Shadow of the Tomb Raider: A Ray Tracing Investigation

Critically-acclaimed game Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been updated to receive support for both DirectX ray tracing shadows and Nvidia’s DLSS upscaling technology. It’s been seven months since ray tracing was shown off in this title and a good six months since the game was released, but hey, the feature was added in eventually and it’s a very good game, we must add.

The inclusion of ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider marks the implementation of the third and final ray tracing technique we currently have at our disposal. Battlefield V uses ray traced reflections, Metro Exodus uses ray traced global illumination, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider uses ray traced shadows. In the future we’ll likely see games that use a combination of these techniques but right now each game is choosing one of the three and after today we should have a good idea at how each works to improve visuals.

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Accessing ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider is quite easy. There’s no need for a driver update, all you require is the latest game patch, which isn’t even that large. From there, you can launch the game and choose between three ray traced shadow modes: Medium, High and Ultra.

The game provides a decent description of what each mode does. With Medium you get ray traced shadows for selected point lights, plus regular shadowing techniques for the rest of the game. With High, shadow maps start getting replaced in favor of more ray tracing from spot and directional lights, including the sun. And then with Ultra you get more shadows and additional rays. DLSS has its own setting that can be activated as well.

For the following tests and comparisons, we’ve set the game to use the maximum quality settings, so that’s a level above the Highest preset. After all, if you’re using ray tracing you’re after premium graphics, so you should already have everything cranked up to the best graphics possible. All testing was done on a Core i9-9900K rig, with game footage captured using the RTX 2080 Ti at 4K. Performance was tested for all RTX GPUs at different resolutions as well, which we’ll get to later on.

Visual Comparison

The first thing to note is that the Medium ray tracing setting doesn’t affect the quality of shadows in most situations, because it only ray traces point light shadows. So this would be a light from a fire or lamp, for example. When outdoors, the medium mode uses standard Ultra-quality shadow maps, because shadows from the sun are not ray traced here. This is why in a lot of these comparisons there is no appreciable difference between DXR off and DXR medium.

Where you start to notice a difference is with the High and Ultra modes. Depending on the area, the difference is very noticeable, with ray traced shadows looking softer thanks to its more accurate distance-based shadowing. Ultra shadows in this game look good, they are sharp across most elements, but ray tracing is an upgrade if accuracy is what you like. In this scene for example, shadows cast from overhead foliage are soft due to the large distance between the foliage and the ground, while Lara’s own shadow is much sharper as it’s closer to the shadowed surface.

While I like the ray traced shadow presentation and believe it looks more accurate, like with other ray traced techniques the change might not be something everyone likes. As most games use sharper shadows, this distance-based system might be a bit jarring or look worse if you prefer standard sharper shadows.

One thing is clear though: the High shadow mode is not good. To us it looks worse than non ray traced shadow due to a lack of shadow density. For some reason, the High mode just seems to remove a lot of shadows, particularly from overhead foliage, which is obviously not the intended presentation looking at both Ultra regular shadows, and Ultra ray traced shadows. The ray count limitation here is too tight and while the shadows that are cast look better and more accurate, removing shadows to get this effect is not a good compromise.

Ray traced shadows have a number of other advantages. The game already appears to use distanced based shadowing for some dynamically generated shadows without ray tracing, but there’s a fair bit of aliasing present even using the Ultra mode. When switching ray tracing on, this aliasing disappears and you get a much cleaner presentation with better distance calculations. It’s with these shadows, including Lara’s shadow which suffers from the same issue, that ray tracing is the biggest upgrade.

In many areas, ray tracing also delivers more depth to the scene with better and more accurate shadowing of objects such as handrails, rocks, tables and so on. Again, without ray tracing the scene still looks excellent but ray tracing steps it up a notch.

And then here we can see where point lights come into play, which is an effect you get with the medium mode enabled. Beside this fire there are actually no shadows cast with ray tracing off, but when switching it to medium, Lara immediately casts an accurate shadow onto the wall behind her. There’s not much to be gained from higher modes with point light shadows, and there are plenty of other point lights throughout the game that do cast shadows even with ray tracing off, but this was one of the best examples I could find. Yeah, the developers probably could have implemented regular shadows for this light, but even then it wouldn’t look as good as ray tracing.

While we have been talking a lot about the visual upgrades that ray tracing provides, there are also a decent amount of issues we noticed.

Looking at the high ray tracing mode again, there is a serious shadow draw distance issue. When you roam around large environments, there is an obvious, flat line transition between ray traced shadows and regular shadows that is visible and quite jarring. It’s another reason we wouldn’t consider using the high mode at all, not only are there fewer shadows in general, the transition line is just awful.

