GDC 2019: Unity partners with NVIDIA to make ray tracing more accessible for developers

Joseph Knoop, Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 12:00 am

Unity Technologies announced Monday that the company is working with NVIDIA to provide production-focused early-access for real-time ray tracing in the High Definition Render Pipeline starting today, with plans to bring a preview solution in the latter half of 2019. This means developers using Unity will soon be able to bring the extra layer of photorealism that ray tracing provides in real-time as opposed to non-real-time rendering.

Ray tracing support could potentially be big news for any Unity developer.

Unity is the engine behind franchises like Cities: Skylines, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Cuphead. In September 2018, Unity CEO John Riccitiello claimed that half of all games were made using Unity, according to TechCrunch. Obviously that includes a high level of lower and mid-tier console or PC games that likely never take off in popularity, but to be fair, that’s still a lot of developers trusting in a platform. Mobile games are also predominantly built in Unity.

“As part of our commitment to best-in-class visual fidelity graphics, we rolled out the preview of the High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) last year – a highly-optimized, state-of-the-art raster-based solution capable of achieving stunning graphics in real-time on consumer hardware. We built HDRP with the future in mind and today we’re excited to announce that we are working with NVIDIA to adopt its RTX real-time ray tracing capabilities so we could bring this technology to all,” said Natalya Tatarchuk, Vice President of Graphics, Unity Technologies in a press release. “Real-time ray tracing moves real-time graphics significantly closer to realism, opening the gates to global rendering effects never before possible in the real-time domain.”

Ray tracing is built to better simulate the physical properties of light, calculating the color of individual pixels by tracing the path that light would take if it traveled from the POV of a viewer through a 3D scene. You see it in a number of AAA games known for their fancy graphics, like Battlefield V, Remedy’s upcoming Control, Metro Exodus, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, to name a few. Ray tracing has existed in films and general technology design for some time now, but the more interactive, in-depth, and variable nature of games has made the task of implementing ray tracing a tall order for all but the most wealthy studios.

“Until NVIDIA RTX, real-time ray tracing was perpetually on the horizon. Now millions of developers working in Unity can achieve amazing graphics with lightning speed,” said Bob Pette, Vice President of Professional Visualization at Unity in a press release. “Unity’s plug-and-play resources for developers and popularity with brands large and small make its users a natural audience to take advantage of RTX ray tracing capabilities.”

Unity has arguably spent the last year prepping this rollout, with Riccitello commenting on Unity’s process of taking feedback back in 2018.

Our listening to feedback is a torrent, all the time… [Our] keynote yesterday could have been described as an 80% listening tour in getting them what they’re asking for, and a 20% ‘we like shiny new things’ story. Right now, ray tracing is a shiny new thing,” he said, alluding to Epic’s focus with Unreal. “It’s not a practical solution until the ray tracing-centric GPUs arrive and it’s something that comes together in full fruition. It will, and we need to be there, and people need to get used to the technique, so that’s not the point, but at this moment in time it’s been talked about for 25 years, but in reality it’s not a thing that people are building scale production around.”

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