Real-Time Ray-Tracing and The Next-Gen Games We’ll Play
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 02:53pm 07/07/20 | Comments
The next-generation of videogame graphics will be defined by real-time ray-tracing. From Cyberpunk 2077 to Dying Light 2, we go through the ray-traced games on the horizon.
One thing is for certain, the visuals we get to experience across the wide range of games released every year keep getting better. From realistic grass that sways according to the wind, adding depth to an open-world environment, to light shafts seeping through windows adding a peaceful tone to a digital interior. Within this slow and steady evolution in videogame graphics and visual fidelity, there are milestones that stand tall. Paradigm shifts that fundamentally change the way we experience that all-important element we call immersion.
In recent years, the arrival of real-time ray-tracing powered by NVIDIA GeForce RTX hardware has been just that. Adding visual detail to games that only a few years ago we would have deemed impossible. From its debut in 2018 in Battlefield V showcasing the next-generation of digital reflections to last year’s stunning sci-fi mind-bender Control giving players the option to turn on ray-traced shadows and lighting in addition to ray-traced reflections. The results serve as a window into the next-generation of graphics.
Real-time ray-tracing is exactly that, next-gen. With new consoles and PC hardware on the horizon, the next decade of videogame graphics will be defined by this cutting-edge technology. And as the old saying goes, the future's so bright you’re going to need a pair of RTX-On shades.
The Ray-Traced Story So Far
At its core real-time ray-tracing uses calculations based on the actual behaviour of light to render realistic shadows, reflections and illuminate objects. The most immediately noticeable use of the technology, reflections, allows for objects not visible in a scene to be properly displayed on a reflective surface.
"From its debut in 2018 in Battlefield V showcasing the next-generation of digital reflections to last year’s stunning sci-fi mind-bender Control... the results serve as a window into the next-generation of graphics.”
In order to achieve the effect, which was previously limited to high-quality computer animation seen in Pixar films, hardware needs to crunch the sort of numbers and calculations that would make Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting return to a life of janitorial duties. In Control this means being able to walk up to a window and not only see the room contained within but also the faint reflection of Jesse Faden and everything behind her. With accuracy and a level of detail that is nothing short of stunning.
This effect would not only be incredibly taxing but virtually impossible to pull off and maintain at a playable frame-rate without the sort of dedicated hardware featured in the GeForce RTX line -- called RT Cores. To say ray-tracing will be one of the defining features of the next decade of gaming is not hyperbole, it’s the sort of generational leap that required teams of engineers at NVIDIA and Microsoft (thanks to DirectX Raytracing) months of hard work to get the software and hardware just right.
Since its debut there have been some truly impressive implementations of real-time ray-tracing, but for every Call of Duty Modern Warfare featuring the technology some the biggest impacts have been seen in games you might not consider cutting edge. With Quake II RTX, a game from decades past, and Minecraft with RTX, a title known for its simple and functional visuals, implementing real-time ray-tracing that takes full control over lighting, shadows and reflections. In these two examples the difference is like stepping through the looking glass, proof of just how game-changing the tech can be.
Subtle detail like an object on a table absorbing and then reflecting the light and colour of something close-by adds depth and dimension to a scene, whilst seeing shadows properly dissipate and bounce around an environment brings the sort of next-level immersion we all want to see.
And best of all, ray-tracing is only getting started.
The latest Cyberpunk 2077 trailer is chock full of RTX On footage
CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077 is without a doubt one of the biggest releases of the year, an open-world RPG set in the vibrant and bustling neon-lit Night City. From the very first screenshots released to its epic 40-plus-minute gameplay debut it’s a game that has been on the minds of many for some-time. From its scope, cool neon-future aesthetic, and the potential stories that will be found within – Cyberpunk 2077 simply oozes cool. Plus, it stars Keanu Reeves. As the follow-up to one of the most talked about and acclaimed RPGs of the past decade, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, it’s almost impossible to properly convey the excitement surrounding this release. For many, it will play a major role in defining the year in gaming.
"Partnering with NVIDIA the team at CDPR is using real-time ray-tracing and DLSS 2.0 AI rendering to bring a suite of advanced effects to the PC version.”
Like many big-budget third-party AAA games, Cyberpunk 2077 will be getting a multi-platform release on day one -- in addition to support for next-generation console hardware. But come launch day, the PC version will present the most impressive way to experience CD Projekt’s latest thanks to it featuring and utilising cutting-edge graphics technology to suit its futuristic setting. Partnering with NVIDIA the team at CDPR is using real-time ray-tracing and DLSS 2.0 AI rendering to bring a suite of advanced effects to the PC version covering illumination, ambient occlusion, shadows and ray-traced reflections. With Night City’s vast metropolis and countless neon lights the result is taking an already impressive looking backdrop and adding the sort of detail that will make it truly come alive.
From seeing bright coloured lights bounce around corners to the increased contrast and fidelity between bright streets and shadowy alleyways. The skyline reflected in a building, a character lit purely by neon and shadow. Cyberpunk 2077 with RTX On is next-gen right now. Well, it will be in November.
Watch Dogs Legion
Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Watch Dogs series has seen a few delays of late, but these have all been to ensure the ambitious scope of its premise arrives with the level of polish gamers expect. Set in a near-future London Watch Dogs Legion takes the series’ hack-anything mechanic to the extreme, by allowing players to take-control over any and every NPC they encounter. In the process making countless characters with their own histories, personalities, and traits the potential heroes in the story being told. Like, say, a granny with a distaste for those in power.
