GPUOpen initiative gives devs the keys to AMD's graphics black boxes

A couple weeks ago at AMD's Radeon Technologies Group Tech Summit, Nick Thibieroz, senior manager of ISV engineering for the division, told us about what the company perceives as major problems for developers on the PC these days. He argued that limited access to the GPU and proprietary code wrapped up in black boxes (a thinly-veiled reference to Nvidia's GameWorks middleware) are causing headaches for developers who want to extract the most performance possible from the underlying hardware. He also feels that proprietary resources stifle information-sharing and collaboration among developers, a situation that ultimately harms graphics innovation in games.

AMD wants to counter this notion of the black box and cultivate more information-sharing by open-sourcing large portions of its software and tools. This initiative, called GPUOpen, will offer game developers full source code access to effects like TressFX, tools like the CodeXL static analyzer, and the LiquidVR and Firerays SDKs when it goes live in January 2016. What's more, AMD will make these resources available under the permissive MIT License, meaning that GPUOpen resources can be examined, modified, reused, and resold without restriction.

AMD says GPUOpen resources will get a dedicated portal with links to open-source content hosted on GitHub. The company also plans to offer blog posts related to its resources and the graphics development community. The company was adamant that those posts will be written by developers, not marketing personnel.

As an example of what developers can do with GPUOpen resources, AMD brought Jean-Normand Bucci, director of Labs R&D for Eidos Montreal, on stage to talk about his team's work with TressFX. The team wanted to extend TressFX for its work on the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and because TressFX is now a GPUOpen resource, the Labs R&D team was able to improve that code for its internal use.

The notion of "AMD games" and "Nvidia games" that include proprietary resources from those companies (to the perceived or actual detriment of the competitor's hardware) has been a major bone of contention among PC gamers over the past couple years. GPUOpen could be seen as a de-escalation in that battle, in that the community will have the opportunity to dig into AMD's development resources and tools without restriction. This move could also be risky in that it gives competitors a detailed peek into the workings of AMD's formerly proprietary tech. We'll have to see what devs can do with the keys to the kingdom.

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