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Minecraft RTX: Everything we know about the builder's next graphical leap

Minecraft RTX on
(Image credit: Mojang, Nvidia)

With the cancellation of the much anticipated Minecraft 'Super Duper Graphics Pack', many Minecraft fans feared their dreams of a dramatic graphical revamp were dashed. And while graphical upgrades are among the best Minecraft mods, wouldn't it be nice if the game was made to look officially prettier? Well, that's what Minecraft RTX is.

Announced barely a week after the cancellation of the Super Duper Graphics Pack, Minecraft RTX is an official Nvidia-developed patch for Minecraft adding real-time DXR raytracing to the Windows 10 version of the game. The whole game is, in Nvidia's words, "refit" with path tracing, which dramatically affects the way light, reflections and shadows work inside the game engine. Given how malleable Minecraft's procedurally generated sandboxes are, it's the perfect playground to experiment with the technology.

If you aren't worried about fancy lighting, Minecraft is still one of the best laptop games for playing on low-spec machines.

Here's everything you need to know about Minecraft RTX.

How does ray tracing change Minecraft?

Hands-on with Minecraft RTX

(Image credit: Microsoft)

We played Minecraft RTX at PAX Australia in October, and it was so good it wanted us to die and be reincarnated inside Minecraft. Read our impressions.

Nearly every aspect of Minecraft's appearance is affected by Nvidia's ray tracing implementation. Lighting is the biggest upgrade: taking advantage of real-time global illumination, the direction of the sun affects the brightness of all surfaces and the direction of all shadows. In a game like Minecraft, where the world can change dramatically from moment-to-moment, it's quite a remarkable upgrade.

The same rule applies to emissive blocks, such as lava and glowstones, as well as some new emissive blocks that will come bundled with the Minecraft RTX update. 

Real-time reflections will also be added in the RTX update, meaning all reflective surfaces, including glass and water, will reflect precisely the environments around them. The combination of real-time global illumination and real-time reflections also results in 'specular reflectivity', which basically means light of any colour will be evident on nearby reflective surfaces—even opaque ones. 

The image below provides a nice example of this: notice how the coloured, emissive disco blocks are affecting the colours reflected in the adjoining beige reflective surfaces. It's beautiful, ain't it?

But don't take my word for it, you need to see it in action.

You can demo Minecraft RTX in the Xbox Insider program on PC

Yup, even PC players can opt in to the Xbox Insider program to test out the new RTX demo starting on April 16. Just head over to the Xbox Insider website and click join now. Before firing it up, make sure you've installed Nvidia's latest driver optimized for Minecraft RTX. 

The beta incorporates six new RTX worlds, available on the Minecraft Marketplace, which have been created specifically for the beta by some of the best Minecraft creative communities around.

Watch the official Minecraft RTX gameplay video

(Image credit: Nvidia)

The above video released in concert with the official Minecraft RTX announcement back in August 2019. As you'll see, the video provides a pretty compelling reason to excited about the update, with before and after footage showing off real-time global illumination, and how the implementation will really make those emissive glowstone blocks sing.

A month later, Nvidia released yet another video showing off Minecraft RTX—this time with the addition of its own custom-made blocks. Most of these are emissive blocks, or else reflective, and will come bundled with the Minecraft RTX update.

What is Minecraft RTX's release date?

There is currently no official release date for Minecraft RTX. It was announced in August 2019 by Nvidia, and no further word on its release date has been forthcoming since.

Given that next-gen consoles, including Microsoft's next Xbox, will support ray tracing, there's every possibility that we might be waiting for whenever that console launches—it's a pretty easy way to wow early adopters, and Microsoft owns Minecraft. That said, Minecraft RTX could launch as soon as tomorrow. In other words, currently no one knows.

How much will Minecraft RTX cost?

The Minecraft RTX update will be free-of-charge to all existing owners of the Windows 10 edition of Minecraft. While Microsoft has confirmed that ray tracing support in Minecraft will not be exclusive to Nvidia cards, at the time of writing Nvidia's RTX series of cards will be the best way to experience Minecraft RTX—and they don't come cheap.

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.