A tribute to my amazing childhood friend Ray Tracing

I’m going to take a moment to appreciate the talented 3D artist Raymond “Ray” Tracing’s spirited career and how he grew his fledgling personal brand into the household name he is today.

Who is Ray Tracing?

Today his name is everywhere. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 just released, and people are desperate to get their hands on the latest generation of consoles just to see Ray’s immaculate work tweaking the lighting and reflection settings of games like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls. You might know him as Ray Tracing, the 3D rendering expert and controversial public figure, but back when I grew up with him, I just knew him as Raymond.

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The gaming community was so excited about his work that companies have started building in the option to disable Ray’s famous lighting tweaks, just so they can compare exactly what the project looked like before and after Ray joined the project.

Ray’s humble origins

Back when I was in high school I made small video games in Unity3D. During a lunch break I was working on a scene and I could tell that this shy kid was watching me. I looked over at him, and he said “that looks cool”. Back then I didn’t know anyone else who made video games, so I was immediately excited that someone showed an interest. I explained how to move a directional light, and he said “yeah, I know”. This surprised me greatly. I found out he made video games too, and when I finally convinced him to show me something he’d made, I was awestruck. Before me was this highly embarassing anime girl wearing glasses, but the lighting and reflections were more realistic than anything I had ever seen. I said “wow, I didn’t even know that was possible. What did you say your name was?” He smirked at me and said: “Raymond. Raymond Tracing.”

Ray Tracing’s unique approach to realistic light reflections

It’s hard to explain what Raymond’s approach even is without getting technical, but I want to share my limited understanding of it just to give an idea of how deep his mastery of 3D graphics is. It all starts with a thing called Reflection Probes. In order to have reflections in your scene at all, you have to place one of those probes. It acts like a little spherical camera and takes a picture 360 degrees around it, and reflective objects will use this image to determine what to reflect.

Now, don’t laugh, but this is what an outdated 3D reflection setup used to look like before Raymond Tracing’s innovation.

Raymond’s revolutionary idea was that instead of placing a single reflection probe in the scene, he would place them all around the scene, roughly encapsulating the entire volume of space that is visible to the player in an almost grid-like pattern. Sounds simple but as you can imagine, placing every individual probe by hand like this could take minutes.

And this is what it looks like with Raymond’s Technique, I think we can all agree that this is a little more next-gen.

After Raymond released his first game: Tsundere-chan In The Hall of Mirrors (2013), it was immediately praised by critics and players alike for its breathtakingly realistic portrayal of reflective objects. He was quick to patent his technique – a move some people in the industry criticize – but it immediately cemented him as the singular proprietor of realistic reflections in video games. After making several more critically acclaimed videogames chronicling Tsundere-chan’s adventures around reflective surfaces, in 2018 he finally set his sights on sharing his revolutionary technique with the rest of the industry. Hired by 4A games as a Lead Reflection Artist, he set out to apply his technique to a game called Metro Exodus. But there was a snag: the game world consisted of massive open spaces. How was he going to place that many reflection probes by hand?

Raymond Technique Extreme (RTX)

One day in college Raymond was bored and decided to throw as many ping pong balls into a solo cup as he could. When he went to empty the cup, he noticed how evenly spaced they were. They were distributed exactly across the space of the inside of the solo cup. In a swell of motivation and excitement he opened Unity. It was time to stop placing every individual node by hand. The artistry of placing the reflection probe in exactly the right position had to make way for a fast-pace tool-assisted technique. This led to Raymond’s greatest innovation yet:

his Tool for Unrelenting Rapid Installation of N-Gons.

“TURING” was a new automated system that used a physics simulation to literally throw reflection probes all over the scene. It took the 3D rendering community by storm.

The downfall of Ray Tracing

“Nvidia”, a company that sells consumer rendering hardware, approached Raymond and asked him permission to create a dedicated hardware chip inside their GPU’s to automatically apply TURING to a scene. Raymond hesitated at first but was quickly beguiled by the large sum of money they offered him. He was – as some people called it – a ‘sore winner’.

People weren’t too happy about it. When the next generation of gaming consoles came around and started integrating RTX, they started marketing it as the single greatest reason to upgrade your gaming console. But when the day finally came, people were less than enthusiastic.

A Ray of Hope

When things got personal, Raymond took some time off to travel the world. No one heard from him for months. When he finally came back I took a moment to sit down with him and talk about how he was feeling. He said he was doing much better now and that it really helped to spend some time in Tibet, clear his head. I couldn’t help but notice that he had his laptop sitting in front of his backpack. I asked him if he had been doing any tinkering at all. He glanced over and slowly and carefully closed the lid. Before the screen had tilted all the way down I could make out just enough pixels to read the text: Tsundere-chan Royale. Raymond looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, and smirked.