For the past few years graphics card makers, chiefly NVIDIA, have been releasing top of the line graphics cards boasting that they support ray tracing. Many people have heard this term thrown around, but not everyone knows what it actually means. Essentially, ray tracing is an advanced form of rendering light that follows the rays of light emitted from a source as they pass through, bounce off of, and refract off of other virtual objects. This technology is used in high-end visual effects design to make CGI elements feel real in films and shows.
Many games emulate these effects in order to to make a game look and feel more realistic, but for the most part, these games cheat the effect – in part because most games exist in a set environment with set lighting, and in part, because true ray tracing is more graphically intensive than a console, or most PCs, can handle.
On April 15th however, NVIDIA and Minecraft announced that they have teamed up to bring full ray tracing to the Windows 10 version of Minecraft Bedrock. It could seem strange to bring realism to a game comprised mostly of one-meter cubes, but the modular nature of Minecraft serves as the perfect case study for how NVIDIA’s RTX ray tracing actually works. Not only is the world of Minecraft randomly procedurally generated, but the main focus of the game is the player reshaping the world as they see fit; some players are even recreating the real world on a 1:1 scale within the game. This means that there is little to no way to cheat lighting, which is why Minecraft‘s default lighting is fairly flat, and why it will be such a good test for RTX.
Nvidia sponsored several of the most popular Minecraft Youtubers such as CaptainSparklez, Grian, and Mumbo Jumbo over the weekend to showcase the beta, and it truly does transform the game. Seeing as it is a beta, there were a few bugs, and there are quite a few other caveats to just what NVIDIA is doing. The beta is only available in Minecraft Bedrock which is the version of the game tailored to consoles, which has slightly more 3d textures but is somewhat slimmed down in terms of features. If you have Minecraft Bedrock, you have to have the Windows 10 version, because consoles can not handle the graphic demands. Then, per Mojang, your PC must have at least an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 card, an Intel i5 or better and 8 gigabytes of RAM. These are some pretty beefy requirements.
What this long list of requirements really means is that most people won’t have access to the feature right now – most people don’t have PCs with this kind of power, and those that do, who happen to play Minecraft most likely play the Java version of the game. However, this doesn’t seem to be Minecraft attempting to launch RTX to as many people as possible, what Mojang and NVIDIA are doing is showing where this technology can bring gaming over the next few years. It is a fairly in-depth glimpse into a possible future for gaming graphics, and it truly seems to be a promising one.