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HomeNewsPortal’s ray-tracing upgrade makes it weirdly scary

Portal’s ray-tracing upgrade makes it weirdly scary

Can a remaster change a online game’s style? After a few hours with Portal’s free ray-tracing replace, I’m tempted to say sure.

The unique Portal is on the quick listing for “funniest video video games ever made.” Launched in 2007 as a by-product of Half-Life, this bite-sized first-person puzzle sport grabbed the humor from its father or mother sequence and yanked it from the periphery into the highlight. You play as Chell, a human lab rat, who steadily outsmarts a malevolent synthetic intelligence named GLaDOS who talks like Siri by means of Mitch Hedberg. You employ little greater than your wits, Chell’s bodily health, and a nonlethal “gun” that, as a substitute of bullets, shoots a pair of interconnected portals. It’s as thrilling as it is cartoonish, greatest remembered for a cake meme and its closing credit pop track written by humorist musician Jonathan Coulton.

Portal with RTX is, in all the things however the visuals, the identical sport. The identical puzzles, the identical script and voice performing, the identical dessert reference and endgame ditty. Besides it appears totally different. To take advantage of the most recent high-end graphics playing cards, GPU maker Nvidia has partnered with Portal’s writer, Valve, to create an up to date variant transmogrified by the graphical wizardry of the second: ray tracing.

A test chamber in Portal with the RTX update enabled. The glass separating the chamber from its entrance is photorealistic, and the textures on the walls and floors look rough and dirty.Picture: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia by way of Polygon

What’s ray tracing? Nicely, how a lot time do you’ve? You probably have 20 minutes, I strongly encourage you to watch this breakdown from the consultants at Digital Foundry. Nonetheless, in the event you solely have a number of seconds, right here’s the elevator pitch. Ray tracing is a significantly extra practical technique for simulating mild in video video games. With ray tracing, you will note reflections and shadows, together with representations of the tiny ways in which mild can bounce off, bend via, and take up into supplies.

Ray tracing is especially noticeable in environments the place mild itself is most noticeable: moist surfaces, reflective metals, glass, and mirrors. Portal’s labyrinth of commercial check chambers is a pure match.

By way of making an exceptionally practical laboratory, the artistic crew for Portal with RTX has created a model of Portal that prioritizes realism above all else. Assuming you will get the factor to run — it took an Nvidia RTX 3090 with Deep Studying Tremendous Sampling enabled to get one thing near dependable efficiency on a 4K TV — you will note a frighteningly plausible model of GLaDOS’ laboratory. And I do imply scary.

The player looks down at a portal in the floor in Portal. The portal shows a view of the player from above, indicating that the second portal is placed above them somewhere.Picture: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia by way of Polygon

To emphasise the dynamic lighting, Portal’s laboratory with RTX is darker and moodier; inky shadows fill each nook. Many surfaces now seem moist and icky, like in the event you scraped your knee you’d contract some uncommon bacterial an infection. Balls of electrical energy bounce about, casting a smooth, ghostly mild. The partitions don’t simply seem like steel paneling; they seem like heavy, immovable blocks of metal. The result’s much more claustrophobic.

We’ve seen an analogous impact in different basic video games which have acquired ray-tracing updates. With pure mild instead of synthetic mild, issues are likely to get a bit darkish and spooky. However the addition of ray tracing has by no means skewed so carefully towards horror as in Portal with RTX. On this case, it’s not simply that the sport is darker — there are nonetheless loads of rooms with sickly workplace fluorescent lighting. By emphasizing realism within the visuals, Portal’s complete vibe has shifted from cartoonish to one thing far more sinister.

Valve’s video video games from the 2000s have an iconic blocky, dirty, and muted aesthetic, which finally ends up flattering the corpo-fascist artwork path of its first-person shooters. Whereas different AAA shooters of the period like Crysis and Name of Obligation served as technical showpieces that prioritized uncooked horsepower, the Half-Life sequence emphasised artwork path. Valve’s worlds weren’t as technically spectacular, however they had been extra thought-about. The look served a operate.

A room in Portal with its RTX update enabled. Light reflects off an onyx-like surface to the right as the player looks at the test chamber’s puzzle from above.Picture: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia by way of Polygon

Within the case of Portal, that operate was enjoyable and humor. Sure, you play as a human lab rat, however success by no means actually feels out of the query. It was the closest Valve had come to creating a family-friendly sport, with no deadly weapons or human targets. And Valve’s blocky aesthetic set a transparent divide between the actual world and the online game. GLaDOS’ more and more heightened, malevolent monologue popped completely in opposition to the background of bland, deserted labs.

However in these eerie chambers of Portal with RTX, GLaDOS instantly sounds extra menacing. The massive crimson glass buttons, the Companion Cubes, and the looming viewing chambers used to really feel reasonably foolish — however not a lot anymore. Now, they’re set-pieces in a company haunted home. The result’s a special expertise from enjoying Portal 15 years in the past.

Portal with RTX isn’t Portal, not actually. It’s one thing else, an alternate imaginative and prescient that feels a bit nearer to Half-Life 2’s Ravenholm. You would possibly discover the visible upgrade unsettling, particularly in the event you’re extra of an originalist who likes issues as they had been “meant to be.” Or, you is perhaps excited by revisiting Portal via a extra menacing lens.

A player walks up a set of stairs in Portal. There’s an orange glow coming from beneath the stairs, which is reflected on the industrial walls encasing the staircase.Picture: Lightspeed Studios/Nvidia by way of Polygon

Or, in the event you’re the kind of individual obsessive about the way forward for online game visuals, you’ll recognize Portal’s RTX replace for what it does greatest: Show that ray tracing issues. Ray tracing’s capability to considerably alter the sport’s temper captures one thing highly effective in regards to the know-how that may’t be seen in screenshots or a tech demo video on YouTube.

If ray tracing can have this kind of impression on a sport that was by no means meant to have it, think about what artists will do when incorporating the function from the very starting.

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