Engineer Brings Ray Tracing To The SNES

Ray tracing is considered the elite treatment that plenty of upcoming games are including in next-gen packages. The term may belong in the next-generation glossary, however, engineer Ben Carter believed this technique could be applied to retro systems too.

Posting a demo under his YouTube channel Shironeko Labs, Carter showcased his attempt at bringing hardware-assisted, real-time ray tracing to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Inspired by Star Fox’s Super FX chip – which introduced 3D graphics to the 16-bit Super Nintendo – Carter wanted to create his own chip to bring 3D graphics with ray tracing to the 29-year-old console. The engineer’s demo featured impressive visuals at a resolution of 200 x 160, with 3D animations that looked like they belonged to another console.

To achieve this feat, the Japan-based developer and software engineer borrowed a Pachinko game cartridge from a Super Famicom console (the SNES in Japan). By removing the ROM hardware and wiring it into a DE10-Nano FPGA board, accompanied by a Cyclone V FPGA, Carter achieved the impossible – going by his images of wire hell. His current build allowed the demo to run at 20 FPS, but the engineer is confident that this frame rate can be improved.

The Super FX chip was Nintendo’s competition to Sega’s “blast processing”, and was included in the Star Fox and Dirt Racer cartridges. Designed to enhance the SNES’ rendering capabilities, the chip would act as a gateway between console and display by using information from the console to render the effect and pass it back to be displayed. While Star Fox’s textures weren’t the nicest to gaze upon, its 3D tech was impressive – unlike Donkey Kong Country’s 3D effect which used pre-rendered sprites.

If ray tracing can make SNES graphics look impressive, just think what it will do for the slew of upcoming games next year. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is one anticipated title that will use ray tracing to enhance gameplay. By using clean, ray-traced shadows, our experience controlling Gollum will be heightened by the feature. Enhancing player guidance, dispersing light more accurately, and adding to the game’s overall atmosphere is just a taste of what ray tracing has to offer to next-gen titles.

Next: These Classic GTA Games Just Got Ray Tracing Support (And Look Gorgeous)

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Jo recently got served a nostalgia trip playing Sony’s Spider-Man, as it brought back the exhilarating feeling of web-slinging from the PS2 days. While the giddiness of gaming still remains, Jo has put the adult brain to good use by spending the last few years dissecting the games industry and marveling at its insides.

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