Last year AMD debuted a new application programming interface (API) called Mantle alongside their new Hawaii GPU architecture. Primarily designed to run on discrete Radeon graphics cards and their new Kaveri APUs, Mantle was designed to give game developers a means to work more closely with the GPU, freeing up some of the CPU’s workload and generally extracting more performance from a Radeon graphics card than was typically possible with Microsoft's popular DirectX.
Shortly after Mantle was announced, Microsoft appeared to have its collective feathers ruffled. On the Windows App Builder blog, Microsoft adopted a defensive posture, pointing out that the Xbox One would not utilize Mantle since the new console had its own low-level API called Direct3D 11.X. When AMD evangelized Mantle early on, they would use words like “cross-platform” and explained how the API would simplify porting next-generation console games to PC.
Perhaps there’s a rivalry playing out behind closed doors, and perhaps not. What we now know for certain thanks to The Tech Report is that Microsoft has a March 20th session at the upcoming Game Developers Conference (GDC) called “DirectX: Evolving Microsoft’s Graphics Platform.” And the session description raised my eyebrows.
“For nearly 20 years, DirectX has been the platform used by game developers to create the fastest, most visually impressive games on the planet.”
Interpretation: We’re the established API. Developers are comfortable with us. There’s no room for newcomers.
The description of the GDC session continues with a very perceptible nod to AMD:
“However, you asked us to do more. You asked us to bring you even closer to the metal and to do so on an unparalleled assortment of hardware. You also asked us for better tools so that you can squeeze every last drop of performance out of your PC, tablet, phone and console. Come learn our plans to deliver.”
Interpretation: You took a strong first step, AMD, but we’ll show you how it’s done, and make it a bit more platform-agnostic to the benefit of everyone.
See, during AMD’s initial promotional outreach for Mantle, the phrase “close to the metal” was bandied about liberally. (This was used to express developer desire to extract more performance from the GPU, and talk to it more directly.) Everything about Microsoft’s description for this GDC session seems to be calling out AMD and sounding a battle cry.
To be clear, Mantle is in its infancy. While AMD does have the staunch support of developers like DICE, Eidos-Montréal, and Oxide Games, they’ll need to elevate Mantle’s visibility and show the world even more developer support. Especially since Microsoft seems driven to appeal to game developers across Xbox One, PC, tablets, and smartphones with what I have to assume is the imminent reveal of DirectX 12 (even though AMD’s Roy Taylor says there will never, ever be a DirectX 12).
By the way, March will signal an explosion of activity in the GPU market, so keep it locked right here. Continue the conversation by following me on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to my Forbes RSS feed.