Presenting a huge open-world city to explore is nothing new when it comes to the games from Ubisoft, and on that front the futuristic London in Legion is as vast as anything it has created to date. The key difference here though, is that with real-time ray-tracing the level of detail is set to go beyond anything we’ve seen so far in the series. And with RTX On the studio is highlighting one aspect that many have been associating with the historic location for centuries – grey skies and plenty of rain. The addition of real-time ray-traced reflections not only means you can see cars, people, and lights reflected in the windows and reflective surfaces of buildings – but in the many puddles you come across too. The effect is immediate and impressive and goes beyond simple visual detail. Being able to see the reflection of a character or vehicle before they appear on screen? Well, that adds a gameplay element that will fundamentally change how the game is played.
Dying Light 2
Techland’s Dying Light was one of those surprise hits, where the blend of parkour movement, zombie slaying with a large variety of weapons, and the sheer survival horror that came from exploring the streets at night proved to be intoxicating. Dying Light 2 is a sequel in the best possible sense, offering a bigger and more complex world to explore, a richer and more choice-driven story to discover, and refined combat and movement that will make it feel unlike anything else. Already the recipient of many awards, it’s one of the most anticipated releases for good reason. And with the talented team behind the game partnering with NVIDIA to add a real-time ray-traced layer to the experience, the immersion factor is set to be ramped up considerably.
"With the talented team behind the game partnering with NVIDIA to add a real-time ray-traced layer to the experience, the immersion factor is set to be ramped up considerably.”
As per the original, light will play a major role in how players not only perceive the world but in the very threats they’ll face. Going out at night might not be the smartest of ideas, but at various points in the story that choice will be inevitable. By using real-time ray-tracing for global illumination (a technique that was used to great effect in Metro Exodus) Dying Light 2 played on an RTX-powered rig will offer up a seamless film-like quality to moving from one environment to the next, and going from light to shadow - and back again. Although it’s a cutting-edge feature to put in any game, one of the benefits of real-time ray-tracing used for global illumination means less work on behalf of developers. Without the need to go in and pre-light or perform these calculations beforehand for every digital location the result is two-form – realistic and natural lighting across all environments that benefits both players and developers.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
When it comes to classic PC games, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines holds a special place in the hearts of many RPG fans. A little rough around the edges sure, but its ‘be a vampire in modern-day Seattle’ setting is made it resonate and stand the test of time. Where, many years after its initial release, fans were still fixing bugs and patching and updating the experience. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 is set to continue the legacy of that iconic first release with a branching storyline and rich RPG systems that will let you be the sort of vampire you want to be. A suave romantic Dracula-type? Seduce away. A sewer dwelling ghoul that is met with gasps whenever they walk the streets? The choice is yours, though the latter will involve a lot more, well, rodent consumption.
Publisher Paradox Interactive and developer Hardsuit Labs have been hard at work on the highly anticipated release for a few years now, and in keeping with the ground-breaking spirit of the series’ roots Bloodlines 2 will feature real-time ray-traced reflections across all environments. From transparent windows showing the faint images of nearby objects to pools of water (and the red stuff) reflecting the sky. In fact, the only thing that won’t be accurately reflected will be the vampires themselves – on the account of vampires not having a reflection. That’s one of the tests. By incorporating ray-tracing, Bloodlines 2 will be a wholly immersive experience when it launches later this year.
From Russian studio Mundfish, Atomic Heart looks like the Cold War-era response to the 1950s-look and feel of the original BioShock. But even that description only scratches the surface of the truly bizarre, wonderful, and stunning images and footage we’ve seen from this game so far. Atomic Heart is a first-person action role-player that takes place in an alternate reality Soviet Union from sometime in the first-half of the 20th century. It also takes place in a Black Mirror inspired government facility where advanced technology and robotics have not only been invented - but have progressed to the threatening and downright otherworldly stage of their development.
"From Russian studio Mundfish, Atomic Heart looks like the Cold War-era response to the 1950s-look and feel of the original BioShock.”
Featuring real-time ray-tracing and support for NVIDIA’s AI-based DLSS 2.0 rendering, Atomic Heart has the look of a AAA release even though the team at Mundfish is relatively small. The use of ray-traced reflections and shadows not only compliments the wonderful art direction but adds a layer of immersion that makes this one of the most visually impressive sci-fi games currently in development. And even though we’re not sure exactly why there are giant robot worms flying through the air, or how forests have flourished and come alive underneath a large dome, or why these strange looking labs have been overrun with robots of all shapes and sizes – we can’t wait to find out.
The above is only a taste of the upcoming games that will take advantage of NVIDIA GeForce RTX hardware and feature real-time ray-tracing. And as the list of impressive ray-traced powered games on the horizon grows, it’s a testament to how story, setting, mechanics, and immersion benefit from the high-tech digital bits and bytes we see on-screen.
When it comes to the games we play, graphics aren’t the be all and end all, simply an important ingredient in our favourite bits of interactive entertainment. Keeping the food metaphor going, when we experience a new flavour, or a new style of cooking, the experience can be revelatory. Transporting us to new faraway places. And really, that’s what gaming’s all about. And that’s real-time ray-tracing.