In August, we documented an upcoming Minecraft update that would allow RTX-powered laptops to run fully ray-traced worlds in the game. Now it looks like the beta is finally out, and gamers are already savoring Minecraft in its new form.

The update brings a fine dose of realism by adopting physically-based rendering (PBR) techniques and relying on an extra hardware boost from NVidia’s RT cores. Before we get into how all of this works, let’s take a peek at the usual rendering technique that Minecraft uses.

How Minecraft renders worlds without RTX

Traditionally, Minecraft uses a special algorithm for texturing and lighting. The game stores information for every block, including location, appearance, neighboring blocks, and render type. This information is processed by the algorithm to decide how each block should be rendered.

Lighting information for all block types is pre-computed and stored in the game files. Each chunk of blocks contains two lighting arrays: Blocklight array and SkyLight array. The former contains light received from other blocks while the latter light received from the sky.

Minecraft screenshot

Lighting effects such as smooth lighting and ambient occlusion are also approximated using Minecraft’s in-game algorithm.

When rendering a landscape, Minecraft follows a standard path. It begins by compiling the block information into a list of instructions that the graphics engine can figure out, and then proceeds to generate a list of rendering instructions such as color, texture coordinates, and lighting info.

How Minecraft renders worlds with RTX

With the help of the new Render Dragon Engine, Minecraft can now render graphics in a way that mimics the natural flow of light in the real world.

The tech behind this graphics upgrade is physically-based rendering (PBR) – a more accurate method of rendering that simulates how light interacts with surfaces.

With physically-based rendering, Minecraft uses detailed models of the scene’s geometry and accurate recreation of the propagation of light to render photorealistic scenes.

The detail of each Minecraft block can be described with six different PBR texture maps.

  • Base color
  • Opacity
  • Normal/Heightmap
  • Roughness map
  • Emissive map
  • Metallic map (sometimes called “metalness”)

Each of these maps is packed into the channels of three texture files, which are then used to render blocks in relation to how they interact with light.

As far as lighting is concerned, the new render engine traces the path of light as pixels and simulates the effects of its interactions with blocks.

Raytracing illustration
(Image : Wikimedia commons)

This technique creates a high degree of realism, but at a great computational cost.

Tracing light paths in relation to the detailed models of blocks in the entire scene requires a great deal of computing power, which is why NVidia is marketing its RTX line of GPUs for the job.

A PBR system replaces the older rendering technique in Minecraft, which involved some form guesswork in simulation.

Thanks to the new accurate method of rendering, you can now experience life-like reflections, emissive glows, specular highlights, realistic views of varying atmospheric densities, and more, just as detailed in our earlier article.

The advent of raytracing in Minecraft is a major milestone in the development of the game, and a profound display of how much raytracing can change the world of gaming.


Nvidia. (2020). The Minecraft with RTX Beta Is Out Now! Retrieved 25 April 2020, from

Nvidia (2020) Minecraft PBR texturing guide Retrieved 25 April 2020, from

Pharr, M., Jakob, W., & Humphreys, G. (2016). Physically-based rendering: From theory to implementation. Morgan Kaufmann.

Author: Victor Wachanga

Writer, 3D artist, and thinker. Tech fascinates me

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