Some games claim to use subsurface scattering but my current understanding of sss is only achieved with ray tracing. How would you sub surface scatter without ray tracing? Do some claim to use sss but really use some approximation trick that doesn't use rays. I can't even imagine doing the below real time. enter image description here

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There are lots of ways to fake SSS with greater or lesser fidelity. A few recent-ish methods:

  • Screen-space blurring of object lighting (described in detail here)

screen-space light blurring

  • Using “interior” ambient-occlusion maps generated from a normal-flipped version of the geometry to approximate local thickness, providing an easy way to fake light transmission (more information here, with an addendum here)

local thickness map

There’s also the assortment of techniques in the GPU Gems article PaulHK linked to. One thing I’d add is about the light-falloff-texture approach mentioned at the beginning of it, which Valve used for a couple of interesting effects in Source games in addition to fake SSS—see their $lightwarptexture documentation for some information about that.

Team Fortress 2 illustrative rendering

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