AMD: DirectX Holding Back Game Performance

With all the hype surrounding DirectX 11 and how it's changing the face of PC gaming in regards to mind-blowing eye candy, AMD's worldwide developer relations manager of its GPU division, Richard Huddy, claims that developers actually want the API to go away, that it's getting in the way of creating some truly amazing graphics.

"I certainly hear this in my conversations with games developers," he told Bit-Tech in an interview. "And I guess it was actually the primary appeal of Larrabee to developers – not the hardware, which was hot and slow and unimpressive, but the software – being able to have total control over the machine, which is what the very best games developers want. By giving you access to the hardware at the very low level, you give games developers a chance to innovate, and that's going to put pressure on Microsoft – no doubt at all."

Outside a few current developers who have announced that PC game development will take priority over console versions, a good chunk of the gaming industry is developing titles for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 first and then porting them over to the PC thereafter. The result is that PC versions are only slightly superior to their console counterparts on a visual sense even though a high-end graphics card has at least ten times the horsepower of the Xbox 360's Xenos GPU and the PlayStation 3's GeForce 7-series architecture.

What this means is that-- although PC graphics are better than the console version-- developers can't tap into the PC's true potential because they can't program hardware directly at a low-level, forced to work through DirectX instead. But there are benefits to working with APIs including the ability to develop a game that will run on a wide range of hardware. Developers also get access to the latest shader technologies without having to work with low-level code.

But according to Huddy, the performance overhead of DirectX is a frustrating concern for developers. "Wrapping it up in a software layer gives you safety and security," he said. "But it unfortunately tends to rob you of quite a lot of the performance, and most importantly, it robs you of the opportunity to innovate."

He added that shaders, which were introduced back in 2002, were designed to allow developers to be more innovative, to create a more visual variety in games. But now many PC games have the same kind of look and feel because developers are using shaders "to converge visually."

"If we drop the API, then people really can render everything they can imagine, not what they can see – and we'll probably see more visual innovation in that kind of situation."

The interview goes on to define the performance overhead of DirectX, explaining that the actual amount depends on the type of game in development. Huddy also talks about the possible problems of developing for a multiple GPU architecture on a low-level if the API is ignored.

"The problem with the PC is that you ideally want a PC that doesn't crash too much, and if a games developer is over-enthusiastic about the way they program direct to the metal, they can produce all sorts of difficulties for us as a hardware company trying to keep the PC stable," he said.

The interview is definitely an awesome read, so head here to get the full scoop.

  • wiyosaya
    DirectX is an M$ specific api. How could it be anything other than bloatware? :p
  • plznote
    lol wut?
    Didn't know that.
  • bystander
    Reading over the article, it seems that the API has more benefits than negatives. Especially for the non elite developers.
  • Trialsking
    But I thought the consoles were 10 times better than PC's. Thats what all the console fanboys tell me.
  • Stryter
    Why on earth would you want to program graphics at a low-level. It would take forever to create even a small number of visuals. That's why we have high-level languages in the first place. The only reason I can see working with low-level code is for performance purposes.

    I also find it very hard to believe that there are any huge restrictions in what a developer can create with a high level api, versus low-level coding. And with graphics engines like CryEngine and Unreal, the case this guy's making seems weak.
  • kcorp2003
    Me and other developers were discussing this for years. Its nice to see Huddy took the step forward. At the end of the day, writing an assemble for a diverse market is not wise. The gap between consoles and PC is getting narrowed. like or not.

    at least Johan Andersson (DICE dev) is heavily pushing for this.
  • Great Idea if AMD is going to pay developers for the huge additional cost the are going to have. The benefits of DirectX are greater then the disadvantaged.
  • nforce4max
    Actually coding for the game engines and visual api for a complete product is a lot more difficult than people think. Developers are looking for ways that won't put a cap on what they want to do but over all they should focus on game play experience and script rather than just visuals as many have only done over the past decade. Remember the 90s ware one didn't know just how far things can be pushed across the board?
  • Anomalyx
    StryterWhy on earth would you want to program graphics at a low-level. It would take forever to create even a small number of visuals. That's why we have high-level languages in the first place. The only reason I can see working with low-level code is for performance purposes.So because you can't program graphics at a low level means professionals shouldn't either? Plus, you answered your own question. Working with graphics on that low of level would give massive performance improvements.

    We aren't talking about chucking the API altogether... just allowing developers the choice not to use it. Forcing them to use the API is rather... Apple-esque.
  • NightLight
    I guess the part of "all games looking alike" has some truth to it, when thinking about shooters like moh, cod etc... they have a point. But the costs of making a video game are high enough as it is. If every game developer is gonna make his game from the ground up, it's gonna take forever. For one, I would like to see diversification myself, but I think it is nog longer possible in this current economy.