When you think of Minecraft, you probably imagine blocky graphics and simplistic textures. But the recent beta launch of ray tracing support for NVIDIA's RTX graphics cards transforms it into an entirely new game. To put it simply, ray tracing enables more realistic lighting, reflections and shadows. It's like the jump from grainy VHS tapes to HD.
I'll admit, I’ve never spent much time with Minecraft, though I've always respected it as a creative tool for younger gamers. Partially I just didn't have the patience to deal with a large unstructured game, and, to be honest, I just never really liked the way it looked. Aesthetics count a lot if you're going to be spending hours in a virtual world (this is also why I never got into World of Warcraft). But ray tracing completely changes the Minecraft experience -- all of a sudden it’s much more immersive.
The difference is obvious the first time you load up one of the six environments in NVIDIA's Ray Tracing Worlds pack, all of which are designed by master Minecraft builders. When I booted up Aquatic Adventure, I was gobsmacked by the water reflections and the transparency of crystal blocks. We've seen similar graphical flourishes from big budget titles like the Assassin's Creed series, but they've always felt like an approximation of reality. Minecraft's mirrored water blocks, though flat and immobile, felt a bit closer to staring at a real lake.
Then there are the rays of light which shower the game in a warm glow. You can almost feel the sunlight on your face. These are "god rays," volumetric light scattering effects meant to evoke the way sunlight peaks through clouds. While they can sometimes seem overused, like the way J.J. Abrams is notorious for throwing lens flares on everything, seeing god rays deployed realistically with ray tracing was simply breathtaking. It didn't matter if I was underwater or just looking up at trees, the diffuse light looked so good I almost didn’t believe it was being rendered in real time.