: corrected the name of the author of the back grounds. Thanks to @seguso