ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Friday, May 01, 2015

New Square Enix Tech Demo Shows Off Power of DirectX 12

At Microsoft's BUILD 2015 conference this week, Square Enix vicariously made a brief appearance to show off a bit of what their Luminous Engine can do when taking advantage of the power of Microsoft's newest version of their popular graphics API, DirectX 12. For a bit of history, in the past we saw Luminous Engine running on DirectX 11-level technology in 2012's 'Agni's Philosophy' tech demo, and more recently we've seen a rough build of the engine running on home consoles in the form of Final Fantasy XV, Episode Duscae. But a lot has changed since 2012, and we knew going in that Episode Duscae would be based on an already-outdated version of the engine.

This new demo again revisits the star of Agni's Philosophy, and appears to be the first in potentially a series of similarly-themed tech demos. While officially it is simply titled 'Real-time Art & Tech Demo', Square Enix did also include a second title card dubbing the demo 'WITCH: Chapter 0 [cry]'. It's an apt enough title for the scene, which bears a surprising amount of narrative weight despite being a demo with no actual story or context. It even ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but of course, none of that is what we're intended to be paying attention to. What's on display here is the visuals, plain and simple, and while it may not be as long a demo as Agni's Philosophy, it succeeds every bit as much at being impressive today as its original counterpart was three years ago. Warning: if you're susceptible to the uncanny valley effect, you might want to skip out on the clip below.

As shown in the clip above, unlike the demo of three years ago, this presentation was primarily focused on demonstrating high levels of visual detail operating in real-time, so it's clear that what we're looking at isn't a pre-rendered video that just happens to be generated by a game engine. Instead, we're seeing DirectX 12 handle roughly 63 million polygons overlaid with 8K resolution textures and as many as 50 shaders to a single element--simultaneously. For comparison, higher-end PC games of last generation only managed more like 5 million polygons to a scene, with textures almost never exceeding 2K resolution and more often sticking closer to 0.5K. This leap in numbers is attributed to two key factors: first, and what is really on display at BUILD 2015, is DirectX 12's low-level implementation, allowing developers to utilize every last ounce of horsepower available on modern hardware. Second is that the above demo is running on a state-of-the-art water-cooled PC packed with four NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 GPUs and most likely an Intel Core i7 CPU backed by oodles of RAM.

In other words, don't expect your average home PC to come anywhere close to being able to pump out this level of detail anytime soon, nevermind your Xbox One or PS4. At the same time, DirectX 12 is planned for Microsoft's latest console, at which point developers will be able to more effectively utilize that hardware and bring it up to par with the PS4, freeing game designers to make more graphically-intensive games than have generally been possible so far this generation.

We may not exactly see Agni's Philosophy running on consoles, but the good news is we'll at least be able to see something like it as graphics technology continues to evolve. DirectX 12 marks a big step forward for visual fidelity in games, and as those benefits trickle down over time, gamers will certainly reap the benefits in time.