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Mario in 3D

Hebrew U. algorithm gives old video games new lives

Liel Leibovitz
May 31, 2011
Toad, brought to life.(HW Zone)
Toad, brought to life.(HW Zone)

Like meeting an old flame years later and finding out he or she did not age gracefully, revisiting the video games of our childhood can be a jarring experience. Those of us accustomed to lifelike, three-dimensional aliens snarling on the screen have a hard time taking all those pixilated baddies seriously; even elder statesmen like Space Invaders look like they belong more on a calculator than on a modern gaming console.

Enter Dani Lischinski of Hebrew University: Together with Microsoft’s Johannes Kopf, he developed (Hebrew-only) an algorithm that de-pixelizes and upscales low-resolution pixel art. Or, in plain English: He created a bit of computer code that takes all those sad-looking 8-bit video game characters of old and turns them into well-rounded, full-bodied beauties.

Roughly speaking, the algorithm places two diagonal lines in each pixel, tracking its movement in order to ascertain continuity of colors and shapes, and uses splines—curves that can approximate and simplify complex shapes—to create a modern-looking and smooth piece of animation. As you can see from the photo above, the algorithm is far superior to anything else currently available on the market.

So on behalf of all of us who have spent much of 1989 through 1997 wishing that our Marios, Yoshis, and Links looked better, Kopf and Lischinski—we salute you.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.