NaturalVision Evolved Pushes Grand Theft Auto 5’s Realism Into a Whole New Level

A man was driving his old-school American muscle car down the freeway along the golden shore. The weather was awfully fine and there was not a single cloud in sight, exactly the sort of warm welcome you’d get when visiting Southern California. After a short while, the driver was now zooming through the concrete jungle as his car’s glossy paints reflected the passing street, before taking a sharp turn uphill. As the terrain ascended he gazed at the glowing sun descending into the horizon. Hungry for a grander view of this magnificent city, this man then hopped onto a chopper and flew over the tallest building and, as he did so, the city of Los Santos revealed right beneath his feet, decorated with afterglow on the horizon and a million tiny lights, dotted along the dusky streets. The world has never looked better, all thanks to NaturalVision graphics mod.

The photo-realistic world of NaturalVision Remastered. Photo from Flickr

That man was me, 3 years ago when I found this browsing through new mods to install on my GTA5. Never had I thought a mod with such spectacular graphical fidelity and close-to-life color accuracy would exist. It was the closest thing anyone could ever attempt to recreate the world within a mod. It was the true pinnacle of graphics mod.

At the time, online GTA forums were filled with mediocre graphics mods, some tried to appeal to the eye and went for the seemingly cinematic over-saturation, some showed no attempt to achieve anything realistic other than puddle reflections on the ground, and more were merely a combination of the two. NaturalVision wasn’t anything like them. As the name suggests, what NV pursued right from the start was the complete recreation of the natural, authentic feel in real life. Rather than bragging about stunning raining nights graphics and overly reflective sports cars (with attractive women in bikinis beside them, as usual) showered by excessive bloom effects, NV focused on fine-tuning the Earth’s atmosphere, lens flares, and correct color temperature based on real-life photos of Los Angeles and Salton Sea areas, so it would look as realistic in-game as it would in real life.

The photo-realistic world of NaturalVision Remastered. Photo from Flickr

After trying the mod out myself, I was too excited about this thing. People who know me understand that I’m not only a tech lover, I’m a photorealism worshipper.

What is Photorealism?

Photorealism was originally used in the field of painting, drawing, and other graphic media, meaning “a work recreated as realistically as possible from a photograph.” Today, though, photorealism extends its usage to the gaming world, where the term is used to describe in-game graphics appearing indistinguishable from real life.

Photorealistic graphics are hard to achieve for several reasons: in order to deceive human eyes, the applied textures are usually as high-res as 4K or 8K, which impacts the performance of the GPU; Physically based rendering (PBR) textures are also a feasible method widely implemented to allow textures react accurately according to the lighting conditions and the position of the player (camera), effectively creating a “3D-looking” texture. Because hardly any surface in real life is perfectly smooth or clean, “imperfections” also play a crucial role in making a believable environment. Details like dust, scratches, dents, or stains greatly enhance the realism of a model. In addition, adequate use of techniques like motion blur or ambient occlusion also helps a render come closer to realism. To conclude, realizing photorealistic renders is hard. It’s not only costly but also time-consuming. But if done right, the results can be astounding.

One of the earliest “photorealistic” paintings: John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle, 2007, oil on canvas, 30×48 inches.

“There Is Nothing Like NaturalVision, Nothing Even Comes Close to This Masterpiece.”

Upon release on the internet, NaturalVision has quickly gained popularity and made into the second-most-downloaded and the highest-rated graphics mod on the chart on gta5-mods.com, a major online mod forum for GTA5 mods, within its first three months. With every update, the author brought more tweaks to numerous details regarding lighting, reflections, coronas, fog, and more. Razed, the person behind this extensive project, was praised for finding the sophisticated balance between fantasy and reality, while being able to fully capture the graphical authenticity of South California, where the world of GTA5 is mainly based on. “There is nothing like NaturalVision, nothing even comes close to this masterpiece.” I remember audibly hearing my friend gasped at the gameplay with NV, saying that this is the most beautiful mod they had ever seen.

2017: NaturalVision Remastered

The NaturalVision we’ve known and loved received a major update in 2017. In this update, it also was renamed “NaturalVision Remastered” to emphasize the significance of this update, which would be described as “the complete graphical overhaul with more new features than ever.” In a document released alongside the NVR mod, Razed mentioned that he had worked on this project for over 3,000 hours! Well, it is apparent that the tremendous amount of time and dedication he had poured into this masterpiece have indeed paid off. NaturalVision has been downloaded for more than 1.5 million times as of today, enjoyed by graphics enthusiasts and GTA fans alike globally.

