Realtime ray tracing arrives on the Super Nintendo

Real-time ray tracing on a 30 year-old console? It sounds unlikely, yet that’s exactly what software engineer and game developer Ben Carter has achieved after a year of experimentation.

By using an unwanted, 100-yen Super Famicom cartridge and a virtual chip constructed on an FPGA development board, Carter has managed to develop a ‘ray engine’ capable of rendering photons of light in real time. What does that mean in practice? In Carter’s demo, we can see objects reflected in water, moving shadows as a sun moves around a scene, and even distorted reflections in a concave mirror.

It’s incredibly impressive stuff, particularly when you consider that Carter hasn’t cheated here. Some projects we’ve seen in the past – Doom running on a NES, for example – have used a separate computer to handle all the processing grunt work, leaving the console to render the results to the screen. Carter’s ray-tracing works almost entirely on original hardware, with the FPGA side of things acting as the kind of custom chip we used to see inside Star Wing cartridges.

Carter even has a name for his virtual chip: the SuperRT. You can see the (frankly stunning) fruits of Carter’s labour below, and if you really want to go into the fine details of how it works, you can read more on his website.


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