AI delivers a hilarious upgrade to '90s video game characters

Virtua Fighter
(Image credit: Sega / Colin Williamson via Twitter)

AI image generators have been responsible for so much in the last few months. Barely a day goes by without us discovering some new experiment, whether it's resurrecting late celebs or creating a tool so we can turn anyone into a Pokémon. Now someone's used them to enhance what 30 years ago was the cutting edge in video game graphics. 

An artist has fed the characters of Sega's nineties fighting game Virtua Fighter through an AI image generator, turning the original 3D polygon graphics into photorealistic images (well, almost). To see how this technology works, take a look at our piece on how to use DALL-E 2 (opens in new tab).

Virtua Fighter

(Image credit: Sega / Colin Williamson via Twitter)

Virtua Fighter was a revolution when it came out back in 1993. It's generally considered the first fighter with entirely 3D graphics, and the graphics were enhanced in several sequels. But what would it look like updated to today's standards in graphics? Well, tech artist Colin Williamson (opens in new tab) decided to find out with some help from an image-to-image variation of the open-source tech-to-image AI model Stable Diffusion. The results are both impressive and amusing.

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Graphics have come a long way since the original Virtua Fighter release, but Williamson said on Twitter (opens in new tab): "When I played this game back in middle school, I was like 'That's it. Graphics can never get better than this,' And my dad was like 'I'm not so sure, this looks kind of crappy.'"

Upgrading the characters in Stable Difusion wasn't all so easy, though. Williamson noted on Twitter that the algorithm "didn't really know what to do with spiky hair – or with Wolf's widow's peak. He told Ars Technica in an interview (opens in new tab). "The hardest part was simply figuring out how to describe the characters' clothes. Once I found a good prompt, I'd do a batch of around 50 and cherry-pick the funniest ones."

He said he tried negative prompting, through which the user can tell the AI model what not to include "stuff like 'please don't draw messed-up-looking hands,' which does an excellent job in that now your characters have only six fingers instead of seven," he said. Here are some more of the results.

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Williamson said that he tried doing Virtua Fighter 2 and 3 characters too, which benefit from enhanced graphics, but said it was "way funnier when the source material is more abstract". He added, "I feel like we're maybe 10 years away from doing this kind of stuff in realtime on old games. The future is gonna be WEIRD." Indeed.

It's not the first time we've seen video gaming characters subjected to AI treatment.  Viral Netflix Zelda posters (opens in new tab) fooled the internet by presenting a stunning cast for a Netflix adaptation. And we've even seen a spot-on AI Pokémon generator (opens in new tab). For more on AI tools, see how the best AI art generators compare (opens in new tab).

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.