Nvidia teams up with Minecraft creators to show off new ray-traced worlds

Plus technical talks and guides to explain how it all works.

While hardware-accelerated ray tracing was first demonstrated by Nvidia with modern games like Battlefield 5 and Metro Exodus, where RT lights or shadows are used alongside traditional rasterised graphics, completely ray-traced versions of games have also been developed to stunning effect. From early demonstrations of path tracing in Minecraft via Sonic Ether's RT shader mod to the release of Quake 2 RTX, we've seen a series of old-school titles reborn with modern techniques, in a way that seems perfectly suited to demonstrating the unique capabilities of RT technology. Today, we get a fresh look at the most highly-anticipated ray tracing showcase: Minecraft with RTX.

It's important to note that this is the official Microsoft release of Minecraft with ray tracing, a near total overhaul of the game, rather than the shader mod that preceded it. We first went went hands-on with the title at Gamescom 2019, and since then we also got an exclusive look at the Minecraft DXR tech demo on Xbox Series X. While the game doesn't yet have a release date, some Minecraft creators have already gotten access to development builds - and today we're seeing the fruits of their labours for the first time.

First, here are screenshots of three worlds created by Minecraft mainstays, with Nvidia's descriptions. You can click the image to see the full-size, full-fat screenshot in all its glory.

Of_Temple_and_Totems_1_ON___With_Minecraft_and_RTX_Logos

"Of Temples and Totems RTX" by Razzleberries. An adventure world focusing players on exploring and completing challenges in mysterious temples. Each temple showcases per-pixel emissivity and real-time shadows, and leverages global illumination to create an immersive experience for players.

Imagination_Island_3_ON___With_Minecraft_and_RTX_Logos

"Imagination Island RTX" by BlockWorks. A fully explorable theme park, filled with Easter eggs, that hosts four distinct lands, each dedicated to an element of real-time ray tracing. In this scene we see the visitor center of the park, highlighted by god rays cast in real- time through the windows, shining down onto the floor.

Crystal_Palace_2_ON___With_Minecraft_and_RTX_Logos

"Crystal Palace RTX" by GeminiTay. A survival map with a whimsical fantasy theme that features a masterfully built castle. Ray-traced shadows and beautiful atmospherics create realism in this world built on a 1:1 scale.

Seeing these screenshots is impressive on its own, but seeing the before and after shots really sells it - there's a massive difference in the way each scene is lit and coloured. Click on the zoomer below to see an interactive comparison of RTX on versus off.

RTX onRTX off
Of Temples and Totems RTX by Razzleberries. An adventure world focusing players on exploring and completing challenges in mysterious temples. Each temple showcases per-pixel emissivity and real-time shadows, and leverages global illumination to create an immersive experience for players.
RTX onRTX off
Imagination Island RTX by BlockWorks. A fully explorable theme park, filled with Easter eggs, that hosts four distinct lands, each dedicated to an element of real-time ray tracing. In this scene we see the visitor center of the park, highlighted by god rays cast in real- time through the windows, shining down onto the floor.
RTX onRTX off
Crystal Palace RTX by GeminiTay. A survival map with a whimsical fantasy theme that features a masterfully built castle. Ray-traced shadows and beautiful atmospherics create realism in this world built on a 1:1 scale.

Nvidia is also releasing a series of online tutorials designed to let Minecraft veterans get to grips with the new RT features and convert existing Java-based Minecraft worlds into the modern Bedrock Windows 10 Edition worlds, which forms the basis of Minecraft with RTX:

There are also a couple of interesting (but quite technical) talks by Nvidia engineers on how Minecraft with RTX was made:

We look forward to taking a closer look at Minecraft with RTX as we edge slowly towards release - there's no firm date yet, but Nvidia's blog is titled "coming soon!" so that's got to be a good sign. In the meantime, why not check out our analysis of Minecraft running with full path-tracing on the Xbox Series X from earlier this month?

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2.

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