New answers tagged compression
While I am not 100% sure, I believe that the effect you are talking about (such as how it is seen in Command & Conquer) is a result of applying a reduced color pallet to the video. For old games, disk space was at a premium and file sizes had to be kept exceptionally small and modern advanced compression was too processor intensive to be used. ...
It sounds to me like you're describing interlaced video. Which is, yes, "some kind of compression trick aimed at CRT displays," but has more to do with the perception of smooth motion, and less to do with brightness. Basically, every other line comes from the next video frame, which may have the effect of making the lines brighter or darker.
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