Why GTA 5 is the Foundation for Graphical Experimentation

Eight years later, Grand Theft Auto 5 visual mods continue to push the game’s graphical limit, making it the de facto game for visual mods.

Ever since the game came out on PC, modders have been tinkering with Grand Theft Auto 5 to improve and overhaul the game, to varying degrees of complexity. Whether it’s simply improving loading speeds, or designing an entire server system dedicated to in-depth roleplaying server infrastructure, mods for  5 have extended the game’s lifespan way beyond it’s already impressive persistence. Even the base game of Grand Theft Auto Online has tons of content for players to explore, without the use of mods. However, players and enthusiasts on PC have enhanced the now eight-year-old game with a variety of graphical overhauls from various community mods.

Whereas The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim was home to all manner of mods, Grand Theft Auto 5 mods were a lot less prevalent due to Rockstar Games’ perspective on modding. Numerous different graphical overhaul mods for legacy Grand Theft Auto games like 3 and Vice City have been issued takedown notices by Take-Two Interactive. Despite this, members of the community continue modding the GTA 5 base game to little resistance, which has had an interesting effect on graphical experimentation and innovation. As recently as this week, Grand Theft Auto 5 continues to prove itself as the unofficial for graphics experimentation.

Mods Are Still Strong for Grand Theft Auto 5

Grand Theft Auto 5 modding began pretty soon after the console release, but entered full swing (like most games) once the PC version released. Windows ports are not only easier to implement mods on over time, but the breadth of high-end hardware provides more room for greater mod variety. Gameplay, graphics, and performance overhauls have all been implemented into Grand Theft Auto 5, even in an official capacity when Rockstar paid a programmer for a mod reducing GTA Online loading times. That’s just one of the many examples of mods that have changed the game, especially the more experimental graphics overhauls used to improve the game’s visuals.

Entries like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and GTA 4 have a plethora of graphical overhauls, but GTA 5 in particular has received a ton of different versions of graphical mods. Whether it’s direct texture replacement or ray tracing, or the machine learning techniques to make GTA 5 look photorealistic, multiple modders have employed different methods of improving the game’s visuals. Examples like the NaturalVision and the Realism Beyond mods employed different methods of visual improvement to GTA 5, making the game look amazing on high-end hardware. Even as Grand Theft Auto 5 receives PS5/Xbox Series X improvements this year, mods are incomparable.

Grand Theft Auto 5 is the Foundation for Mod Potential

Games like Skyrim have employed similarly stunning visual overhauls, but Grand Theft Auto 5 is generally the premier example for massive visual upgrade mods. Part of that is due to the massive commercial success of GTA 5 altogether, quickly becoming one of the highest-selling video games of all time. Generally any kind of visual overhauls from GTA 5 are guaranteed to attain more virality and online traction compared to comparably popular open-world games like Fallout 4 or even arguably Minecraft. Mods in general for GTA 5 have extended the game’s lifespan tenfold, but visual mods in particular have been especially popular for the game.

Whether intentional or not, GTA 5 has basically become the de facto base game for ambitious graphics mods, moreso than previous examples like Skyrim. It’s gotten to the point now that the most recent example was conducted by an Intel Labs research study at Cornell University. Even if the visual enhancements were conducted via machine learning, and not necessarily a direct editing of in-game textures or lighting systems, it’s still a testament to the canvas GTA 5 has become for visual mods. When it gets to the point where photorealistic enhancement in GTA 5 is being conducted through a collegiate study, that solidifies the game as a pseudo benchmark for visual mods.

Obviously at some point, a new open-world game will push the boundaries of video game graphical capability, and perhaps that game will become the next foundation for visual enhancement. Mods are always going to be around, especially with PC and graphics technology continuing to advance even further. Perhaps it’s Grand Theft Auto 6, perhaps it’s another Bethesda game on the studio’s newest engine overhaul, but another massively popular game will come along and serve as the benchmark for visual mods. Until then, more mods and improved existing mods will continue to grace Grand Theft Auto 5, pushing the game’s visual power to its absolute limit.

Grand Theft Auto 5 is available now on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

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