Ray tracing currently occupies a liminal place in the gaming realm. On the one hand, the technology factually exists — there are game engines with ray tracing components baked in, Nvidia’s entire RTX push has been built around it, and the next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft will both include an AMD-based ray tracing solution. On the other, the lack of support from AMD, need for higher-end GPUs, and the relative newness of the capability means that ray-tracing isn’t driving the game industry as a whole, either. We also don’t know how central ray tracing will be to AMD’s push with future GPUs — it’s not yet clear if the company will bet the metaphorical farm on ray tracing.
One reason for uncertainty from fans is that it isn’t clear which of the three companies entering the market — because Intel will inevitably have something to say on the subject as well — will provide the best ray tracing solution for future games. This is one area where Nvidia’s heavy RTX branding push and discussions of its own dedicated ray-tracing hardware may have muddied consumer perceptions a bit: DirectX Ray-tracing, abbreviated DXR, is Microsoft’s standard for handling ray tracing in modern titles. It does not require any specialized hardware to operate, though hardware acceleration may be used to improve performance. The benchmark is based on a ray-tracing demo that CryTek released earlier this year.
While all of the games to support ray tracing have done so via Nvidia’s RTX-specific optimizations, there’s no reason this must be true, and it’s possible to run ray-tracing workloads at present on both Nvidia and AMD hardware, provided the code is written to be AMD-compatible. That’s what Crytek has done with Neon Noir, and while I haven’t had time to run the test through an array of AMD or Nvidia hardware, having workloads that can run on GPUs from multiple companies is useful no matter what. It is not clear if games that currently support RTX will be retroactively patched to enable ray tracing when AMD GPUs launch that support the capability or if the handful of titles that support the feature currently will remain Nvidia-only shops. But either way, once Big Navi debuts at some point in 2020 there’ll be more interest in seeing what Crytek has built.
According to Crytek, it’s Neon Noir implementation is hardware-agnostic, and “will run on most mainstream contemporary AMD and Nvidia GPUs, whereas other ray-tracing methods are typically bound to GPU solutions with dedicated RT cores. The feature will ship in CRYENGINE in 2020, optimized to take advantage of performance enhancements delivered by the latest generation of graphics cards from all manufacturers and supported APIs like Vulkan and DX12.”
We haven’t heard much from Crytek in recent years. Games like Warface have been transferred to other studios, and titles like Hunt: Showdown seem to have landed with scarcely a ripple in the larger market. After layoffs and restructuring in the mid-2010s, the company has been mostly dormant, with a few VR titles and continued development of projects like CryEngine V. Neon Noir may represent the company’s efforts to put itself back in the spotlight, but a full-fledged agnostic ray tracing demo not explicitly sponsored by either publisher could be a useful thing, if the test proves useful.
Normally, I’d include some test results and comparative data in a write-up like this, but I’m currently tunneling out of the CPU Reviewer’s Pit, using a Ryzen 9 3950X for a shovel. Spoiler: It’s a terrible shovel. Look for new ShovelMark results coming soon (except not really, as both AMD and Intel get really cross if you test chips this way).
Crytek does expect to bake these improvements into the Crytek engine, so games like Neon Noir should be possible in 2020. Details on how to configure the benchmark are available from Crytek directly. If you set LowSpecMode to 0, ray-traced reflections will render at the same resolution as the test itself. If you render with LowSpecMode=1, the ray-traced reflections will render at 1357×763, or roughly 50 percent of 1920×1080 resolution. LowSpecMode is set to 0 if you render at Ultra quality and 1 if you render at Very High Quality. It is not clear if the Very High reflection quality remains rendered at 1357×763 as resolution scales or if the test scales the reflection resolution to ensure it remains 50 percent of the target display resolution. Minimum specs for the demo include a Ryzen 5 2500X or Core i7-8700, AMD Vega 56 or GTX 1070, 16GB of system RAM, Windows 10 64-bit, and DX11. Some of these restrictions are obviously specific to the demo, given Crytek’s comments about supporting Vulkan and DX12 in the future.
The demo can be downloaded here. Keep in mind that current AMD GPUs don’t practically support ray tracing, so while it may be possible to compare performance on these solutions, it’s not clear if they’ll ever actually run ray-traced titles in that mode. AMD will make that determination.
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