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Minecraft with ray-traced graphics playable this week

Public beta of Minecraft with RTX begins April 16

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Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Minecraft players will be able to see the game in a whole new light this week: Real-time ray tracing will come to its blocky worlds through a public beta on April 16, Nvidia and Minecraft developer Mojang announced Tuesday.

Known as “Minecraft with RTX,” following the naming scheme of Nvidia’s line of graphics cards with hardware-based support for ray tracing, the visual revamp was revealed last August during Gamescom. It’s a complete overhaul of the graphics courtesy of a fully path-traced rendering of the game — the look of everything (aside from a few exceptions such as particle effects) is based on a simulation of the way light behaves. That includes real-time calculations of reflections, shadows, and ambient occlusion.

The beta will also bring physically based materials to Minecraft, a major upgrade that will expand the scope of the visual possibilities in the game. During a media briefing on Monday, an Nvidia representative explained that standard materials in Minecraft only have two properties (color and opacity), while the physically based materials in Minecraft with RTX have six. In addition to color and opacity, blocks made of physically based materials can have height (off the block’s surface) and roughness, and can emit light or look metallic. This allows players to create objects and surfaces such as lava with a fiery glow, water that refracts light, and hardwood floors with a polished gleam.

As part of the beta, Minecraft with RTX will feature DLSS 2.0, the new iteration of Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling technology. DLSS uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions, allowing an RTX GPU to, say, render a game at 1080p and output a 4K image that looks about as good as a native 4K image. In Minecraft with RTX, DLSS 2.0 can deliver a performance boost of 70%, according to Nvidia. The company gave an example of the game running on an RTX 2060, and said that with DLSS 2.0 enabled, the frame rate jumps from just north of 30 frames per second to the mid-50s. (That’s in the beta; there will likely be further optimizations before release.)

When the beta goes live on Thursday, six free maps of worlds created in Minecraft with RTX will be available to download from the Minecraft Marketplace. Nvidia said that “a handful of the leading community creators” built the maps:

Nvidia said that it is also publishing guides and tools “that will enable creators to build their own [ray traced] worlds.” One of them is a video tutorial on Adobe Substance Painter for people who want to create their own blocks made of physically based materials. Another is an unofficial guide to convert worlds from the Java edition of Minecraft to the current Bedrock version of the game.

An interior scene from the “Imagination Island” world in the Minecraft with RTX beta. Note the clear directionality of sunlight that ray tracing delivers, along with the diffuse illumination from the candles up on ledges.
Image: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios via Blockworks, Nvidia and Image: Mojang/Xbox Game Studios via Blockworks, Nvidia

The Minecraft with RTX beta will be available to anyone who owns the Windows 10 version of the game, and will require an Nvidia RTX GPU as well as an Intel Core i5 (or equivalent) processor and 8 GB of RAM. In order to access the beta, Minecraft players will need to go to the Microsoft Store and download the Xbox Insider Hub. If you’re playing inside a ray tracing-enabled world, you’ll be able to toggle ray tracing on and off within the game; the Minecraft with RTX beta isn’t a separate executable.

Asked about a potential end date for Minecraft with RTX’s beta testing period, Kasia Swica, senior program manager for Minecraft at Microsoft, said there’s no set time frame. Swica added that Mojang expects to release ray tracing features in a free update for the Bedrock Edition of Minecraft on Windows 10 “sometime within this calendar year.”

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