DirectX 12 Research

My research project during Winter Quarter 2021 was porting my Pascal Engine from OpenGL 4 to DirectX 12. I chose DirectX 12 as my target graphics API because it is the newest version available from Microsoft and it is becoming popular across the game development industry. DirectX 12 provides access to lower layers of the API than previous iterations of Direct3D and other APIs, but comes at the cost of additional complexity.

Here is a video overview of my research project. More in-depth information can be found further down this page.

* Video coming soon! *

The DirectX 12 Model

Before I talk about my implementation, I want to give a brief overview of DirectX 12’s rendering pipeline. I won’t mention every stage, just the stages that are important for a general understanding of what I will be working with in my graphics engine. I will also list each stage’s ability to read and write from GPU resources.

Stages of the Rendering Pipeline:

  • 1. Input Assembler (Read)
  • 2. Vertex Shader (Read)
  • 3. Rasterizer (Read)
  • 4. Pixel Shader (Read)
  • 5. Output Merger (Read and Write)

1. Input Assembler

To draw an object to the screen, information is required as to where and how an object should be drawn. The basic geometric data required for defining a graphical primitive are vertices and indices. DirectX 12 requires triangles and quads to define objects drawn to the screen, and a primitive topology must be defined to DirectX 12 so the GPU can properly interpret the data provided to it.

2. Vertex Shader

A graphics shader is defined in a HLSL (high level shader language). The file will be compiled into two parts: a vertex shader and a pixel shader. The Vertex Shader stage is when the code written in the vertex shader is run on the GPU. A vertex shader is essentially a function that takes a vertex, does a bunch of operations on it, and then outputs the new vertex. Any per-vertex work is done here, like transforming a model or applying some lighting effects.

3. Rasterizer

Frank Luna's "Intro to 3D Programming" book simply states that it’s job is to “compute pixel colors from the projected 3D triangles.” This is true, but the practical benefits are much more interesting. The rasterizer can interpolate vertex attributes between vertices, such as blending colors across a cube. It is also where backface culling computed. Backface culling is when any triangle of an object is facing away from the camera, these rear facing triangles are not rendered, which is faster than drawing them.

4. Pixel Shader

A pixel shader will take the aforementioned vertex shader’s output and use it as input. This output is then applied to any pixels that have not been eliminated by previous stages of the pipeline. This is also where effects that require per-pixel computation are done, like reflections and shadowing.

5. Output Merger

This is the last stage before the data computed so far is written to the back buffer to be displayed. Depth and stencil test are done here, eliminating even more unnecessary rendering, such as when an object is hidden behind another object.


DirectX 12 has different resources that allow the user to define what happens in this pipeline. A resource is essentially a chunk of memory that the CPU and GPU can access. Resources are described using descriptors, an indirection that tells the GPU what is in the resource so it can act accordingly. Much of the DirectX 12 code I have written handles resources and descriptions for the pipeline, root signatures, textures, constant buffers, and more.

Another important part of the DirectX12 model is the Command Queue, Command Allocators, and Command Lists. The Command Queue is important; it will be where all of the Command Lists are executed. Command Allocators are the memory where Command Lists live. It is recommended by Nvidia (Nvidia Developer Site) to use multiple Command Allocators and Command Lists when writing multi-threaded applications, and generating one allocator and list per frame buffer, multiplied by the number of threads, plus an extra set for bundles. All Command Lists, no matter what thread they live on, must make their way into the Command Queue at some point.

My Graphics Engine Implementation


My graphics engine is structured in a similar fashion to the Azul engine that we have been using at DePaul. My class for controlling much of the DirectX 12 code is called “DX_Framework”. A large chunk of DirectX 12 code used for starting up and shutting down the system lives here. This is also where my code for Win32 application operations also lives. I have plans to continue to work on abstracting the Win32 code out of this framework into it’s own class. I also have to mention that I opted for a Triple Frame Buffering system for my game loop. This allows me to write to other render frames before the current frame is done rendering. This has various effects on the setup I describe here, so it is important to keep in mind. Here is the order and descriptions of the steps I take to setup the DirectX 12 environment in engine. DirectX 12 Engine Initialization:

  • 1. Device Creation
  • 2. Command Queue Creation
  • 3. Swap Chain Description and Creation
  • 4. Render Target View Heap Creation
  • 5. Command Allocator and Command List Creation
  • 6. Create Fences
  • 7. Depth & Stencil Buffer View Creation
  • 8. Viewport and Scissor Rectangle Settings

1. Device Creation

This stage is simple. I poll the system to find a DirectX 12 compatible hardware GPU adapter and get a handle to it, which is known as a Device. The Device is used to get and set various things to and from the GPU adapter.

2. Command Queue Creation

This is where I create the Command Queue. There is nothing fancy here, because there is only one Command Queue for the whole application.

3. Swap Chain Description and Creation

This is where things start to get more complicated. The swap chain need to know how many frame buffers I plan on using so it can create them. An application needs at least two, but I have opted for three.

