It’s a golden era of video game remakes. Earlier this year, Final Fantasy VII was updated for 2020 with a complete overhaul of its graphics and core gameplay systems, and fans of 900-degree skateboard turns will soon ollie into complete remasters of the first two Tony Hawk Pro Skater games.
These overhauls typically take years for professional game studios, which rebuild the game from the ground up. But fans have also been hard at work remaking classic games themselves, using artificial intelligence algorithms to upscale the pixelated, blotchy renderings of older games with crisp, modern graphics.
This community of thousands of game upscalers has sprung up thanks to the ability to instantly access and use A.I. research, which is often posted for free online by researchers from academia to big tech companies. Hobbyist game upscalers typically use an algorithm called ESRGAN, which won top prize at an international image upscaling competition in 2018.
The development of GANs was a “eureka” moment, like the fabled image of Archimedes running from his bath after realizing how water displacement works.
Using A.I. to remaster old games involves breaking down the components of a video game into two categories, “structures” and “textures.” Structures refers to 3D objects in the game, and textures refers to the graphics stretched over those objects to give them color, detail, and the illusion of depth.
By replacing the textures in games, modders can completely change how a game looks or feels. And in the case of game upscaling, they can also update those textures with newer, higher-resolution versions.
The Forgotten Pixel Art Masterpieces of the PlayStation 1 Era
Video games simply aren’t made like this anymore
To understand how the algorithms recreating these textures actually function, you have to go back to 2014 to when…