The big jump in impending tech was announced at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference. “Real time ray tracing” is even some thing studios like 4A, Epic Games and Remedy have already been experimenting with. Although, you shouldn’t get your hopes up too soon. Crumbs of the tech finding their way into these development studios in not indicative of a realistic timeline on when to expect the tech on a commercially viable basis. For that to happen, it needs to be inserted into GeForce’s successor, the Volta line of GPUs which have not yet enjoyed any kind of availability to we consumers on the street.
Many of us may be unfamiliar with the concept of “ray tracing”. So here’s a quick lesson. In real life, our eyes make sense of objects because of how light falls upon them. Light is absorbed, reflected, refracted or even amplified by the objects it comes into contact with. As such, our vision’s mission to deliver a comprehensive image to our brain at any given time is complete. “Ray tracing” does exactly the same thing but in reverse. The perspective of the camera will function as an invisible eye that gives off light algorithms that will “trace” a rendering path between the point of vision and whatever it can see.
While this method theoretically offers up incredible advancements to how our game worlds are rendered and how they look, there is one major mulligan. It requires one heck of a lot of computational power. As such, it could well be necessary to wait for the rest of commercial hardware and tech industry to catch up before “ray tracing” tech can live in harmony with other components of a machine that runs games. Case in point – don’t hold your breath for this. As with most aspects of tech, this method of rendering has been present for some time in the film industry.
Visual effects artists make use of it for hours on end to create a single frame of something that involves lots of realistic particles – like a planet exploding in Star Wars, for instance (extreme but the best I could come up with for now). Of course, it’s all well and good to compartmentalise all that computing power and hard work into a couple (hundred) of frames in a movie. Bringing the tech over to a real time videogame experience on the other hand, is something else altogether.
Working in collaboration with Microsoft, Nvidia's "ray tracing" tech has also led to DXR – Direct X Ray Tracing. Both the above video and EA's SEED (Search for Extraordinary Experiences Division) department's experimentation make use of DXR to effectively render reflections among the other benefits that the cutting edge tech includes. Some big PC upgrades may be in the pipeline for you!