NVIDIA Takes RTX Ray Traced Quake 2 To The Next Level At GTC 2019

Quake 2
When Quake II launched over two decades ago, nobody could have predicted that sometime in the future a company like NVIDIA would overhaul the graphics with real-time ray tracing technology, giving the game a luster that was unheard of at the time. But that is precisely what NVIDIA has done, at least in a demo that it showed off at GTC 2019.

This is not the first time that Quake II has undergone a coat of ray traced sheen. Back in January of this year, a group of developers released what they called Quake II Pathtraced, or Q2VKPT, essentially a proof-of-concept mod that taps into NVIDIA's RTX technology for ray traced goodness. It was impressive, though not to be outdone, NVIDIA has kicked things up a notch. Have a look...

As NVIDIA explains, the original lighting in Quake II is baked and static. It's also grungy, which is befitting of the setting, though it does not have to be that way. At around the 38-second mark in the above video, NVIDIA flips a switch to showcase Quake II with ray traced visuals, much to the awed delight of the crowd in attendance, which subsequently gave NVIDIA a round of applause.

That initial burst of light was not the even the best part of the demonstration. As the scene shifts to follow actual gameplay, the lightning dynamically changes, casting accurate reflections and highlighting shadows. This can be seen on the floor, the walls, and through windows.

To fully realize the potential, NVIDIA also added high dynamic range (HDR), which is working in conjunction with real-time ray tracing. The results are impressive—here's a before and after comparison to showcase what a big difference this makes...

Quake II CPU Rasterization
Quake II rendered with CPU Rasterization

Quake II Ray Tracing
Quake II Rendered with Real-Time Ray Tracing and HDR

Interestingly enough, development of the aforementioned Q2VKPT mod was was led by former NVIDIA intern Christoper Scheid, a Ph.D. student at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. He created it as the basis for future research, and as a platform to encourage ray tracing. So, what exactly is new with NVIDIA's Quake II featuring RTX, versus that previous mod? NVIDIA says "a lot."

"We’ve introduced real-time, controllable time of day lighting, with accurate sunlight and indirect illumination; refraction on water and glass; emissive, reflective and transparent surfaces; normal and roughness maps for added surface detail; particle and laser effects for weapons; procedural environment maps featuring mountains, sky and clouds, which are updated when the time of day is changed; a flare gun for illuminating dark corners where enemies lurk; an improved denoiser; SLI support (hands-up if you rolled with Voodoo 2 SLI back in the day); Quake 2 XP high-detail weapons, models and textures; optional NVIDIA Flow fire, smoke and particle effects, and much more!," NVIDIA says.

Phew! That is a lot, indeed. NVIDIA also points out that Quake II RTX is running with NVIDIA VKRay, a Vulkan extension that allows any developer using Vulkan to add ray tracing effects to their games.

Therein possibly lies the bigger picture. While the demo is neat in and of itself, we could very well see developers update other games with real-time ray tracing. Depending on the title, the difference could be dramatic.