Valve’s classic Portal was recently re-released on Steam with some very fancy new visuals, including ray-tracing and DLSS support. That was great news for Portal fans, but it’s also great news for fans of all kinds of old PC games.
Before we go any further, I’ll explain the tech we’re talking about. RTX is the name given to a set of technologies used by graphics card company Nvidia that uses “ray tracing and AI technologies” to, very simply, make PC games look incredible. Here’s a trailer for Portal With RTX, the re-release of the game made with this tech, showing the improvements made to a game that most of us remember looking very 2007:
Now, the thing with RTX is that while in this case (and with Quake and Minecraft) it had to be put into the game by developers, Nvidia are also releasing a version of the tech with modders in mind. It’s called RTX Remix:
With RTX Remix, the game runs in the background and we replace the old rendering APIs and systems with RTX Remix’s 64-bit Vulkan renderer. This enables the addition of ray-tracing to classic games and it all updates in real-time as lights and objects move. Light can be cast from behind the player, or from another room, and in Portal with RTX, light even travels through portals. Glass refracts light, surfaces reflect detail based on their glossiness, reflections can be cast into the scene from behind the player, objects can self-reflect, and indirect light from off-screen illuminates and affects what you see.
Compared to Quake II RTX and Minecraft with RTX, the path-traced ray tracing introduced by RTX Remix is even more advanced, bouncing light four times instead of once, improving quality, immersion, and the simulation of real-world light. Additionally, we’ve also introduced several new ray tracing techniques that further improve quality while also being more performant.
Nvidia says that RTX Remix is “a modding platform” that will allow “modders of all ability levels to bring ray tracing and NVIDIA technologies to classic games”. Given it’s not out until 2023 I was expecting we were still months away from seeing what benefits it could bring to older games, but nope!
Modders like LordVulcan have found you can add RTX juice to some classic titles, right now, and in most cases it’s done just by…dropping some files from one folder to another on your hard drive and enabling some developer stuff in the console. That’s it. And it’s working on games like SWAT 4 and the original Max Payne.
While the results aren’t perfect, at least compared to the professional jobs done over months on games like Minecraft, they still look fantastic! Here’s Max Payne, for example, courtesy of Alex Coulter:
That lighting. Those shadows. This is magic.
Here’s some footage of SWAT 4 taken by EiermannTelevision, which was released in 2005 and most definitely did not look like this at the time:
And here’s Half-Life 1, along with a little explainer on how it was done:
None of those examples are perfect, but it’s incredible they work this well given how quick their implementation was. This is going to be so good when the actual RTX Remix is released in 2023, but until then it’s going to be cool seeing what other classic titles this slapdash workaround is compatible with!