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Gears 5 dev: “Having dedicated ray tracing hardware is huge.” But just not on PC

The Coalition is excited about the dedicated ray tracing hardware, just not enough to use it for the PC version of Gears 5

AMD custom chip for Xbox Scarlett

September 12, 2019 Updated after communicating with Nvidia about RTX game support

In a studied, deflecting response to questioning about The Coalition’s plans for Gears 5 on the next-gen consoles, studio art director, Colin Penty, has been talking in very excited terms about the potential for ray tracing on the Xbox Scarlett console. It’s just a shame the developers weren’t excited enough to enable ray tracing on the PC version.

But whose fault is that? Is it down to the devs not being able to put the money and effort into supporting a resource-intensive pretty for a still small install base? Is it that Gears 5 on PC is an AMD-sponsored game and that currently precludes it from entry into the roped-off ray tracing VIP area? And does that mean you can’t stick ray tracing support into your game unless you’re a card-carrying GeForce RTX groupie?

Nope. Having spoken to Nvidia we know it’s not getting in the way of devs implementing ray tracing; that would be counterproductive when it’s trying to broaden its appeal. The Microsoft DXR API is the driving force behind the real-time ray tracing evolution, with Nvidia’s RTX cards simply accelerating the bounding volume hierarchy approach it uses. As such, any game that implements DirectX Raytracing would immediately hook into Nvidia’s RTX GPUs to accelerate its performance. And its GTX Pascal ones to lesser impact…

Given that The Coalition is a Microsoft studio, and it was Microsoft that created the DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API which feeds the RTX hardware from Nvidia, you’d think it would be a natural fit to have ray tracing featured in Gears 5. But no, this AMD-sponsored title doesn’t have it for reasons as yet unknown.

Ray tracing is open to any game dev that wants to implement it as it’s enabled at the engine level. It’s not a proprietary Nvidia Gameworks function, such as PhysX, it just needs a little (or more like probably a lot) of work to enable DirectX Raytracing in the Unreal Engine 4 – the engine Gears 5 is using. It’s already a DirectX 12 game, so the opportunity would be there if The Coalition thought it “huge” enough on PC.

The interview was conducted by Gamespot (via Guru3D), where the question was asked about what The Coalition will be able to do for a next-gen version of Gears and its chunky, gun-toting, cover-shooting protagonists on Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Scarlett console.

“We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of Gears with the new hardware,” says Colin Penty, “but I’m definitely super excited about what the new hardware could do. Having dedicated ray tracing hardware is huge.”

We already know from the E3 reveal that Xbox Scarlett is going to have dedicated ray tracing hardware. But whether that’s baked directly into the custom AMD processor – sporting Zen 2 CPU tech and Navi GPU silicon – or some sort of separate ray tracing co-processor on board, is still not clear.

“Next-gen ray tracing,” so says the Scarlett sizzle trailer. “It’s real-time because it’s hardware-accelerated, for the first time ever.”

AMD ray tracing vision

For the first time ever… in consoles. We’ve had hardware-accelerated ray tracing on the PC for a year now. It’s just that it’s only in the hands of one GPU manufacturer and until it gets wider support from every manufacturer the install base will remain small until every graphics company delivers support for Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing API.

We’re hopeful AMD will join the ray tracing party in 2020 with next-gen RDNA cards – potentially the touted ‘Big Navi’ – because having both consoles and both GPU manufacturers supporting it is the only way to ensure it becomes a standard feature in all PC games, and not just an occasional feature at the bottom of a settings screen.

Whatever happens with the next-gen consoles, and the hardware accelerated ray tracing AMD is bringing with the second-gen RDNA GPUs, it’s clear that right now it’s a far bigger draw having the advanced technology enabled on a console than it is being able to utilise the feature on today’s gaming PCs.

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