Ray tracing is all the rage these days.
For those unfamiliar with the term, ray tracing is a technique that makes light in videogames behave like it does in the real world. It’s one of the key components that make these next-gen game worlds we love to visit so much more realistic. It’s something usually found on high-end PCs and next-gen consoles like the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, so you wouldn’t expect it to run on a console that came out thirty years ago. With that being said, game developer and software engineer Ben Carter actually managed to get ray tracing to run on his original Super Famicom, and it’s pretty amazing to see in action.
3D games weren’t very common on the SNES, but the ones we did get pushed the console to its limits by using the Super FX chip. This chip would render advanced 2D and 3D graphics. Star Fox, Doom, and even Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island came with this chip installed on their game cartridge, which allowed them to pull off some impressive (and blocky) visuals for their time. Carter followed a similar method by designing a chip that he calls the “SuperRT”, which allows the SNES to perform real-time ray tracing, single-bounce reflections, and directional light shadows.
For an in-depth walkthrough of the SuperRT chip, check out Carter’s video below.
If you’re impatient and just want to see the chip in action right away, this next video is for you.
While the demo on display isn’t of any actual SNES games, it’s cool to see the shadows reacting on the ground off of the shapes in a realistic manner on this primitive console. I remember when video game characters had shadows that were just a circle underneath them. With this chip, it could bring so much more depth. Imagine how great those older SNES games could look. I feel like this is the start of something special and we’re going to see more older consoles being updated like this.