Chinese tech giant NetEase says it’s achieved ray tracing in a mobile game for the first time. The company recently demonstrated ray tracing in its flagship MMORPG game Love is Justice using Huawei’s latest Kirin chip and EMUI operating system.

Ray tracing technology allows computer programs to simulate the movement of light in a virtual space, mimicking the way light would reflect off surfaces in a given space and making for a more photorealistic environment.

Ray tracing has already been used in Hollywood animation for years, but rendering a single frame of a Pixar movie could take hours. And modern blockbusters might take days to render a short scene.

Real-time ray tracing in games is very resource intensive, which is trouble when it comes to running games on smartphones. It has only recently been achievable in PC games with modern graphics cards like the Nvidia RTX line.

So even though NetEase has pulled it off on a mobile processor, it likely leads to much shorter battery life.

“It will take all the processing power it can get,” said Zeng Xiancheng, a developer and founder of FYQD Studio. “I also won’t rule out the possibility that [NetEase’s demo] has a hard frame rate cap. By and large, a cap on 30 frames per second can relieve a lot of pressure in terms of heating up and power consumption.”

A demo of Love is Justice shown by NetEase to demonstrate how ray tracing affects the game’s graphics. (Picture: NetEase)

For the demo, NetEase used Huawei’s flagship Kirin 990 processor. Kirin chips are only available on Huawei phones, but performance of the Kirin 990 has been shown to best Qualcomm’s more widely used Snapdragon 855 processor and Apple’s A12, but it falls short of the iPhone 11’s A13.

“It seems like the Kirin 990 should have no problems handling [ray tracing],” Zeng said. “Under normal circumstances, it takes at least an A12X to run ray tracing on mobile.” 

At the developer conference where it showed the demo, NetEase touted its achievement but didn’t disclose a timeline for when ray tracing would actually be implemented. But if NetEase pulls it off, it could be a big deal in a country where most gamers play mobile games.

The effect of ray-tracing is most noticeable with shadows. (Picture: NetEase)

Even Zeng hopes to introduce elements of ray tracing to the mobile version of his game Bright Memory. He recently implemented ray tracing in the PC version of the game.

This isn’t the first time NetEase and Huawei have worked together on gaming. In June, the two companies announced a partnership to develop a 5G cloud gaming lab.

That same month, the two companies revealed that Huawei Cloud PC would allow users to run Justice Online, NetEase's flagship live-service game, from the cloud on mobile devices.

We reached out to NetEase for comment but haven’t received a response.