We tested Minecraft RTX

At Digital Foundry, we’ve been closely following the evolution of hardware-accelerated real-time ray tracing. One of the most spectacular demonstrations of this technology we’ve seen to date is Sonic Ether’s RT shader mod for Minecraft, which brute force path-tracing into the Java version of the classic Mojang game. The result is brilliant, although a bit slow despite running on any modern GPU.

But no matter how good the result, we’ve always wondered what the improvement would be with a full hardware implementation. What if Mojang herself added full path-tracing to her graphics engine? At Gamescom 2019 we have been able to see the answer to this question with a non-definitive code, and in this small article we explain our impressions.

Similar to how we did with the mod, the developers have created custom maps designed to highlight the path-tracing effects with the Minecraft engine. In the video below you will see both creations. One of them shows how the new technology interacts with the old existing textures – which are normally based on 64×64 textures – but then you can see the path-tracing combined with higher resolution art, reaching a maximum of 1024×1024.

In all cases, light interacts precisely with materials and conditions, to the point where the developers accidentally discovered that the classic camera obscura effect could be replicated with the game. This is just one of the many remarkable phenomena that path-tracing brings to the table. In the video you can see everything the demo offers, experimenting with various effects and even taking the implementation to its current limits.

And reaching those limits is easily achievable today, mainly because Mojang has only been working on the official path-tracing implementation since April of this year (curiously, when the Sonic Ether mod was first published), thereby there is still a long way to go until RTX support is complete. However, as a hint of how transformative path-tracing is, this is the most impressive demo we’ve seen to date. It’s the most complete implementation we’ve seen in a game, even more so than the also impressive Quake 2 RTX.

Needless to say, we highly recommend taking a look at the video to see the results. On the other hand, the Digital Foundry team was able to speak with more developers and test more ray traced games at Gamescom, items that we will bring you in the near future.