It’s the newest trend on the market today. Everyone is in a rush to enable ray tracing on their platforms. From the new PlayStation, Xbox, even the latest gaming PCs, this game changer (pun was slightly intended) is becoming a must. You know it’s a big deal, but do you really know what it is?
There’s a lot of technical jargon on how it all works, but we’re not getting into that here. Nobody cares about that. What we’re here to do is discuss what it is and why it’s such a big deal. Trust me, it’s a lot more interesting than you think.
What is Ray Tracing?
In short, it changes the way games perceive light.
Currently, developers use a process called rasterization to add lighting into their games. This runs the image through a shader to add lighting and shadow effects. It’s an estimate that always looks a little off. It’s certainly passable and can look great, but your brain always knows when something is off. Shadows can be funky, lighting can be slightly inaccurate, and reflections aren’t very detailed.
However, ray tracing literally simulates how light works in real life. Obviously this is important because, well, lighting is the key to creating convincing graphics. Just look!
Amazing, right? Here’s how it works…
When something emits light, trillions of photons are thrown around the room. They bounce all over the place and refract before a fraction hits your eye. This creates an image in your brain.
Pixar movies, for example, replicate this exactly. That practice renders every single light particle in every frame. This takes months to render and is expansive as hell.
Now, in video games, this is a short cut. They work backwards, starting with the particles where the camera is, and then tracks them back to the light source. This saves money and cuts down considerably the time. Instead of taking a whole day to render a single frame (like Pixar), they can do that 30 or even 60 frames every second.
Is it worth it? See for yourself. Below is a comparison between rasterization and ray tracing. The advantage is clear.
Those graphics aren’t amazing in the first place, but you get the picture. This can make a major difference, because no matter how good the textures are, facial animations, etc, if the lighting isn’t right, it doesn’t look right.
Like I said before, lighting is key.
Is It a Big Upgrade?
Okay, so it enhances the graphics. How much of a difference will it really make? A lot!
The graphics we have now aren’t bad, but this new trend takes it to another level. In fact, we already have examples of ray tracing out on the market now, and it’s stunning.
Below are screenshots of from games using it, include “Cyberpunk 2077”, a Star Wars tech demo, and… “Minecraft”? Yep, Minecraft received an update and it is surprisingly one of the best examples of ray tracing we have.
Take a look…
The shadows are perfect. See the way the light interacts with the textures is jaw dropping; and the water looks nearly indistinguishable from real life. Games clearly look better with it.
The downside is there are only a handful of games out right now that are capable of ray tracing, but with next gen consoles launching, that’s soon to change. “Cyberpunk 2077” will be able to utilize it on next gen in a free 2021 update. “Spider-Man Miles Morales” will include ray tracing at launch. And even “Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart” will leverage the technology as well.
That list is sure to grow massively within the next couple of years as it becomes more accessible, and boy will it be accessible. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will both support it. Also, the entry level Nvidia RTX has GPU that is required to run ray tracing, which is only $499.99.
This is coming, quickly.
The Gold Standard
With ray tracing, games have never looked better.
We seemed to have reached a peak with how awesome graphics could look using previous technology. It looks great but ray tracing ups the ante. Now, we’ve entered a new arena and we’re still at the starting line.
If games look this great now, think about how great they’ll look by the end of this next generation. Absolutely amazing!
This technology isn’t just for the ultra rich or those who have no other life outside of gaming. This is coming to the general customer’s living room. And before long, most games will be taking advantage of that.
A lot of people paint the picture that this next generation is just a small upgrade from what we have now. Powerful, but overall not much. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The next generation of gaming isn’t just about upgrading power anymore, it’s literally changing the way games look. If there’s anything that gamers remember from this upcoming generation, that’s it.
From this point out, games will never look the same. It’s no longer next-gen? It’s here-and-now.