The console war is heating up with fans on both sides getting increasingly frustrated that the other platform refuses to die. We all know that will never happen. Recently Microsoft hosted the Windows 10 consumer event and showed several cool new features that will be coming this fall. Windows 10 will be launching on PC, Tablet, Phone and Xbox to some extent.
One of the most heated topics that is being discussed to death by both sides of the fence is the Direct X 12 update. Pundits have called it something of a misnomer, to outright calling it a gimmick that will do nothing for PC gaming or the Xbox. Other developers have publicly stated (outside of the NDA agreements) that what they’ve seen and experienced it completely revolutionary. Phil Spencer famously misquoted by some said that the Xbox One will see some benefit but the hardware will not change.
Let’s take all of this into perspective. Whether or not you’re a fan of the ‘other’ console brand be it Nintendo or Sony, or you’re a PC hardcore gaming enthusiast you should be happy that the evolution of programming API’s and tools are accelerating. I find it personally bizarre how people will publicly condemn anyone who feels excited about this.
DirectX 12 will improve efficiency for CPU bound games and will improve access to the GPU by allowing more than one core to communicate with the CPU/GPU. Previously only one core managed to communicate at a time and DirectX 11 was quite power hungry based on Intel’s presentation? I myself prefer that power consumption be brought down in all consoles. As per example, one can take a very graphically intensive game on the PS4 and you will hear the console fans spinning profusely to cool the system down and I hope they find a way to improve the cooling system or any API improvements Sony brings to the PS4 will be severely hampered by the lack of proper cooling in the system.
Microsoft on the other hand have taken a beating over the design of the Xbox because they took cooling to the extreme and built a larger cooling system in making the device bigger. I’m not pretending that they could have made a better design other than the minimalist box design they have now, but choosing to ensure the device stays cool at all times is of upmost importance. Taking AC Unity on the Xbox One and leaving it running for hours while thousands of NPC’s are running around the device does not sound any louder than what it does while in the menu for example.
DirectX 12 will improve upon the power consumption and access to the multi-core system for developers will improve. Will it impact games dramatically? No, I don’t think we will see graphics that outshines a PC with about $4000 worth of components in there. Phil famously said there will be no dramatic change, and I agree. Will games look better, of course? Will lighting and framerates improve? Of course they will. But to pretend that there will be no change because Phil said ‘no dramatic change’ is an oxymoron.
PC gaming however will have a smaller benefit than that of the Xbox. Why? Because historically developers have not optimized games to run as good on the lowest common denominator as on the best. Game performance and graphics have always been up to the player. Do you want better graphics at a lower framerate? Or do you want a higher framerate with lower resolution? These are the options open to gamers on PC and DirectX 12 will not change that. Yes the PC will use less power, but the onus lies with the player to decide what type of experience they want out of their PC. With console devices the experience and optimization lies solely with the developer and they need to ensure that the game runs at optimal capacity. Unless you’re Konami.
At the Windows 10 event Phil Spencer showed a FutureMark benchmark tool running both DirectX12 and DirectX11 on screen with complexity increasing. DirectX12 showed massive improvements in framerates while the difficulty kept increasing over time. That is what DirectX does, it allows the system to efficiently improve framerates while doing double the work (50%). Of course it depends on your hardware. A Core i7 will be able to do more than an APU. This is on CPU bound games and it clearly proves that DirectX12 is not a pipe dream. Xbox One users will see improvement on the complexity of games and framerates depending on how well the game was optimized for the Xbox.
GPU bound games is the next chapter for gaming and we will see more on that in the future at GDC this year. Both PS4 and Xbox One will benefit dramatically from the shift away from CPU bound to GPU bound games and both console platforms should be excited for this shift. Nobody will be left behind in this race and we should expect Sony to reveal (or not) their answer to the future of gaming. Hopefully they will ensure that the console does not sound like a plane taking off while doing it.