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I played Minecraft with ray tracing and now I want to die and be reincarnated inside Minecraft

(Image credit: Microsoft)

I've heard at least half-dozen people say stuff along the lines of: "You wouldn't believe it, but Minecraft with ray tracing is truly a sight to behold". But I would believe it, because as far as I'm concerned Minecraft is, even in its vanilla form, one of the most gorgeous games ever made—not to mention that, if you spawn hundreds upon hundreds, nay thousands upon thousands, of cats into your creative world, it's quite the resource hog too. 

So when I got the chance to see Minecraft with ray tracing at PAX Australia at the weekend, I was a) very eager and b) under no illusions that Minecraft with ray tracing would be anything short of amazing. It's actually, to be honest, very beautiful. I want to live inside of it.

There were actually two demos: one set inside a regular Minecraft build, and the other using a new texture pack Nvidia is using to show off the effects of ray tracing. The Nvidia RTX update still has no fixed launch date, but those textures will likely be rolled out alongside it.

First of all, though, here's a world sans new textures:

In the gif above I'm toggling between normal Minecraft and ray traced Minecraft. The gameplay effects of ray tracing are pretty obvious: the darkness under the canopy is genuinely dark and not just a darker shade of grey. Sunlight filters through the leaf blocks, lending a sense of grandiosity to a biome we're all overly familiar with. 

While I didn't capture any usable footage, spelunking with ray tracing is a more menacing affair when the darkness is genuinely dark, and when the torches plotted along the way offer a real sense of refuge.

Water is dramatically changed, as you'd expect: it's transparent (according to its depth) and reflections appear according to the direction of the sun.

The Nvidia texture pack build centres around a modern mansion – the kind you see in Ikea catalogues and upmarket interior design magazines. It's a nice build in vanilla, but with the HD textures and ray tracing it comes alive: notice how coloured illuminations splice together – it gives you a sense of how striking a game like Cyberpunk 2077 may be with ray tracing:

Here's a wider poolside view. The transition is like the difference between Looney Tunes and Pixar:

A lot of the textures added by Nvidia are emissive blocks, in other words, they're sources of light. In vanilla Minecraft an example of this is a glowstone, or a sea lantern, or a garden variety torch. These take a sledgehammer approach to lighting the immediate surrounds, but with ray tracing emissive blocks genuinely pop from the surrounding darkness:

Given that Minecraft's worlds are fully modular, chiselled by users into all manner of shapes, it's pretty much the best way to experiment with the effects of ray tracing. Using light as a utility, rather than as an ambient effect, is probably going to be the most exciting part of the implementation. I only got 20 minutes with the build, but after seeing the below environment – created by Nvidia to demonstrate the effects of illumination and reflection in otherwise darkness – I pretty much want this to be my home.

Ray tracing for Minecraft has no firm release date, but Jody reported in August that we can expect it within the next year. No one really needs to be sold on ray tracing anymore –  but if you've any doubt about its effects, Minecraft will be the best way to sample it, I reckon.

Shaun is PC Gamer’s Australian editor and news writer. He mostly plays platformers and RPGs, and keeps a close eye on anything of particular interest to antipodean audiences. He (rather obsessively) tracks the movements of the Doom modding community, too.