What is Ray Tracing in Fortnite?

Very pretty.


Ray tracing has been added to Fortnite, leading many players to wonder what exactly ray tracing is. In this article, we will give you a brief run-through on this complicated subject.

The first thing to be aware of is that, at the moment, ray tracing will only be available on PC, and only with certain types of graphics cards. You will need an Nvidia RTX card that can handle ray tracing, and you will need to run the game on DirectX 12, which Fortnite currently has as an option in the Graphics settings.

Having tried out ray tracing, running an RTX 2070 Super, we can say that unless you are running a very powerful card in combination with Nvidia DLSS, you are unlikely to get decent frame rates at the moment. Ray tracing is expected to really come into its own with the upcoming 3000 Series GPUs from Nvidia.

What is Ray Tracing?

The simplest way to describe ray tracing is as a more realistic way of rendering light and shadow within a video game. Traditionally, ray tracing has been used in cinema and on TV shows to produce incredibly realistic lighting in computer-generated scenes. The reason it has been a stable of visual effects in movies, but not in games, is because of the differences in rendering. Movie scenes can be rendered over time, using powerful equipment, while games are limited to the hardware available to the consumer, and the need to render it all in real-time.

The result of this is that games have relied on a process called rasterization to display three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional screen. The process is quicker and easier to render than ray tracing. It can be used to give a reasonably accurate, and often very pretty, approximation of how light and shadow would behave in a scene. For a more in-depth explanation of how rasterization works, I would suggest this excellent article from TechSpot. Be advised that it is very technically dense.

Where ray tracing differs is that it seeks to replicate the correct behavior of light within a 3D space. At its most basic level, ray-tracing is the ability to trace light from the source through a 3D space. It takes into account how it would react on the surfaces it comes into contact with in an environment. As you can imagine, this is very computationally intensive and has been outside the abilities of gaming hardware, until now.

The solution for this in gaming is more powerful equipment and a clever way to approach ray-tracing. In games, rather than ray-tracing an entire environment, the ray-tracing only happens for the light that can be seen from a virtual camera, in this case, your character’s field of view. There is also a limit placed on exactly how many rays of light will be ray-traced. Some games have used a combination of ray-tracing on visually impactful objects, and rasterization on the rest of the scene.

While all this sounds great, ray-tracing is still a pretty niche part of games. There is a lot of work to do before the currently available cards can provide the advantages of ray-tracing, while maintaining high frames rates and high resolutions that many modern gamers demand.

Will ray tracing come to Fortnite on consoles?

Both Microsoft and Sony have touted their new hardware’s ability to handle ray tracing, although it should be noted that this will be handled by a software solution, not specific hardware like the Nvidia solution. As such, we imagine that ray tracing will be part of Fortnite on the next generation consoles, but not on the current generation.