Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Minecraft is hardly known for having cutting edge graphics. Instead, it focuses on addictive gameplay lined with bewilderingly deep mechanics. However, people have long been asking for Minecraft to be blessed with something more thorough than a regular texture pack. After the planned 'Super Duper Graphics Pack' for the Xbox One X was unfortunately canceled due to disappointing performance, it really looked like we were going to be left without any sort of upgrade for Minecraft.

Related: The beta for RTX ray tracing in Minecraft officially announced, coming April 16, 2020

Much to our surprise, what was previously a collection of rumors or projects by mad computer wizards in their basements was officially revealed just a week later: ray tracing is coming to Minecraft.

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A gaming masterpiece

Minecraft

Available everywhere you play.

Minecraft is a veritable, inarguable, and complete success. It has sold copies in the hundreds of millions, has a huge following of dedicated players, and lets you unlock your every creative desire. It's also available on every platform imaginable, including Xbox One, Windows 10, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. Play with anyone, and play anywhere.

The grand reveal

On August 19, 2019, NVIDIA released a reveal trailer for RTX ray tracing in Minecraft — and it's seriously gorgeous. It utilizes DXR and DirectX 12 (Microsoft's industry standards for ray tracing and other gaming technologies) so that Minecraft can, for the first time, accurately portray lighting, shadows, shaders, textures, and even reflections with perfect accuracy, all in real-time.

The announcement was a little sudden and unexpected but welcomed by Minecraft's passionate community. With ray tracing, Minecraft takes realism to a whole new level without losing anything (even mod support!)

The reveal trailer above really says it all, and it's definitely worth a watch.

What ray tracing can do for Minecraft

Minecraft NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: Mojang / NVIDIA

Before ray tracing was introduced to the gaming world, particle effects and lighting were simulated and artificial, and therefore lacked a dynamic feel. That isn't to say games still couldn't be breathtakingly beautiful without ray tracing, but it did mean there was always a limit that no amount of coding could overcome. With ray tracing, games can track the paths of light through an environment dynamically and in real-time, meaning things like reflections, shading, and patterns of light could look more life-like and authentic.

For most games, this leads to a subtle effect that is incredibly striking when noticed but doesn't necessarily alter the entire feel of a scene. A lot of games are already designed to be realistic, and clever tricks and techniques mean modern "AAA" games can look better than real life with enough power behind them.

Minecraft, of course, has never been built to look realistic or even conventionally beautiful. Minecraft's graphics are meant to be straightforward, flexible, and simple enough that even lower-end hardware can handle them with aplomb. They're not something you forget, but they don't take your breath away.

Hands-on: Minecraft RTX upgrades got me addicted to ray tracing

Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Ray tracing completely alters Minecraft, leading to a very different game.

With Minecraft, ray tracing is far more dramatic. Instead of barely-noticeable lighting effects and reflections, ray tracing completely alters Minecraft at its core, leading to a very different feeling game. Minecraft goes from simple and unassuming graphics to blowing your mind every time you turn a corner. Every screenshot of Minecraft with ray tracing turned on feels like a talented fan's custom render rather than something that can actually be real. And NVIDIA's site is full of side-by-side comparisons to alleviate your cravings.

NVIDIA and Minecraft haven't been shy about showing the tech off either. Last November, and even earlier this year, they invited a few lucky (and very skilled) Minecraft players to experience Minecraft with RTX ray tracing turned on, and see what they could build. The result was a showcase of some impressive designs that shows ray tracing even shifts the way you have to think when building in Minecraft. Much like in real life, details become even more critical, with simple things like natural light changing how a scene looks and feels. Updated textures and shading make different blocks give off new emotions and ambiances.

What can ray tracing do for Minecraft? The answer is simple: a lot. The reason behind the answer? Not quite as simple.

Render Dragon, and the tech behind ray tracing

Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Update March 31, 2020: NVIDIA has released new videos and guides diving into the tech behind ray tracing in Minecraft, and there's some pretty impressive information here. You can check out the post here.

Ray tracing in Minecraft isn't as simple as flipping a switch (at least, not until it's finished) and accomplishes a lot more than a simple shader pack. Shader packs use pre-existing code and build on top of it, trying to alter the appearance of Minecraft with a rendered layer on top of everything. Ray tracing will be built into the foundation of Minecraft and will work from the inside out to dynamically alter all of Minecraft. This means better visual fidelity, superior performance, and a subtle shift from pre-generated guesswork to accurate and real-time tracking of lighting and texture information. Those intimately familiar with shader packs may not see as dramatic a shift, but the difference is there.

The effect is most obvious when you're in motion. Static screenshots do a fair job of displaying the tech's more alluring qualities, but those familiar with shaders will claim they've seen it before. When you're in the game, the ability for ray tracing to alter scenes in real-time dynamically is powerful, and clear to see.

So how does all of this work?

Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Getting the technology up and running in Minecraft comes down to one main thing: NVIDIA's RTX-capable graphics cards and Mojang's Render Dragon engine. Ray tracing is just coming to the Windows 10 version of Minecraft: Bedrock Edition because only the Render Dragon engine present in Bedrock supports such technologies like DXR ray tracing through Microsoft's DirectX 12, which don't exist in Java right now.

The Render Dragon engine is more modern, flexible, and powerful than the old Minecraft engine.

When Mojang set out to build the Bedrock Edition, they needed an engine that could span platforms, no matter the architecture of the processor (like the difference between a phone and a desktop computer), the power available, or the technologies being used. The Render Dragon can support a ton of awesome features, which is evident by looking at the AR magic of Minecraft Earth and its new lighting techniques. At the end of the day, the Render Dragon engine in Minecraft: Bedrock Edition is more modern, flexible, and powerful than the old engine in Minecraft: Java Edition. It runs great if you're on a $100 Android device or a $2,000 gaming PC.

It also supports DirectX 12 and Microsoft's industry-standard ray tracing APIs. So, with some work, the Render Dragon engine can tap directly into NVIDIA's powerful RTX graphics cores to deliver real-time hardware-accelerated ray tracing.

A Windows 10 PC + a powerful NVIDIA GPU + Minecraft: Bedrock Edition = a gorgeous and dynamic experience.

Release date and more

Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Update May 15, 2020: The beta for RTX ray tracing has received its first major update, with Beta Pack #2 now being released with five new maps to check out, with more gameplay, effects, and textures taking advantage of NVIDIA's ray tracing technology. Exciting stuff, indeed.

Update April 14, 2020: It's finally here! RTX ray tracing is coming to Minecraft in beta-form on April 16, 2020, through the Xbox Insider Hub on Windows 10. You'll have to be involved in the Xbox Insider program, and you'll need an NVIDIA RTX 2060 GPU or greater to run it. This isn't the full release, but it means anyone with the hardware can now get their hands on the technology and take it for a test drive. Full details here.

Related: How to play Minecraft with the RTX ray tracing beta

Update March 31, 2020: We still don't have an official confirmation or a definitive date, but according to NVIDIA, ray tracing for Minecraft is "coming "soon". Hopefully, it won't be too much longer now.

Update March 17, 2020: We reached out for Microsoft to comment on the demo, and they offered us this statement: "Austin Evans saw a technical demonstration designed to show off the capabilities of hardware-accelerated DirectX Raytracing on Xbox Series X. It is not a product announcement." While not a flat out denial that it could come in the future, the Evans demo isn't indicative of any upcoming announcement.

Update March 16, 2020: Microsoft has openly teased ray tracing support for Minecraft on the Xbox Series X. While nothing has been confirmed, Microsoft did use ray tracing in Minecraft as a technical demo for the technology, while discussing the deep-founded support the Series X will have for ray tracing. The support may not be entirely exclusive to NVIDIA graphics cards since AMD is the company powering the next-gen console.

If you came here seeking a definitive day that you can mark on your calendars, you might walk away disappointed. Mojang and NVIDIA haven't given an exact date for the release of ray tracing on Minecraft, only that it's coming "within the next year." Considering that ray tracing was officially announced in mid-August 2019, we can maybe expect the update this summer in 2020. Of course, schedules are liable to change. With the recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) causing cancellations of events and shifted schedules everywhere, the release could be pushed farther out. We'll update this section as soon as we have more information.

There is one bright side though: NVIDIA and Mojang have already announced that this update will be completely free. If you have the setup for it, you'll be able to reap the benefits of RTX ray tracing the moment it comes out. Yay! Mojang also confirmed that while ray tracing will launch exclusively on Windows 10 PCs, it will eventually come to other platforms that also support the technology. Additionally, the Render Dragon engine allows Minecraft to do platform-specific updates to improve graphics or performance depending on the device. Even if your device can't handle ray tracing, you may still notice improvements over time.

There's more information to be found on NVIDIA's Q&A post if you want to take a peek.

Ray tracing and Minecraft—a perfect fit

Minecraft & NVIDIA Ray TracingSource: NVIDIA

Combining the timeless joy of Minecraft with the breathtaking graphics of modern games seems like a no-brainer, and ray tracing will make that a reality. As you can see from pretty much every example of the tech in Minecraft, it's an impressive transition that makes me a little incredulous anything. Still, a supercomputer will be able to pull it off. I'm excited to see what it's like in person.

Are you excited for ray tracing in Minecraft? Are you prepared for its arrival? Let us know in the comments below!

A gaming masterpiece

Minecraft

Available everywhere you play.

Minecraft is a veritable, inarguable, and complete success. It has sold copies in the hundreds of millions, has a huge following of dedicated players, and lets you unlock your every creative desire. It's also available on every platform imaginable, including Xbox One, Windows 10, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. Play with anyone, and play anywhere.

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