Tomb Raider devs: Ray-tracing tech can transform storytelling

The developers of Shadow of the Tomb Raider have opened up on how Nvidia’s RTX ray-tracing technology impacts on Lara’s ongoing story, with real-time lighting proving key to the game’s themes.

In an interview with Trusted Reviews conducted at GamesCom Arne Oehmne, the game’s level design director, had some interesting views on how improved graphics technology has made the art of gaming story craft a bit more subtle.

We’re designing lighting on the knife’s edge between darkness and light, right? Where there’s a contrast, the fall of shadows in the game actually tells you part of the story,” Oehme explained. “Your first impression of a new space is told by the lighting.”shadow of the tomb raider

Oehme believes this extra detail will help players get to grips with the themes of the game from the earliest steps approaching the very first vista. “There’s a lot of gradients and details in those scenes that tell a story,” he says. “I know this sounds a little out there, but they speak to the player with a visual language. They highlight this balance of harshness and softness. That’s kind of where the ray tracing comes in; the way it lets you blend shadows together and mix illuminations together. It creates just that subtle push of realism, which is part of the narrative, in a way.”

Related: GeForce RTX 2080

Ray-tracing is a high-profile new part of Nvidia’s upcoming RTX Turing graphics cards and makes a huge difference in the way light is rendered. Ray-tracing moves away from crude approximations of how light falls and renders each ray of light in real time. The result, as the demo from Nvidia below shows, can be pretty impressive.

And that’s key to a game like Shadow of the Tomb Raider. “The world expresses the contrast through light and dark, loneliness and social areas,” Oehme explains. “We explore cold, claustrophobia as well as light, warmth and openness.”

Of course, even the best technology is just another weapon in the armoury of a good storyteller, and Jill Murray, the game’s lead writer, had a more muted take on technology’s storytelling influence. “We should be able to tell the story with stick figures,” Murray says. “If I can make somebody cry doing that, then I’ve been successful.”

Additional reporting by Will Freeman

Will ray-tracing bring gaming stories to life? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews