Nvidia and Mi­crosoft bring ray-trac­ing to games

Computer Shopper - - RANTS & RAVES -

SAY WHAT?

THE HOLY GRAIL of graph­ics is of­ten said to be ray-trac­ing, a ren­der­ing tech­nique that traces the path of light rays in an im­age or video that il­lu­mi­nate and fill a scene. The tech­nol­ogy can en­able cin­ema-level vi­su­als that have ac­cu­rate light­ing, shad­ows and re­flec­tions to make a vir­tual scene look sig­nif­i­cantly more re­al­is­tic than other ren­der­ing tech­niques.

The problem is that it takes a lot of graph­i­cal horse­power to do this, which puts ray-trac­ing out of the reach of even the most pow­er­ful con­sumer graph­ics cards. But Mi­crosoft and Nvidia have joined forces to bring ray-trac­ing ren­der­ing to games later this year, with the use of the lat­ter’s Volta GPU ar­chi­tec­ture.

That’s ar­guably quite a lofty am­bi­tion, but Mi­crosoft is adding its DirectX Ray­trac­ing soft­ware to its DirectX 12 ap­pli­ca­tion pro­gram­ming in­ter­face (API), an es­tab­lished in­dus­try graph­ics stan­dard. And Nvidia is work­ing on RTX, a set of hard­ware and soft­ware al­go­rithms de­signed to sup­port ray-trac­ing on its nextgen­er­a­tion graph­ics card ar­chi­tec­ture.

“Real-time ray trac­ing has been a dream of the graph­ics in­dus­try and game de­vel­op­ers for decades, and Nvidia RTX is bring­ing it to life,” said Tony Ta­masi, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of con­tent and tech­nol­ogy at Nvidia.

“GPUs are only now be­com­ing pow­er­ful enough to de­liver re­al­time ray trac­ing for gam­ing ap­pli­ca­tions, and will usher in a new era of next-generation vi­su­als.”

Ray-trac­ing is noth­ing par­tic­u­larly new, and is com­monly used in movie-mak­ing to ren­der life­like worlds for fan­tasy and sci-fi flicks. But now there’s a good chance that tech­nol­ogy will be able to feed into the next swathe of triple-A games with­out knock­ing frame rates be­low the PC gam­ing stan­dard of 60 frames per sec­ond.

Nvidia’s RTX tech, when used with its up­com­ing Volta GPUs, will al­low for ray-trac­ing work to be off­loaded from the main graph­ics pro­ces­sor to ded­i­cated on­board hard­ware. It will also use the Ten­sor com­pute en­gines on Volta cards, which are typ­i­cally used to power ma­chine-learn­ing al­go­rithms rather than push pix­els and ren­der scenes.

While Volta cards have yet to reach the gam­ing PCs, Nvidia al­ready has no­table widely used game en­gines and tools, such as the Unity, Un­real and Frost­bite en­gines, on board to work with ray-trac­ing. De­vel­op­ers from Rem­edy, EA and 4A Games are all keen to sup­port the use of the fancy ren­der­ing tech.

Sim­ply put, 2018 looks like be­ing a very in­ter­est­ing year for the fu­ture of graph­ics in the gam­ing arena.

Real-time ray­trac­ing has been a dream of the graph­ics in­dus­try and game de­vel­op­ers for decades” Tony Ta­masi, se­nior vice-pres­i­dent, Nvidia

SO WHAT?

BOOT UP ANY triple-A game such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Forza Mo­tor­sport 7 or Rise of the Tomb Raider and you’d be for­given for think­ing that game graph­ics have peaked.

But there’s still a good way to go be­fore they reach near pho­to­re­al­ism or even get close to ap­ing the com­puter-gen­er­ated im­ages the film in­dus­try can achieve. Yet if you can buy into Mi­crosoft’s and Nvidia’s vi­sion for ray-trac­ing, that could all change.

Ray-trac­ing could be the next step graph­ics need to take to make games more re­al­is­tic, no mat­ter how fan­tas­ti­cal their set­ting, and al­low PC gamers to feel they are get­ting the very best out of their hard­ware over Xbox One or PlaySta­tion 4 gamers.

Of course, hav­ing the tech­nol­ogy is one thing; get­ting de­vel­op­ers to tap into the tech is an­other. How­ever, Nvidia and Mi­crosoft are quite good at en­cour­ag­ing early adop­tion of their lat­est work, and there are al­ready de­vel­op­ers play­ing around with RTX and DirectX Ray­trac­ing.

“In­te­grat­ing Nvidia RTX into our North­light engine was a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward ex­er­cise,” said Mikko Or­ren­maa, tech­nol­ogy team man­ager at Fin­nish de­vel­op­ers Rem­edy En­ter­tain­ment.

“De­vel­op­ing ex­clu­sively on Nvidia RTX, we were sur­prised just how quickly we were able to pro­to­type new light­ing, re­flec­tion and am­bi­ent oc­clu­sion tech­niques, with sig­nif­i­cantly better vis­ual fi­delity than tra­di­tional ras­ter­i­sa­tion tech­niques.”

That might all sound pretty technical, but it shows Nvidia and Mi­crosoft are keen to make it easy for de­vel­op­ers to get crack­ing with ray-trac­ing.

As such, the next games we see run­ning EA’s Frost­bite or Rem­edy’s North­light en­gines could con­tain some form of ray-trac­ing that’s ei­ther en­abled by de­fault or is an op­tion for peo­ple with PCs sport­ing Nvidia’s Volta-based graph­ics cards.

Given the lim­i­ta­tions of games con­sole graph­ics in com­par­i­son to the flex­i­bil­ity of PCs, we’re un­likely to see ray-trac­ing re­place more es­tab­lished graph­ics ren­der­ing straight away, as de­vel­op­ers will still need to make games that cater for mil­lions of con­sole gamers. But ray-trac­ing looks to be the next re­ally ex­cit­ing step in graph­ics.

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