On Wednesday, after AMD revealed its new "Hawaii" GPUs and Mantle API, id Software co-founder and Oculus VR CTO John Carmack took to Twitter to express his thoughts on the new API. He admitted that the company has some interesting opportunities with Mantle given AMD's "dual console wins," (getting APUs into the Xbox One and PlayStation 4) but he doubts Microsoft and Sony will be very helpful in AMD's united gaming campaign.
"Considering the boost Mantle could give to a steambox, MS and Sony may wind up being downright hostile to it," he said. "I don't know the details, but it is pitched as a console level hardware access for the PC from AMD."
For old-school PC gamers, AMD's Mantle API may sound a little familiar. A little company named 3DFX created the Glide API for its Voodoo GPUs, allowing developers like John Carmack to directly access the chip's hardware features. This seemingly brought the original Quake to life despite OpenGL's capabilities, but the industry eventually adopted OpenGL as the default and then Microsoft's DirectX when it matured.
Like Glide, AMD's Mantle API grants developers low-level access to the native language of the Graphics Core Next architecture. OpenGL and DirectX are considered high-level access that provides broad (generic) optimizations across a number of GPUs. However, the benefits of developing a console are two-fold: there's only one hardware set per vendor and direct low-level access to the hardware. AMD's Mantle attempts to do the same on the GPU front in PCs at the very least.
DICE's Frostbite 3 is reportedly the first game engine to use AMD's API, and will first appear in Battlefield 4 this December as an update. Given that the GPU cores in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are based on the Graphics Core Next architecture, it will be interesting to see if the console versions receive this update as well. If Carmack is right, Sony and Microsoft may do whatever it takes to separate their versions from the PC counterpart.
Valve's Steam Machines will be provided by hardware partners, and will likely allow owners to easily upgrade components when needed. Unlike consoles that are locked into one hardware set, these gaming rigs can have a mix-match of components. Nvidia has already officially revealed its involvement with the SteamOS development, and AMD mentioned that it supports Valve's Steam Machines initiative as well.
"I didn't even think about that -- yes, that would help the steam box a lot with AAA content," Carmack said, referring to using the Mantle API with Steam Machines solutions.
AMD said it will reveal more about the Mantle API in November during its Developer Summit 2013 conference.