Microsoft might have a magic ace up its sleeve, with the ability to upscale low-res textures in real-time using AI. This could become a big thing for Microsoft headed into the next-gen console battle between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
The work is coming from Playfab, a company that Microsoft acquired back in early 2018, that worked on making tools for back-end games support in the cloud. Playfab founder James Gwertzman is working at the company as the GM, using the power of Microsoft's huge Azure network and has recently talked with GamesBeat on some of the things he and his team are working on.
Gwertzman teases: "One of the studios inside Microsoft has been experimenting with using ML models for asset generation. It's working scarily well. To the point where we're looking at shipping really low-res textures and having ML models uprez the textures in real-time. You can't tell the difference between the hand-authored high-res texture and the machine-scaled-up low-res texture, to the point that you may as well ship the low-res texture and let the machine do it".
Like literally not having to ship massive 2K by 2K textures. You can ship tiny textures. The download is way smaller, but there's no appreciable difference in game quality. Think of it more like a magical compression technology. That's really magical. It takes a huge R&D budget. I look at things like that and say - either this is the next hard thing to compete on, hiring data scientists for a game studio, or it's a product opportunity. We could be providing technologies like this to everyone to level the playing field again.
In this case, it only works by training the models on very specific sets. One genre of game. There's no universal texture map. That would be kind of magical. It's more like if you train it on specific textures it works with those, but it wouldn't work with a whole different set.
It's especially good for photorealism, because that adds tons of data. It may not work so well for a fantasy art style. But my point is that I think the fact that that's a technology now - game development has always been hard in terms of the sheer number of disciplines you have to master. Art, physics, geography, UI, psychology, operant conditioning. All these things we have to master.
That's where I come in. At heart, Microsoft is a productivity company. Our employee badge says on the back, the company mission is to help people achieve more. How do we help developers achieve more? That's what we're trying to figure out.