Ray tracing is the latest generation of rendering technology to bring real-time graphics closer to photorealism. It takes high-end hardware to run well, but if you’ve got the PC to handle it, there’s nothing quite like its visual flair.
Even Minecraft, known for its retro-style blocky 3D worlds, hasn’t escaped the ray-tracing glow. It’s not enabled by default, but you’ll have a magical time if you have the right hardware.
First, what is usually referred to as real-time ray tracing in games is a more advanced approach known as path tracing. The general idea between the two is the same, but the math used in path tracing results in a better final image. For this article, we’re just going to stick with ‘ray tracing’, but it’s worth knowing the term ‘path tracing’, as it comes up many times in modern graphics discussions.
For a deep dive into this technology, check out What is ray tracing? & What are Path Tracing and Ray Tracing?
In Minecraft, ray tracing makes Minecraft more photorealistic. The light is simulated to act like it does in real life. Object textures in Minecraft have also been changed to PBR (Physics Based Rendering) materials with ray tracing mode enabled. In other words, wood has the optical characteristics of wood. Metal acts as it should, and so on.
The result is a Minecraft world with reflections, shadows, and lighting that looks more like an actual Minecraft diorama than a video game. You have to see it to believe it, so feast your eyes on these screenshots.
Incredible, right? If you want to enter the world of ray-traced Minecraft on your own, let’s start by checking if your system meets the minimum requirements.
To use ray-tracing mode in Minecraft, you must meet the following requirements:
- Windows 10 or 11 64 bit
- Nvidia RTX or Radeon RX 6000 or better GPU
- Intel Core i5 equivalent or better
- 8 GB of RAM (more recommended)
Only the Bedrock edition of Minecraft supports ray tracing at the time of writing. This version is also known as the Windows 10 edition, but it works just as well on Windows 11. The Java version of Minecraft, which is still extremely popular, does not support ray tracing.
Although the Radeon RX 6000 series cards support hardware-accelerated ray tracing, they don’t have dedicated hardware like Nvidia’s RTX cards. If you have a low-end RX 6000 GPU, you may experience performance issues with ray tracing in Minecraft, especially if you increase the detail.
You should also note that the Bedrock Edition of Minecraft is available through Xbox Game Pass for PC or Game Pass Ultimate. If you’re a first-time subscriber, you can usually get the first month for a dollar to try it out and see if it works for you. It is not necessary to purchase the Bedrock Edition if you have already purchased the Java Edition, unless you do not wish to play via Game Pass.
The first thing you should do is update your GPU drivers to the latest version. It’s also a good idea to update Windows if there are any pending updates. Buy Minecraft Bedrock Edition from the Microsoft Store app or install from the Xbox app if you’re a Game Pass subscriber.
Once the game launches, you will need to sign in with your Microsoft account. If you are already logged in through Windows, this should happen automatically.
- If you open Settings > Video and scroll down the list of parameters, you will see Laser trace with a toggle switch in the menu. However, this option is grayed out and you cannot enable it.
- To enable it, you will need a ray tracing compatible resource pack containing the appropriate texture types and lighting settings. Go back to the main menu and open Market.
- In the market, you can find both paid and free content. You will also find both types of ray tracing packs. Select the magnifying glass to open the search bar and type “ray tracing” where it says Enter search here.
- At the top of the results should be several bundles created by Nvidia, which makes RTX GPUs. You will notice that the thumbnails have the RTX logounlike third-party packs.
- For this tutorial, we are going with Imagination Island RTX. Select the button that says Free to claim the pack. Then wait for the purchase to complete.
- Then select To download.
- Select To download again in the next window to confirm.
- Wait for the download to complete. You cannot do anything else while this is happening.
- When the download is complete, select Create this world! So choose Create Where Create on Realms Server if you want to do an online session.
- Wait for the resource pack to load. If you get a warning that the online game is unrated, check Do not show this screen again then select Proceed.
Wait for the world generation process to complete and you should appear in the game.
If the game still looks like normal Minecraft, return to the main menu. Then select Settings > Video and switch it Ray Tracing Switch to the on position. Your screen may flash briefly while the game world is rendered.
Things should now be radically different. Welcome to the world of Minecraft ray-tracing!
If you want to return to a ray-traced world, just select New Game from the main menu, then choose an RTX world from the list.
Unlike games like Cyberpunk 2077, there isn’t much you can adjust to the ray tracing settings in Minecraft. The only things you control are the ray tracing render distance and scaling.
As the name suggests, the render distance determines the distance at which the rays are traced. Beyond the render distance you set, ray tracing is not applied. Thus, distant objects may not reflect off shiny surfaces near you. The higher this setting, the more spectacular the graphics will look, especially in sunlit outdoor areas.
Eight “pieces” of distance is the default setting and the minimum. We suggest pushing this one notch at a time until the game becomes unplayable or unstable. Do not worry. You can’t break anything. The worst that can happen is that the game crashes and you will know how far you can push your system.
Scaling simply means that the game is rendered below your screen’s native resolution and then scaled. It’s a great way to improve performance, and Minecraft scales well due to its chunky nature, so enable it if the frame rate is low.
Ray Tracing for Minecraft on Xbox Series X
Although Microsoft has demonstrated a ray-traced version of Minecraft working on the Xbox Series X, as of this writing there is no indication that it will become an official feature. If you want Minecraft with ray tracing, the only place is a PC using the Bedrock Edition.
Not everyone is able to buy the latest GPU, or maybe you prefer the Java Edition of Minecraft, which lacks Windows 10 and 11 microtransactions and lockouts.
While you can’t get real ray tracing, there are plenty of alternate shader packs you can download to drastically change the look of the game.
“Shaders” refer to pixel shaders, which are special graphics programs that help determine the exact color and brightness value each pixel in the game should have. There are shaders to make things look wet and shaders to make things look lit or in shadow. There are shaders for anything you want to achieve on a computer screen.
Although traditional shader-based graphics may not look as good as ray tracing, you can get pretty close! There are many options, and this is not a guide to alternate shaders in Minecraft. However, a great place to start is alternative shaders and Optifine. YouTuber Daniel Plays has an excellent tutorial that walks gamers through this moderately technical process.