DirectX 12: Marrying PC and Xbox One in perfect Unity

Last week, DeveloperTech posted an article detailing the massive performance gains and power reductions DirectX 12 will bring to the PC. In the piece, we mentioned that Microsoft's Xbox One console is also likely to see some benefits but won't see the vast improvements of its PC brethren. What we didn't mention, however, is that there are other benefits to DirectX 12 which directly affects both platforms...

If you want to play games to the peak of their performance, then we all know you need to invest in the latest PC hardware. This can be a costly affair. To remain ahead of the pack, this means upgrades every couple of years. To be at the cutting-edge, this can mean upgrades even sooner. This is the price hardcore gamers are willing to pay to be a part of the self-proclaimed "master race".

For the rest of us, an investment in a console means a hardware-setup which is likely to be supported for around a decade. Lower-level APIs mean developers can get closer to the "metal" and optimise their titles to the hardware, platform-specific features such as dedicated Xbox Live servers can mean better experiences, whilst the install-base and exposure by the respective marketplaces can provide a bigger overall outreach for your titles.

The PC market remains the biggest market, however. In October last year SuperData released a report (PDF) showing PC accounts for 51% of the gaming market; with consoles at 30%, and mobile at 13%. Many games, especially from independent developers, will release solely on PC for this reason.

Cross-platform development tools such as Unity have been growing in popularity. In fact, just today Unity announced support for the Xbox One in partnership with Microsoft to offer a free license to the IDE for those developers who are part of the ID@Xbox program. The initial Unity-developed titles arriving for Xbox One include; Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Ori and the Blind Forest, Roundabout, and Cuphead.

Unity already supports DirectX 11, but a future addition of DirectX 12 would mean the perfect environment to deploy across both PC and Xbox One due to their shared low-level APIs and improved memory management. Currently, drivers mostly "guess" how to allocate resources which are not always optimal and can cause bottlenecks leading to frame drops. DirectX 12 allows for smarter control of these resources so games can be optimised in scenes that are expected to cause problems.

Needless to say, porting from Xbox One to a high-end PC is easier than vice-versa. A game designed solely for high-end PCs will still run into problems on Xbox One (or PS4, or Wii...) without heavy modifications to textures and effects. Most games however are built with mid-range PC support in mind which the Xbox One can handle in its stride. Again, if you want optimum power, you'll need to fork out for a PC. But the shared APIs and resource control which DirectX 12 presents means porting most PC games to Xbox One in the future should present little issue.

In order to start development for Xbox One today, you will need a development kit which can be obtained from signing-up to ID@Xbox. The team have revealed their intention to turn any retail console into a dev kit is "still in the roadmap". Also in the roadmap for Xbox is an “early access” program similar to the popular feature found on PC via Steam. It allows eager fans to help fund upcoming games in return for the ability to test the game early and have the opportunity to shape the final version. This is yet another way the new leadership at Microsoft is allowing their console to follow the PC’s lead.

The ability to develop DirectX 12 games which can get such vastly better performance out of Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and AMD-based hardware, and port from PC to Xbox easily is a hugely enticing prospect for game developers. Expect to see less PC or Xbox exclusives, and more indie games being ported, because the two platforms have begun to form the perfect unity. Isn’t love sweet?

Will we see the PC and Xbox sharing more titles as a result of DirectX 12? Let us know in the comments.

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