RTX Off: Real-time ray tracing could become available for every modern GPU someday, including AMD’s and Nvidia’s current hardware. Crytek has built a real-time ray tracing system that doesn’t care about special hardware, and they’ll be implementing it into CryEngine to let any game developer build their games with ray tracing for free.
The demo above called “Neon Noir” features two minutes of 4K 30 FPS ray tracing, all completed in real-time on a Radeon Vega 56. All reflections are ray traced, but much like Battlefield V, traditional rendering techniques are used in conjunction with ray tracing to optimize performance.
Before anyone starts a riot that Nvidia has been charging a fortune for RTX hardware, there are some things to note. First, although it does seem to work, Crytek’s ray tracing is still in development and it will be a while longer before it's available. Second, demos always look substantially better than subsequent games, so it’s a bit premature to be judging the visual quality of the solution.
Crytek's impressive showcase is a proof of concept that real-time ray tracing may not require specialized hardware. Then again Nvidia has said before that GeForce GTX cards can render ray traced scenes, but they are several times slower than RTX graphics cards. Turing RTX GPUs add dedicated pipelines to calculate rays and triangle intersections, thus making simulation of ray tracing feasible.
Then the question is not so much about hardware support, but how Crytek has managed such smooth performance with hardware that wasn't built for the task.
Crytek is the developer/creator behind the revolutionary Far Cry and Crysis game series (some sequels were developed by third parties, the originals were fully theirs), which is famous for breaking down barriers on what was thought to be possible in PC graphics. They also make CryEngine, a graphics-focused game engine used for Crysis, Far Cry, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, amongst other titles. It’s licensed on a “pay what you want" scheme to small developers, enabling to use the engine in their games for free, which will let a lot of Indies access ray tracing tools when the feature arrives.
According to Crytek, their ray tracing implementation is part of a new Total Illumination toolkit which is an add-on to CryEngine 5.5 (current version). It doesn’t seem to require many changes to the rest of the engine and will be released as default in a future CryEngine version. Included in the toolkit are ray traced reflections, shadows, and global illumination. It doesn’t require any special APIs or hardware and will be optimized for Vulkan and DirectX 12.
In all likelihood, it will be a long time before anyone can play around with Crytek’s ray tracing and unfortunately the tech demo shown in the video cannot be downloaded so we can try it on our own hardware, but we’re all waiting with bated breath.