Johan Andersson, the man behind DICE's Frostbite game engine, spoke today at the APU13 conference in San Jose. After getting into the nitty-gritty details of AMD's Mantle API (more on that as soon as I wrap my head around it), Andersson shared an update about the upcoming Mantle version of Battlefield 4. He also brought up other Frostbite games that will support the API, and he shared his own wish list for Mantle's future.
The Mantle version of Battlefield 4 is on track to be released as an update in late December. Andersson said creating a Mantle version of the Frostbite 3 engine took about two months of work. The Mantle release's core renderer is closer to the PlayStation 4 version than to the existing DirectX 11 one, and it includes both CPU and GPU optimizations. Andersson didn't bring up performance estimates, but other developers who discussed Mantle at APU13 did. Jurjen Katsman of Nixxes, the firm porting Thief to the PC, mentioned a reduction in API overhead from 40% with DirectX 11 to around 8% with Mantle. He added that it's "not unrealistic that you'd get 20% additional GPU performance" with Mantle.
Andersson also revealed another Frostbite 3 game that should have Mantle support "out of the box": Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. But it's not the only one. A whopping 15 other Frostbite 3-powered games currently in development will support Mantle. Based on the slide above, it looks like the Mirror's Edge prequel and Dragon Age: Inquisition will support Mantle, as will future Mass Effect, and Need For Speed, and Star Wars games. That's in addition to titles from other studios, such as Thief and Star Citizen.
Right now, Mantle only supports GCN-based Radeon GPUs in Windows. Andersson acknowledged that shortcoming, but he was very vocal about his desire for broader support for the API.
For starters, Andersson would like to see Mantle on Linux and OS X. It's "significantly easier" to build an efficient renderer with Mantle than with OpenGL, he explained, and coupling Mantle with Valve's SteamOS in particular would make for a "powerful combination." He also sees potential for Mantle on mobile devices—including those from Google and Apple—on which the API would purportedly allow games to "fully utilize the hardware."
But the "pink elephant in the room," as he called it, is multi-vendor support. Andersson made it clear that, while it only supports GCN-based GPUs right now, Mantle provides enough abstraction to support other hardware—i.e. future AMD GPUs and competing offerings. In fact, Andersson said that most Mantle functionality can work on most modern GPUs out today. I presume he meant Nvidia ones, though Nvidia's name wasn't explicitly mentioned. In any event, he repeated multiple times that he'd like to see Mantle become a cross-vendor API supported on "all modern GPUs."
I've gleaned more details about Mantle, and I'll share those with you guys when I'm not scurrying between keynotes and meeting rooms. The sense I get from the developers AMD invited to APU13, though, is that Mantle yields considerable benefits in terms of development flexibility and performance, and it's worth implementing even in its current, vendor-locked state. Andersson wasn't the only developer to express a desire for multi-vendor support.
There's no telling yet whether Mantle will ever become a cross-vendor, cross-platform standard, or whether the future holds something different, such as a competing Nvidia API or a future version of DirectX with some of the same perks. One thing is clear, though: Mantle looks set to shake up the industry in a very real way.
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