Quake II RTX blew my mind this morning

Back in the day, many of us convinced our friends and family that it was a good idea to spend several hundred dollars on a 3D accelerator card by demonstrating GLQuake running at nearly 60 FPS in gorgeous 640x480 resolution. Nvidia's CEO even admitted that his company may not have even existed were it not for Quake. That was his segue into the announcement of Quake II RTX, which is now available.

In case you somehow don't know, RTX refers to Nvidia's real-time ray-tracing technology. Nvidia—or at least Jensen Huang, anyway—seems to think that the time is ripe to take the first steps away from classical rasterization and toward a ray-traced future. Pure ray-tracing is too demanding for modern games, but a title like Quake II makes a perfect showcase for RTX given its low polycounts and simple world geometry. With an engine upgrade and a texture pack, Quake II RTX legitimately looks like an all-new game at times.

There is some irony in Nvidia delving to the depths of PC gaming's history and dragging out a dinosaur like Quake II explicitly to use as a showcase for the latest rendering technology. The choice makes sense from a few angles. While all three are open-source now, the original Quake is a bit too simplistic, and as a multi-player game, Quake III Arena doesn't lend itself to languid appreciation of your environs. Quake II also hasn't enjoyed the massive source-port love that its predecessor has, so this release is welcome for fans of the title.

Real-time ray-tracing isn't something you can really show off in a screenshot. Even in a video, it's underwhelming. Much like high degrees of anti-aliasing, the effect is so much more pronounced when you can match the difference your eyes are seeing with the motions you make on the mouse. I was conceptually optimistic about real-time ray-tracing before (being a long-time fan of real-time path-tracing engines like Brigade), but after finally getting to try it out on my GeForce GTX 1080 Ti card, I have to say it's everything I hoped for.

That's right: you don't have to pay out the nose for a GeForce RTX graphics card to try Quake II RTX. While Nvidia is coy about saying so—the Steam store page lists a GeForce RTX 2060 as the minimum requirement—you can actually run Quake II RTX on Pascal-based GeForces as well. Just be advised that you may need to crank the resolution scale option down a couple-or-three notches to get a playable frame rate. I don't know about older hardware, or AMD hardware, but try it out and let us know what happens.

If you're still dubious on the whole deal, don't just take my word for it. Quake II RTX includes the shareware demo of Quake II along with the engine itself, so you can try it out for absolutely nothing but a few minutes of your time. Alternatively, those who own Quake II can point the app to the existing game data files and play the whole game in ray-traced glory. You can grab the package from Steam, or download the installer (with support for the full game files) from Nvidia.

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