The technology behind graphics is hard to understand, but ray tracing is quite straightforward. It’s a technology that simulates the working mechanism of light in real life within a game. Ray tracing creates images by outlining the path of simulated light. It facilitates the bouncing of light off objects as it moves in space and interacts with different properties. For example, if light bounces off a glossy blue surface, its hue will change. Actual light works on the same principle. The objects that it interacts with determine its path and how it looks. A dark object will absorb light while a mirror will reflect it.
The similarity of ray tracing to real light makes it one of the most realistic rendering techniques. However, it is quite difficult to simulate because our surroundings comprise billions of light particles bouncing at extremely high speeds – the speed of light. Simulating all these parameters is no mean feat, which explains why most real-time 3D graphics, such as those used in PC gaming, avoid using ray tracing as a rendering technique. Typically, ray tracing remains to be a reserve of pre-rendered graphics, like movies, because in such settings, it is possible to spend hours rendering single frames. However, things are starting to change now with the advancement of graphics technology.
But First, Let’s Check out Some Eye Candy Demos!
How Ray Tracing Works
Ray tracing works by using its rendering engine to map the trajectory that light rays take before reaching the viewport (viewing region in computer graphics). It works backwards and casts rays – one for every pixel on your display in a straight line from the viewport. At the same time, it captures the point at which the rays meet a digital surface. The physical attributes of the object’s surface, like opacity and reflectivity, determine its colour and how it will interact with existing rays of light. Since these rays propagate from the viewport, you can change the viewing angle, and the shadows and lighting will interact naturally.
This rendering process calculates the angles at which light rays bounce off different surfaces. It also determines the exact positions of shadows and whether another source of light would illuminate that area. In this case, ray-traced graphics produce smooth-edged shadows, particularly in scenes with multiple sources of light. Also, ray tracing can simulate transparent objects, like water and glass, and it simulates how light behaves as it passes through these types of objects.
Ray Tracing in NVidia GeForce RTX
Despite the massive improvement in graphics technology over the recent past. Nvidia’s latest RTX 2000 series graphics cards are the pioneers in including hardware dedicated for ray tracing. The manufacturer ensured that the RTX 2000 had the right architecture to facilitate ray tracing in real-time. To show its capabilities, Nvidia recently had several demos in a press conference showing what the latest graphics card can do, including ray tracing. The demos include Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield 5. In these games, the RTX 2000 brings a whole new look with environments appearing more alive, with more realistic scenery than ever before seen in gaming.
How to Get Ray Tracing at Home and the Cost
One of the uses of the new RTX 2000 series cards is to facilitate ray tracing, though it is not the first time that the technique reached consumer-level hardware. Some games tried to take advantage of ray tracing in the past. For instance, Intel managed to come up with a version of Quake Mars that worked with real-time ray tracing back in 2008. However, it was only an experiment, and the game could only manage to run at between 20 – 30 frames per second. It was that bad despite running on a rig with four Intel processors.
With the new RTX 2000 cards, you can now experience ray tracing in your home. The only problem is that it is a new technology, and just a handful of games support it, including the ones used in Nvidia’s press conference demos. More gaming developers are coming on board with the intention of utilizing the new technology, though the list is quite short. It should take some time before developers jump on board, making ray tracing a standard feature in games.
All you can do for now is buy one of NVidia’s new video cards. After the purchase, wait for the release of a compatible game. You can enjoy the benefits of ray tracing by simply toggling a switch within the game when the time comes. The best GPU’s that support ray tracing include the GeForce RTX 2070, which will cost 600 dollars, making it the cheapest in the line-up. GeForce RTX 2080 will retail at 800 dollars, and the most expensive will be the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, which will come in at 1200 dollars. Shipping started in late September 2018.
You should also expect hardware manufactures to start bundling in the RTX 2000 series cards in high-end computers targeting gamers. In this regard, ASUS announced that their Predator Orion gaming computers would start supporting the new RTX GPUs. Alienware also made the same announcement regarding their Area 51 PCs. So, expect to see more games supporting ray tracing soon.
Upcoming Games that Support Ray Tracing
NVidia recently revealed 21 upcoming games that will support ray tracing at launch.
Games that support Ray Tracing:
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
- Hitman 2
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider
- Final Fantasy XV
- We Happy Few
- Battlefield 5
- Assetto Corsa Competzione
- Serious Sam 4: Planet Badass
- Metro Exodus
- Remnant from the Ashes
- MechWarrior V: Mercenaries
- Fractured Lands
- The Forge Arena
- In Death
- Ark: Survival Evolved
- Atomic Heart
Nvidia talked about it several years ago, and six generations later, they now have real-time ray tracing in the latest RTX cards. This development means that the future of gaming should see a massive improvement in graphical fidelity. Ray tracing is fundamental in bringing the gaming environment closer to the real world, something that every gamer wants.