This obvious transition point isn’t a problem on the Ultra ray tracing mode, but there is another issue at play here: shadow pop in. As you roam around, you can spot shadows magically appearing for some objects with no fade in. They just pop in out of thin air in the distance. In contrast, with ray tracing disabled there is still a limit to how far shadows are drawn, but there is a nice fade-in transition to these shadows as you move around, rather than a jarring pop-in. We’d say shadow draw distance with the ultra mode is similar to off in general, but the off mode clearly handles the transition more gracefully.

Then there are some instances where ray traced shadows don’t work correctly. In this scene, the roofing on the left should be shadowing the wall with a pattern similar to the leafing on the roof. That’s what you get with regular shadows, but with ray tracing it seems like the alpha texture is not being traced correctly so what we get is a large outline of presumably where the geometry is. It doesn’t look right and doesn’t make sense, although in other areas of the game this sort of alpha channel is handled properly.

We spotted some other artifacting in the game with ray tracing, again on roofing. In this scene, the shadowing present on the rocks on the left is a lot better with ray tracing on. But ray tracing also introduces these weird patterns into the roof that don’t look right.

Looking at the overall quality our thoughts are that ray traced shadows look good in general, but only if you use the Ultra mode. There are too many issues with the high mode, including reduced shadow density and an ugly transition point that makes this mode look worse than ray tracing disabled. The ultra mode has its glitches, but it looks better than ray tracing disabled and definitely more accurate. The medium mode is OK when there are point lights around, but the upgrade is basically non-existent in many outdoor environments.

Because Shadow of the Tomb Raider is a slower paced game with an emphasis on stunning visuals, there’s more time to appreciate the improved shadow quality. And in most cases it’s not a subtle change, it’s a decent upgrade. For a better showcase of the effects in motion you can check out HUB’s video footage below.

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Performance

As usual, enabling ray traced shadows in Shadow of the Tomb Raider comes at the cost of performance. Developers have put in a lot of time to make sure the game doesn’t run as poorly as the original demos, but the performance still isn’t great.

We’ll start with the RTX 2080 Ti results. Performance was captured using the game’s built-in benchmark tool, which is fairly representative of the scenes shown in this article. Across all three resolutions, the hit moving from Off to Ultra is significant. At 1080p performance drops by 39% on average with an even larger 57% hit to 1% lows. Then at both 1440p and 4K you’re getting a 41% drop on average.

When factoring in 1% lows which show performance in the most intensive areas of the benchmark, it’s typical to see your frame rate cut in half when using the Ultra ray tracing mode, and that is usually what I found in general gameplay in intensive areas. At 4K it was common to sit around 60 FPS with ray tracing off, while a touch under 30 FPS with Ultra ray traced shadows. Ouch.

The medium mode doesn’t see as much of a drop, a mere 14% at 4K, but it also doesn’t provide much of a visual improvement outside of select scenes. Of course, the performance hit is higher than 14% in these specific scenes where point lights come into play, with the benchmark tool going through different areas that may or may not see differences.

With that said, the drop isn’t significant in outdoor areas with no point lights, you’ll only see maybe 2-3 FPS shaved off, so the good news is you won’t be punished when the effect isn’t visible.

There’s also not much of a difference between the High and Ultra modes, usually about 2-3 FPS at most. But because the high mode looks awful, there’s no way I’d use it over the slightly more intensive Ultra mode.

With the RTX 2080 we’re seeing similar margins: a 43% reduction in frame rate at 1080p moving from Off to Ultra, 41% at 1440p and 41% at 4K. The RTX 2080 is definitely not powerful enough for ray tracing at 4K, and it’s only borderline at 1440p, dropping from an 80 FPS average to below 50 FPS. At this resolution you’ll want an adaptive sync monitor.

For the RTX 2070 we only tested two resolutions because it’s obvious this GPU and the RTX 2060 can’t handle the game at 4K. Once again we’re looking at around a 42% drop of FPS at 1440p, and 41% at 1080p. The RTX 2070 is good for a 60 FPS experience at 1440p with ray tracing disabled, but enabling ray tracing sees 1% lows dip below 30 FPS which isn’t great. We’d say the card is powerful enough for 1080p with ray tracing, where it can delivers 60 FPS.

As for the RTX 2060, it’s no surprise that it can’t handle ray tracing at 1440p: it sees a 45% drop in frame rate, which takes a card that is fine at 1440p without being amazing, to a card that simply can’t play the game at a reasonable frame rate. At 1080p it’s a better situation, you still see that big drop in frame rates but at around 50 FPS we’d still say the game is playable with RTX on.

Ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider once again comes at a big cost in performance. The visuals are very good, so it’s not a Battlefield V situation where you get both awful performance and noisy ray traced effects, but we’re still talking about having your frame rate significantly reduced. The performance hit is a lot higher than in Metro Exodus, although for a larger visual improvement as well.

Considering the regular, non-ray traced Ultra shadows already look very good, and the game in general looks amazing on maximum settings, we don’t think it’s worth turning ray tracing on in most situations. Halving your frame rate is a huge hit to take, we’re talking at least a 30 FPS reduction, which isn’t going to work for most people.

The situations where we could see this hit being worthwhile, is when you have excess performance at your native resolution. So that’s with the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti at 1080p, and the RTX 2080 Ti at 1440p. With those GPUs, you can run the game at over 100 FPS with ray tracing off, so turning it on only brings you down to around 50 FPS or so. It’s a big hit, but we’re not in console performance territory.

With other combinations we’re looking at performance near 30 FPS at times. Take the RTX 2070, for example, would you rather play the game at 60 FPS at 1440p with ray tracing off, or 1080p at below 60 FPS with ray tracing on? We would opt for the former every single time.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider has also received DLSS support, however we’ve established by now this feature is unnecessary at best in our examinations in other games. From what we’ve seen in Tomb Raider, DLSS is not as good as the implementation in Metro Exodus, but better than Battlefield V. DLSS is definitely not as sharp as the native presentation, it’s blurry in some areas and doesn’t let the fine texture work in the game shine.

We’d stick to experimenting with standard resolution scaling instead, where you can achieve better performance and/or better visuals.

It’s hard to put into a succinct word how we feel about ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. On one hand, the visual upgrade is decent and the game can look great using the Ultra mode. On the other, that comes at a huge performance cost that limits the scenarios in which you would choose to turn ray tracing on.

Ray tracing technology will shine when the performance hit can be significantly reduced or when we have FPS in excess, so the hit becomes irrelevant. For that to happen, we need more powerful ray tracing hardware, so more RT cores, faster acceleration and just more power in general. That’s probably one or two GPU generations down the line.

Of all the ray traced implementations we’ve seen so far, we’d lean towards Metro Exodus as being the best balance of visual upgrades and performance cost. We’re not in a situation with any RTX games so far where we could easily recommend using ray tracing or buying a new GPU for that reason alone. For now, think of ray tracing as a bonus for owners of RTX graphics cards.

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Professors commenting on quiz doodles will make your day

This is One Good Thing, a weekly column where we tell you about one of the few nice things that happened this week.


Doodling can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing, to help concentrate during class, or to kill time when you’re done taking a test.

Drawing during class is often frowned upon and scolded by teachers who think that their students are paying too much attention to their creations and not the lecture. However, some professors applaud their students artistic endeavors.

When Kaitlyn Kearns was finishes with her mechanical systems class quizes, she uses the extra time to draw out these adorable sea creatures. Her professor leaves the sweetest responses to the doodles the back of the assignments. 

After sharing the images, Twitter responded with a collective “aww.”

Her professor’s comments and encouragement elevated the already cute cartoons to a new level of wholesome. 

Lots of people were curious to know if she’d done well on these quizzes considering she had the time to draw such pretty pictures. She assured her audience that she only drew pictures when she was sure she’d gotten everything right, but didn’t have any more content to share since that class had gotten increasingly difficult. 

Kearns is an undergraduate studying mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky and hopes to create a webcomic about the struggles of college life. Based off of the outcry for more drawings, she seems to have quite the audience already built in. 

It turns out Kearns isn’t the only one whose teacher remarks on class time drawings. Many other students shared their artwork on the thread with similar engagement from their teachers. 

Some teachers added on to their students’ doodles, bringing them to life just a bit more. 

While others gave bonus points for making them chuckle. 

Let’s hope Kaitlyn’s class gets easier so she can giver her people what they crave, more back-of-quiz doodles!

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AT&T "5G E" is slightly slower than competitor's 4G

A hot potato: A new study conducted by OpenSignal has found that AT&T’s 5G E network is 2% and 4% slower than T-Mobile and Verizon’s Gigabit LTE networks, respectively. While it was already clear that 5G E didn’t introduce new technologies, the study adds fuel to the fire that has caused an outcry in the public and made Sprint sue AT&T for misleading marketing.

