Microsoft's plan to get cutting-edge DX12 features out to gamers faster

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Microsoft wants more developers to utilise DirectX 12 (DX12) to the fullest. Developers want to be able to use DX12 without forcing players to upgrade Windows to the latest version. The plan: offer a new DirectX 12 Agility SDK (Software Development Kit) as a way to speed up the DirectX development process and get the latest DX12 Ultimate features in games and in the hands of players, pronto.

As Microsoft program manager Jacques van Rhyn says in a blog post introducing the SDK: "what’s good for developers is good for gamers." Speeding up the adoption and rollout of the latest features in DX12 will certainly be a net gain for all involved.

That's what the Agility SDK hopes to achieve. Whereas Microsoft would previously release new features for its widely-used graphics API, such as those included with the DirectX 12 Ultimate (DX12 U) update, actually getting developers to implement these features has been trickier. Developers don't want to leave players in the dust, and some players won't have the necessary Windows updates or hardware to run a game with the latest API upgrades.

At least on the Windows front, the Agility SDK will help speed up the process. The SDK itself is compatible with systems on the Windows November 2019 Update and later. That's important as the DX12 U feature set was introduced and rolled out in the later May 2020 Update.

The same goes for the new Shader Model 6.6. This brand new feature announced this week is set to roll out with "the next Windows 10 OS", likely the Spring Update or major update later this year. Developers don't have to twiddle their thumbs until then, however. Thanks to the Agility SDK it's possible for developers to compile shaders using the new model right away.

“Our collaboration with Microsoft on the DirectX 12 Agility SDK enables us to easily implement forward-looking Unreal Engine features, and the new distribution model makes them quickly available to our developer and player communities," Nick Penwarden, VP of engineering, Epic Games, says.

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When Microsoft has a new API update or feature to release, it should be as simple as posting an Agility SDK update.

We'll have to wait a little longer to find out whether the Agility SDK really changes things for DX12 development. It's certainly felt like slow going for DX12 so far. No doubt the necessity for the latest graphics cards with support for the DX12 U API, and the lack of said cards available to purchase, doesn't help one bit.

If the SDK can help edge support closer to the mainstream, and help developers pick up cutting-edge features without sacrificing a heap of players in the process, I'm certainly open to the idea. 

What do we want? More games making the most of mesh shaders and variable rate shading! When do we want it? Within a time frame that's reasonable for developers to do so!

Jacob Ridley
Senior Hardware Editor

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, and would later go on to win command of the kit cupboard as hardware editor. Since then he's joined PC Gamer's top team as senior hardware editor, where he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industry. He also enjoys making short videos for TikTok and believes everyone reading this should go follow our account immediately.