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Let's Play: Getting the most out of the PC Gaming Platform

Roger_Chandler
Employee
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Let's Play: Getting the most out of the PC Gaming Platform 

 

Working with Intel can help you develop great games, deliver new experiences, and grow your player base in a tremendous expanding market. More than 10,000 PC games release per year and each comes with its own set of challenges. PC games must support hundreds of different platform configurations, while meeting increasing user expectations for world class visuals, gameplay, storytelling, smooth performance, and stability. 

Intel wants to help you make great gamesWe have an excellent suite of performance optimization toolsexciting new Intel® Arc™ GPUs, and powerful Alder Lake CPUs coming soonas well as tools to help you leverage AI and machine learning to advance 4K resolution gaming 

Our work with leading API and engine developers helps you optimize for Intel hardwareWe also want to help you reach more users with our new Intel® GameDev Boost program. Whether you’re an indie developer or a major game studio, Intel is your partner to help make great games and deliver exceptional gaming across the globe.  

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We have made great strides in improving the baseline gaming experience, transforming integrated graphics into a legitimate gaming platform. In the span of 2 years we quadrupled the performance of Intel® Iris® integrated graphics delivering high-definition gaming experiences to hundreds of millions of gamers. Intel® Iris® X
e Graphics found in 11th Gen Intel® Core™ processors —aka Tiger Lake—and soon 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors, or Alder Lake, will pack plenty of performance with great features for mainstream gamers.   

Get Ready for Alchemist 

At this point, our ambitions for discrete graphics aren’t a secret. We revealed the Intel® Arc™ graphics brand a few months ago as a prologue to our graphics story. While we’re putting the finishing touches to the codename Alchemist line of products, we’re ready to share some additional details about our first complete discrete GPU family arriving early next year.  

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Delivering a smooth gaming experience and enthusiast-class visuals and performance requires a solid foundation of hardware and software. New to the Intel Arc GPUs is a full set of graphics acceleration hardware, engineered and optimized for DirectX* 12 Ultimate, and the latest iteration of Vulkan*.  

We treat both rasterization and ray tracing with the utmost importance within the Alchemist architecture. We believe that both rasterization and ray tracing are fundamental parts of the future of gaming.   

Rasterization is key for many real-time 3D workloads, including gaming. It’s constantly evolving with increased visual fidelity, and better performance efficiency, thanks to a succession of new optimizations. 

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A good example is X
eGTAO, which is our state-of-the-art, open-source, screen space ambient and specular occlusion technique. XeGTAO approximates direct and indirect shadows when full shadow computation is impractical, providing fast performance grounded in physical correctness.  

Ground-truth based ambient occlusion or GTAO is an advanced form of screen-space ambient occlusion. It originates from this paper: Practical Realtime Strategies for Accurate Indirect Occlusion, GTAO [Jimenez et al., 2016]. 

XeGTAO code is compatible with a broad range of hardware, but we’ve optimized it for Intel Xe graphics, which can use temporal denoising for further improvements. However, whether you’re using integrated or discrete graphics, XeGTAO can supercharge rasterization-based graphics to deliver excellent visuals.  


Ray Tracing Is Progressing 

While GTAO is a more correct ambient occlusion equation, it’s still an approximation. Real-time ray tracing is progressing quickly and can push image quality even further. It’s an exciting time to innovate with graphics and we’re excited about these new capabilities. Alchemist is equipped with a set of powerful ray-tracing units designed to deliver true-to-life lighting and visual fidelity.  

We have a long history with ray tracing. Our Intel® oneAPI Toolkit includes the Intel® Embree kernel library, recently recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the Scientific and Technical Achievement Academy award for its contribution to innovation in the movie making process.  The knowledge gained from building this industry-leading technology has helped us design a complete set of dedicated, fixed function, ray-tracing acceleration hardware. 

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Our X
e ray tracing hardware can run concurrently with other graphics resources and includes support for key features such as the following:   

  • high performance BVH traversals 
  • ray-box and ray-primitive intersections 
  • all types of culling 
  • ray transforms for instancing 
  • traversal shaders

Ray-tracing workloads can be costly and that trends towards more pixels and more complex pixels. Display pixel density is increasing with each generation—1440p, 4K, 5K, and 8K—and so is the demand for more performance—30, 60, 120 FPS and more. We’ve reached a point where it doesn’t make sense to take the brute-force route and render all pixels equally.  

