Minecraft calls back to an era of 8-bit arcades, applied to the freedoms of a three-dimension sandbox, and a prime example of throwback graphics. The title evolved from its sole creator to the backing of a trillion-dollar company but retains that fundamentally timeless style after one decade. It's what makes the advances of the NVIDIA RTX update so compelling, shaking up that signature stylization through cutting-edge technology.
Minecraft's impending RTX support drops in the wake of the Super Duper Graphics Pack cancellation, initially scheduled for late 2017. The approach demanded an extensive rework of underlying engine foundations, promising volumetric lighting, dynamic shadows, reflections, among other enhancements. The planned result pushed improved visuals while retaining Minecraft's defining simplicity.
Mojang eventually axed the project, citing performance concerns, but now revives similar philosophies with its upcoming NVIDIA collaboration. Leveraging its in-house RTX platform for presentation enhancements, the update fulfills those once-promised lighting and shadow improvements. The highlight of the collaboration comes via new real-time ray tracing, soon headed to the Windows 10 PC client.
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Try Minecraft RTX and you won't go back
Minecraft adopts RTX amid a surge of ray tracing-backed experiences, all in parallel new dedicated PC and console hardware. The advanced rendering technique advances lighting, better simulating how interactions with virtual objects. Ray tracing and accompanying technologies look to drive a leap in light, shadows, and reflections, further developing the presentation of sophisticated locales.
The Microsoft voxel blockbuster isn't an expected pairing with realism, but the final implementation emerges nothing short of astounding. Layering those basic foundations with ground-breaking techniques creates a contrast that drastically shifts the overall tone.
Our impressions follow one hour with Minecraft's RTX-layered upgrades, hosted on a curated map from Mojang that highlights crucial features. Fresh lighting and shadow techniques are the immediate takeaways, best demonstrated by the variance of black shadows through concentrated bloom. That also invokes a sense of added depth to blocks, especially when doubled up with new 3D modeling for textures.
RTX also overhauls the perception of blocks, furthering advancing lighting systems. Real-time global illumination is a crucial component that simulating how light bounces between surfaces. It allows light sources to fully occupy an environment, best showcased with lava and lanterns in cave networks. Colored carpets and shimmering minerals exhibit similar results, conveying their tones upon surrounding blocks.
Mojang's new approach to water completes the RTX foundations, introducing reflections, refraction, and transparency — a far departure from the original indigo-tinted depths.
That complexity makes a considerable impact, admittedly making it hard to return to the vanilla setup. I've since been spending more time in Minecraft, switching to Java to experiment with third-party mods, while also exploring ray tracing in other RTX titles. The latest triple-A titles might flex their graphical prowess, but the leap Mojang has delivered was my gateway to getting hooked.
With all these changes, some may say it infringes on the core identity of Minecraft. It's debatable, but all I know is that it looks damn good in the process. We've wrapped up a selection of screenshots in Minecraft, showcasing RTX when off and enabled.
While RTX delivers an impressive advancement over the base Minecraft feature set, it's still unclear how performance fairs across a vast range of hardware. Even when backed by NVIDIA's latest RTX-tailored GPUs, these enhancements will make your PC work hard, stripping the performance gains of most high-end systems. Our hands-on session used a GTX 2080 Ti-powered rig to showcase the full potential of RTX, understandably so. Still, performance must be consistent across the family to be viable on the regular.
Minecraft RTX heads exclusively to its Windows 10 client, supported across NVIDIA's full RTX-compatible range, headlined by its RTX 20 series. While legacy Java users will skip out on the benefits, a line of existing unofficial solutions should suffice. However, with this Bedrock foundation, here's hoping ray tracing hits Minecraft on the next-generation Xbox Project Scarlett, even if it doubles down on AMD technologies.
Microsoft is yet to commit to a launch date for Minecraft's RTX enhancements, but keep an eye out for the coming year.
Block 'em up
The biggest game of all time
Minecraft's culmination of creative and role-playing signatures has captured millions over the past decade. Secured under Microsoft's games portfolio and bigger than ever, it's a vast voxel sandbox for all ages. RTX support soon hits, exclusively on Windows 10 PCs.
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