It's time for that expensive RTX graphics card to finally pay off, readers. Starting today, you can now download Minecraft's RTX beta - a version of Mojang's literal block-buster that, with the help of the graphics tech folk over at Nvidia, lets you explore infinite worlds with high-tech ray-tracing effects. Hyper-realistic, perhaps? They're still cubes, mate. It's just that now, they're very quite nice-looking cubes at that.
Cards on the table, I've always been a little iffy over the idea of making Minecraft look "photorealistic". Oh, I'm not against fancy shaders per say - I traversed Nate Crowley's ham-juggling Mieville-esque forbidden realm using a lovely combination of lighting, toon outlines and bold texture packs to create a delightfully stylised block-breaker.
Against bog-standard Minecraft textures, though, hyper-detailed lighting feels pretty daft.
But even I, a jaded weirdo who prefers to play games in 480p or lover, will admit that Nvidia have done a good job flaunting this feature. The above trailer exhibits work from 6 prolific Minecrafters to show off the technologies, and yeah. Alright, that's quite nice.
The water looks welcoming and refreshing, shimmering with a translucence the base game can't deliver. Lava illuminates the world in an enticing warmth. Shadows are inky-black, light spots really shine. The way the light plays against coloured panels, shifting through panes of glass? That's the good stuff.
Minecraft is also just, generally, a good tool for flaunting the tech thanks to its flat surfaces and simple, blocky shapes. If I must nag, then maybe the god rays are a bit much. Maybe tone it down, lads.
Granted, you'll also need a beefy RTX GPU to go look at all those fancy shadows and effects. If you've got one, the Minecraft with RTX Beta can be downloaded from the Xbox Insider App (which, uh, requires being an Xbox Insider). Full details on installation, system requirements, and a rundown of some of the RTX client's showcase maps can be found over on Nvidia's Beta announcement post here.
Disclaimer: It feels a century ago these days, but I did once work for Minecraft's console porting firm 4J Studios, and a fair bit of the levels I built are still up on the Windows 10 version of the game. I don't know how any of it looks while ray-traced, mind.