Real-time ray tracing (RTX in Nvidia speak) has come to Minecraft (bedrock edition) for Windows 10 in the form of an open beta. This is the first time that RTX will be enabled at the engine-level, allowing for optimal use of this feature without compromise.
Mods exist that add real-time ray tracing, but these tools build off existing graphical features in the game and can be less efficient and more limited in scope.
Minecraft is not the first game to use RTX features, however. Control, Battlefield V, and Wolfenstein: Young Blood includes these as options with a compatible video card, but Minecraft is a surprise both because it is a graphically simple game.
Adding real-time ray tracing to Minecraft is a smart move for a few reasons. Notably, it is an accessible game that appeals to a wide demographic of people. Games like Control are much less broad, making it more difficult to sell players on upgrading to a new console or graphics card capable of supporting RTX features. For the more casual gamer, showing them the difference between RTX on and off may well sell them on the idea of buying an Xbox Series X or Nvidia RTX card.
For everyone else, RTX helps show what we can expect from the next generation of games from Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, which both use custom AMD GPUs that support DX12 Ultimate ray tracing features.
At the Playstation 5 reveal, we got a look at how ray tracing will be used on Sony’s console. In the demos shown, it wasn’t clear how ray tracing could affect gameplay; it is just a pretty feature. In Minecraft’s case, RTX can transform caves that were once only mildly challenging into pitch-black nightmares.
How Does RTX Work in Minecraft?
Ray tracing is an effect that the movie industry has relied on for years to make CGI more realistic and immersive. Only recently affects become possible on consumer hardware.
Ray tracing works by simulating the physical properties of light as it emits from a source and how it interacts and reflects or refracts with different material properties. So mirrors, glass, reflections, and many other materials around the world all look more realistic. It goes further than this, though.
In Minecraft, when you place a torch in a cavern, the light from the flame will more realistically spread, leaving some areas brighter and better defined, but those areas around a corner or further away will be plunged into shadow. When you place a torch, the game attempts to calculate how far the light should shine, meaning that areas that should be dark or receiving less light still show up bright. As a result of RTX, many new gameplay possibilities open the door for more creative challenges. This includes the use of mirrored blocks or hiding enemies more easily in shadow.
But it is one thing to describe it. It is another to see it action. You can play it yourself by joining the RTX Beta if you already have Minecraft for Windows 10 (the Java version is not supported), or you can check out some user-made videos of levels.
RTX in the Future
Looking ahead, we can expect more games to utilize real-time ray tracing. Currently, we have primarily seen it used to make games more visually attractive, but we are hopeful that new titles will find new ways to incorporate ray tracing into gameplay.
For example, mirrors are a rare element in games. Some titles use workarounds to show an approximate reflection, such as in Last of Us Part II, but these mirrors only exist in smaller rooms and away from action-heavy scenes. Imagine a game where you find yourself in a hall of mirrors, either running away from something or trying to hunt it, being entirely unsure of what is a reflection, and what the real creature is.
Real-time ray tracing is arguably one of the biggest improvements made to graphics engines recently. Lighting and reflections can be tricky, and in the past, developers relied on limited toolsets to get lighting closer to reality. Real-time ray tracing is still a relatively new feature in games, and it will take some time before it becomes the standard for all games, but there are a lot of reasons to be excited about how it will change games in the future.