Microsoft announced just last week that it had ended its development of the long-awaited “Super Duper” graphics pack for Minecraft. This week, Microsoft announced a different new look coming to Minecraft: ray tracing. In collaboration with Nvidia, the blocky beast of a game is getting the full, official RTX treatment.
Microsoft made the announcement today as part of the kickoff for Gamescom 2019. There’s a lot to unpack here. The “Super Duper” update was canceled because the team wasn’t happy with how it was performing on various platforms. In other words, it looked good but was causing issues. The limitations inherent to the RTX—it only runs on high-end cards with hardware devoted to ray tracing—seem to solve that. Microsoft hasn’t said exactly that, but it does seem to make sense.
The update is coming to the Bedrock edition of Minecraft, which is available on Windows 10, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android, but the option will only show up on Windows 10 PCs, and will only work with graphics cards that can handle it, like the . In other words, it doesn’t have to perform across different platforms. Java, as Minecraft‘s legacy platform, will be left out of the official upgrade.
Once it arrives, you’ll enable ray tracing by selecting an “Optional graphics with RTX” feature in the options menu. Microsoft notes that the visual upgrade will run on any Windows 10 device capable of running DirectX R, and says that it plans to support future DXR platforms as well. The next Xbox, Project Scarlet, comes immediately to mind, and AMD’s own raytracing tech can’t be far off, either. In other words, Nvidia’s exclusivity is simply a matter of availability.
The marriage of Minecraft and ray tracing first occurred earlier this year via mod. Fans who have that mod running should be able to continue doing so, as the update won’t change the Java version.
But even if you don’t plan on picking up an RTX card, you still have something to look forward to. Mojang is implementing a new game engine called Render Dragon. Get it? Like the Ender Dragon? The new engine will be part of Bedrock, meaning that it’ll be on all those platforms we mentioned above. Render Dragon brings new lighting techniques, edge highlighting, and a “range of graphical features” dependent on that platform you’re playing on.
Minecraft is a great way to show off RTX and ray tracing
Putting aside platform support for a moment, I think Minecraft is a great way to show off the capability of ray tracing. Modern triple-A games look so good that turning on ray tracing doesn’t actually look that different. It’s like the difference between a magic trick and actual magic. If you can’t tell which is which, they look no different. Developers have become so good at faking realistic lighting that ray-traced lighting doesn’t look much better than rasterized light.
With games like Minecraft and Quake 2 RTX, it’s easier to focus on how ray tracing can change the way a game looks. The difference is stunning. It also helps that Minecraft is an immensely replayable and commonly-owned game, which helps it stand out from the crowds of single-player action games that make up most of the current and upcoming RTX-enabled game library.
Microsoft says we can start looking to these technical enhancements “in the new year,” meaning sometime in 2020. In the meantime, check out our massive new review of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards to see if you’re ready for RTX.