When you start to think about games that could benefit from more realistic lighting tech, Minecraft's blocky biomes might not be the first that springs to mind. Minecraft is one of the most popular and recognizable games of all time, though, so it serves as an effective platform for showing off the huge differences between ray tracing and older lighting techniques. If you've got the right PC build, you'll be able to see it for yourself later this week.
Today, Nvidia and Microsoft are announcing that an open beta for Minecraft's RTX ray tracing support will start on April 16. In order to play, you'll need an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card, Minecraft for Windows 10, and an Xbox Insider Hub account. If you're set on those three points, you'll be ready to see what ray tracing can do even with worlds made up of sharp edges and pixelated textures.
Minecraft running with RTX features is a fully path-traced render, meaning that unlike games that only use ray tracing for certain effects like shadows or reflections, everything about Minecraft's lighting model will take advantage of ray tracing.
Along with enabling RTX, this beta will introduce support for Nvidia's 2.0 version of Deep Learning Super Sampling or DLSS. This machine learning technique natively renders a game at a lower resolution and then upscales it to a higher resolution like 4K, providing a large performance boost without a huge loss in visual quality. Even with a top-end 2080 Ti graphics card, running ray-traced Minecraft at a high resolution can push your hardware to its limits—like with other titles that support DLSS 2.0 and RTX features, enabling it will help your PC push ray traced visuals at a higher frame rate.
The open beta will allow people to import and explore some of their own Minecraft creations, but it'll also come with six worlds designed by popular Minecraft community members. These worlds are made to show off particular benefits of the ray tracing model, like realistic lighting through stained glass. Nvidia will also release guides to help Minecraft texture pack creators take advantage of the new physically based materials system.
As it's only a beta, the ray tracing version of Minecraft won't be bug-free or support every feature in the game right out of the gate. The recently released Nether Update features won't be in the RTX beta, and neither the Nether or the End have received optimizations for ray tracing yet. VR is also not yet supported by the ray tracing beta.
The long-term plan is to migrate over the features to other platforms and hardware that support Direct X ray tracing in the future. For now, you'll need an Nvidia graphics card—RTX 2060 or better—to get going with the beta. Microsoft hopes to integrate ray tracing support as an option in the standard PC build of Minecraft later this year.