Tested: Minecraft showcases the beauty of ray tracing— and Nvidia's DLSS 2.0

PCWorld|June 2020

Tested: Minecraft showcases the beauty of ray tracing— and Nvidia's DLSS 2.0
Ray-traced Minecraft is a glorious feast for your eyes, and a grueling test for your graphics card.
BRAD CHACOS

After an endless drip of teases, Minecraft for Windows 10 has rolled out a beta that adds support for real-time ray tracing and Nvidia’s faster, better Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) 2.0 technology (go. pcworld.com/d1ss). Friends, the wait was worth it. Ray-traced Minecraft is glorious to behold, completely altering the look and feel of the game—though this low-fi legend can make even the most fearsome graphics cards sweat when you activate the cutting-edge lighting technology.

We’ve already discussed the technical details in our Minecraft beta announcement coverage (go.pcworld.com/btcv). Hit that up to learn what you’ll need to run this new-look Minecraft. (Spoiler: A GeForce RTX 20-series GPU is mandatory at the moment, as it’s the only gaming hardware with dedicated ray-tracing hardware built-in.) This article will only tackle visual comparisons and performance concerns.

Long story short: My god, it’s gorgeous. Most ray-traced games, such as Control and Metro: Exodus, embrace the technology in a hybrid manner. A couple of effects in those games use real-time rays for added fidelity—more lifelike shadows or reflections, for example—but the vast majority of the visuals are rendered using traditional rasterization techniques. (Our explainer to the DirectX Raytracing API (go.pcworld. com/dctr) goes into far more detail.) But Minecraft, like Quake II RTX before it (go.pcworld. com/qke2), opts for full-on path tracing instead. That means all lighting in the game happens with rays, delivering incredibly realistic shadows, lighting, reflections, and more.

Heck, you can even see colors reflected off other solid surfaces, as shown below. Look at how the pink and yellow hues from the colored blocks reflect off the marble stairs.

The Minecraft beta adds “physically based materials” that react to the realistic ray-cast lighting. In the standard version of the game, textures have only two material states: Color and opacity. Ray traced worlds support materials with not one, not two, but four additional states: Metallic, normal, emissive, and roughness.

These new materials make the game feel much more alive and natural, but requiring them means you can’t simply turn on RTX in your existing Minecraft worlds. Instead, you need fresh worlds (or migrated existing Java-based worlds (go. pcworld.com/jvbs) that are built around a seed with a ray-tracing texture pack. Nvidia worked with members of the Minecraft community to supply texture packs for the beta’s launch, as well as five bespoke worlds designed to show off the potential of the new technology:

“Of Temples & Totems” by Razzleberries

“Imagination Island” by Blockworks

“Crystal Palace” by GeminiTay

“Aquatic Adventure” by Dr_Bond

“Color, Light, & Shadow” by Pearlescent Moon

“Neon District” by Elysium Fire

You can find each of the free maps in Minecraft’s Marketplace by searching for “ray tracing.” The official worlds each list Nvidia as the creator in the store. I spent time exploring them to show some examples of Minecraft’s ray tracing in action, and to get a gauge for the technology’s performance impact. Hybrid ray tracing is strenuous; full-on path tracing hits hard.

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June 2020