By Brad Chacos
After months of teases and previews, the biggest advancement in visual effects in years is finally coming to the biggest PC game ever. Real-time ray tracing is coming to Minecraft for Windows 10 this week, bolstered by Nvidia’s vastly improved Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) 2.0 technology and new physically based materials designed to show off the lighting effects.
We can’t talk about impressions today, but I’ve been playing it, and well, you’re going to want to see it for yourself.
All the new goodies will appear in beta form in Minecraft for Windows 10 on Thursday, April 16. You’ll need Windows 10, a copy of Minecraft from the Microsoft Store, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 20-series graphics card, as those are the only GPUs that include dedicated real-time ray tracing hardware. In the future, the Xbox Series X and AMD’s next-gen “RDNA2” Radeon graphics cards will also support real-time ray tracing.
The older Java-based version of Minecraft isn’t getting the RTX treatment, but if you bought the Java version of the game before October 2018, you can get a free key for the Windows 10 version. Act fast, though, as that offer disappears into the Nether on April 20. You’ll have to register for Minecraft beta builds, too. Here’s how to do so.
It’s worth the effort. Like Quake II RTX, this new-look Minecraft is fully path-traced, meaning that all the lighting in the game comes from ray tracing—shadows, lighting, reflections, materials, you name it. By comparison, the real-time ray tracing in other games thus far take a hybrid approach, applying only a handful of ray-traced effects around traditional rasterized graphics.
Translation: Ray-traced Minecraft looks stunning and behaves realistically, as you can see in the screenshots and videos Nvidia has released thus far. New physically based materials are being introduced in the beta to take full advantage of the technology.
But as anyone who has played Quake II RTX can attest, full path tracing can absolutely melt your graphics card, even in relatively modest games. There’s a reason why real-time ray tracing—the Holy Grail of graphics technology—took so long to manifest, and most games still deploy it only in a handful of ways.
That’s where DLSS 2.0 comes in. The next-gen implementation of DLSS taps into the AI tensor cores embedded inside Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs, combining upscaling with visual enhancements created by machine learning to help games perform much faster than native rendering, with little to no loss in visual quality. Your games look great and run much faster with DLSS 2.0 active. In fact, Nvidia told reporters that activating DLSS 2.0 in Minecraft with ray tracing active can double performance, though the effect can vary from system to system and scene to scene.
Now for technical details to get ray tracing running.
You can’t just toggle a switch to enable ray tracing and DLSS in your existing Minecraft worlds. Instead, the new DirectX Raytracing and “Upscaling” (read: DLSS 2.0) options can be activated only in worlds specifically created to support ray tracing, using resource packs that include the new physically based materials. Nvidia offers guides on how to convert Java Minecraft worlds to the Windows 10 “Bedrock” version, and how to create physically based textures for Minecraft if you’re the tinkering type. The company’s also worked with Minecraft creators to make resource packs you can download to create your own worlds with RTX on.
Beyond that, Nvidia’s also partnered with creators to roll out not one, not two, but six free RTX-enabled maps available for the beta’s launch. You can find them by searching for “ray tracing” in the Minecraft marketplace. They are:
These beautiful maps show off what full-blown path tracing is capable of, with wildly varied environments and feature sets. “Imagination Island’s” central palace is built with stunning stained glass; “Aquatic Adventure” focuses on how light interacts with water; and “Of Temples & Totems” features glowing lava fields and luscious jungles, for example. “Color, Light, & Shadow,” meanwhile, is a more straightforward tech demo of sorts for the newfangled technology.
You can manually disable Upscaling and ray tracing once you’re in one of these new worlds, to see the difference between RTX on and off. It’s eye-opening, though again, we can’t talk about impressions quite yet. For now, multiplayer’s limited only to people running the RTX beta with GeForce GPUs inside their PCs. When ray tracing enters the mainstream branch, you’ll be able to play cross-platform with people on other devices, as is standard for Minecraft’s Windows 10 version. People playing on phones, consoles, or graphics cards without ray tracing capabilities obviously won’t be able to see the cutting-edge lighting effects even in RTX-enabled worlds, whenever cross-platform capabilities open up.
Minecraft Realms is also disabled in the beta, but you can download your world locally and rebuild it using an RTX seed, a Mojang representative told reporters.
Bottom line: Real-time ray tracing is coming to one of the most popular games in the world this week. You won’t want to miss it if you meet all the requirements. Look for the Minecraft beta to drop this Thursday!
This story, “RTX On: Minecraft’s gorgeous real-time ray tracing is coming this week” was originally published by
Senior editor Brad Chacos covers gaming and graphics for PCWorld, and runs the morning news desk for PCWorld, Macworld, Greenbot, and TechHive. He tweets too.
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