Despite not being a new technology, ray tracing is one of the hottest trends in the game industry right now. As consoles becomes more powerful, they can support beautifully-rendered environments with ray tracing without sacrificing performance. But it isn’t just being used to enhance newer games, as some dedicated developers discovering how ray tracing can enhance retro 3D games. That’s the working idea behind a new N64 emulator plug-in which adds ray tracing (alongside 60 FPS support) for your favorite N64 games.
Modder Dario previously added ray tracing support to the PC port of Super Mario 64. Following that project, they realized that they could apply the same principle to other Nintendo 64 games and connect them with common emulators. As they explain:
I started this project a month ago as a way of optimizing the PC port’s backend as much as possible, and I quickly realized it could evolve into a generic emulation solution that would allow me to apply these enhancements to far more games. […] The footage I’ve shown from both Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask have been captured in mupen64plus, and I intend to bring this to other emulator cores as I learn more about how the hardware and the software works.Dario, RT64 developer
See the plug-in in action below, courtesy of Dario Sano on Twitter:
Playing N64 games with ray tracing and higher FPS
Dario showed the plug-in in action with a handful of N64 games, all demonstrating the ray tracing and higher frame rate. Games have to be individually coded with lighting specifications to work with the plug-in. We know it works so far with games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Paper Mario, and underappreciated gem (in this writer’s eye) Rocket: Robot on Wheels. And the initial results are breathtaking, to say the least.
One interesting thing to note is that the switch to 60 FPS isn’t as easy as you might think. It also has to do with how the game handles its framerate, which can vary wildly depending on the task. Some N64 games natively run at 60 FPS, but others render the game at lower frame rates. That can be easily patched, but some developers rendered specific animations at slower rates — which, Dario mentions, will sometimes occur. But they are looking into a way to simplify this process:
A very interesting side effect of this project has been researching a method to interpolate the rendering commands sent by an N64 game without actually modifying the game at all. […] This means a bunch of games that never had 60 FPS patches can run at 60 FPS or more, while still running internally at their original rates.Dario, RT64 developer
As Dario mentions, this plug-in is nowhere near ready and won’t be compatible with every N64 ROM at launch. But it’s an exciting prospect, and the results so far are nothing short of impressive.
What do you think of this plug-in? Which N64 games do you want to play with ray tracing and 60 FPS gameplay? Let us know!