Ray Tracing in Games – a Dissenting POV

Just in case you are new to my ramblings, and passions, allow me to tell you about my background and interests. I am an avid game player, specifically AAA FPS single player. I am also a ray-tracing lover, having been involved with it since 1979. And, I am computer graphics advocate, sometimes expert, and always a promoter. Computer graphics (CG) will make you thinner, re-grow your hair, and make you rich and famous. Really.

Therefore, with the potential of hybrid ray-tracing in real-time (which gets the delightful acronym RTRT), one would think I would be ecstatic. I am for the accomplishment, but not the result. AAA FPSs don’t need, RT, it’s a waste of cycles.

There, I’ve said it, I’ll burn in hell for all of eternity, or until the Final Fantasy sequels end.

When I get a new game, I get killed very quickly several times. It’s not that I’m not a skillful hunter-killer player, I am, but I’m also a CG-loving gawker. So, when I start out, I look around. For example, I’m currently playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It is a Geee-oree-gious game. Lara is so realistic looking it’s amazing. But as I looked at her, I discovered the mud on her face is flat, it almost looks like a skin disease. And unlike previous versions, her hair isn’t as animated. But the other mechanics are fabulous.

RTracing 001Lara’s unrealistic dirty face and arms

Once I stopped gawking and got into the game, I no longer noticed her mud (which comes and goes at odd times) or her hair, I was too busy jumping, shooting and running. When I could pause I looked around at the scenery and marveled at: A. the awesome size and complexity of the 3D models and map size, and B. the textures and artwork. This is a delightful game world to be in. But does it need RT? No. Would the game be any better with it? Not really.

RTracing 002Artyom’s perfectly clean mask and gun after a decade of fighting in tunnels and snow storms

I also looked at the demos of 4A’s Metro Exodus and EA/DICE’s Battlefield V. Metro is one of my all-time favorites. Metro and Tomb Raider has a story and really gets you involved. As a take no prisoners, stressful game Battlefield, tests your composure. There’s no time for gawking — gawk and die. So why then do I need a ray-traced car that is in the middle of an intense sniper-filled house-to-house cleanup mission? I don’t. I don’t have time to look at it or appreciate it, it could just as well be a big black box.

Rtracing 003Car reflecting a near-by fire

Likewise, I don’t need perfectly clean highly reflective windows.

I want to dwell on that a moment.

The scene is in Amsterdam after many years of war, in the early 1940s. In the 1940s, in Holland, there was no such thing as flat glass like we have today. It all had (and still does) ripples in it. Secondly, after many years of war deprivation, there weren’t any clean windows. As fastidious as the Dutch are, during the war they were being starved to death by the Germans and didn’t have time or interest in washing their windows. Therefore, the depiction of perfectly reflecting windows, like mirrors in the Battlefield V is superfluous and gimmicky.

RTracng 004Perfectly flat, perfectly clean Dutch windows in WWII Amsterdam — sure

Rivers and pools of water, maybe, but you really don’t need RT for that, ray casting is fine, you’re not going to be there long enough to appreciate it, and it’s just burning cycles.

Rtracing 006Now, if someone were to make a truly interactive, non-cartoonish fantasy game like Myst, that would invite you and let you wander around and discover things without fear of someone killing you, then RT could, and would, be really great. But inaction kill-or-be-killed games like Tomb Raider, Metro, or Battlefield, forget it. Give me back those cycles so I can have better physics, mechanics, and no latency, all with high frame rate, high resolution and FOV. Give me better bump maps so the mud on Lara is caked, and Artyom’s stuff is dirty.

So why if RT isn’t really needed, plus it requires a new and expensive AIB, and these first implementations aren’t very realistic are we doing it? Duh, because we can, fool.

CG has always been about because we can. And, as I’ve said many times, it’s going to take years for the flat-footed sloth-like game developers to figure out what can (and what shouldn’t) be done with ray-tracing.

I love ray-tracing and probably love gaming too much, but gaming and ray tracing don’t go together like peanut butter and chocolate. At least not yet. – Jon Peddie

This article is re-published with kind permission of Dr Jon Peddie and was originally published in ‘Jon Peddie’s Techwatch‘ Jon has recently a book “Augmented Reality: Where We Will All Live” published by Springer and available on Amazon.