Back on Gamescom 2018, when Nvidia came on stage and revealed his Turing graphics cards, I was dragged into marketing. When Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang started demonstrating the real-time ray tracking that these cards could deliver, my mind automatically jumped to the possibilities. Imagine a horror game in the spirit of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but with shadows with ray-trace.
And that is why I was one of the people who bought an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti at the launch – I wouldn't recommend that for most people, but I wanted to stay at the forefront.
Once the graphics card arrived at my house, I had to wait a bit to see what ray tracing looked like. This is of course while enjoying the amazing 4K gaming performance, so it wasn't all a loss.
At Gamescom 2019, however, I had the opportunity to see what the future of ray tracing will look like, if only a glimpse. Not only are more AAA games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion implementing the technology, but games such as Minecraft are really taking things to another level.
The early days of ray tracing
When Battlefield V took to the streets, it was the first game to actually support the new RTX technology – at least a few canned demos here and there. And if I'm honest, I wasn't impressed. Especially in a high-octane multiplayer game such as Battlefield, where frame speed is so important, it just wasn't worth it to paralyze my performance to have some shiny reflections – especially when I could turn it off and have more than 100 fps get at 3,440 x 1,440.
From there I was a bit jaded on ray tracing – but the RTX 2080 Ti still delivered so much better performance than the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 that I upgraded, so it wasn't that much.
Then, when Metro: Exodus came out, it blew me a little confused. The radius that global lighting followed in that game was the closest to what I had thought for technology when it was first shown on stage. Apparently a horror shooter, that game really benefited from the more realistic exposure, and since it was a single-player title, the fact that it reduced my frame rate wasn't that important. Moreover, it had DLSS to mitigate the performance boost.
At that time, the promise was ray tracing starting to show, but it was still a special feature that would not be worth the upgrade – especially for users who still have a Nvidia Pascal graphics card, such as the GTX 1080 Ti.
Upgrade the old one
Back on Computex 2019, Nvidia showed off Quake II RTX and injected its ray tracing technology into the classic game. Nvidia and id Software have worked together to make the game completely path-traced, as an example of what the RTX technology is really capable of. So of course I went ahead and downloaded it as soon as I returned from Taipei.
That game brought my RTX 2080 Ti to 4K to the knees, but the man looked good. I never thought a lighting engine could completely change the look of a game: Quake II RTX was a revelation. And it made Minecraft a little less surprising with ray tracing.
I was invited to an Nvidia event on the eve of Gamescom 2019, where Team Green wanted to show some new ray tracing titles. At that event I had to sit down with a lot of different games that will have ray tracing available, either at the launch or at some point afterwards.
The most striking game was, oddly enough, Minecraft. I will be at the forefront and say that I have never been particularly interested in the game, because I am doing everything I can to hold someone's hand and tell me a story instead of "making my own fun". However, I was overwhelmed by the path that followed in Minecraft and how the appearance of the game changed dramatically.
I had the opportunity to talk to Saxs Persson, the Creative Director for Minecraft, along with Principal Devtech Engineer Alex Dunn from Nvidia. They told me that not only was Minecraft rebuilt from the ground up to introduce pad-tracing, but it was done from a passion for graphic technology and Microsoft is not alone. Developers from around the world are excited to use this technology, according to Dunn, because it represents the holy grail in graphic technology.
I then had to talk to Clark Jiayang Yang, Creative Director & Producer of SYNCED: Off-Planet. This recently announced game from the new NEXT Studios of Tencent & apos; is a multiplayer "PVPVE" zombie shooter, which puts players against each other while trying to survive.
One of the most important questions I had, because this is a multiplayer game that is likely to benefit from high frame rates, was about the impact on the performance of the ray-traced effects, and whether that played a role in whether or not to play of these functions.
And, my worries were usually alleviated when Yang told me that the beam not only traced shadows improve frame rates, because the game does not have to depend on old tricks with shaders, but the reflections traced by the beam have a minimal effect on performance. That is definitely something that I want to test in the future, but since NEXT Studios is all about implementing new technology in its games, it is absolutely exciting.
Every developer with whom I could discuss this long, debilitating game convention was excited to show what ray tracing can do. Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2, for example, will use ray-trace reflections to bring Seattle to life, just like Watch Dogs: Legion with London – two rainy cities with lots of reflective puddles to yawn at.
And with developers such as 4AD extending existing implementations of ray tracing such as with the new Two Colonels DLC for Metro: Exodus, ray tracing is more vivid than ever.
Is ray tracing worth the expensive graphics card?
At the end of the day, ray tracing on it's own is probably not worth the price of a Nvidia graphics card. However great the technology is, it is not widespread enough for most users to really justify the costs.
However, if you are looking for a new graphics card – if your current card is completely outdated or if you are looking for PC gaming, it is difficult to recommend no NVIDIA graphics card at this time. If you like sitting at 1080p, something like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 to pick up and start all settings always makes perfect sense, especially if you can pay the $ 349 (£ 329, AU $ 569) price tag.
As impressed as I am with ray tracing, it is not worthwhile in itself, but when you combine that with the excellent gaming performance that these cards offer, there is no real reason not to do that go with an Nvidia RTX graphic card.
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