Microsoft has released its DirectStorage API for PC game developers. The technology debuted as part of the Xbox Velocity Architecture for the Xbox Series X and S in 2020.
The Redmond-based company had said it would be coming to Windows in the future. When Windows 11 was announced, Microsoft touted DirectStorage as one of its best features. But, it wasn’t available when the operating system debuted, because the API wasn’t stable, even though a preview had been released in July 2021.
The SDK for the runtime is finally here, so developers can make their games compatible with the new API. Microsoft will formally debut it next week, with a demo at GDC 2022.
What is DirectStorage, and why is it important?
DirectStorage is a Storage API for DirectX 12. In a nutshell, the technology can deliver faster loading times in games. It does so by making the graphics card do the heavy lifting for loading assets (GPU Decompression), which in turn reduces the burden on the CPU.
Most games, especially AAA titles, don’t load the game world instantly. Open world games like Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, take a long time to start, but it is sort of a one-time thing. Once the game’s world has been rendered, you can explore it freely without running into more loading screens. Other games, such as Pillars of Eternity, rely on area maps which are rendered per location. If you enter a building or a dungeon, or move to a different map, the game loads the area as needed. Naturally, this slows down the gameplay quite a bit.
DirectStorage could change this for the better, so we won’t have to stare at loading screens frequently, because games will switch between areas faster, render more complex worlds with NPCs, better animations, and richer visuals.
The good news is that it is not exclusive to Windows 11, the API is compatible with Windows 10 too. Microsoft says that DirectStorage will run better on Windows 11 due to storage stack optimizations in the new operating system, but that could be marketing jabber.
Here’s an official video that explains more about DirectStorage on Windows.
Image courtesy: Microsoft.
Does this mean games will run better on Windows 11?
Well, yes and no. There are some hardware limitations to DirectStorage, a PCIe 3.0 or 4.0 NVMe SSD and a graphics card that supports DirectX 12 with Shader Model 6.0 are required for using the optimizations. More specifically, you will need a GPU with DirextX 12 Ultimate, which pretty much means your computer needs to have either an Nvidia RTX 2000/3000 card or RDNA 2 like AMD Radeon RX 6000 or above.
The other requirement is on the software side, ie, games need to support DirectStorage. That’s easier said than done, developers need to code their game for it. Not a lot of older games were updated to support DirectX 12. It will take time for the technology to be adopted, so we can look forward to future games taking advantage of the optimizations. Forspoken will be the first game to support DirectStorage on Windows, but Square Enix has pushed the release of the game from May 25 to October 11. There is a possibility that another game that releases earlier could support the new technology before Forspoken.
Some users have been experimenting with DirectStorage on m.2 SATA SSDS, and though it seems to work normally, there doesn’t seem to be any viable proof that the performance is better with hardware that doesn’t meet the minimum system requirements.
Do you choose to run games on Vulkan or DirectX?