To AMD's Ritche Corpus, Mantle's time had come.
Corpus is the director of software alliances and developer relations, which means he works with video game developers and publishers to help them develop on AMD hardware. He also serves as a bridge for new technologies that AMD develops.
For years, he'd heard a common desire from developers: They wanted a way to extract more performance from the multifaceted hardware for which they created games. They wanted something beyond DirectX, Microsoft's API for developing games across a hardware ecosystem that spans many manufacturers and technologies. They wanted something more specialized, something thinner. So AMD took it upon itself to create it.
The result was Mantle, an API designed to dazzle gamers with better-looking games while helping developers create those games more efficiently. And if Ritche Corpus is right, Mantle might also do more than make prettier games faster: It might help developers stay afloat in an often unsteady industry where one failed project could lead to insolvency.
In September 2013, just about two months before Microsoft and Sony would release their next-gen consoles, AMD unveiled the new technology. The Mantle API gives developers low-level access to the native language of AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture. In effect, it allows developers to write to the metal of AMD hardware. AMD believes that, by giving developers this kind of access, Mantle will make development easier. Devs can, for example, optimize their games over a wide range of hardware.
"The timing of the next-gen console release really made it easier for us to introduce this and justify that."
The announcement's timing wasn't accidental. Corpus told Polygon in a recent interview that several factors contributed to both Mantle's development and its public unveiling earlier this year. And not the least of these factors was that the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were on the horizon.
"There's always the challenge of, if we come up with something like this sooner than later, it might create problems, in terms of adoption," Corpus said. "I think what's helped, to be honest with you, is the timing of the next-gen console release really made it easier for us to introduce this and justify that. With the effort you put forth in developing Mantle on your game, there's going to be the other additional benefits that are not as obvious, where you start developing on the other platforms like next-gen consoles, the knowledge gained and the benefits of already working closer to the GCN architecture and closer to the metal is going to be realized."
Developers tend to be multiplatform by nature, and AMD wants to make it as easy as possible for developers to move their features across platforms. The benefits that Corpus referenced exist because AMD graphics processors sit at the heart of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony's newest consoles. The theory is that, because developers are creating games for AMD hardware both on the console and PC sides of the ecosystem, giving them a way to communicate more directly to the hardware will cut down on development costs and time.
Though Mantle hasn't received and official release yet, Corpus told Polygon that AMD is already working with developers while it creates the Mantle API. The first collaboration was with EA DICE for Battlefield 4.
"They were the first developer we worked with during our development of the Mantle SDK," he said. "It made sense based on a lot of things, such as timing with the state of Battlefield 4 for this coming holiday season. It made sense in terms of their schedule for development and our same schedule for SDK development."
AMD and EA DICE worked together to prove that Mantle could work with the Frostbite 3 game engine, and Corpus said that the collaboration and feedback from it informed the development of Mantle's SDK. Since its unveiling, AMD announced Mantle collaborations with other developers, including Oxide Games, which announced a 64-bit, multicore game engine called Nitrous designed for PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC.
"I don't think there's any hostility."
The idea of a cross-platform API panacea could be problematic, as Id Software co-founder John Carmack speculated in a series of tweets after AMD announced Mantle. Given the theoretical advantage that Mantle could give PC developers creating games for Valve's Steam Machines, thereby allowing the kind of hardware-level access that consoles have, Carmack theorized that Microsoft and Sony could wind up being "downright hostile" to the technology.
Corpus told us that since Mantle's public introduction he hasn't seen anything that would indicate a problem from Microsoft or Sony.
"From a personal point of view, I don't think there's any hostility," he said. "I think it's still business as usual. If there was an interest from their side to look at what we're doing or understand what Mantle's about, I'm sure we're more than willing to share that with them."
AMD plans to offer Mantle in a beta form early next year, when console and PC developers can start taking advantage of the new technology. Corpus and the company he works for hope that it will help both developers and gamers. Console or PC, it doesn't matter: Wherever they happen to be, AMD wants to be there, too.
"There's still going to be specific games or types of games that will drive people to play on certain platforms."
"There's always been a market for both," he said. "I personally own both a console and a PC, and there's certain gaming for me that I like to do on a console, that doesn't necessarily play well on the PC for me. But I think there's still going to be specific games or types of games that will drive people to play on certain platforms.
"The way I look at it is that [it's] the great benefit of games looking better and more realistic. People are going to play on the platforms they choose because of easy access to a variety of games. I think that the facet that most of these developers are at the very least are going to support all these consoles and PC as they've done in the previous years, I don't think it's going to change much as far as the mix between consoles and PC. I think that, at the end of the day, the game developers are going to be able to deliver a gaming experience that's going to be much improved over the previous generation and potentially look much better."
But there's one more aspect beyond graphics that Ritche Corpus hopes Mantle could do to help the industry. If all goes as planned, if it becomes easier to make games, Mantle could help developers remain financially viable.
"The biggest benefit will really be on the game development side," he said. "I think one of the bigger challenges is to try to develop games at the level that gamers want to see in a manner that there can still remain some profitability. I personally worry about game developers going out of business because of the fact that they've got to spend so much money on game development to develop those great-looking games. It's sad to see that, when they deliver these games, it does fairly well, but it doesn't cover the cost of development.
"That's the area that I see that is definitely going to be helpful with this, with Mantle."
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