Hitchhiker’s guide to Minecraft with ray tracing on Windows 10

Everything you need to know about blocky ray tracing!

A few days ago, we launched Minecraft with ray tracing on Windows 10 in partnership with NVIDIA. Wonderful! This new feature adds both shiny and snazzy things, such as emissive pixels and textures, global illumination, and physically based rendering. You can try all these features in one of the many free packs in the Minecraft Marketplace. Woohoo! Is that amazing? Weeeell… I think?

Technical jargon can be a hassle, especially for someone (me) who struggles with manuals and assembly instructions. Just last week I tried to set up my toaster so I could binge watch How we Make Minecraft. I was quite surprised to discover that the toaster didn’t even give me the option to connect to my wifi, which I already expertly installed in my shower. Now, that’s just a toaster – imagine what would happen if I got my hands on Minecraft with ray tracing on Windows 10. We would all be playing in black and white in no time!

Thankfully, we have Clayton Vaught, Lead Tech Director and personal lifesaver of disoriented Minecraft.net writers. Not only does he know a thing or two about Minecraft tech – he is also an expert in the field of Minecraft with ray tracing-ology. For this reason, we’ve invited him to our little corner of the internet to shed some light on all the technical details and answer any questions you might have about Minecraft’s new ray tracing features.

So what lighting and graphical capabilities does ray tracing provide in Minecraft?

Clayton: From subtle touches like soft-edged shadows, to “god rays” piercing through fog and water, ray tracing elevates lighting to behave as it does in real life. This is done in real time, by simulating realistic light rays moving through the environment. 

Once a ray intersects and “hits” something, we then bounce the ray back into the world, exactly as light does in reality. This technique is commonly referred to as “path tracing”. You can see this in real time by simply diving underwater in your world. Additionally, the ray tracing update brings support for “physically based rendering” to really bring the effect to life.

What is physically based rendering and what does it mean for Minecraft?

Clayton: Physically based rendering is a rendering approach that allows for more nuanced behavior of light in the ray tracing, and more importantly, expands what you’re able to do with blocks. Using additional textures, blocks are able to exhibit additional properties, such as how reflective or rough the surface is. This type of rendering also provides the ability for creators to specify normal maps, and height maps, which help tune the behavior of light and provide depth to the surface of blocks in the environment.

What is global illumination and what does it mean for Minecraft?

Clayton: Global Illumination, or in this case, “Indirect Illumination”, is one of those improved light behaviors that come with ray tracing. As we simulate the behavior of light bouncing from its initial source, often those bounces will go around corners, through glass, or bounce off a mirrored surface. These bounce rays then go on to light up areas of the world that were not directly in the path of the initial light source, indirectly illuminating those dark areas. You can see this in your house, with any lamp and a doorway. Turn on the lamp and open the door, You’ll notice the area behind the door isn’t perfectly black, this is due to light bouncing off the walls and other surroundings and lighting the area behind the door.

Does ray tracing impact gameplay or mob behavior?                    

Clayton: It does not. While the lighting has changed visibly, the behavior of mobs is still based on the original light radius values.

How is this different from what Java modders have been doing?               

Clayton: It’s similar in many ways. Like several of the ray tracing mods available for Java, we have implemented a full path tracer. These both simulate light moving through the world in a very similar way, mathematically. We have made use of DirectX 12 Ultimate, and the hardware capabilities of ray tracing-equipped GPUs to accelerate the simulation of these rays.

Does that mean anyone can make use of the ray tracing enhancements?

Clayton: Yes, if you have a graphics card with ray tracing capable hardware, such as the NVIDIA RTX 2000 Series and newer, or the AMD Radeon 6800 XT.

What were some of the challenges to bringing this experience to Minecraft?

Clayton: Technically, it was a big challenge since we hadn’t done anything like this inside of Minecraft before, and it also brought with it a new rendering engine, Render Dragon, and a new OpenXR based VR experience for our players. That’s a lot of big new tech coming into a single release, all while ensuring we don’t break the fundamental feel of Minecraft.

For anyone who doesn’t know: what is “Render Dragon”?

Clayton: Render Dragon is our new optimized rendering engine. We’ve been using Render Dragon for a while now on Xbox and PlayStation consoles, but now we’re bringing it to all PC players as well. Render Dragon is the foundation that we needed to keep improving performance, and providing new things to our players and creators.             

Where do you see the Render Dragon going from here?

Clayton: We want to keep bringing more features to Render Dragon. While I can’t say exactly what those are just yet, we have a lot of ideas right now for what we’d like to bring to it in the coming months and years.

Thanks for your time, Clayton! To learn more about the features included and how you can experience it, visit minecraft.net/updates/ray-tracing.

Now, let’s see if I can plug this ray tracing business into my washing machine...

Per Landin
Written By
Per Landin