CES 2020: Hands-on with Nvidia’s new RTX Minecraft demo

Everyone’s favorite decade-old game, Minecraft, has entered the home stretch for its next biggest update—real-time ray tracing.

The game has had unofficial, fan-made path tracing for a long time, which does its best to emulate official RTX from Nvidia. We’ve played it ourselves, we’ve done a YouTube video highlighting it, and we even have a guide for setting up this multi-step, only-slightly-janky path tracing yourself. It’s worth it because it looks incredible. But Nvidia’s official version, called Minecraft RTX, takes it to another, way better level.

We visited the Nvidia suite at CES this year to try it out for ourselves, and it was every bit impressive as we were hoping. Before you ask, no, we don’t have a release date yet.

Everything we know

Aside from talking about how incredible it looked, and showing you via photos, here’s what we learned.

In the Nvidia suite, we were given a very souped-up gaming PC to try it out on. We played on an RTX 2080Ti graphics card, which typically consists of 14 Gbps speeds, 11 Gb of video memory, a base clock of 1545 Mhz, and of course, tons of ray tracing cores. It pushed about 100 fps on max graphical settings. Normally, with an RTX game highlight, we’d specify which ray tracing settings were turned on and how much, but that level of customization didn’t seem available. There was one switch in the menu, and that switch just said “Ray tracing,” and you could turn it off and on.

Yes, that’s so much easier than anything you can do with the unofficial version, but it also means we couldn’t tweak it at all. Not that the 2080 Ti cared much, but a less pricey card might struggle with that level of black-and-white if that’s how it remains when the game goes live.

A nice detail we noticed while playing is that all godrays are ray traced, which isn’t true in some modern RTX titles. Even underwater godrays were given the extra touch, creating more realistic water effects than we’ve ever seen in a game before (and that’s in a Minecraft game, to boot). It’s not without issues, though. When attempting to de-noise lighting across stretched surfaces, like light fading across a long carpet, the ray tracing engine created some apparent fuzziness in the shadows.

Despite the minor issues, we walked away very impressed and impatient for the full release to go live.