Two months ago I wrote about raytracing. At the time I said, “Dear games industry: Good job. That’s nice, but don’t make me upgrade my graphics card for this. It’s nice and all, but it’s not ‘five hundred and ninety-nine U.S. dollars’ nice.”
The technology struck me as a fun curiosity but not remotely worth the required jump in processing power. Then this week I came across this story at Rock Paper Shotgun talking about how someone added raytracing to Quake II.
I love it. For whatever reason, I actually think the effect is more interesting on the lower-fidelity scene.
I’m curious to know if this required new art assets. The textures look very accurate to what I remember, so I initially assumed this technology was just drop-in and was working with the original texture maps. Now I’m looking at things a little more closely and wondering if I was wrong.
If you look at the floor at the start of the video, you’ll see that light behaves a little differently on the floor tiles compared to the space between the tiles. Check out this image:
To me, it looks like the edges of those floor tiles are picking up specular highlights. I dunno. Maybe this is just a trick my eyes are playing on me.
In modern games, you don’t want everything to have a uniform shine. Some surfaces should be glossy, like a glass bottle or polished brass. Others should have a bit of shine, like brushed metal or wet stone. Other surfaces should be completely dull, like dirt or concrete. To get these surfaces looking the way you want, you usually have an extra texture map that will tell the renderer which areas should be glossy, and how much. Obviously Quake II didn’t have that sort of thing, which means to do it right someone would need to make those assets and add them to the game.
Then again, I looked at the Q2VKPT homepageQ2VKPT is short for Quake 2, Vulkan, Path Tracing. Vulkan is the rendering API used, and path tracing is the more correct term for Raytracing in this case., and none of the credits say anything about new assets. From the way it’s described, it sounds like Q2VKPT is a simple drop-in program.
Either way, I’m less excited about how cool it looks and more excited that you could get lighting this robust for so little effort. It would be amazing if we could go back to the workflow of the 1990s. This would give small teams the ability to make fancy shooters without being forced to evoke the 90s design style. Mixing the comparative ease of 90s development with the sizzle of modern graphics is the kind of innovation I can get behind.
Then again, these cards start at $800, so it’ll be a few years before any of this makes sense for either developers or consumers.
 Q2VKPT is short for Quake 2, Vulkan, Path Tracing. Vulkan is the rendering API used, and path tracing is the more correct term for Raytracing in this case.
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