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The SNES Can Do Ray Tracing Because of a Homebrew “SuperRT” Chip



Ray tracing is not a brand new graphics time period. It has been round for ages, and when you’ve ever seen previous demos of reflective orbs and teapots from the ’90s, these had been most likely ray tracing showcases. The rationale it is a huge dealtoday is that trendy graphics playing cards and new consoles can lastly begin doing ray traced lighting and results in video games in actual time. Massive deal, although; it’s also possible to get ray tracing occurring a Tremendous Nintendo.

That is what engineer Ben Carter’s achieved with “SuperRT,” his homebrew ray tracing add-on conceived for the SNES (truly, he is operating his off a Tremendous Famicom, nevertheless it’s all the identical). Riffing off the thought of the Tremendous FX, the processors included inside the cartridges for video games like Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island, Carter’s chip design interfaces with the SNES in the identical method.

The “SuperRT” has three execution cores that run at 50Mhz for dealing with the ray tracing. Each it and its demo scene are purpose-built, because the chip can solely render sure primitive shapes like spheres and cubes (it does not rasterize objects i.e. render them as polygons as typical 3D video games do). Carter designed his chip within the spirit of the Tremendous FX, that means this is not a ray tracing demo being dealt with on different {hardware} that is then merely handed by way of the SNES.

“This is not a case the place there is a PC or ARM [System On a Chip] operating every part behind the scenes,” Carter explains in a supplementary tech walkthrough video. “The SNES is firmly within the driving seat right here, with the SuperRT solely dealing with ray tracing duties, picture information conversion, and offering some further maths capabilities.”

You possibly can see the demo chug a bit at factors, however the chip can push a 200 by 160 pixel ray traced scene at 30 frames per second in excellent circumstances. That is actually spectacular for a 1990 console, particularly when you think about that Carter’s working prototype can also be a big rat’s nest of wires poking out of breadboards.

It would be neat to see somebody with FPGA manufacturing know-how make a production-ready model of Carter’s chip that may be put in a cartridge (I am taking a look at you, Analog). Cooler nonetheless can be one thing like a ray traced model of a polygonal recreation like Star Fox; all fundamental shapes and planes nonetheless, however with dynamic lighting from the solar and reflections galore. Demos filled with cubes are good and all, however simply think about seeing the Arwing mirrored in Andross’s ugly mug.


Thanks, Digital Foundry.

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