Much has been made over the advent of low-level graphics APIs over the last year, with APIs based on this concept having sprouted up on a number of platforms in a very short period of time. For game developers this has changed the API landscape dramatically in the last couple of years, and it’s no surprise that as a result API news has been centered on the annual Game Developers Conference. With the 2015 conference taking place this week, we’re going to hear a lot more about it in the run-up to the release of DirectX 12 and other APIs.

Kicking things off this week is AMD, who is going first with an update on Mantle, their in-house low-level API. The first announced of the low-level APIs and so far limited to AMD’s GCN’s architecture, there has been quite a bit of pondering over the future of the API in light of the more recent developments of DirectX 12 and glNext. AMD in turn is seeking to answer these questions first, before Microsoft and Khronos take the stage later this week for their own announcements.

In a news post on AMD’s gaming website, AMD has announced that due to the progress on DX12 and glNext, the company is changing direction on the API. The API will be sticking around, but AMD’s earlier plans have partially changed. As originally planned, AMD is transitioning Mantle application development from a closed beta to a (quasi) released product – via the release of a programming guide and API reference this month – however AMD’s broader plans to also release a Mantle SDK to allow full access, particularly allowing iit to be implemented on other hardware, has been shelved. In place of that AMD is refocusing Mantle on being a “graphics innovation platform” to develop new technologies.

As far as “Mantle 1.0” is concerned, AMD is acknowledging at this point that Mantle’s greatest benefits – reduced CPU usage due to low-level command buffer submission – is something that DX12 and glNext can do just as well, negating the need for Mantle in this context.  For AMD this is still something of a win because it has led to Microsoft and Khronos implementing the core ideas of Mantle in the first place, but it also means that Mantle would be relegated to a third wheel. As a result AMD is shifting focus, and advising developers looking to tap Mantle for its draw call benefits (and other features also found in DX12/glNext) to just use those forthcoming APIs instead.

Mantle’s new focus in turn is going to be a testbed for future graphics API development.  Along with releasing the specifications for “Mantle 1.0”, AMD will essentially keep the closed beta program open for the continued development of Mantle, building it in conjunction with a limited number of partners in a fashion similar to how Mantle has been developed so far.

Thie biggest change here is that any plans to make Mantle open have been put on hold for the moment with the cancelation of the Mantle SDK. With Mantle going back into development and made redundant by DX12/glNext, AMD has canned what was from the start the hardest to develop/least likely to occur API feature, keeping it proprietary (at least for now) for future development. Which is not to say that AMD has given up on their “open” ideals entirely though, as the company is promising to deliver more information on their long-term plans for the API on the 5th, including their future plans for openness.

Mantle Pipeline States

As for what happens from here, we will have to see what AMD announces later this week. AMD’s announcement is essentially in two parts: today’s disclosure on the status of Mantle, and a further announcement on the 5th. It’s quite likely that AMD already has their future Mantle features in mind, and will want to discuss those after the DX12 and glNext disclosures.

Finally, from a consumer perspective Mantle won’t be going anywhere. Mantle remains in AMD’s drivers and Mantle applications continue to work, and for that matter there are still more Mantle enabled games to come (pretty much anything Frostbite, for a start). How many more games beyond 2015 though – basically anything post-DX12 – remains to be seen, as developers capable of targeting Mantle will almost certainly want to target DX12 as well as soon as it’s ready.

Update 03/03: To add some further context to AMD's announcement, we have the announcement of Vulkan (aka glNext). In short Mantle is being used as a building block for Vulkan, making Vulkan a derivative of Mantle. So although Mantle proper goes back under wraps at AMD, "Mantle 1.0" continues on in an evolved form as Vulkan.

Source: AMD

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  • FlushedBubblyJock - Friday, March 27, 2015 - link

    Uhh, I believe DX12 was 2 years in dev before amd mantled up the failure, and the forever proprietary, after lying about it, for a long time.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - link

    AMD is completely dead to me.
  • Zak - Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - link

    Yes, I was wondering why this hasn't been done many years ago if the benefit is so huge?!?
  • CiccioB - Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - link

    Because you all here speak as if DX12 are miraculously getting more performance at zero cost.
    Low level means more performance at development costs. What the API does not provide as a high level functionality, programmer must do on their own using simpler "bricks".

    It's like none of you knew that through Assembly you can achieve much more speed than using C++ layered functions calls. But I guess none of you ever tried to build in asm anything more than a simple algorithm to be embedded in a usual C/C++ library. Creating something large in asm is out of question. That's why at some point high level languages have been created. And why some of them have also evolved into providing OOP. A much inefficient way of programming under the point of view of performances, but has the immense advantage to simplify and reuse things a lot.
  • Alexvrb - Monday, March 2, 2015 - link

    I'm glad they pushed Khronos and MS to release low-level APIs. It benefits everyone in the long run. In the meantime they have helped and continue to help out their own products in some big titles.
  • Klimax - Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - link

    Only problem, they didn't. DX12 was long before Mantle in development.
  • HighTech4US - Monday, March 2, 2015 - link

    What a joke to keep calling Mantle OPEN.

    It was NEVER OPEN to any company except AMD and with these changes it will NEVER BE OPEN.

    A more realistic analysis (instead of this AMD apologetic piece) is here:
  • gruffi - Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - link

    Mantle IS OPEN. People obviously deny the fact that Vulkan IS MANTLE. The difference is, AMD don't need to make Mantle an industry standard anymore because Vulkan is just that. Now Khronos can maintain this standard which saves AMD a lot of resources. Resources they can spend on newer Mantle versions with new features and innovations. AMD achieved their goals. They established low-level graphics APIs. And Mantle is the reason for it.
  • Senti - Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - link

    Why still call it "glNext"? It's been confirmed that name of the new API is Vulkan.
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - link

    The AMD announcement came before the Vulkan announcement, and we were under NDA on Vulkan.

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