Bloodborne is one of the most celebrated platform exclusives for the PlayStation 4, but similar to the original Demon's Souls on PS3, there's the sense that momentum for the series has tailed off, despite enormous critical acclaim. There was never a sequel to the game, and not even a PlayStation 4 Pro upgrade was delivered. In the here and now, if you play Bloodborne on PlayStation 5, you have a 1080p experience at a wobbly 30 frames per second that is barely improved over the PS4 original. However, today, we can show how the game looks running flat out at 60fps via backwards compatibility, along with an additional pass of AI upscaling taking the action up to 4K. Put simply, you've got to see this.
The story behind the video is actually a bit of a saga. Back in May 2020, Digital Foundry showcased an unofficial unlocked fps patch for Bloodborne, coded up by Lance McDonald. McDonald tapped into changes to the code of Dark Souls 3's PS4 Pro patch that enabled an unlocked frame-rate, bringing them into Bloodborne and essentially allowing the game to run at up to 60fps. But the problem was that the game was never designed to run on PS4 Pro, it couldn't tap into all of the power of the machine - boost mode was as far as you could get. A locked 1080p60 was off the table while even 720p60 had issues, presumably because having removed the GPU bottleneck, CPU limitations became the issue. McDonald's patch was released publicly a while ago now and could be run on development PS4 hardware and exploited retail machines.
A few weeks back, we received footage from someone who we understand to have taken McDonald's patched rendition of Bloodborne and had somehow managed to get it running on what we can safely assume to be PlayStation 5 development hardware. We've not actually seen the console running the game, but there are two definitive pieces of evidence in the capture we have that confirm that this is indeed running on Sony's new console. First of all, trophy notifications are of the PS5 style, while performance is essentially a flat 60 frames per second from start to finish at 1080p with just the occasional dropped frame - something we had never seen before. This was legit, it was indeed Bloodborne running faster and smoother than we'd ever seen before and it looked great, but we wanted more.
Regular readers and viewers of Digital Foundry may have noticed that we're excited by the arrival of AI techniques in gaming and we've used AI upscaling ourselves for everything from YouTube thumbnails to restoring old development footage in our colossal Final Fantasy 7 retrospective, so why not see if we could deliver the complete Bloodborne upgrade package? With 1080p60 video in the bag, why not shoot for 4K too? Thus began a week of experiments using a tool called Topaz Video Enhance AI, which uses a number of different AI upscaling models - and it turned out that most of them could deliver appreciably higher detail.
However, these AI upscaling techniques also served to emphasise some of Bloodborne's graphical issues: poor anti-aliasing with obvious shimmering, alongside some Unreal Engine 3-style specular aliasing. We settled on a model that could address most of the specular issues and reduce the AA artefacts, but in some scenarios would lose a little detail - the screenshot gallery above shows all of the advantages and disadvantages of this upscaling process. The overall result with this model has some similarities with TAA, curiously enough - raw, untreated pixels are nicely handled, but perhaps look over-processed on occasion (heavily stylised, even?) but there is much more stability in motion. What I found fascinating was that just about every AI upscaling model I tested was able to recognise the UI text and scale it in such a way that it looked virtually as good as native resolution rendering.
Processing each image took around 0.5 to 0.6 seconds per frame using an RTX 3090, so I do hope that Topaz Labs gets to grips with Nvidia's tensor cores at some point for a less prolonged experience. With that said, playing the output video at the end of the lengthy process was pretty sweet - it was great to see the game at a higher perceived resolution than it had ever been seen running at before. A proper Bloodborne patch would likely look quite different to this, but it's an interesting vision of how the game could look running on next generation (current generation?) hardware.
All of which leads us onto some obvious questions. There's money on the table here for Sony in bringing Bloodborne to PlayStation 5, so why haven't we seen an upgrade? After all, if Lance McDonald is able to patch the game for higher frame-rates, why can't Sony? The truth is, there are a number of logistical, technical and perhaps even corporate challenges here. First of all, if Lance's patch were rolled out as an official update, frame-rate would be unlocked on all systems - not just PlayStation 5. Based on our experiences with the patch as seen on PS4 and PS4 Pro, this would actually make the game a worse experience overall. Getting the game to recognise that it's running on PS5 and only remove the fps cap then would likely require that the whole project is remounted and upgraded to operate on the latest cross-generation SDK. It's possible, but it's certainly not easy for a game that celebrated its sixth birthday yesterday. It's likely that the codebase has not been touched at all for some time.
Perhaps the way forward is for Sony to renew the franchise in exactly the way it has done with Demon's Souls - to deliver the original code and assets to a talented development studio like Bluepoint Games and to rebuild, remaster or remake the game specifically for PlayStation 5. It's not a simple undertaking, it would take years to deliver, but the end result would undeniably be worth it. In the here and now, the McDonald patch running on PS5 with video captures enhanced with our AI upscaling is the best we'll get - but we can't help but think that this is not the end of the Bloodborne story.
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