The photo-realistic world of NaturalVision Remastered. Photo from Flickr

2020: NaturalVision Evolved

Three years after the launch of NaturalVision Remastered, Razed is back with his bold new project to once again push the impossible. With this jaw-dropping trailer released on, NaturalVision Evolved is back and it aims to transform this 7-year-old, last-gen console game into yet another graphical marvel. I need no further explanation, just see it for yourself:

NaturalVision introduces a lot of newly implemented graphical features, like screen-space global illumination; as well as improvements over previous builds, like featuring compatibility with FiveM mod. Now, Let’s go through some of them:

FiveM Compatibility

FiveM is a free modification for setting up your own online server or joining others’ dedicated servers. It allows servers to freely use custom cars, weapons, and maps, and players also get to choose to play PvP or PvE. Unlike using mods or cheats, FiveM users can still access GTA: Online without being banned. This makes playing regular GTAO and custom online servers only a matter of switching back and forth. By making NVE compatible with FiveM, FiveM users can now enjoy the remarkable graphics while playing their favorite custom maps.

Screen-space Raytraced Global Illumination, SSRTGI

This is probably the most exciting new feature to me—screen-space raytraced global illumination, or SSRTGI, is a technology used in 3D computer graphics to achieve realistic lighting outcomes. Instead of relying predominantly on traditional global illumination, SSRTGI renders every pixel with virtual light rays casting from the camera, onto everything within that displayed scene (screen), hence the name “screen-space raytraced global illumination.” Each of the light rays then bounces realistically off surfaces numerous times, until the rays cease to travel. The more light rays bounce between surfaces, the more similar-to-life that image becomes.

However, since SSRTGI only calculates the information on the screen, rather than an entire world, SSRTGI cannot render some places which require external light sources correctly, leaving said places looking odd and killing the immersion.

Unigine made a quick video comparing different lighting effects:

Look closely to some shots when SSRTGI is enabled; some details that should’ve been there are gone, and some places where shadows should appear near the corners, they simply disappeared.

In defense of the author’s decision to implement SSRTGI, it is a cost-efficient technology to be implemented to GTA5 for its relatively low resource consumption, which is especially much needed for a dated game, all while still delivering believable visuals. It is still unconfirmed how much the performance of the game might be affected, if any. We can only test that out when this mod gets released.

Enhanced Screen Space Reflections

Reflective surfaces in video games used to be static, dull, low-res images impersonating a reflection, because they are just cheap tricks developers pulled to reduce the resources being handled by your computer/console. As technology improves, games are able to recreate part of the reflection effects without taking a toll on the graphics card, but they are still not perfect. With the introduction of enhanced screen space reflections, I’d say we are in the right direction.

Enhanced screen space reflections should be able to not only correctly reflect static buildings and props, but also capable of reflecting animate objects, like cars and NPCs. The optimal reflection system should be able to display almost anything in the game world—particle effects, lighting effects, and position correctly corresponding to the game world.

It’s yet to confirm whether all reflective surfaces will be optimized as the trailer shows, but even if it is only puddles, it is still a welcome improvement.

Improved Building Reflections

Rockstar possibly had to disable the reflections on the buildings in the downtown area due to the hardware limitations on PS3 and Xbox 360. Even if that was the case, there is still room for improvement in the PC and next-gen consoles. Well, with NaturalVision Evolved, Razed incorporated better building reflections into the graphics enhancement.
About time someone did something about those windows.

New Emissive Lights

New emissive lights are now installed around several buildings in the downtown area, providing an extra touch to the gameplay experience.

Cooler Color Temperature Street Lights

Streetlights appear cooler now. The color temperature has been changed from the warm 2700K to the cooler 6000K.

New Parallax Mapped Textures

Parallax mapped textures bring a static and flat surface to light. In the image shown above, the uncharacteristic pathway is now replaced with cobblestone, giving an excellent visual experience as well as realism. If parallax mapped textures like this are applied throughout the entire map, the visual experience of GTA5 could become completely brand-new.

Burnout Smoke, Brighter, Bigger, and 420% Longer

NVE lets you blind your opponents’ eyes in a race with this newly designed burn out smoke that is bigger, brighter, and oh boy is it much longer.

In some ending shots underwater, we can observe brighter and more vibrant underwater filters. We’re not sure if it is also a change to be added into the mod or simply just special effects applied to the trailer, but it does make the scenes underwater tremendously beautiful.

Conclusion

NaturalVision Evolved is an ambitious, stunning new project by Razed with so many exciting new features. Though right now it is still in early access stage, it shows a lot of promise to once again bring the visuals of Grand Theft Auto 5 into a whole new technical level.

If you want to support Razed and the work he’s doing, and receive the latest updates as well as release on NaturalVision Evolved, please consider becoming a member on his Patreon.

If you want to view more pictures from NaturalVision, please visit:

For more information regarding NaturalVision and its author, Razed, please visit:

Photos of NaturalVision mod by courtesy of Razed.

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