Ray-tracing or RTX as it’s more commonly referred to, is a relatively new video game technology. Its emergence in computer graphics was first seen in the world of animation, most notably featured in many Pixar films.
Since the introduction of Nvidia RTX, many games have been able to fully tap into the potential of ray-traced lighting and effects. And with the next generation of consoles coming just around the corner, that will also be sporting there own versions of hardware accelerated ray-tracing; you can definitely sense a shift beginning to take shape.
Checkpoint was given access to try out the beta for Minecraft RTX, the latest title to receive official support by Nvidia to take full advantage of this new technology. And from the moment you load up the game, you instantly realise the difference in its presentation.
Godrays, shadows, and reflections are all on display with renewed clarity and realism. It’s amazing to think I never realised what was missing from the games original lighting, until I compared the two side by side. The way light behaves in the real world is consistent, and obeys certain rules when it comes to certain surface materials, as well as colour. Games previously did not possess the processing power necessary to render these elements in real-time, because doing so would crumple performance. With RTX however, these elements can now be fully realised with near accurate replication of how light behaves in certain settings.
For instance, while exploring through the game I came across an underground cave system and decided to investigate. Normally when exploring cave systems that are not exposed to direct sunlight, one must rely on torches to help light their way and to be able to see blocks in more detail. However, this need changes drastically when RTX is enabled. The light of the in-game sun’s light is cast from on high, and proceeds to bounce from the blocks and objects it hits. With RTX tech as it stands right now, light can bounce up to 8 times before it ceases to illuminate nearby geometery. This meant I was able to rely on sunlight alone to explore a vast majority of this cave, until I had to reluctantly use a torch to explore beyond the pitch black darkness that slowly began to creep in.
Even so, the effect is amazing to see replicated in motion. There is a richness in emerging from a pitch dark cave, to be gradually welcomed by the blinding sun. There is also added unforeseen gameplay benefits that RTX can bring. Certain surface materials such as gold or diamond blocks, both reflect light in different ways. Diamond being a more reflective mineral, can exhibit a blue glow when light passes through it, making it less likely you’ll miss that ever elusive diamond deposit. Gold on the other hand is slightly different.
While its reflection is not as stark, it does produce a very strong colour. And that is the next amazing thing that RTX provides; objects and surfaces being exposed to coloured light.
In this example, notice how the coloured lights are individually reflected, with individual casts representing each segment. This kind of light reflection is remarkable when you think how most games normally use static lights, and don’t allow for the cross pollination of light to accurately represent the transition between primary colours. Look closer, and you’ll also notice that the reflective tiled surface that the light is being shown on, mixes with the illuminated surface to create different shades of colour. For instance, the purple lights become a more vibrant pink colour when the light comes into contact with the tiled object. This kind of lighting opens up the door not only for game artists and level designers, but could potentially be integrated into game mechanics, particularly puzzle games.
While the technology on display is no doubt amazing (it sure amazed me!), as it stands right now it is currently inaccessible to most gamers. While the technology is available, the hardware to run it properly is too expensive in order to attain mainstream adoption. However, with the new generation of consoles coming later this year also looking to support ray-tracing, there is hope that these changes will be updated for the console versions of the game as well. If you wish to learn more about Minecraft RTX, or are curious to learn about RTX in general I highly recommend you check out the folks over at Digital Foundry.
If you want to know more about whats on offer for those lucky enough to have RTX graphics cards, you can also check out our previous article that details what content is available to try out.