The big news from Nvidia this week was, of course, the announcement of its new GeForce RTX 40 series GPUs. But the company also uncorked some exciting software developments. The one that caught our eye is Nvidia RTX Remix, which has the potential to be a real head turner.
For ages, modding PC games has been a way of life for the PC gaming community, and indeed is the lifeblood of many older titles. Game modding has even served as the origin of whole new game genres. MOBAs and battle royales, most notably, emerged from fan-made mods of existing retail games. And the PC gaming crowd still actively mods thousands of old and new titles today.
Among the most popular varieties of mod are ones that bring on graphical improvements, kicking up detail and/or quality in a title from an older time. But upgrading textures or lighting is time-intensive and laborious (and in some older games, not possible at all). Nvidia is seeking to put much more power into the hands of gamers and modders with RTX Remix. This new modding platform built on the company’s Omniverse(Opens in a new window) platform.
Of course, modding is nothing new, and we’ve seen plenty of incredibly well executed examples over the years. So what makes Remix such a head-turner? Let’s dive in.
Describing Remix as a new platform that’s built into another new platform probably isn’t the most helpful definition. So let’s simplify things.
Remix is a tool for upgrading the visuals of (and, specifically, creating ray-tracing-enabled remasters of) older and classic games. Nvidia is seeking to make it easier—and in some cases, possible in the first place—to bring modern visuals to beloved titles.
These types of remakes have been done manually in recent years, with RTX remakes of iconic titles like Minecraft and Doom adding cutting-edge, ray-traced lighting effects. The Minecraft update is an official release, while Doom with ray tracing is the type of community-created mod Nvidia is hoping to encourage more of (and in more visually complex games, no offense to Doom).
Nvidia’s internal Lightspeed Studios released Quake II RTX in a similar vein. It was these developers behind some of the demonstrations from Nvidia’s Remix showcase.
In concert with Remix’s announcement, Nvidia showed off Portal RTX, a visual overhaul of Valve’s beloved puzzle platformer, built entirely with Remix. This is a proof-of-concept for Remix, both showing that it’s possible and giving us a finished playable product. In a press presentation and Q&A session, Nvidia clarified that it is not currently planning to work on (either in-house or outsourced) full remakes of other titles—it is putting the power in the hands of the community with Remix.
How Does Nvidia RTX Remix Work?
The single coolest feature, and really the backbone of Remix, is its ability to take a snapshot of any scene or environment in an old game, and translate it to upgraded textures, objects, and RTX lighting. The machine-learning algorithm behind it will crunch the textures, geometry, and lighting, and produce an updated version with improved versions and ray-traced lighting. You can then go into Remix’s UI, see a preview of the in-game scene, and make manual changes to your liking.
Like any good tech, it seems indistinguishable from magic, and should be extremely exciting to the modding community. It is, of course, all quite real: For the technically inclined, Remix uses a custom D3D9 Runtime to intercept the game’s rendering instructions, interpret them into updated assets, and put them back together in an identical but visually improved scene.
It will then convert the assets into objects (specifically in the Universal Scene Description, or USD, open 3D framework that Omniverse uses) for further manipulation. You can load these into the Remix application and edit, alter, and move them as you see fit. Crucially, you can also load them into other Omniverse-compatible apps like Adobe Substance 3D Painter, Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max, Blender, SideFX Houdini, and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. Modders can collaboratively edit, improve, and replace assets—synced live—in the Remix viewport.
Not every game can undergo this treatment, but the breadth is pretty wide. The base requirements for a title being compatible with Remix is that it must be a DirectX 8 or 9 title and use a fixed function pipeline. In the Q&A session, Nvidia was asked about 2D titles, and while there may be a couple of exceptions, Remix is generally meant for 3D games, needs 3D APIs, and has to meet those requirements.
Using Remix to create mods requires an RTX GPU, not exclusive to Nvidia’s upcoming new GeForce RTX 40 Series, while playing a Remix mod requires, to quote exactly, “any hardware that can run Vulkan ray-traced games.” Of course, Nvidia expects the GeForce RTX 40 Series GPUs and DLSS to provide the best experience.
