The original Quake gets a ray-tracing upgrade - and it's amazing

The original Quake gets a ray-tracing upgrade – and it’s amazing

The transformative power of ray tracing has been proven in many different games, but perhaps the most impressive upgrades come from revisiting old classic PC titles, and a recent mod for the original Quake offers truly amazing results. This is less a mod than a full RT remaster for one of the best games on PC, courtesy of Sultim Tsyrendashiev, the creator of the plotted renditions of Serious Sam and Doom, and currently working on RT Half-Life. Tsyrendashiev took the Vulkan port of Quake by Axel Gneiting of id Software and delivered something very, very special.

But first, how do you get your hands on the modded game? Simply download the necessary files from the VKQuake-RT github page and merge them with the version of Quake you have following the instructions on the page. Everything is relatively simple, but I recommend making a small modification to the instructions. Both DLSS and FSR2 are supported – and both provide excellent results overall, by the way – but the recommended DLSS 2.4.0 should be replaced by the earlier DLSS 2.2.6. This eliminates blurring issues that occur with the most recent version of Nvidia’s machine learning scaling technology.

Beyond image reconstruction, players actually get two different RT implementations with this mod – a “classic” option that looks more like the original game with some really nice ray-traced upgrades, as well as a complete path tracer, radically transforming the aesthetics of the game.

The screenshots are nice – but watching RT Quake in motion is something very, very special.

The classic renderer uses ray tracing for all the main geometry rendering, but lighting is still handled by texture-based light maps like the original game, meaning you get lighting and mood similar, with intriguing RT effects: the water surfaces are completely different. , with RT reflections that show the whole environment. You also get RT-specific sight distortion effects while underwater. A really nice upgrade comes from the teleporters, which now show you the area you’ll come to when you pass through, much like a portal.

The path tracing option offers a more drastic transformation by leveraging path tracing for all lighting in the game, completely replacing the light maps and other tricks used by Quake to simulate the appearance of light in 1996. Interior scenes are lit by torches and other small light sources, casting dynamic shadows from suitable objects. As part of this system, all muzzle flashes from gunshots also cast light and shadows, leading to some pretty awesome moments in the dark, reminiscent of Doom 3. One of my favorite RT elements is the flash gun, which shoots light all the way. the surface of the light trail as it leaves the muzzle of the weapon.

One of the biggest changes is the use of emissive lighting surfaces, which is only possible with RT. The teleportation pads with their little red lights cast light and shadows on nearby surfaces – confirming that colored lighting is also added, something the original Quake lacks. Lava is also an emissive light source, of course, dramatically transforming many scenes.

More impactfully, the sky itself is an emissive light source, so the iconic purple skybox now casts literal purple light onto the world below, an incredible effect augmented by the injection of aligned voxel fog on the trunk, which can also be lit. The voxel grid is a bit coarse so you can see the binding in the volumetric fog, but it looks pretty good and if you don’t like it you can turn it off separately in the options menu, coming back to a generic remote fog – or no fog at all.

I would say that one of the more controversial changes comes from changing the dangerous chemical pools in the game: in the original it’s green/brown textures, but here it’s turned into a super bright neon teal. Yes, it’s more clearly marked as hazardous material, but it feels somewhat overbearing in some environments, where I imagine a less intense, more muted green would suit the mood better.

Any other complaints? When the lights suddenly go out, there is an extended afterimage of the lit scene that gradually fades, which looks rather distracting. Another problem concerns certain surfaces that have a reflective element. Specular lighting updates very slowly, meaning weapon fire muzzle flashes persist for a while. It’s very strange. The final issue is that scenes that lack a lot of direct lighting look speckled, as the denoiser can’t do much given the low lighting conditions. So there are of course some issues – but nothing that tarnishes the overall quality of the presentation. Ultimately, describing RT effects is no substitute for seeing them in action, so please watch the video embedded above.

While our screenshots have focused on Trace Mode, there’s also a Classic Mode with some RT upgrades – here are some comparison shots. Click on the images for higher resolution shots.

In terms of performance, it’s interesting to see that classic and traced renders only have a margin of error difference in frame rate (you can switch between them at any time with the press of a button, this which may help explain why) and there’s not much to change in terms of settings – so adjusting the resolution and by extension using image reconstruction techniques like FSR2 and DLSS2 are the way to go. Switching from native 4K quality mode to 4K DLSS quality mode on an RTX 4090 improves performance by almost 100%, with similar near-linear scaling when switching to performance and ultra performance modes. Image reconstruction helps a lot here to the point where an RTX 2060 achieves a locked 1080p60 with GPU headroom to spare using DLSS quality mode.

An RTX 3080 gets you to 4K60 locked in DLSS quality mode, but even using FSR2 performance mode, AMD’s RX 6800 XT had some unfortunate frame rate issues. At native resolution, the RTX 3080 delivers twice the performance of the RX 6800 XT – not entirely unexpected with a plotted workload like this – but given the disparity in native resolution, I would really have expected to see the mode of 4K performance FSR2 deliver 60fps on high end RDNA 2 cards, so I think the AMD side may need some work.

In summary, this plotted version of Quake is an amazing way to revisit the game – it’s also fun for newcomers, and for those interested in RT in general. Simply put, a classic PC title gets a phenomenal upgrade and if you can afford it, I highly recommend checking it out.

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