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In-Flight Comms
In-Flight Comms

Here’s an issue that’s been a thorn in our side for a while – in-flight comms. You may have noticed when playing our recent demo that the game’s famous in-flight communication videos were absent from the HUD and cockpit, leaving only the voices.

For a long time, we were simply unable to extract the comm videos from the original game’s source files. A short while ago, Pedro managed this task using the fantastic WCToolbox – so he sent all the extracted frames my way. 35,176 tiny bitmaps! And when I say tiny, I do mean tiny. The Comm videos only ever took up a small portion of the original game’s 640×480 VGA resolution – so the frames we have available are only 128×108 pixels, in black and white, and originally only played back at 15fps!

Colour or Clarity? Left: PC – Right: PSX

That’s the PC version of the game. The Playstation version had colour comms – but they’re even tinier (60×48 pixels) and play back at only 7fps! This is almost certainly not enough pixel data for our AI upscalers to be able to pick out any detail to enhance. When coupled with the fact that it’s still proving difficult to extract the PSX comms (please see the Recruitment page if you can help with that) we’ve opted, for now, to go with the PC versions. We’ll also pull the original game’s trick of overlaying the colour of the HUD for whichever faction’s ship you’re flying (green for Confed, blue for the Borderworlds, red for the Black Lance).

I’ve got to resort to prehistoric tools in order to decrypt this info

Aside from the miniscule resolution of the source material, another major problem is compression. In order to fit all those thousands of frames onto the game’s CD-ROMs, they were quite heavily compressed using mid-90s techniques. The unfortunate side-effect for us is that they’re blocky even for their tiny resolution. Lots of chunky pixels and harsh right angles are baked into the image – which our AI models and routines then try to maintain when upscaling. To combat this, I added a CRT-scanline-style effect over the top and some intentional digital-corruption-looking effects. I hope you’ll agree they’re an effective way of making the ugly compression artefacts from the original material look more like they should occur natually in-game. We can consider it headcanon that these glitches are a side-effect of whatever future-tech Confed and its contemporaries use to send signals across the vasts of space.

Remaster Comparison Video

See the attached video for samples of every stage of the process: original tiny sequence > traditional bicubic upscale > AI upscale > 15 to 30fps AI frame rate interpolation > added glitch effects > HUD colour overlay.

The current plan is to integrate the videos into the next update of the demo, as a proof-of-concept for future releases. Watch this space!