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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 for those who’ve ever seen previous demos of reflective orbs and teapots from the ’90s, these had been most likely ray tracing showcases. The explanation it is a large dealtoday is that fashionable graphics playing cards and new consoles can lastly begin doing ray traced lighting and results in video games in actual time. Huge deal, although; you can too get ray tracing happening 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, but it surely’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 manner.

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 the SNES.

“This is not a case the place there is a PC or ARM [System On a Chip] operating the whole lot 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 knowledge conversion, and offering some further maths features.”

You’ll be able to 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 ultimate circumstances. That is actually spectacular for a 1990 console, particularly when you think about that Carter’s working prototype can 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 you, Analog). Cooler nonetheless can be one thing like a ray traced model of a polygonal sport like Star Fox; all fundamental shapes and planes nonetheless, however with dynamic lighting from the solar and reflections galore. Demos stuffed 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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