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Modders Are Using AI to Overhaul Old Games Textures, With Gorgeous Results

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One of the promises of AI is its ability to enhance pre-existing visual detail rather than requiring the painstaking creation of all-new work. While there have been plenty of technical demos on this topic, including prototypes that actually deliver the ‘Enhance’ function TV shows have been claiming already exists for decades, consumer applications remain fewer and farther between. That could change in the near future, thanks to the potential for using AI to improve graphics in older games.

If you’ve ever been a fan of PC game mods, you’re aware that most mod projects don’t come to fruition, particularly big ones. Huge texture overhauls and update projects for classic titles can work wonders — I’ve been replaying Resident Evil 4 with an HD texture overhaul pack that makes the game look like something far closer to the modern era, even if the lighting is simplistic by current standards. But the amount of work required to update a game in this fashion is enormous. It has to be done carefully and with an eye towards replacing most, if not all, of the content in the game or else the result is a spliced-together trainwreck that satisfies no one. HardOCP recently posted a pair of updates showing how modders are using AI to clean up two popular games — Doom 2 and Morrowind — and the improvements are huge.

In Doom 2’s case, the author, hidfan, used super-resolution texture tools from Nvidia’s GameWorks and Topaz Lab’s AI Gigapixel to create the upscaling, then downscaled them again, manually removed AI artifacts, and manually adjusted the transparency masks (according to hidfan “AI don’t [sic] know what to do with binary Black&White yet.”)

The Morrowind team uses a method called ESRGAN, which stands for Enhanced Super Resolution Generative Adversarial Networks, a method of adding detail to initially low-resolution images. The team writes:

By doing it over several passes with the goal of fooling its adverserial [sic] part, it will usually produce an image with more fidelity and realism than past methods. I have upscaled the textures in Morrowind to four times the vanilla resolution using ESRGAN. Below you can compare various models’ results to the original (HR).

Right now, such tools are obviously in their infancy, but there’s real long-term potential here. If AI can increase resolution and improve texture detail, it could allow for remastering games where the original assets are no longer available without painstakingly creating new, updated resources from scratch. If this approach can be extended to video, the results could be enormous. Fans of TV shows like Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5 (including the author) have lamented that there’s no appetite for remastering these series due to ugly issues surrounding rights and the need to recreate the CGI scenes from scratch in the latter and the cost and expense of doing so in the former. Anything that moves the dial in terms of making AI more readily available for users to experiment with in such fashion is an advance in our book.

Feature image from the Morrowind Enhanced Textures mod. 

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