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RPCS3 Emulator Turns Old PS3 Games Into Works of Art

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For many years, PlayStation 3 emulation was a contradiction in terms. Sony’s unique CPU architecture, known as the Cell Broadband Engine, is fundamentally different than any other CPU that’s ever come to market. While the Xbox 360 and PS3 share some DNA, Cell was legendarily difficult to optimize even when running native code. The developers at the RPCS3 project have gotten the PS3 working in emulation, however, and they’ve just added major upscaling features that are capable of taking original PS3 games all the way up to an eye-popping 10K resolution.

10K, of course, is an absurd resolution that’d almost certainly choke any modern GPU, particularly through an emulation layer. But the development team behind the RPCS3 has released a video showcasing how much stepping up to 4K improves the visual quality of many games. We’ve embedded the demonstration video below; it includes clips from Ni No Kuni, Demon’s Souls, Yakuza 4, Catherine, Tekken 6, and what I think is Metal Gear Solid 2, though that’s just a guess. We’ve also embedded some of the comparisons below for those of you who can’t watch video.

The RPCS3 project is the most advanced and capable PS3 emulator in existence, and if I’m being honest I’m surprised it works as well as it does. RPCS3 uses Vulkan for its emulation and some titles are already capable of scaling up to 4K with no loss of performance when doing so. Only 15 percent of the PS3 games the RPCS3 team have tested are fully playable right now, but with nearly 1,500 games in the database that still works out to a library of over 200 titles.

NiNoKuni

Click to enlarge

How much a game benefits from 4K varies from title to title, but Ni No Kuni looks like a completely different game. At 4K, the art assets pop, while the base 720p looks like someone smeared a heavy coating of vaseline across their monitor. Most of the RPCS3’s emulation workload lands on the CPU, which means that while you’ll need a fairly powerful chip to run it, the graphics workload is fairly modest. RPCS3 also offers the option to force 16x AF, which dramatically improves texture quality.

NiNoKuni-4KAF

Standard PS3 on the left, 16x AF on the right. Click to enlarge.

We’ve stitched two images RPCS3 provided in its blog post into a single 4K panel. The left-hand image compares the PS3’s default texture filtering while the right uses 16x anisotropic filtering. While the ground immediately around your character looks the same in both images, the cobblestones north of the player’s position are much blurrier with default texture filtering. How much this improves a game will vary from title to title, but it’s an easy way to boost visual quality with a minimal performance hit on a modern GPU.

Keep in mind, of course, that simply rendering existing textures at higher resolutions doesn’t give the same detail increase than you’d see from native 4K assets, but it also doesn’t carry the same performance hit. Higher resolutions should also drastically reduce jaggies, and that’s always worth it.

The RPCS3 blog post has more details on their emulator, its various options and performance capabilities, and additional high-resolution screenshots, including Demon’s Souls scaled up to 8K and Red Dead Redemption in 4K.

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