5G E is what AT&T calls Gigabit LTE, which is an array of technologies that work together to make 4G networks faster. LAA lets signals jump between bands to avoid traffic, 256-bit QAM boosts a signal’s efficiency by 30%, and 4×4 MIMO doubles the number of antennas connecting a phone to a network. Combined, they can more than double a connection’s speed.

Throughout February, OpenSignal collected information from 1,057,522 public network speed tests. On Gigabit LTE/5G E capable devices (shaded blue on the graph below), AT&T’s network performed very much the same as their competitor’s, excluding poor Sprint. This confirms what we all believe: 5G E is nothing special.

However, AT&T has managed to find something in the fine print. OpenSignal used speed data from Gigabit LTE devices whether they were connected to a Gigabit LTE (or 5G E) network or not, for the very practical reason of there’s no way to know. But because all the networks were subject to the same standards, OpenSignal believes that this doesn’t matter.

“OpenSignal’s note reveals their methodology is flawed,” AT&T said to Ars Technica. “Speed-test data purporting to show the ‘real-world experience of 5G Evolution’ without verifying the capable devices were tested in a 5G Evolution coverage area as shown by the indicator does not accurately represent the 5G Evolution user experience.”

If 5G E is somehow marginally faster than Gigabit LTE, then that would require T-Mobile and Verizon’s networks to have much wider Gigabit LTE/5G E coverage to balance the graph out. That is absolutely possible, but it also means that you’re better off going with AT&T’s competitors anyway.

According to Sprint, 54% of customers believe that 5G E is true 5G, and 43% believe that an AT&T 5G E capable smartphone will be able to run on future 5G networks. That’s a shockingly large portion of the market being duped by false claims.

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'Am I depressed?': How teens can find mental health help online

Image: bob al-greene / mashable

Teens don’t need to read the headlines to know that they and too many of their peers are feeling lonely, sad, anxious, and suicidal. Recent headlines, however, confirm what’s happening in their lives.  

This week, a Pediatrics study documented a 28 percent increase in psychiatric visits to the emergency room for American youth. The research, which looked at survey data collected between 2011 and 2015, found even higher rates of increased visits for adolescents and African American and Hispanic youth. The rate of suicide-related visits more than doubled. 

“This study unmistakably reveals that adolescents are a population with urgent mental health needs,” the study’s authors wrote. 

Meanwhile, new research also published this week used survey data to reveal a “steady rise” in youth rates of mood disorders and suicidal thoughts and behaviors between 2005 and 2017. 

Yet many young people grappling with psychological distress or mental illness are hesitant to tell someone who could help them. Instead, they may look for answers online, where Google searches can lead them to both information about effective treatment and therapy and to misleading or bad advice. 

Teens looking for hope amidst a sea of online resources can arm themselves with the following tips: 

1. Take a reputable mental health screening. 

There are countless online quizzes designed to tell a user whether they’re experiencing a mental health condition. These tools can help verify that something is wrong, but only some of them are based on science. You’ll want to look for scientifically validated screening tools, which you can often find through mental health organizations or government websites.

“Sometimes taking the screening is the first step before having a conversation with someone.”

Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization, offers 9 screening tools that focus on mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and disordered eating. One screening is specifically for youth 17 and younger, and many users arrive at the site by Googling phrases like “Am I depressed?” and “depression test.” Once they’ve received the results, users can print or email them to share with others.

“Sometimes taking the screening is the first step before having a conversation with someone,” says Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America’s vice president of policy and programs. “People think, ‘Now I have something tangible that I can give to my parents or someone I trust.'” 

2. Educate yourself with accurate information. 

If you’ve taken a screening indicating you should seek help, or received a diagnosis from a pediatrician or mental health professional, Nguyen recommends telling a trusted adult as well as learning more about your symptoms or condition. While it can be helpful to hear from friends or seek insight from social media, it’s important to remember that everyone’s mental health experiences are different. (MHA offers a tip sheet for vetting online mental health resources.)

To get basic information about symptoms or illnesses, you can check out evidence-based resources provided by government agencies like the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as nonprofit organizations like Crisis Text Line and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Effective Child Therapy, a website created by the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, also offers helpful definitions and descriptions. 

MHA maintains a comprehensive roundup of answers to numerous questions about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and self-harm. They tackle questions such as, “Am I just sad or depressed?,” “Will I always have anxiety?,” and, “Can an app help my mental health problems?” 

“The most powerful thing we can give young people first is education, so they have more of a sense of what they’re going through,” says Nguyen. 

That education, she adds, can help them push back when a parent, adult, or healthcare provider minimizes a child’s concerns about their mental health. 

“It’s really empowering for young people to feel strong,” she says. 

