Ray Tracing


The newest buzzword in gaming, ray tracing, is currently gaining traction across all social media channels; if you are unfamiliar with this technology, you are not alone (l literally just learned about it). In this post, I will define what ray tracing is, how you can use it, what it means for the future of gaming.

What Is It?

Ray tracing is a technique utilized with select modern graphics cards which enables light in video games to behave similarly to its behavior in real-life. By using advanced computing power and algorithms, virtual beams of light are designed to follow from one point (the user’s POV) to the next (the end of the virtual light beam). In real life, the photons in light waves come to you by emitting from a light source, bouncing around, and finally entering your eyes; ray tracing is similar; however, this process is reversed. In the software, ray-traced light begins from the player, plots a path, bounces around, and then decides on an appropriate light source that could have emitted that light wave. The reason ray tracing works in reverse is to limit the amount of processing power necessary to handle all light waves, and instead, just focus on what the player can actually see (their POV).

What Can It Do?

What benefits does ray tracing have? Well, in a typical video game, light is programmed to be simulated, in other words, when you come across a damaged wall with sunlight shining through it, the game has been designed to show that light, without any player-enabled changes (it is a static image). In other words, one couldn’t blow a new hole in that wall and then be shown a new ray of sunlight shining through it. Additionally, ray tracing allows light to realistically bounce off objects, change colors, cast shadows, and further advance the appearances of reflections, all in real-time. Are you a fan of explosions and fire? Ray tracing can turn a dull flamethrower graphic into a brilliant display of the colors of the sun, which cascade and reflect off of surfaces, illuminating the entire room with dynamic splashes of life. The effects of ray tracing genuinely are a sight to behold, check out Nvidia’s work on the technology here.

What Games/Systems Support It?

This technology has been used for years in the film industry; however, having the operating power required to process ray tracing in real-time is something of a challenge. Currently, only a few games and graphics cards are enabled for ray tracing, including Battlefield V and Cyberpunk 2077. Last year, Nvidia introduced its RTX graphics card line which has ray-tracing capabilities, and the next generation of video game consoles like the Xbox Project Scarlett and PlayStation 5 will be powerful enough to support the technology as well.

Ray tracing is but one step in the continuous venture for technological video game superiority, but with its extensive involvement at E3 and future use in the next generation of video game consoles, ray tracing is the new hot trend of 2019. If you are not sold on ray tracing by now, check out its impact on an older game such as Quake II (you will love it).

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