4. Render Target View Heap Creation

Render Target Views are used to bind resources to pipeline stages. Here I create a Render target View for each frame buffer created when I setup the Swap Chain.

5. Command Allocator and Command List Creation

This is where I create the Command Allocators and Command Lists I will be using in my engine. I am not generating any of my own threads, and I am not using bundles, so I only create an allocator and list for each frame buffer. This is how I can write to the next buffer while the previous buffer is still rendering to the screen!

6. Fence Creation

Even though I am not using multi-threading on the CPU side of the system, I still need to be able to coordinate my operations with the GPU. At a high level, this can be very similar to writing a standard multi-threaded program with two threads; synchronization methods must be used or bad things tend to happen. Fences are used to make sure that the CPU and GPU do not fall out of sync with each other.

7. Depth & Stencil Buffer View Creation

The Depth & Stencil Buffer View allows me to do things like determine which objects should be drawn when one is overlapping another. There is only one of these that needs to be generated.

8. Viewport and Scissor Rectangles

These are settings that tell DirectX 12 what parts of the application window to render to. These are set to the default values of the window’s width and height for my purposes.


I do not make calls to DX_Framework directly from my application. Engine is where I make calls to various DirectX12 objects. Engine is also in charge of the application’s life cycle. Engine asks for DirectX 12 to be initialized, then enters the game loop and polls Win32 for input and application window changes.


Game is where the magic happens. Game is divided into four cores sections:

  • 1. Load Content
  • 2. Update
  • 3. Draw
  • 4. Unload Content

1. Load Content

This is where as-needed DirectX 12 resources are created and initialized. It is also where user defined content such as managers are created and initialized.

2. Update

Update is where various parts of the system are updated before they are sent to the GPU for rendering. This is where objects like models and cameras are transformed and inputs are handled.

3. Draw

This is where DirectX 12 comes back into heavy involvement. The Draw call is wrapped in a set of checks for synchronization. At the beginning of Draw, I wait for any data from the previous frame to be sent to the GPU for rendering so I can start working with CPU side resources. It is important not to swap a texture or move a camera before the data can be sent over! When the wait is finished, I reset the Command Allocator and Command List for the frame buffer I am currently working with. I then set the Render Target View description and clear the current Render Target View. I then use this description to start creating the new Render Target View. Once everything is set, I can start adding commands to the current Command List. Once this is finished, I send the Command List to the Command Queue and send a signal to the GPU that the Queue is ready. I then tell the Swap Chain to Present, and head back over to Update to get ready for the next Draw call.

4. Unload Content

This is where user content and some DirectX 12 systems gets torn down. The parts of DirectX 12 that were handled by Engine and DX_Framework will be handled after this call.


This is where Resource Views and Heaps are created to send vertex and index data to the GPU. Models have a SetActive method that can be called to place Topology, Vertex, and Index buffer calls onto the Command List.


This is where the abstraction of a camera in the digital 3D space lives. There are no DirectX 12 calls made in the Camera class. However, Camera data needs to be sent to the GPU on a per-frame basis, so I will be mentioning them again when talking about Shaders.


In this context, I will be describing textures as image files to be mapped to the surface of models. Textures can be fairly complicated, but for the most part they contain a lot of code to interpret the file’s byte data and upload the data to the GPU. The good news is: once we load the Texture to the GPU, we can just reference it later using descriptors, we do not need to send it over and over again! Like Models, Textures also have a SetActive method that does this referencing.


Shaders contain very important information that is required for any object to be drawn to the screen. The three things that make Shaders important are shader file compilation, Root Signatures and Pipeline States. The Shaders I have written will load HLSL files and define the input layout for the input assembly stage to pass to the vertex shader. A Root Signature is a definition of what kinds of data a Pipeline State will use. For the most part, my Root Signatures describe Constant Buffer Views. These Constant Buffers are what I use to send model, camera, and light data to the vertex and pixel shader stages. The Pipeline State wraps up information about the shader and must be set so the GPU can be in the right state to interpret the data sen to it. Shaders also have a SetActive method that sets their Root Signature and Pipeline State active. It is expensive to switch Root Signatures so it’ s important to take time to define well thought out shaders.

Graphics Objects

This is where levels of abstraction on top of the DirectX 12 heavy objects begin. Graphics Objects contain references to a Model and Shader (and sometimes Textures) that they are in charge of updating and rendering. This is where all of the aforementioned SetActive calls are made to prepare the GPU for the data that follows. Once everything is set, data such as Constant Buffers can be sent over. Graphics Objects also contain a Draw method that is called during Game’s Draw call.

Game Objects

I included Game Objects because they are a higher level of abstraction for the Graphics Objects. I feel that this proves that all of the code contained by a Game Object is properly organized and concerns have been separated appropriately. These allow me to move objects around a 3D environment and keep all of my objects in a manager so they can be accessed and destroyed easily.