We can achieve a greater balance of performance and resolution by using GPU resources more efficiently. XeSS, our high-quality AI-based upscaling technology, enables the GPU to work smarter, not harder, and deliver the visual fidelity of 4K without the performance cost—all unbeknownst to the gamer.  

The first game developers are on board and you can see XeSS in action in Hitman* 3. It delivers the quality and detail of 4K resolution with performance that’s comparable to 1080p. This intelligent, high-quality upscaling solution is how we’ll take gaming to exponentially higher pixel densities, while maintaining the high frame-rate experience PC gamers crave. You can check out the Hitman 3 XeSS demos in the Gaming Tech Insight I presented at Intel Innovation.
 

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We truly believe in open software, which drives innovation within the software community. Our X
eSS technology offers compatibility with a broad range of hardware, including graphics products from other companies.  

Offering a very high-quality open-source solution is core to our engineering effort for XeSS. The XeSS SDK is available now for select developers. For early access consideration, we invite you to post your game proposal to the XeSS Early Access Review Group on Intel DevMesh.  

Tell us how XeSS can add value to your game. As we keep working on releasing XeSS publicly, we’ll select the best projects to join our beta program.  

Intel Tools—Right for the Job 

Extracting every ounce of performance from Intel Xe graphics requires the right set of tools. We offer a complete suite of tools engineered to help you maximize performance, and determine CPU and GPU bottlenecks. Intel® Graphics Performance Analyzers, or Intel® GPA, is a set of profiling tools that help game developers find and classify bottlenecks. You can see where to spend time and resources to get the highest frame-rate and increased quality.   

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Specifically, Intel GPA’s Graphics Trace Analyzer allows visualizations of the workloads on each CPU core, GPU, and UMD Driver queue. You can also see any gaps in CPU or GPU usage. Visual cues identify which call from the CPU invoked a packet in the UMD driver queue, and if there was a delay in getting that packet to the GPU for execution. 
 

After this big-picture view, use GPA’s Graphics Frame Analyzer to see per-frame information for each draw call, each resource, and each data set, pinpointing stall rate and thread occupancy. The tool provides shader profiling, hotspot, and multiframe analysis. All of this helps you bring smooth 1080p gaming to 11th Gen Tiger Lake platforms as well as future Xe graphics platforms from Intel.  

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Intel® VTune™ Profiler 
delivers further analysis opportunities to optimize a game’s CPU utilization at every level. It shows which functions consume the most CPU time and locates bottlenecks in memory and storage access. Intel VTune uses a rich instrumentation API to highlight critical in-game tasks and frames. It can now integrate with Unity* and Unreal* engines. In addition to a detailed multithread analysis, VTune can show which threads and functions run on individual cores, laying the groundwork for hybrid-CPU awareness in games. 

Hybrid Cores are the Future 

Speaking of hybrid cores, we’re very excited about our 12th Gen Intel Core Processor, code-named Alder Lake, and the new era of performance it ushers in. For the first time, personal computer CPUs will include hybrid cores—a combination of “Performance” cores and “Efficient” cores. That mix will allow developers to take advantage of high-performance and power-efficient multicore CPUs for modern workloads, including computer games. 

We work closely with our partners to ensure games run best on Intel platforms. By making games hybrid-aware developers can leverage our new E-cores for background tasks, such as AI acceleration, character animation, and more. Thus, the P-cores, with their unmatched single threaded performance, are available for the most demanding tasks.

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You will achieve greater results by making your game hybrid
-aware. However, rest assured that without hybrid awareness in your game, our new Intel Thread Director still works its magic to ensure optimal gaming performance. Intel Thread Director technology intelligently monitors and analyzes workloads, delivering the right job to the right core, making it all work when and where gamers need it most.  

We understand that every game is unique, so we’re sharing a 12th Gen Core developer guide on our developer site to help you ensure your game is hybrid-aware to maximize performance.  

