Have you heard of those Nvidia's RTX cards? If so you've heard of their new technology that allows real-time ray tracing and of course, you witnessed how badly they failed to convey how big of achievement that is, how so you may ask? Well, it's like trying to explain to someone not into cars why a V8 is so awesome, they won't get it and will refuse to pay for a more expensive car just to drive around and pick up groceries. Ray tracing is the same, unless you are into computer graphics it feels like an expensive gimmick, and since computer graphics are not my bread and butter how did I end up going down this ray traced rabbit hole? Let me elaborate.
I've known ray tracing and that it is really hard since a very young age, thanks to a demo of Bryce I pulled from a CD that came in a magazine, you know, those that PC Magazine and others would embed along with the magazine to lure young minds, like mine, to buy their otherwise business oriented, and boring publication. I have mixed feelings about those CDs, sometimes they were damaged, sometimes demos wouldn't work, but every now and then you'd get something cool. I digress. Anyway, that program allowed you to create a 3D landscape and have it rendered, more accurately, ray traced. It was mind blowing to see those landscapes come to life, albeit, after an all night rendering session in a mighty Pentium 133Mhz. I clearly remember something that looked like a scan line adding more and more pixels to the final image. Since then ray tracing and long waiting times were firmly cemented in my mind, to this add those reports of Pixar's render farms working non-stop for hours to render a single frame of Toy Story.
Around that time I had decided I wanted to write a game, I guess that's a dream a lot of teenagers, and some adults, share, and with that goal firmly set in my mind I went ahead and started learning computer graphics, of course it felt like learning some sort of dark art with those tutorials written in an arcane language that only an archaeologist could decipher and that could only be mastered after spending not few years in the Tibet. Of course none of that had to do with my overall ignorance of computers and coding. Among those ancient scrolls I found Dentor's tutorial which dealt with a bunch of stuff but one of the things I clearly remember was 3D graphics and there I was writing a rasterizer. It was awesome to see such a thing. I wonder if I still have the source for that thing, I'm sure I'd find that code horrifying, I mean, I embarrass myself even to this day with older code. Imagine something I wrote 20-something years ago.
Fast-forward 5 years and I had another brush with 3D graphics, this time OpenGL was to blame. Now I didn't have to write a rasterizer from the ground up, there was an API that would allow me to make use of that mighty NVidia GeForce 256 that my new rig had, and off I went. This time it was easier, I had more years of coding under my belt, I could do pointer arithmetic, could tie my shoes and I could do more complex math, however life caught up with me and I had to set computer graphics aside once again.
On 2018 I was watching the NVIDIA event on YouTube, the one where they unveiled their new graphics cards, I don't even remember why, all these years I had been pretty much apathetic about graphics, there was nothing new, just faster cards drawing more polygons in higher resolutions at higher frame rates, it all felt the same, same trick just done faster. I was bored I guess. Anyway, when they announced real-time ray tracing I could not believe what I was hearing, on one hand I was super excited, on the other I was skeptical, could they really do those Bryce landscapes in real time? Could we see Toy Story rendered on the fly? I wanted to believe, I wanted it all to be real but then they started talking about Battlefield V and how it had real reflections, I felt disappointed, just like when you see the burger on the menu, it looks delicious and tasty, you order it and what comes back to you looks like a Big Mac. Don't get me wrong, that game is basically rasterized and has a little bit of ray tracing going on, which in itself is great, just as a Big Mac is better than no burger, but what about a game that was completely ray traced? I thought to myself that it would take longer for such a thing to happen and moved on.
Enter Quake 2 RTX. Some weeks later I heard of it, A COMPLETELY PATH TRACED GAME. I could not believe the reports, or the videos on YouTube for that matter. I had to see it with my own eyes, and after 10 years of utter apathy I went ahead and bought a graphics cards, it had to be 2080 Ti, I knew I would need as much computational power as I could get to run that thing, it was real time ray tracing after all. When I first ran the game I felt like that kid back in the 90's that was running Doom in that Pentium machine. It was amazing, all the reflections, all the materials, dynamic lights, refraction, sun light correctly simulated.
And after so many years I found myself pulled back into the computer graphics hole.