In April, ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ is set to receive a path-tracing ‘Overdrive Mode’

Nvidia urges game creators to realise that ray tracing is just the beginning. Path tracing is included in a new Cyberpunk 2077 technology preview (“Overdrive Mode”), the next goalpost to make games look even better and keep you purchasing pricey new GPUs. The two-year-old game joins the ranks of Minecraft, Portal, and Quake II, all of which have very simple visuals. Nvidia also announced the availability of a developer kit, which will pave the road for the next generation of cutting-edge graphics.

Unlike ray tracing, which follows a single beam of light throughout a virtual scene, path tracing follows the light as it bounces about an area, more accurately simulating how it works in the actual world. It controls how neighbouring surfaces reflect or absorb light, resulting in physically correct soft shadows that more readily persuade our brains that we’re looking at a natural, real-life image. And, naturally, humans viewing images as more realistic is an advancement that the game industry will follow without hesitation. Path tracing has been utilised in Hollywood for decades, but it was a tedious and expensive procedure that couldn’t be done on consumer equipment or in anything near to real-time.

But, we must temper our hopes for the time being: Cyberpunk 2077’s path tracing will require the most powerful Nvidia RTX 40-series GPUs (and those who do may run into performance issues). Yet, Nvidia is keen to point the industry in the direction of what will become increasingly achievable for consumer graphics in the coming years.

Nvidia attributes this achievement to two of its technologies: DLSS 3 (AI-based picture upscaling without performance degradation) and Shader Execution Reordering (more efficient ray tracing without losing quality). “DLSS allows games to generate 1/8th of the pixels, then utilises AI and GeForce RTX Tensor Cores to rebuild the remainder, drastically doubling frame rates while providing clear, high-quality pictures that rival native resolution,” according to Nvidia’s statement.

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