New Toolkits, New Opportunities 

OpenVINO™ is another great tool that fully leverages Intel hardware capabilities. The AI toolkit makes it easy to optimize, tune, and run comprehensive AI inference workloads across a broad range of Intel platforms and architectures. There are many opportunities to take advantage of AI capabilities in gaming and they can go beyond the pursuit of visual fidelity.  

Intel’s OpenVINO™ toolkit simplifies the process by helping target the right accelerators on the CPU, GPU, or both simultaneously. This brings the power of AI and machine learning to game developers with ease. It leverages DP4a instructions in our latest integrated GPUs and it is ready to take advantage of  the new XMX AI acceleration in our upcoming Intel Arc graphics product family too.  

Using OpenVINO game developers can implement what we call generative adversarial networks or GANs-based style transfer to stylize entire scenes or devs may focus on specific objects and characters in a scene for extra artistic flexibility.  

OpenVINO also unlocks the potential of in-game object detection for developers. Imagine enhancing your games to provide AI-assisted target identification or providing mods that intelligently augment the game experience, based on player preferences and learnings. 

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We’re also excited to partner with game developer asset creators Procedural Worlds, which allows us to combine the power of AI inferencing with their well-established (and developer-friendly) Gaia interface for Unity*. Gaia enables the creation of richly textured game-worlds in mere minutes—worlds that feature complex and photo-realistic terrains, lush vegetation, and lifelike environmental systems. Extending Xe graphics AI power into their next generation Meta Worlds platform promises to elevate game-world creation capabilities to a scale previously unimaginable. 

These AI enabled capabilities are only the beginning. Later this year, Intel’s Unity AI Gamedev Toolkit plug-in will bring all these capabilities as a standard Unity package, installable into the Unity Editor. We plan to support the Unreal* Engine in 2022 and to add more AI-enabled capabilities to the toolkit throughout the course of next year.  

Advancing Industry Standards 

We aren’t alone in our efforts to improve the PC gaming experience. Strong working relationships are key to setting industry standards. Microsoft’s DirectX* software, combined with our hardware, sparks innovation for the industry and lays the groundwork for amazing gaming experiences. 

Next-gen games rely on outstanding engines to drive the industry forward—specifically, the Unity and Unreal engines. Both are instrumental in making game development more accessible to millions and both are industry-leading tools with a long history of optimizations for the PC platform.  

Our engineers work closely with Epic* Games and Unity to ensure these game engines run optimally on Intel hardware. Unreal Engine added the Intel® Implicit SPMD Program Compiler (Intel® ISPC) to ensure all current and future Chaos physics systems to use every ounce of processing power available. 

Get a Boost 

When it comes time to launch your game and grow your player base you need to stand out from the crowd of thousands of other games and connect with customers around the world. Intel is here to help you. 

The Intel® GameDev Boost program helps you to optimize your game for Intel products and promote it to millions of users around the world. This program works with all developers, from indies to the largest game-studios in the industry, helping them promote their games and punch through in a busy marketplace. 

Tap into our ecosystem of hundreds of retailers and OEMs to take advantage of over one billion impressions every year. Work with us via our digital distribution platform that generates millions of game installs and social shout-outs per year for our developers. 

Whether they’re gamers, retailers, OEMs, or other partners, they are all hungry for new gaming experiences—and look to us for help. Members of the program qualify for these benefits, plus dedicated technical support, so you can ensure your game is running at its best on the PC platform.  

Sign Up Today 

We want to be an easy and open partner to work with. We’re unifying the experience for our developers and integrating multiple web destinations and software repositories into a new unified Intel® Developer Zone.

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The Intel® Developer Zone offers the community a focused Intel® GameDev Program.  All the tools, technology, and resources we talked about today are available there. Learn more about our latest hardware and access developer services. Download technical documentation (including the Alder Lake Gaming Developer Guide) and read more about our latest technology. Get access to tools, articles, code samples and more.  You can also checkout all the demos mentioned by watching the Gaming Tech Insight I presented at Intel Innovation.

We look forward to partnering with you to deliver great gaming experiences to hundreds of millions of PC gamers around the world.  Sign up for the Intel® GameDev Program and get end-to-end support for your game development needs. 

About the Author
Roger leads the team responsible for Intel's client discrete graphics business and Intel's global PC software developer relations program.