When it comes to gaming, real-time ray tracing has been the proverbial Holy Grail for decades. The technology mimics how lighting works in the real world. Objects are illuminated by 3D light sources, with rays bouncing around before reaching your eyes (read: the camera). Ray tracing is what makes CG movies look so lifelike, but the computing power required to generate ray tracing in real-time has largely prevented the technology from taking root in PC games.
Graphics cards and processors are staggeringly more powerful (and efficient) than yesteryear’s hardware, and close-to-the-metal APIs lets developers tap into them more directly. At GDC in March, Microsoft announced a “DirectX Raytracing” (DXR) feature for Windows 10’s DirectX 12 graphics API. At E3 2018, Nvidia showed off the power of the “RTX” technology coming in next-gen GeForce graphics cards to allow them to process real-time ray tracing much better than today’s GPUs do.
In short: The Remedy-made demo looked stunning. You could toggle ray tracing on or off. The improvement in visual quality is significant with it active, as you can see in the video above. But the hardware required to run the eye-popping demo is just as significant: Our station ran on four Tesla V100 GPUs built around Nvidia’s latest and greatest Volta architecture, and the frame rate still took a noticeable dip when you toggled on ray tracing. Don’t let that discourage you, though. This is an exciting glimpse of the future of games—though nobody in the industry is willing to bet on how far off that future really is quite yet.
For a much deeper look at the graphics technology (and what hardware you’ll need to take advantage of it), check out our coverage of DirectX Raytracing from GDC.