With Windows 8.1, we are going to see a number of improvements, not only in Windows, but also in Direct3D, the API (application programming interface) that drives the graphics of most AAA PC games. Of course, there are a number of invisible changes like performance and stability, but some of them have the potential to change PC and Xbox gaming in a significant way. Most of the new features have been presented to developers before during the Microsoft BUILD conferences, but they are about to be released to the public.
The Direct3D Tiled Resources is one of the most interesting updates to Direct3D. At a high-level, it is the equivalent of paginated memory, and its purpose is to make it easier for developers to use a pool of resources (textures) larger than the memory available on the graphics card (1GB to 3GB). It’s not uncommon for games to have many Gigabytes of textures.
Today, titles like Battlefield manage streaming resources in and out from disk themselves, and they do it rather well, but not every developer has the time and money to invest in building a complex streaming manager. Most of the time, some kind of game-design hack will be cheaper and faster to add. Tiled Resources may change this and you may get to enjoy a lot more details in a lot more games.
Microsoft is also improving developer tools which are always critical to finding issues with graphics applications that use complex shaders (GPU programs that compute lighting & colors) and lots of resources (the alternative to those tools is to output some data as pixels…). Most people won’t mind much about this, but the end game is to raise the overall quality of the games: the less time developers spend tracking and fixing issue, the more time they’ll have to improve their products.