Morgan McGuire, one of Nvidia’s top researchers, took to Twitter earlier this week to predict that consumers can expect to see the first must-have game that requires ray tracing by the year 2023. The tweet also included a link to publicly available presentation slides by other Nvidia scientists for this year’s Siggraph computer graphics conference. Most tantalizingly, the tweet featured an image of a single from McGuire’s own presentation, “From Raster to Rays in Games,” included among those of his Nvidia colleagues on the linked Siggraph page.
In essence, ray tracing is a graphics rendering technique that more realistically displays lighting effects by drawing rays between light sources and the “camera.” This approach is much more computationally intensive, though, which is why it is really only feasible with optimized hardware at the moment.
With an exhilarating E3 conference and the launch of Nvidia’s RTX Super GPUs just behind us, now is the perfect time for gaming hardware players like Nvidia to look to the future. Nvidia has an added incentive to muse on the impending innovations in gaming technology, as the company is trying to lead the industry through an awkward transitional period and has suffered its share of reverses in the process. In particular, while Nvidia tried to drum up excitement for a rendering technique that currently has little support from game developers by unveiling its RTX Super line of graphics cards (and offering mouth-watering game bundles to boot), AMD was able to dupe them into releasing the RTX Supers at an inflated price point to compete with its Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT, neither of which include ray tracing optimization.
In theory, Nvidia would be wise to play the long game and try to establish itself with an early lead over its competitors on offering ray tracing technology. In practice, however, it is possible to execute a play to cement dominance over a new format too early. AMD’s reluctance to chart a coherent long-term ray tracing strategy may be a sign that Nvidia has initiated just such a premature gambit, especially considering how ruthless and calculated AMD has been as of late — if AMD isn’t concerned about ray tracing, maybe Nvidia is getting ahead of itself.
Then again, in the methodical march toward its forthcoming Xe GPUs, Intel has signaled that it will include ray tracing from the beginning. If a cautious and meticulous company like Intel is banking on ray tracing, Nvidia may be right to set itself up as a gaming technology leader.