A new mod adding raytracing to Half-Life looks nice, not just shiny

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These days, you can’t shake a stick without bouncing brown beams around the room. Raytracing has been a hot high-end graphics trend for a few years, with new games boasting support for the complex lighting simulators and old games being retrofitted with shine. This year, a new Half-Life mod will add raytracing support to Valve’s seminal shooter, and even as someone usually perfectly happy with old games looking old, I think it doesn’t look half-bad. See for yourself in the new video, below.

Half-Life: Ray Traced is made by Sultim “sultim_t” Tsyrendashiev, building on work by others. “This project is a reengineered version of https://github.com/w23/xash3d-fwgs, which is ANOTHER port of HL1 to ray tracing,” Tsyrendashiev explains. Complicated chain of development history, but simply: it’s Half-Life with raytracing.

“With the hardware accelerated ray tracing, it is possible to calculate global illumination, reflections, refractions, soft shadows and other visual effects with interactive framerates,” Tsyrendashiev says. The plan is to release this sometime in 2022 on GitHub.

I find most attempts to add raytracing to old games ugly. Too many are too damn shiny, they often don’t look themselves, and many don’t even look good. I have an almost visceral dislike of Nvidia’s Quake 2 RTX tech demo showcase doodad. To me, it’s a perfect demonstration of the horrors of “graphics” and the stumbling march of technological process towards “photorealism” which cares not one jot for aesthetics. This, however, I deem acceptable.

While I’m not mad keen on some of the surface texture, I do like that it’s happy to let a lot of things be old and pixellated still. Yeah, that looks enough like Half-Life to me. I’d still prefer to play Half-Life in its original form but if you adore raytracing and desperately crave my approval, you have it: you may use this mod and I’ll be okay with that.

Last year, Tsyrendashiev bopped raytracing into Serious Sam: The First Encounter:

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