Ever since Nvidia launched its RTX GPUs, the company has been banging the drum on ray tracing as a major, must-have feature that will eventually transform the entire gaming industry. Unfortunately, the company’s efforts to promote ray tracing as a truly imminent Next Big Thing as opposed to a technology that’s perpetually 4-5 years from introduction has run into a problem: There aren’t very many games that can take advantage of the capability.
There’s an inevitable lag period between the introduction of any new hardware capability and the appearance of software that can take meaningful advantage of said hardware, but in this case, there’s an added wrinkle. If you’re a game developer that wants to integrate ray tracing into your upcoming game, you need an engine capable of handling ray tracing in the first place. Epic has been talking about ray tracing in Unreal Engine 4 for years — the company demoed a real-time ray tracing workload in Star Wars last spring:
And then followed it up with a SIGGRAPH demo called “The Speed of Light,” which you can also see below:
Fast forward to today, and ray tracing support has been formally integrated into the upcoming version of Unreal Engine 4, 4.22 (support is offered in Early Access, which Epic notes is intended to be used with caution). The patch notes state:
Added ray tracing low level support.
- Implemented a low level layer on top of UE DirectX 12 that provides support for DXR and allows creating and using ray tracing shaders (ray generation shaders, hit shaders, etc) to add ray tracing effects.
- Added high-level ray tracing features
- Rect area lights
- Soft shadows
- Reflected shadows
- Ambient occlusion
- RTGI (real time global illumination)
- Geometry typesTriangle meshes
- Skeletal (Morph targets & Skin cache)
- Niagara particles support
- Texture LOD
- Shadows, Reflections, AO
- Path Tracert
Unbiased, full GI path tracer for making ground truth reference renders inside UE4.
Baking in better support into game engines is a critical component in rolling feature capability out overall. UE4 has been integrating ray tracing for quite some time — this functionality isn’t dropping in out of the blue — but it’s a necessity to any push to see ray tracing in more titles.
Metro Exodus, which launches on February 15, will support both RTX and DLSS, though it doesn’t look as though DLSS will be a launch feature. Overall performance and visual quality in the final product is still unknown. Battlefield V introduced gamers to ray tracing but carried a hefty performance hit even after post-update patches. At present, the feature impact for enabling ray tracing on RTX cards in BFV is ~40 percent, down from ~60 percent when the feature was introduced. Hat-tip to Tech Report for the news.