It's not ray tracing, but Minecraft is about to look better with new creator features

Minecraft RTX Screenshot
(Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is now built on the Render Dragon engine, which was supposed to unlock new modern features and support.
  • The Windows version of Minecraft did get ray tracing support on NVIDIA GPUs, but it has yet to come to Xbox.
  • That's still not happening, at least right now, but Mojang Studios is testing new Render Dragon features for Minecraft creators.
  • Soon, Minecraft add-ons can have improved block and item rendering, deferred lighting, tone mapping, and much more to improve visuals.

Visually, Minecraft has not changed much in many years. Minecraft: Bedrock Edition and its modern Render Dragon engine does support advanced graphical features like ray tracing, but they are still exclusive to NVIDIA-powered Windows devices (much to the chagrin of Xbox-bound Minecraft fans). Now, that may finally be about to change... But not in the way fans have wanted it to.

Mojang Studios is now testing a handful of powerful new features for Minecraft: Bedrock Edition creators to use to make Minecraft add-ons look better than ever. No, it's not expanded support of ray tracing in Minecraft. However, Mojang Studios is building on the work it did to bring that gorgeous lighting to some players on Windows to build a deferred lighting rendering pipeline for all Minecraft creators to use, across every Bedrock Edition platform.

What does this mean? Well, Minecraft: Bedrock Edition creators will now have new lighting and rendering features to customize and improve the visuals of Minecraft on every supported platform, across Xbox, Windows PC, PlayStation, Switch, and mobile devices. Minecraft add-ons can now have more unique, creative expression in their graphics. It's not as dramatic or thorough as full-blown ray tracing is, but these features also scale across platforms to be accessible to as many players as possible.

Mojang Studios is working on bringing new features and tools to creators build off this foundation, but right now Minecraft: Bedrock Edition's Render Dragon and its new deferred lighting rendering pipeline support the following features for creators:

  • Physically Based Rendering (PBR) materials for blocks and entities
  • Primary lighting for the sun and moon
  • Shadows
  • Bloom
  • Tone mapping

Mojang Studios cautions creators that these features are early in development and are absolutely subject to dramatic changes before a full rollout. The company also hasn't set any default or recommended values with the help of artists, so it may be difficult for creators to get the look they want. Testing for these experimental features is limited to the Minecraft Preview across Xbox, Windows PC, and Android devices.

For non-creators, it'll likely be a long while before we see tangible results from these features in the form of completed add-ons. Still, Minecraft is already one of the best Xbox games, and is readily available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC, PlayStation, Switch, mobile devices, and Xbox Game Pass. Eventually, we should also see visual and graphical improvements in our favorite Minecraft add-ons and DLC.

Analysis: Compromising for every platform

It'll be up to Minecraft creators to take full advantage of these new features to push the visual fidelity of Minecraft on every platform, but it's great that Mojang Studios is finally pushing out concrete features in that department. I know, it's not ray-traced Minecraft on Xbox Series X|S, but that genuinely may never happen. You only have to read Windows Central's latest report on the subject to know matters are far from clear cut.

I expect there will be some disappointment or even frustration from members of the Minecraft community that have long awaited Minecraft to actually feel like a AAA game on the world's most powerful console (especially when both Minecraft and the Xbox Series X are created by the same company), but this is the reality of the situation. Still, I feel that this may be the perfect compromise for Mojang Studios and the Minecraft community.

While only the Xbox Series X|S and certain Windows PCs would be capable of ray tracing in Minecraft (and PS5, but Sony uses a very different ray tracing technology than Microsoft's DirectX platform), these new lighting and rendering features can work with every single Minecraft platform. That means all players can enjoy that improved lighting, and it means that add-ons can still comfortably scale across all devices. Considering Minecraft's focus on cross-platform, multiplatform development, this approach makes a lot of sense.

I'm just interested to see what creators will be able to do with these new features, and how those features will evolve over time as Mojang Studios further optimizes and develops them. It's an exciting time for Minecraft fans, although it could be a while before we see results.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.