Since Microsoft first revealed DirectX 12 at GDC way back in March, there has been quite the kerfuffle in regards to whether or not the Xbox One would be the primary beneficiary, or whether it would even see the benefits of the new API, as its hardware is already set in stone. And for the most part, those who remain skeptical (whether for sensible or malicious reasonings) can make a reasonable argument… Or so it was assumed. After the DX12 announcement, we learned that the API wouldn’t be seeing a public release until late 2015, and combining that “release date” with the fact that the Xbox One’s hardware specs are already locked down for the entirety of its life cycle, it made sense for someone on the outside to question how an API that’s releasing 2 years after the console will lead to any sort of benefit for said console.
Well, Wolfgang Engel, former lead graphics programmer for Rockstar’s RAGE group turned CEO and co-founder of Confetti (a middleware company that specializes in developing solutions for global illumination, Sky dome and Post FX systems) recently gave his thoughts on DX12 and how it will affect the Xbox One’s capabilities.
I like it. It’s great and it’s a fantastic opportunity to raise the bar again. It works with the same piece of hardware, so it’s the same CPU and the same GPU, and certainly we have much more CPU time to spend.
The workload on the CPU decreases substantially, because you can utilize better the cores of the CPU. In this way you are less likely to be CPU limited. One of the cool features of modern games is that we have physics, and they have been traditionally implemented on the CPU and as a game developer you have to go back and ask ‘do I have to spend 40% of my CPU time’ on rendering or ‘can I reduce this so that I can use it for physics’ and this is one of the things that DirectX 12 allows you. This makes sure that the developers can get more out of the existing hardware.
AMD’s Mantle is also going in the same direction and has the same structural idea, reducing CPU time so that it can be free up for other tasks. One CPU usage case is multiple GPU set ups which is kind of an interesting development because when you have multiple GPUs, say two GPUs, you would not expect to be actually CPU limited. But now the CPU has to feed two GPUs which are really fast, suddenly your CPU becomes the bottleneck. DirectX 12 and Mantle are resolving that situation.
We already know that DX 12 will have a fairly strong impact on PC gaming when it launches late next year, but will it have the same technical impact on the Xbox One? Interestingly, Engel revealed that, “The Xbox One already has an API which is similar to DirectX 12. So Microsoft implemented a driver that is similar to DirectX 12 already on the Xbox One.”
Is it a straight yes/no answer? No. But it does back up what I, and many others, have stated multiple times in the past – that Microsoft built their console around an API that they weren’t ready to release. Was that their best decision? Probably not, but both the market and competition demanded that they release new hardware, and in order to remain relevant, Microsoft answered the call for new hardware, but left room to later implement the API they’ve spent the past 8 years developing.
We won’t truly see what this means for the Xbox One until next year, but with several of Microsoft’s first-party developers launching their first 8th-gen. titles in 2015, it’s a safe assumption to expect those titles to be the first real testaments to whether or not the newest installment of the API that Xbox is named after will actually affect the console’s performance.
My take? Expect Halo 5: Guardians to be the demonstration that everyone has been clamoring for. It’s still a ways off, but when you consider what developers are achieving without the Xbox One’s intended API, I believe that we’re fine for the time being. If it takes another year for Microsoft to finish polishing their interface, I say let them. You can’t rush perfection.
What are your thoughts on the same? Let us know in the comments.