In a blog post, Microsoft announced (opens in new tab) the launch of the public SDK (software development kit), and that from today, Windows games can ship with DirectStorage. However, note that developers will of course have to build this technology into their respective games – so don’t expect that to happen for some time yet for the majority of devs.
DirectStorage allows “developers to more fully utilize the speed of the latest storage devices”, specifically NVMe SSDs and making the most of the huge bandwidth available with those drives, in terms of not just getting faster load times, but making an open world game run more smoothly.
The caveats are that DirectStorage requires the right hardware for the best results – an NVMe drive (and contemporary GPU) – and the game must be coded to support the tech. Furthermore, Microsoft recommends Windows 11 for optimal results with DirectStorage as it sports the “latest storage optimizations built-in and is our recommended path for gaming”.
Remember that Windows 10 will work with DirectStorage, because it’s still fully compatible; but Windows 11 is set to further enhance the tech. In a similar vein, you may see some performance benefits from the tech with drives other than an NVMe SSD (including hard disks), but DirectStorage is really designed around NVMe.
Analysis: This really could be a game-changer on PC
The techie side of how all this works is pretty convoluted – see this second Microsoft blog post (opens in new tab) for more details if you’re up for them – but the basic gist is that DirectStorage changes the way I/O (input/output) operations work to better facilitate the huge bandwidth NVMe offers, while more efficiently handling compressed game assets (with a direct hook-up to the GPU).
What will all that mean in practical terms? Not only will PC gamers see loading times which are much snappier, but in-game benefits will also be noticeable. The latter boons include loading in assets faster, and an overall more smooth and seamless experience, with less jarring instances of things suddenly popping into view as you wander around a game world. Plus performance gains will allow devs to be able to make use of more detailed textures as well.
As Microsoft puts it: “Developers are given an extremely efficient way to submit/handle many orders of magnitude more IO requests than ever before ultimately minimizing the time you wait to get in game, and bringing you larger, more detailed virtual worlds that load in as fast as your game character can move through it.”
As we already mentioned, though, DirectStorage officially arriving for Windows games is one thing, but the actual titles will need to be programmed with the tech in mind. All Microsoft says on that score is to “stay tuned to learn about games that will be shipping with DirectStorage in the future”, without elaborating on what those games might be.
Obviously it’s a good bet that first-party titles from Microsoft studios and Xbox ports are going to make use of DirectStorage down the line at some point, but the first game which will showcase the tech’s benefits is Forspoken, coming towards the end of the year (in theory October, after the targeted May release date slipped).
We’ll see Forspoken at GDC (Game Developers Conference) 2022, complete with details on how DirectStorage will benefit the game, plus Microsoft is planning an ‘introduction to DirectStorage’ session at the conference on March 22. During that, we may learn more about what other games might get support for the feature.
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