For now, real-time ray tracing technology is the expensive heritage carrot on a stick which Nvidia is using to hopefully force its GeForce RTX graphics cards into gaming PCs around the world. It looks fantastic, it carries a hideous performance cost with its feature set still a long way from being comprehensive.
Still, Nvidia’s Morgan McGuire doesn’t think it’ll be long until we’re all using GPUs which can support ray-tracing. In fact, he thinks it’s only four years until AAA games will demand you have a ray-tracing GPU in order to even run it. This would put a shelf life on any graphics card sold which can’t feature ray-tracing.
“I predict that the first AAA game to REQUIRE a ray tracing GPU to run will ship in 2023, and every gaming platform will offer accelerated ray tracing by that year,” wrote Nvidia’s McGuire on Twitter.
He believes ray-tracing will become increasingly pervasive over the next four years, something it’s difficult to argue with, culminating in it becoming a literal minimum requirement for some AAA titles by 2023.
Both ray-tracing and traditional rasterisation will continue to co-exist for the next four or so years. Rasters will handle primary rays, SSAO, DOF, shadow maps, while ray-tracing will enhance the fidelity with real-time ray-traced reflections, hard shadows, adaptive sampling, and refraction transparency.
Then, from 2023 onwards, McGuire anticipates we’ll move to exclusively ray-tracing for our lighting needs, eventually culminating in the ultimate solution 2035 - Path Tracing. Once we’re there, we’re well and truly in the realm of photorealism.
A long way to go then, but we're already treading down that path. Ray tracing is the future of gaming graphics tech, it's just a matter of when rather than 'if' you're going to need a GPU with ray-tracing capabilities. For now, it's not such a pressing need, but expect it all to change as the years roll by.