NVIDIA: We Decided to Tackle the Challenge of Ray Tracing Over a Decade Ago, We Kept Cranking Away Until the Breakthrough
NVIDIA and its role in pushing real-time ray tracing through the games industry has been featured prominently on Wccftech in the last year or so, mostly with regards to the technical features and performance of ray tracing in the first supported games (Battlefield V, Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider).
In a recent podcast interview posted on Seeking Alpha, though, NVIDIA’s Senior Vice President Of Content And Technology, Tony Tamasi, managed to shine some light on how the whole ray tracing endeavor came to be in the first place at the company. According to him, it’s precisely the kind of challenge that NVIDIA loves to undertake to solve fundamental problems in graphics or computing. The effort began over a decade ago and they kept working on it and investing until the breakthrough happened with the RT cores included in the Turing architecture. Tamasi also mentioned that it was really gratifying to see three major blockbusters at E3 announced that will feature ray tracing (in partnership with NVIDIA) after all the hard work of hundreds if not thousands of engineers.
I think it’s really kind of fundamental to NVIDIA’s maybe philosophy or DNA, that we really try to tackle the most challenging problems in graphics and computing. In graphics, probably the most challenging problem has been gaming, which is a real-time graphics problem. And if you think about graphics, the place where it started maybe was the film industry and special effects. They have the advantage of, if they want to produce a frame, they can use a warehouse full of computers and spend half a day rendering a single frame. Whereas in the real-time or gaming industry, we have a fraction of a second to render, you know that frame is as good as we can. And of course, the film industry has transitioned from previous styles of rendering to something called ray tracing several decades ago, because it’s algorithmically a more robust way to render a good looking picture. The challenge, of course, is that it’s incredibly computationally expensive.
But in fact, that’s one of those challenges that Nvidia loves to take up. It seemed kind of impossible, but well, more than a decade ago, we decided we were going to tackle that challenge, bring ray tracing the GPUs and then try to bring ray tracing to real-time.
We did that by acquiring companies and investing heavily on architecture research in both software and hardware sides. We delivered things like OptiX to accelerate GPU rendering for the film industry, continued to invest, and then recently with the Turing architecture brought technology to roughly deliver an order of magnitude increase in real-time ray tracing performance, making that possible in games. We’ve been working at this for a decade and, you know, we just kept cranking away, investing in it, until we made that breakthrough.
I’ve been in the graphics industry for, I don’t know, 25 years, quite a while. For many of us that have been in the graphics industry, we’ve kind of always known that ray tracing in the future. In fact, there have even been presentations at trade shows like SIGGRAPH, which is the main tech conference for graphics, where they called ray tracing the technology for the future, which kind of implies that it’s always just out of reach. But we just refused to accept that, kept cranking at it, and at this last E3 a couple of months ago I’ve got to say it was really gratifying to roll up to the conference halls and see these giant banners for games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Cyberpunk 2077, and Watch Dogs Legion, these huge triple-A blockbusters, all of which are going to be using ray tracing. To see that kind of transition in the industry has been super exciting and super gratifying. It’s been the work of literally hundreds, thousands of people at Nvidia to try to make that happen. So while we didn’t invent ray tracing, we’ve certainly contributed probably as much or more than any to making that real-time possibility happen.
As mentioned by Tamasi, E3 2019 brought with itself the promise of real-time ray tracing in several of the biggest upcoming games such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood (about to launch, though it won’t have ray tracing at release), Control, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Watch Dogs Legion and Cyberpunk 2077. For an industry-wide adoption, though, we’ll have to wait for late 2020 at least as both next-generation consoles by Sony and Microsoft have been confirmed to support hardware boosted ray tracing performance.