Industry News

Ray Tracing Gets Its First Open-Source, Cross-Platform Implementation

Khronos, the consortium responsible for many open standards in the gaming/graphics world, has released a beta ray tracing API, making it the first cross-platform implementation of real-time ray tracing. NVIDIA also released new beta drivers that support it.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about; ray tracing is a CGI technique that is used to create photorealistic images.

It renders objects by simulating the way actual rays of lights work in the real world and “tracing” them from the eye of the viewer, hence the name.

Practically speaking, it gives us better shadows, reflections, translucence, refraction and a myriad of other improvements over the techniques that our consoles are currently deploying.

3D scene created using a ray tracer
Notice the advanced reflections on the lower right. Ray Tracer by Reinder Nijhoff

It’s worth noting that it isn’t a new technology or concept. In animation, it was used everywhere, you’ve seen it in action in your favorite movies like Toy Story or A Bug’s Life.

You can find research papers about it written by Pixar pioneers when they were working for Lucasfilm dating as far back as the 1980s, some people even managed to squeeze the entire code of a basic ray-traced scene onto the back of a business card. It’s still available in Pixar’s renderer today, even though a lot of the recent productions have focused their efforts on a newer technique, but that’s for another discussion.

However, this technology is slow. It can take hours or even days to render a single frame, which is unrealistic for the expectations of gaming.

It’s only with the latest technology advancements that it managed to get out of the movie industry and into the world of gamers.

Everyone’s talking about it these days, first entering the mainstream with NVIDIA’s RTX GPUs and now a buzzword on everyone’s mouth since Microsoft’s Minecraft demo.

Up until now, everyone had their own little ray tracing implementation; Microsoft had DXR for DirectX12 that only works on its platform and Epic Games had its own too.

With this announcement, we have the first glimpse of a standard that works on Windows, macOS, Linux, and even Google Stadia. Let’s see how this plays out.

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