When I last spoke with AMD’s Matt Skynner (Corporate VP and GM of Graphics Business Unit) in September 2013, he didn’t sound quite this elated. Then again, the Sunnyvale company hadn’t yet launched their Hawaii graphics cards. Nor had the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 been released, both of which feature semi-custom AMD APUs. Nor had they partnered with powerhouse game studio DICE on their Mantle API. Skynner and company have had a productive few months, and at the 2014 Game Developer’s Conference they’re continuing that momentum.
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Today finds AMD formally partnering with German video game developer Crytek. The company pledges to integrate AMD’s Mantle API into Cryengine, a graphics engine that powers technical showcases like Crysis 3 for PC and Ryse for Xbox one.
(Mantle is what’s known as a low-level API, and it gives game developers “closer-to-the-metal” access to the PC hardware they’re developing for. It streamlines communication between a gamer’s CPU and GPU. Essentially this results in significant performance uplifts when compared to DirectX 11 on AMD hardware. You can read more about Mantle in AMD’s words via this blog post.)
When AMD announced that DICE would incorporate Mantle into Battlefield 4 and across their portfolio of Electronic Arts games powered by the Frostbite Engine, it was worthy of some applause but didn’t yet signal a revolution. Then came support from Eidos-Montreal (Thief), industry vets Oxide Games, and successful game designer Chris Roberts (Star Citizen). null .
It’s a safe argument to make that DICE and Crytek power some of the most technically advanced video games out there between Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3. But Crytek’s Cryengine is also licensed out to more than 35 studios at last count, encompassing more than 50 games. How widely adopted Mantle becomes following this partnership is just speculation, but it’s a bright spot for a technology still in its infancy.
That’s where I picked up the conversation with AMD’s Matt Skynner, who opens the dialogue preaching a message of open collaboration as opposed to competitor Nvidia.
Open Source Versus The “Black Box”
“We have our AMD Gaming Evolved program, and we make code like TressFX available to developers, so they get the source code,” Skynner explains. “It gives them the power in their hands to create experiences. Our competition has more of a ‘black box’ method of doing that. We think that open exchange between ourselves and ISVs [independent software vendors] helps us all learn and adapt and expand what we can do.”
“Another example is the variable refresh technology [G-Sync] that’s been announced. We have a different approach [that] doesn’t require proprietary hardware. It’s free of charge essentially.”
By the way, Free-Sync is a technology AMD isn’t quite ready to debut publicly, but they’ve promised to give me a closer look and explain the technology in depth over the next few weeks.
Mantle’s “Beacon of Leadership”
Skynner continues by explaining the appeal of Mantle to developers:
“We polled developers, asked them what they were looking for. They were asking for something like Mantle. That drove the inspiration for what we did with Mantle. null . At GDC now you’re seeing a lot of talk about low-level APIs, you’re seeing hardware vendors on board, you’re seeing other APIs looking at doing similar things. It’s important for us to help lead the industry, and we think that with Mantle that’s something we think we’ve done.”
Mantle has been in the public eye for less than 6 months, but key developers have had working knowledge for much longer. I asked Skynner how the overall reception has been, and his answer was straightforward: “I think you’re seeing it. null As general manager for AMD’s graphics I’m pretty damn happy!”
Chris Hook, who heads up communications for AMD’s enthusiast and component channel, offers another reason the company is thrilled about Mantle. “It’s an enthusiast technology, but it’s relevant at all pricepoints. People in emerging markets who have less dollars to spend suddenly get a massive performance increase. It enables people who haven’t had the hardware to play games before to play them at a level where they’ll get a satisfying experience. It’s relevant at the high end, at the low end, in developing markets, and in high growth and emerging markets.”
The logic here is sound, although it relies on more widespread adoption. If you can build a machine for a lower cost and save money on the CPU or GPU the benefit is obvious.
Does Cryengine On Linux Mean Mantle On Linux?
A few days ago Crytek announced their intentions to bring Cryengine support to Linux, and now they’re adopting Mantle. I wanted to connect the dots and assume this would be great news for SteamOS, but fans of Valve’s free operating system shouldn’t get too excited just yet:
“Those developments are unrelated,” Chris Hook answers. “But right now we’re doing a feasibility study to determine how and when to bring Mantle to Linux. Regardless of the trajectory, you can see our efforts to support it. AMD cards got added to the main SteamOS build this January, and we’re making a load of contributions to the Linux kernels to improve power management, performance, features, all that good stuff. We take the SteamOS movement very seriously.”
GDC And Beyond
Cevat Yerli, Founder, CEO & President of Crytek, will make the partnership official at 2pm PST today at the annual Game Developer’s Conference. Yerli and AMD believe this will allow Cryengine licensees to “ready their development studios for a future increasingly focused on the ‘closer-to-the-metal’ vision that AMD has pioneered.” The developer is also hosting numerous sessions at GDC demonstrating Cryengine on Linux, game system design, and next-gen development.
Meanwhile, AMD will be busy demonstrating the advantages of Mantle as well as playing host to a couple more announcements, so stay tuned for the scoop.