3. Find treatment and recovery resources. 

There are science-backed treatment options for mental health conditions, but finding such information online can be difficult unless you know where to look. 

Effective Child Therapy provides a thorough list of various evidence-based therapies in addition to explanations of which treatments work best specifically for illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, disordered eating, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The site also offers a collection of search tools for finding a therapist as well as advice on how to choose a provider. 

Getting the right help early on can be critical to recovery, says Amanda Jensen-Doss, director of the child and family division in the department of psychology at the University of Miami and a member of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. 

She encourages young people and their parents to ask psychologists and psychiatrists more about the treatments they offer, how patient progress is tracked, and why a certain approach is the right one to use. That information can help young patients make informed decisions about their care versus trying to handle the situation on their own. 

“So often the problems linger for a long time before they come to someone’s attention.”

“So often the problems linger for a long time before they come to someone’s attention,” says Jensen-Doss. “Kids are suffering until the point where they need to be in the ER.” 

If you’re searching online for information about suicide or hospitalization, Jensen-Doss says it’s time to contact a hotline that handles emotional crises, like the Crisis Text Line, the Trevor Project, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.   

MHA’s research does suggest that the majority of young people who use their resources don’t want to see a therapist. That’s why Nguyen often recommends the organization’s resources, including “DIY tools” comprising worksheets, fact sheets, and activities that help explain, address, and manage your symptoms. 

Whether you decide to seek help for your mental health or not, it’s key to know that the right online research and resources can put you on a path toward healing and recovery. 

If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.

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5 cheap online courses that could help you land a job in AI

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.
Become a fully functioning robo-professional with the help of these online courses.
Become a fully functioning robo-professional with the help of these online courses.
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These days, pundits galore are proselytizing about the Future of Work. Depending on who you ask, the robots may or may not be taking over, leaving us mere humans pondering how work fits into our lives and whether we’re going to be eventually rendered obsolete.

Just look at the stark contrast in tone between these two headlines: the Wall Street Journal’s White-Collar Robots Are Coming For Jobs versus Wired’s Chill: Robots Won’t Take All Our Jobs. Who should we *really* believe?!

The truth is there isn’t one easy answer. What we can do is prepare ourselves to move into technical careers required to create and manage the robot revolution. Case in point: AI is one of the fastest growing tech sectors, and companies are hiring.

If you’re itching to stay ahead of the curve in this Brave New World of work, here are five ways to get started. You’ll get an extra 15% off the already discounted prices with use of code MADNESS15 at checkout:

This bundle contains five e-books jam-packed full of essential robotics knowledge, including the Robot Operating System — the popular framework used by hobbyists to design and build real, working robots. Plus, this e-book package is seriously hands-on with tons of ROS projects (like building a self-driving car) that will have you putting theory into practice in no time.

Normally $199.95, it’s now on sale for $15. With the code applied, you can grab it for just $12.75.

Image: Pexels

This huge bundle covers all things AI across over 80 hours of training. You’ll get a deep dive in essential AI concepts such as machine learning and data science, and more. Uncover the technical knowledge that powers everything from Apple’s Siri to Tesla’s self-driving cars, and add a kick to your résumé with some sweet new skills.

This bundle was once $1,599, but it’s on sale for $59. With the code applied, you can grab it now for just $50.15.

Image: Pixabay

This premium course collection covers all things machine learning, spanning ten courses comprising 63.5 hours of training. You’ll get courses like Quant Trading Using Machine Learning, and Learn By Example: Hadoop & MapReduce for Big Data Problems — tons of essential machine learning fundamentals that will help you build and execute programs to tackle complex Big Data puzzles.

This collection was originally $780, and it’s on sale for $29. With the code applied, you can grab it for just $24.65.

Image: Pixabay

In this training, you’ll get detailed machine learning and data science certification prep. Across eight courses spanning nearly 50 hours of content, you’ll get the lowdown on key machine learning essentials such as how to utilize Tensorflow (Google’s deep learning-oriented framework), use the statistical computing language R, and master Python for data science purposes.

This training bundle was originally $1,600, and is now on sale for $35. With the code applied, you can grab it for just $29.75.

Image: Pixabay

MATLAB is a seriously powerful data science tool, and this five-course collection will help you master it. From diving into machine learning classification algorithms to supplementing Excel with thousands of advanced functions using MATLAB, you’ll learn to slice and dice data like a pro. Plus, get access to hands-on projects, and learn to use the Simulink MATLAB add-on to create virtual prototypes and models.

Originally priced at $549.96, this bundle is now on sale for $35. With the code applied, you can grab it for just $29.75.

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