Restoring The Colors Of Arcade Past

Life is lived in color, but our technology wasn’t always able to capture that reality. Thanks to modern tech however, colorizing photos that were originally taken in black & white is easier than ever, although it’s still not always perfect.

At least in my case, where I will not make any claims about being a pro.

Recently, I saw the Twitter user Lord_Arse plugging a website that uses “deep AI learning” to colorize B&W photos. Called Colourise, I figured that it would be worth a shot to see the results for some arcade & pinball photos.

I found that it’s a bit imperfect still – it’s good at restoring blues and most skin tones, but the photos it gives you still need a lot of work by hand to come up properly. Greens, yellows, oranges, reds often still appear as gray or black. As such, each of the photos below had to be reworked by hand in addition to the AI colorization…sometimes it shows with colors being a bit too bold. It’s time-consuming work, so while I would like to have done more than what you see below, it had to be done eventually; These also could probably be done much better with more time thrown at them. Still, some color, even if hyper-realistic or imperfect, is better than no color, so let’s see the results (I may do a video showing the AI colorized versions, and comparing B&W, partial color, final color, if anyone would be interested in that).

Let’s start with some people playing at the arcade, sometime in the early 80’s. It’s possible that the ceiling wasn’t a dark brown, but I felt that worked better than black. :

Original:

Restored:

Here’s one with some rarities in it. I had some issues on this one (mainly the blue on the Bubbles cabinet – probably better to have just kept that white), and cheated with a few of the marquees. I did restore the colors of the sideart on Quasar as exactly as I could though, thanks to the flyer for it:

Original:

Restored:

Now for some hyper-realistic color. I’m guessing in the original it was overcast that day, but I went ahead with the bold blues anyways. This is the earliest photo of anything Sega, taken back before video games where a thing:

Original:

Hyper-restored:

Now for one I am happy with. The algorithm completely missed the yellow of the Pong cabinet and Al Alcorn’s shirt was almost white, so I worked on those along with the skin tones (which were washed out). I posted this on the Atari Museum FB group, and someone who had spoken extensively with Ted Dabney (pictured on the left) before he passed away, and said that Ted would have been “humbled and honored” by this. That makes it worth the effort 🙂

Original:

Restored:

Trivia: Did you know that the first video game to use true color was Atari’s Gotcha!? While most units were released in B&W, there was a run that used RGB channels.

Also in history, we’ve got pinball. I had to cheat a little on this one too (with the backbox), as the resolution was so poor that it was difficult to get all of those colors just right. The algorithm also missed a ton of colors in this one, although that’s really due to the source, which couldn’t really distinguish all of the yellows and light-blues that the game had. It also handled the skin tones of the guys in back oddly, only restoring half of the color to their faces.

Original:

Restored:

Last but not least is one of the most important events in pinball history, Roger Sharpe playing for the New York City council to un-ban the game. The algorithm actually did an ok job on this one, although it seems to think that everyone wears blue 😛 It missed all of the colors on the pinball machine though, so I looked up Bank Shot and restored them as they should be.

Original:

Restored:

This last one isn’t a restore, but still involves history. This is taken from a video where Eugene Jarvis, hot off of completing the development of Robotron 2084, tries out a different Williams game at a trade show called The Adventures of Robby Roto. Developed by Jay Fenton (better known for Gorf), it didn’t fare very well and was off of the market as quick as it came (it also never saw a home port). A camera crew for a show called Wired In was absolutely convinced that it was going to be the next Pac-Man, and also didn’t realize who Eugene was when they asked him about it. His response: “It’s pretty weird. I think it’s above me…it’s beyond me actually.”

That’s all I had time for now – are there any other photos from arcade/pinball past that you’d like to see restored to color?

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About the author: arcadehero View all posts by arcadehero

I’m a lifelong fan of video games and I have been operating my own arcade, The Game Grid Arcade in West Valley City, Utah since 2008.


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