Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

IDF 2010: Inching closer to practicality

intlogo Intel shows off streaming raytraced WolfensteinINTEL WAS SHOWING off a few new research projects before IDF, one of which appeals a lot to gamers. If raytraced Quake Wars wasn’t enough for you, get ready for raytraced Return To Castle Wolfenstein, rendered remotely on a cloud.

The game itself is old news, but for those of you not familiar, it is a modern FPS take on the old 8-bit game made on the latest public engine from Id Software. Since CPUs are much better at Raytracing than GPUs, Intel did what they did with the last few Id games and turned it into a fully raytraced game.

 Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

The main courtyard scene

For this IDF, clouds are the latest buzzword, so this demo was rendered remotely on four machines each with a Larr.^h^h^h^hKnights Ferry board. The image is then compressed and sent off to a laptop and rendered at 1280 * 720 rez. At a frame rate of 80FPS, and with each frame taking about half a MB, you are looking at HDTV bandwidths to have fully raytraced remote games.

 Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

A million polys in lamp form

The level itself is pretty nifty with several indoor and outdoor scenes. The total level has about 1.6 million polygons, 1 million of which are in one item, a chandelier. It has lots of reflective surfaces and non-linear pieces of glass that warp light in strange and interesting ways. It is a worst case scenario for rendering.

Luckily, raytracing CPU power goes up linearly with polygon count, not logarithmically as it does with raster based techniques. With four Larr.^h^h^h^hKnights Ferry cards, you can’t say that the setup is tight on raw horsepower, but a million polys with light warping glass and massive reflections is still one heck of a job to do. To give you an idea about how many polys there are, take a look at this debug mode shot of the chandelier.

 Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

Make an ugly lamp uglier

One last thing to note, is that with enough horsepower, raytracing can do lots of neat tricks essentially for free, but it is not perfect. The crew at Intel have made some optimizations to this engine to make things that raytracing traditionally does poorly go a lot smoother.

 Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

Flat smoke

The most visible one of those is the smoke puffs in the outdoor scene. If you look at the first picture, the courtyard scene, you can see smoke on the upper right hand corner, and it looks pretty normal for game smoke. Above shows the same picture in debug mode, with the camera moved about 90 degrees. The smoke puffs are 2D, but since they are always generated with respect to the camera, the player never sees the optimization unless they go into debug mode and move the camera manually.

In the end, you have something interesting, but not all that practical yet. You can’t have four Larr.^h^h^h^hKnights Ferry brandishing servers in your game room, but that is where the remote streaming comes in. With each new engine redone for raytracing, Intel takes a huge leap forward in visual quality and features. The optimizations that are starting to crop up show that they are also becoming serious about practicality as well. It probably won’t be too long before raytracing is a reality for desktop gaming.S|A

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 Intel shows off streaming raytraced Wolfenstein

Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group.