Updated: Feb 23, 2021
Welcome back everybody.
In the last article we looked at cut content mods, mods that reintroduce features and content left on the cutting room floor. Now we will look at mods that add a new lick of digital paint to old classic games: graphics mods.
Graphic mods come in many varieties, which we will go through in turn. Note that these different mod types are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the most dramatic visual improvements are often achieved by combining these mods, layering one on top of the other. Think of an old movie star layering on the stage make up to look 'camera ready' and ten years younger, and you will have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.
Texture mods aim to replace old low polly, low resolution textures with newer higher polly, higher res versions. These textures are usually applied to the environment.
System Shock 2 PC - mod comparison
The differences are subtle, yet effective. Note that System Shock 2 released in 1999!
Video by xSingulari7yx
Model mods replace in game characters, monsters, vehicles etc. with more up-to-date versions, which may make them look more realistic or stylised.
A less extreme version is the ‘reskin.’ These typically make models look different, but not necessarily more detailed. Sometimes this is done to enhance atmosphere, sometimes for comic effect.
Counter Strike 1.6: Teletubbies Skin Pack
Be honest, we have all wanted to shoot the Teletubbies at some point.
Video by randomgamevids
A more recent invention are post processing programs. Think Photoshop for video games. With these programs, such as ENB, SweetFX, and ReShade, the user is able to add a whole host of modern day graphical effects. This includes altering the contrast, colour saturation and sharpness to make details stand out or ‘pop’.
GTA 5 PC SweetFX Comparison
Crime sprees have never looked so good...
Video by DJSpace bacon
Other popular effects include those that mimic the effects of a camera, such as depth of field, chromatic aberration, lens flares, lens dirt and the like. Bloom effects can make lighting more appealing too. Check out the video below for examples of these.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl Lens Flare & Lens Dirt effects
The vanilla version did not look this pretty...
Video by Konstantin Dementev
At the more extreme end of the spectrum you can apply filters that make a game look like TV shows or films, for example the desaturated colours of Band of Brothers, or the stylised black and white of Sin City
FALLOUT 4 RESHADE: Nostalgia Sin City Preset
"Turn the right corner in the wasteland and you can find anything..."
Video by North96
Filters that make games look like comic books, cartoons or old school retro games can also be applied.
Art Souls 3 - Cel Shading with ReShade
Video by Limit Breakers
Since these are post-processing effects – that is applied after the games image has been 'rendered', they can be added to pretty much any game.
Adding all these effects together can have a dramatic effect on the look and feel of a game, and can make even old games look new(ish.) Compare this before and after footage of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, a game released way back in 2002.
Morrowind before and after Mods in 2017
0:00-2:17 - unmodded. 2:18 onwards - modded.
Video by RickJoystick
There are limits of course, a AAA game that is 15 years old is not going to look as good as a AAA game that was released 15 days ago, no matter what you do to it. The game ‘engine’ itself will always be the limiting factor. To get an old game looking – and playing – like a modern game would require the game to be remade in a completely new engine.
Which is exactly what some modders have done. These highly ambitious projects are called ‘source ports’, and will be the focus of next article. See you all then.
What other graphics mods have you encountered? What did you make of them? Have you perhaps created one yourself? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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System Shock 2 images from (Image from ModDB http://www.moddb.com/)