Mass Effect 2 with upscaled graphics
How Mass Effect 2 looks with upscaled graphics

The modding community is using the recent Artificial Intelligence (AI) boom with a lot of creativity. They are finding ways to repurpose professional research from tech companies and universities to improve the graphics of classic games.

The video game mod community has found machine learning has excellent applications to improve game visuals. They have invented a technique they have called “AI upscaling” that updates old game textures.

Ai upscaling Red Faction textures
AIupscaling Red Faction textures. Source: Moddb.

How AI upscaling improves old video games

In essence, AI upscaling is an algorithm feeding on low-resolution images. Then, as it trains the data, it gives back a version that looks the same, just with much more pixels in added into the picture.

Upscaling is a general technique that has been around for a long time. Some media streaming devices (like a Roku TV or an Android TV) use upscaling to turn a 1080p video into a 4K video. Using AI drastically improves the speed and quality of the results.

Here’s an example by Daniel Trolie, a Norway teacher who used AI to update the graphics of 2002’s classic RPG The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind by Bethesda.

“It was like witchcraft. It looked like I just downloaded a hi-res texture pack from [game developers] Bethesda themselves.”

Can I upscale a game myself? 

You can go to the r/GameUpscale modding Reddit or check other special forums like Discord to see additional tips and tutorials about these AI tools.

The modding process is similar to restoring works of art. It’s a job suited for skilled people and requires patience, knowledge, and a sense of purpose.

Not every game is fit for this process, and not every upscaling code produces the same results. Hence, modders have to pick the right algorithm for each game before putting hundreds of hour of work.

As you see, is a labor of love that requires coding knowledge. It’s not a quick fix.

For example, “hidfan,” a modder, explained the Doom visuals he made took 200 hours of work to tweak the algorithm and them clean the final images manually.

In Doom, just like many classic and modern video games, visuals are stored as different texture packs. Images of metal, grass, or rocks are like wallpapers on a wall. Modders have to treat the textures perfectly or risk different images being blended together.

Despite the work it requires, it’s still faster than previous methods. Also, it gives better results.

It means restoring, improving, or updating graphics can be done by a single dedicated modder within weeks. What’s more, a professional game designer with a team on his back could do it even faster.

Doom with AI upscaled graphics
Doom with AI upscaled graphics. Source: OC3D.

Can I find these AI-upscaling in my games?

There has been an explosion of improved graphics for classic games over the past six months.

The range of titles is imposing. It includes Doom, Metroid Prime 2, GTA: Vice City, Half-Life, and Half-Life 2.

My all-time favorite game, Bioware‘s Mass Effect 2, also got an AI-upscaling improvement. You can check it on the Kotaku site. However, some upgrades need extra knowledge to install.


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