WHAT IS RAY TRACING? THE LATEST GAMING BUZZWORD EXPLAINED
DO YOU LIKE games? Do you like jargon? Well, then you’ll love ambient occlusion, morphological anti-aliasing, adaptive vertical synchronization, and real-time ray tracing.
All of the above were at one time the latest obtuse term for some complicated technology that’s been hyped as the next leap in gaming graphics. Except now, the last one might actually be truly revolutionary. Ray tracing achieved buzzword status at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. Game announcements made by Microsoft, Nvidia, and AMD at the big gaming show were peppered with promises that their upcoming releases will bring this miraculous technology into our homes.
“I think it’s paradigm shifting,” says AJ Christensen, a visualization program at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. “There’s a lot of stuff that we’ve been waiting to be able to do. The imagination far precedes the technology, and I think a lot of people are excited and waiting for it.”
So what makes ray tracing so potentially—ahem—game changing? Let’s break it down.
What is ray tracing?
Simply put, ray tracing is a technique that makes light in videogames behave like it does in real life. It works by simulating actual light rays, using an algorithm to trace the path that a beam of light would take in the physical world. Using this technique, game designers can make virtual rays of light appear to bounce off objects, cast realistic shadows, and create lifelike reflections.
First conceptualized in 1969, ray tracing technology has been used for years to simulate realistic lighting and shadows in the film industry. But even today, the technology requires considerable computing power.