Yesterday saw the release of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a remaster which used AI to upscale many of the original game's textures so they look better at 4K.
That's nothing compared to what Intel are working on, however. In a video called "Enhancing Photorealism Enhancement," embedded below, Intel show Grand Theft Auto 5 after it has been run through a neural net to make the streets of Los Santos look more photorealistic. It works.
You can see the work of researchers Stephan R. Richter, Hassan Abu AlHaija, and Vladlen Koltun below:
In layman's terms, the process looks at frames of Grand Theft Auto, breaks the scene down into different elements, and then matches them with photos of a real city. It can then use parts of those photos to modify the images from the game.
The most obvious changes are a smoother road texture, glossier cars, and colour grading that renders a lot of the world grey. It does, to my eye, look more photorealistic. But it also looks drab. Perhaps that's because the photos the system is pulling from are all German cities, rather than the sunny California-inspired setting of GTAV. A sunnier photoset might generate cheerier results.
Intel's video isn't claiming this process makes games look better, however, only more photorealistic. Much of the video is spent contrasting the process used against older methods of doing the same thing, which are the researchers argue are "temporally unstable", causing blurry surfaces and hallucinating trees into the sky.
While I want games to be better art directed than mere reality, it seems like it's only a matter of time before tools like this are available to artists. I find that exciting.