The developer of Godot Engine has decided to implement full path tracing instead of a hybrid approach like Lumen for better results. A Nanite-like system is not on the roadmap.

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Godot, the free cross-platform open-source game development engine, has been in existence for more than a decade. Crafted by Argentine developers Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur, it has been utilized by indie creators in titles like Deponia, The Case of the Golden Idol, Cassette Beasts, Brotato, and the soon-to-be-released Slay the Spire 2. One of the most prominent games made with Godot so far is Sonic Colors: Ultimate, developed by Blind Squirrel Games.

Similar to other active engines, Godot undergoes regular updates by its creators. In the past year, they introduced support for AMD FidelityFX Super Resolution 2.2 and various shader enhancements. What lies ahead? Well, recently, founder Juan Linietsky took to Twitter to outline the team’s ambition for a cinematic renderer: they have opted to pursue full path tracing rather than a hybrid approach like Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen.

The key point to grasp is that this technology falls more within the domain of cinematic rendering. It necessitates modern, specialized GPUs as a minimum requirement. Currently, most Godot users do not require or aspire for this level of sophistication in their games; hence, it is not a top priority. Instead, the focus over the past year has been on revamping the foundational rendering code and addressing all existing issues. This groundwork was deemed necessary before delving into a cinematic renderer.

Assuming everything is set for a cinematic renderer, it’s essential to acknowledge that Godot is not Epic Games. The project does not boast a team of 150 seasoned graphics engineers capable of upholding an enormously complex renderer. To begin with, it would primarily involve ray/path tracing (alongside a basic raster pass). This approach significantly reduces the workload, as shadows, global illumination, reflections, etc., would all be traced through rays. Hybrids like Unreal Engine or Unity High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) entail excessive complexity, and hardware capabilities are gradually catching up anyway.

While the concept of path tracing games remains somewhat novel, it’s worth noting that Lumen offers a hardware-accelerated ray tracing feature. Nevertheless, many developers opt for the software-based solution as a default.

Furthermore, Juan Linietsky explained why he is inclined against emulating Epic’s methodology with virtualized geometry akin to Nanite:

Regarding Nanite, the main drawback lies in its excessive complexity; functioning as a hierarchical meshless level-of-detail system, it also lacks compatibility with ray tracing, which is our primary focus. Instead, a simpler alternative could involve leveraging more traditional automatic level-of-details (LODs) with meshlets, all driven by the GPU. This approach seamlessly integrates with ray tracing (by streaming LOD levels cohesively). It may entail slightly increased overdraw? Certainly, but remember, we eschew shadow maps, hence this aspect is inconsequential. The downsides could potentially manifest when handling enormously intricate, vast geometries spanning hundreds of meters. The resolution here lies in segmenting the geometry (a practice adopted by most, if not all, games). Nevertheless, for other scenarios, optimal performance and detail can still be achieved. It may also lead to less efficient use of the meshlet least recently used (LRU) approach, but realistically, unless you’re an AAA studio, these nuances might not be a pressing concern. You have a close alternative that resolves a similar challenge, and on the Godot front, a much simpler and sustainable solution.

Linietsky refrained from specifying a timeline for the integration of the path-traced cinematic renderer into Godot, but we will certainly be vigilant regarding updates on the engine.

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