On Monday, Mojang and Nvidia kicked off this week’s Gamescom gaming conference with a substantial unveil for the blocky, mega-popular game Minecraft: a visual upgrade patch coming exclusively to owners of Nvidia RTX graphics cards for the game’s Windows 10 version. This comes seven days after another, similar patch, which would have been free for all Xbox and Windows players, was canceled after two years of delays.
And while that canceled “Super Duper” patch looked impressive, this one takes the intentionally chunky, lo-fi Minecraft to an entirely new level, thanks to a handsome emphasis on ray tracing. Nvidia’s RTX line of graphics cards each include a dedicated core designed to efficiently map out massive amounts of light bounces in 3D imagery, and its effects on Minecraft might be their most impressive yet.
The upgrade’s reveal trailer shows exactly how this “path tracing” patch will look in action, and it revolves largely around more realistic looking models for light bouncing and reflection. The game’s pixelated “gold” blocks now glisten like gold. Reflective materials now mirror whatever mobs walk near them. Light cast upon different kinds of materials will naturally glow, and underground caverns will now smolder in impressive red glows from nearby lava flows.
In addition to upgrades to ambient occlusion and shadow resolution, the trailer also shows a pretty dazzling overhaul to the game’s water rendering system. Though the game still renders chunky “bubble” blocks in the water, it otherwise reflects and refracts whatever light is visible both above and below the water.
No release date was given beyond “2020,” and Mojang hasn’t announced whether this RTX-exclusive patch will cost extra for the game’s existing owners.
A huge question lingers ahead of the feature’s live previews at this week’s Gamescom: how demanding will this patch be? Even higher-end GeForce RTX graphics cards, like the RTX 2080 Super and RTX 2080 Ti, have struggled to efficiently render some games’ RTX-exclusive patches. Fans who play Minecraft‘s Java version on PC may already know this, thanks to a mod project enabling similar lighting and reflection tweaks (though this mod is in alpha and arguably not as pretty as today’s official RTX patch reveal). We look forward to seeing direct-feed capture of the patch from Gamescom attendees, and to learn how beefy a PC is being used in these demos.
We’re also wondering whether the Super Duper Graphics Pack, slated to launch on all Xbox and Windows versions of Minecraft, was canceled in favor of this. While neither Mojang nor Nvidia mentioned the canceled pack, Monday’s reveal video includes a telling quote: “It’s allowed the team here to just focus on Minecraft the game and Nvidia to focus on underlying technologies.”
Nvidia used Gamescom as an opportunity to reveal other RTX-exclusive patches coming to PC games in the next year, but these weren’t nearly as revealing. The most dramatic one, for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, didn’t have much in the way of A/B testing, and other new trailers were even more scant on visual details.
And what about those who own Minecraft on platforms other than the combination of Windows 10 and Nvidia RTX? They may too see visual upgrades in the near future, though these may be subtler. Mojang issued its own announcement on Monday about the game’s upcoming shift to an entirely new rendering pipeline in its “Bedrock” edition, the one that is most widely ported and updated. The game’s new engine is called “Render Dragon.”
The blog post vaguely sums up Render Dragon’s updates as “improved emissivity, directional lighting, edge highlighting, and new lighting techniques.” Unlike the RTX patch’s reveal, Mojang wasn’t ready to show how intense those Render Dragon updates may look, or whether they’ll come anywhere near the handsome Super Duper Graphics Pack reveal in 2017.
“Not all devices will support ray tracing, but we will have some graphics enhancements on most devices,” the official Mojang blog post says.
Listing image by Mojang / Nvidia