Older games are especially resistant to easy modding, for a number of reasons. Game files can be difficult to access, the tools are inefficient, every asset needs to be manually edited and handled (a huge workload on artists), and legacy renderers can make updates difficult or impossible. The semi-automated Remix formula aims to solve all of these issues.
Next up, we look at how Nvidia demonstrated why Remix is so impressive on a real example, and something older than Portal.
A Real-World Remix: A Morrowind Redux
In addition to the Portal RTX announcement, Nvidia prominently featured The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind as a tech demo for its Remix presentation. A game that is visibly dated-looking and heavily moddable already is a great showpiece for Remix.
The Elder Scrolls as a whole is also among the most heavily modded franchises of all time. Morrowind is perhaps my favorite game ever released, and as someone who spent hours in the built-in modding tools back in the day, I can attest that making changes, big or small, was tedious. Community groups have been attempting to overhaul the game with modern visuals for years, making slow progress. Because of that, this demonstration may come as bittersweet news to them.
Seeing the game scanned and translated to sharper graphics is pretty amazing. After taking a snap of an existing room, the Remix AI translates and up-resolves the textures to sharper resolutions with more detail. You’re left with a much better-looking version of the same room, and because they are now USD assets, they can be imported into the Remix application to manipulate, add, and remove what you wish.
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The press briefing demonstrated how Remix studies the existing textures, and will do its best to interpret the intended material of the original to a new material in the updated visuals. Is this patch of ceiling shiny, thus metal? Is the texture here meant to be filled with sediment, so it should look a bit dusty?
The AI won’t get everything perfect, but the results are big improvements, regardless, and users can further tweak them from there. One especially cool portion of the demo showed a paper lantern from Morrowind, which emitted a blue glow. When the scene was transferred over into Remix, the object’s exterior was sharper, but it lost the lighting.
As it turns out, since the original Morrowind lighting isn’t done in real time, the original object simply projects a blue glow to the immediate vicinity, without regard for the actual lighting source or positioning. When transferred to the ray-traced version, the lantern was occluding the lighting source inside because the lamp had loaded in as opaque. In the demo, the material was manually swapped to paper, and the light inside immediately projected a warm blue glow outward, and cast a correct shadow onto the ceiling, as shown below.
In a room that also boasted updated textures, this was all pretty impressive. You’ll notice the muddy, unclear texture on the original ceiling was replaced with tiles, translating the original intent to a modern texture.
When a Remix mod is completed, you can export it to share with players online. Other gamers can download the mod, add it to the proper directory, and launch it with the game. The Remix Runtime takes care of replacing the old APIs and systems with its own 64-bit Vulkan renderer, as well as providing the benefits of DLSS 3 and Nvidia Reflex.
Modding for the Future
Thanks to AI Super Resolution, textures are improved up to four times, able to turn 1080p-quality textures into 4K assets—when I said “improved textures,” it’s no understatement. A white mode is especially good for investigating and improving lighting and shadows. There are a load of new lighting improvements coming to Nvidia’s RTX offerings across the board, including (bear with me here) Reservoir Spatio Temporal Importance Resampling Global Illumination and Real Time Denoisers that Remix can benefit from.
Between the improved textures, the “physically based materials,” the ray-traced lighting, and more, classic titles stand to really benefit (and at a faster pace) than ever before. Remix will also ship with a Runtime editor, allowing users to tweak the properties of materials and lighting. There is much more technical detail available on Nvidia’s Remix announce page(Opens in a new window), but these are the key takeaways from the company’s official first demo.
This is potentially one of the largest leaps forward for the game-modding community in, well, ever, and it will hopefully allow more remasters like Minecraft RTX and Doom RTX to emerge. I’m personally impressed by Nvidia’s willingness to embrace modders—Remix Mods should be friendly with existing, publicly available mods—but we will of course see how Remix and this ecosystem works once it’s out in the wild.
Remix will be available following the launch of Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 40 Series GPUs, but its exact timing hasn’t yet been announced—if it sounds like your jam, though, go ahead and sign up for a notification(Opens in a new window) of its availability.
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