DirectX 12: tech demo peeks into the future

Square Enix DirectX 12 demo

Another version of DirectX, another demo from Square Enix for us to drool over. This time, the beautiful Luminous Engine has been updated to show off the brand new DirectX 12, Microsoft’s ubiquitous 3D realtime rendering technology. Unveiled at Microsoft’s BUILD2015 technology conference, the realtime rendered video shows off the amazing detail that can go into skin, hair and the wider environment.

You might remember, way back in 2012 (which might as well be a million years in graphics technology), Square Enix showed off another tech demo built with Luminous Studio that used the then-current DirectX 11 technology. Even back then, it looked impressive. Perhaps so much so people asked if it was even possible.

Let’s look at some facts:

  • The demo is running on quad-SLI Titan X graphics cards…
  • … and an eight-core Intel Haswell-E CPU
  • There are 63 million polygons running in the scene…
  • … with 8K x 8K textures.
  • Each strand of hair is rendered as its own polygon!

Realistic expectations

You have to keep in mind that this is a tech demo, made by a company that’s famous for its high quality 3D render work, for a company that’s pushing its technology hard to fight against some new competition. I guess I’m saying: “take this with a pinch of salt”. Quite often, tech demos don’t marry up to what’s possible during gameplay. Even the most beautiful modern games, modded into oblivion, would struggle to match up to even the 2012 demo.

But, that doesn’t mean DirectX 12 isn’t a huge deal for PC gamers. You can read a fairly technical breakdown of the new features in DX12 over on Ars Technica, but the gist of it is that CPU tech has gotten more efficient by using multi-threading, rather than raw horsepower, unlike graphics cards:

In his presentation, Gosalia highlighted the divergence in power increases between CPUs and GPUs in recent years. While GPU performance has shot up aggressively, CPUs have had to rely on multi-threading to achieve more modest performance gains. Developers and engine and driver makers have made use of this glut of relative GPU power by cranking up the resolution and increasing the quality of in-game models, but it has been more challenging to achieve gains in how much the GPU can render in a single frame, Gosalia said.

A lot of work has gone into making the new API provide better efficiency to enable coping with more on screen than DirectX 11, even on identical hardware. Also, DirectX 12 opens up access to low-level hardware abstraction, so instead of having extra code from the game developer translating what needs to be done on the card, Direct3D can do it directly, meaning less processing of superfluous instructions.

This is all amazing news, but it’s going to realistically be at least a couple of years before we really start to see benefits at a consumer level. It will take a while for developers to bring out games that really make use of the new technology, as well as hardware that’s affordable to the rest of us. Personally, I can’t wait to see what developers like Bohemia Interactive, Rockstar Games, CD Projekt RED and Crytek can do for PCs.

What do you think of the new DirectX 12 demo?


About Dan Morse

From the Atari 2600 right through to bleeding fast PCs, Dan's played on them all. One thing that's never changed is an unwavering passion for video games. Twitter: @happydan | Steam: happydan | GOG: happydan

  • The demo was insane. It was easy to think it was a pre-rendered cut scene, but when they started interacting with it and changing lighting, it was mind blowing. I doubt it’s coming to my Mac any time soon though.

    • There’s hopefully going to be AMD’s Mantle tech on OS X at some point, but even without that, OpenGL isn’t anything to be sniffed at. Though it will need an update at some point!