NVIDIA Interview – Discussing Ray Tracing Support And ‘Proprietary’ Extensions


Real-Time Ray Tracing in games has become ubiquitous with Next-Generation gaming. NVIDIA has supported it with hardware-based accelerated RT cores since the launch of Turing and eve extended support back to the Pascal generation through driver updates that enabled the function despite those cards not having hardware accelerators. With the upcoming release of the next-gen consoles and Radeon's RX 6000 Series the talk of Ray Traced effects in games has taken even more of center stage, but it's also raising some questions among consumers and enthusiasts.

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We recently reported on the statement by AMD regarding their support for ray tracing and what games they are planning to support. We've included that statement here so you don't have to go running off in case you missed it.

AMD will support all ray tracing titles using industry-based standards, including the Microsoft DXR API and the upcoming Vulkan raytracing API. Games making of use of proprietary raytracing APIs and extensions will not be supported.

AMD Marketing via AdoredTV

The part of that quote that seems to have caught the most eyes was the portion regarding 'proprietary raytracing APIs and extensions' leading to many repeats. This seemed odd since we just got word through Tom's Hardware that Intel was working on support for Khronos' open-source ray tracing extension but will consider using NVIDIA's extension if more developers start using it. So, it doesn't seem as proprietary if Intel can use it if they want? Time for some answers. I reached out to Brian Burke, NVIDIA PR Gaming Technology, Esports & Consumer VR, for some clarification. and this is how it went.

What ray tracing games are out now that use NVIDIA proprietary technology?

Brian: The vast majority of games released with ray tracing support use the industry standard Microsoft DirectX Ray Tracing (DXR) API.  Three exceptions we are aware of include Quake II RTXWolfenstein: Youngblood, and JX3, which use NVIDIA ray tracing extensions for Vulkan.

Does NVIDIA support the use of proprietary methods to add ray tracing support to games?

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Brian: We support the use of industry standard APIs, such as DXR and the upcoming Vulkan Ray Tracing extension.  Ahead of the release of the official Vulkan Ray Tracing extension, NVIDIA has enabled Vulkan developers to implement ray tracing via an NVIDIA extension.

Why did NVIDIA use extensions that will only work on NVIDIA GPUs in Quake IIWolfenstein: Youngblood and JX3?

Brian: We believe in rapid innovation and open standards working together. At the time these early adopter games were being developed, the Vulkan working group had not yet released any specifications, and so shipping a vendor extension was the only way to enable these developers and bring ray tracing to our customers. It also helped gather feedback for the Khronos discussions. Shipping an early vendor extension is a common step in the standardization process.

What does that process look like? 

Brian: The creation of every open standard proceeds through a number of steps as that functionality gains wider industry support. Vulkan proves new functionality as extensions before integration in the standard. For significant new areas of the API it is common for the first hardware vendor with that functionality to ship a vendor extension to provide early exposure and gather developer feedback. When multiple hardware vendors become interested in creating a cross-vendor standard for the new functionality, Khronos provides a well proven process for those companies to cooperate and develop an open standard Khronos or ‘KHR’ API extension. For significant new functionality, Khronos often chooses to distribute a provisional version of a KHR extension to enable industry feedback in parallel with finalizing the specification and conformance tests. When the specification has incorporated all industry feedback, a final version of the KHR extension is released together with conformance tests, so that any hardware vendor implementing the specification can become officially conformant for reliable cross-vendor operation.

The evolution of Vulkan Ray Tracing followed all of these steps, including NVIDIA shipping its Vulkan ray tracing vendor extension, which was a necessary first step in enabling early access for developers and gathering the first round of developer feedback.

Is NVIDIA putting up any roadblocks, either through publishers or the Khronos Group, that would prevent AMD from adding ray tracing support to Quake IIWolfenstein: Youngblood and JX3  if they choose to?

Brian: Absolutely not.  We’ve been contributing to the growth of the RT ecosystem for years and welcome other IHVs to add support.

What work did NVIDIA do to bring ray tracing support to Vulkan?

Brian: Bringing ray tracing into Vulkan has been a multi-year effort by many companies and NVIDIA has taken an active leadership position in each stage of its evolution. We were elected to chair the Vulkan ray tracing subgroup at Khronos, we contributed the design of our vendor extension to Khronos to help the Vulkan working group make rapid progress, and we shipped drivers for the provisional version of the Vulkan ray tracing extension to enable developer feedback for the subgroup. Plus, we intend to ship drivers for the final version of the KHR extension on the same day as the specification is released by Khronos.

Will DXR games work on AMD GPUs?

Brian: DirectX Ray Tracing is an API defined by Microsoft for any hardware vendor to implement. Games built using DXR should work on any DXR-compatible GPU.  NVIDIA cannot speak to other IHV’s support plans for DXR.

I have seen stories that say that Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing will only work on NVIDIA GPUs. Why is that?

Brian: Cyberpunk 2077 uses the industry standard DirectX Ray Tracing API. It will work on any DXR-compatible GPU. Nothing related to Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing is proprietary to NVIDIA.

Thank you for your time today.

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