Nvidia wants game developers to remember that ray tracing isn’t the end of the line. A new Cyberpunk 2077 technology preview (“Overdrive Mode”) supports path tracing, the next goalpost to make games look even prettier and keep you buying expensive new GPUs. The two-year-old game joins Minecraft, Portal and Quake II — titles with relatively primitive graphics — in supporting the technology. In addition, Nvidia announced the availability of a developer kit to pave the way for the next generation of bleeding-edge graphics.
While ray tracing follows a single beam of light across a virtual scene, path tracing follows the light as it bounces around an environment, more realistically mimicking how it works in the physical world. It determines how nearby surfaces reflect or absorb the light, producing physically accurate soft shadows that more easily convince our brains that we’re viewing a natural, real-life scene. And humans perceiving graphics as more realistic is (naturally) an advancement the gaming industry will pursue without hesitation. Hollywood has used path tracing for decades, but it was a slow and expensive process that couldn’t work on consumer gear or in anything close to real-time.
However, we need to keep our expectations in check for the moment: You’ll need the most powerful Nvidia RTX 40-series GPUs to enjoy Cyberpunk 2077’s path tracing (and those who do may run into performance issues). Still, Nvidia is eager to nudge the industry toward what will be increasingly possible for consumer graphics in the coming years.
Nvidia says two of its technologies were vital in producing this milestone: DLSS 3 (AI-based image upscaling without performance loss) and Shader Execution Reordering (more efficient ray tracing without losing quality). “DLSS allows games to render 1/8th of the pixels, then uses AI and GeForce RTX Tensor Cores to reconstruct the rest, dramatically multiplying frame rates, while delivering crisp, high-quality images that rival native resolution,” Nvidia explained in its announcement.
Although we’ll probably have to wait a while before this technology becomes widely accessible, Nvidia launched a new SDK this week to let developers prepare. Owners of the latest and greatest Nvidia GPUs can test the Cyberpunk 2077 “Overdrive Mode” tech preview starting on April 11th.