Developer shows off SNES raytracing through the custom-made SuperRT chip


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RTX off, RTX on! RTX on...the SNES! Developer Shironeko Labs, otherwise known as Ben Carter, has been playing around with a project idea for around a year: getting real-time raytracing to work on the Super Nintendo of all things. The culmination of his work has resulted in the SuperRT, an expansion chip, similar in function to the Super FX chip. This additional cartridge, which was made from the combination of a Super Famicom Pachinko game, a ton of cables, a shifter board, and a Cyclone V FPGA allows for the Super Nintendo to render simple objects, shadows, and reflections, in full ray-traced glory, all at a glorious resolution of 200x160.

The SuperRT chip constructs the scene using a specialised command language which is executed by one of three parallel execution units on the chip - essentially specialised CISC processors - to perform ray intersection tests. The scene description allows objects to be constructed using a subset of CSG operations, using spheres and planes as the basic building blocks and then performing OR, AND and subtraction operations using them to build up the desired geometry. AABBs are also supported, although primarily for use in culling tests (they can be rendered if desired, but they have a lower positional accuracy than other primitives and thus this is not generally very useful except for debugging purposes).

Carter goes into full detail on his official website about how he got his demo to work, which involved lots of commands, conversions, and many other technical terms.

The chip also implements a number of other basic functions - there is an interface to the SNES cartridge bus, along with a small program ROM holding 32K of code for the SNES (this is constrained by the fact that the interface board currently only connects up the SNES Address Bus A lines, and thus the effective usable address space is a mere 64K, of which 32K is used for memory-mapped IO registers to communicate with the SuperRT chip). There is also a multiplication accelerator unit that lets the SNES perform 16x16bit multiply operations rapidly.

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It's always heartening to see these kinds of efforts; in the Automotive and Furniture Industries, this is what creates all the nice mix of vintage and new technology offerings, though obviously they have the faster turnaround which makes them good TV Show candidates.

This probably took longer and it'll definitely become a creative toolset for the next Game Creator; I look forward to enjoying its fruits in the future.
 

hamohamo

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goddamn this is crazy cool but you know what would be not only crazy cool but also useful? ps1 raytracing so i can finally play ridge racer type 4 with rt
 
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Ben Carter confirmed by Dylan Cuthbert to be a former Q-Games developer, showing up in the game-programming credits for Star Fox 64 3DS port.

 

Foxi4

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Honestly, this looks good enough to pass as pre-rendered footage from the area, which is impressive from a technical standpoint. Gives me the "cringy 3D cutscene from the early '90" vibes. :P
 
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raxadian

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Okay...
but...
Why?

As a POC, this is pretty cool. I just don't know what benefit it would bring to a console that is predominantly 2D games a handful of 3D titles?

Sega Genesis envy?

The Sega Genesis could do basic 3D, the Snes could not. Sure there was the chip thing but that cost extra.
 

pedro702

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this is basicaly useless on snes, first it has only a couple of 3d games, second noone of them support this chip to do the ray tracing.

So unless someone makes an homebrew game that actualy uses this, its basically useless for any snes owner and afaik the snes cpu is pretty crappy so it would be extremely shortcoming 3d game to feature raytracing and run any decent homebrew game.
 
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smf

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I'd be impressed if he could ship it at an affordable price and get people writing games for it.
There are plenty of crazy ideas that I could implement that would ultimately lead nowhere.
 

ClancyDaEnlightened

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It's one of those "Because I can" kind of things. It really have proper real life value except to show it's possible.

Same reason I'm working on a atari 2600 clone, using a 6502, tia, 6532, with 64k of ram, ay-3-8910, and a atmega 644


Okay...
but...
Why?

As a POC, this is pretty cool. I just don't know what benefit it would bring to a console

For shit and giggles, because I want to see what the vcs hardware is really capable of as 2600 is its own bottleneck, so rebuild the hardware into a computer, easier said than done, as david crane (iirc) put it, "the vcs hardware (schematic) was designed by a bunch of analog electronics engineers, not people who understood digital computers"



That's why programming the vcs doesn't make since........and the memory map....and the schematic......
 

Memoir

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Why do people ask this question so often?

The only answer to this is... Why not?
...because outside of being a POC, it has no value? Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. I know some here love the "ooh, shiny" effect. I'm more of the person who asks what it can bring to the scene.
 
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Kwyjor

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The Sega Genesis could do basic 3D, the Snes could not. Sure there was the chip thing but that cost extra.
I'm not sure what you mean. If you're thinking of Virtua Racing, then that also required an extra chip.

Ray tracing goes back to the 80s... I don't get why it's all the rage atm...
Yes, I dabbled a little in POV-Ray back in the 90s. It's "all the rage atm" because back in the 90s it would take several minutes to render a single frame.
 
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