Watch Dogs is available on both console and PC today, and the ‘normal’ thing to do with big releases is to update your graphics drivers as both AMD and Nvidia usually provide day one driver releases for big triple A titles to improve their performance. But that’s not the whole story – Watch Dogs is a Gameworks title, which an AMD rep, Robert Hallock has warned to be crippling the experience for non AMD owners and to be damaging to the PC eco system as a whole.
Watch Dogs isn’t the only title to employ gameworks, and with it better particle effects, lighting, textures and additional Anti-Aliasing models are made available – that is, assuming you’re an Nvidia owner. Nvidia works closely with the game developer to ensure that the effects look the best possible on their hardware, and to optimize the performance.
During an interview with Forbes Robert Hallock points out how he believes this isn’t good for AMD owners, and PC owners as a whole.
“Gameworks represents a clear and present threat to gamer’s by deliberately crippling performance on AMD products (40% of the market) to widen the margin in favor of NVIDIA products.
Participation in the Gameworks program often precludes the developer from accepting AMD suggestions that would improve performance directly in the game code—the most desirable form of optimization.”
This means according to Mr. Hallock if a game uses GameWorks, and AMD notice an issue with their cards, they’re unable to suggest fixes in many cases to the games producer. Further, the only thing left for AMD to do is to optimize their own drivers, as they have no say in the games optimization – which is obviously far from ideal.
This is further illustrated by Hallocks next statement, “The code obfuscation makes it difficult to perform our own after-the-fact driver optimizations, as the characteristics of the game are hidden behind many layers of circuitous and non-obvious routines.
“This change coincides with NVIDIA’s decision to remove all public Direct3D code samples from their site in favor of a ‘contact us for licensing’ page. AMD does not engage in, support, or condone such activities. Our work with game developers is founded concretely in open, sharable code, all of which we make available on our developer portal,” he went on.
“We believe that enabling a developer with obvious and editable code that can be massaged to benefit everyone not only helps AMD hardware, but makes it possible for all gamers to benefit from our partnerships with a developer. As TressFX Hair runs equally well on AMD and NVIDIA hardware, for example, you can see this is true.”
There have only been a few titles employing AMD’s TressFX, but it’s true – the code runs just as well on Nvidia cards as AMD generally. There were some issues however when Tomb Raider first came out, but later Nvidia drivers substantially improved the performance. Nvidia tend to closely guard their technology – their hardware Physx technology is yet another example of this. Despite the fact that I myself am currently an Nvidia owner, I don’t particularly like the fact that some gamers aren’t able to enjoy hardware Physx because Nvidia guard it so closely. Personally, I feel this is damaging to Nvidia’s own technology – it leads to less studios willing to use the technology as they are aware a large portion of the market simply cannot use it. Having said this, AMD does have Mantle – and while technology Nvidia could use it, it would be extremely difficult for them to do so. Nvidia therefore would champion their own help with DirectX 12 (which AMD also have had a hand in).
AMD have released their day one driver update for Watch Dogs (just as Nvidia have), but Robert Hallock concluded “I am uncertain if we will be able to achieve additional gains due to the unfortunate practices of the Gameworks program.”
But the story doesn’t quite end there – John McDonald has jumped into the defence of Nvidia, and has posted several tweets which are contrary to Mr. Hallock’s statements. “It is extremely frustrating to see an article criticizing work you did at a former employer and not being able to comment,” began John McDonald.
“And while I never did, and certainly do not now, speak for nvidia, let me say that in the six years I was in devtech I*never*, not a single time, asked a developer to deny title access to AMD or to remove things that were beneficial to AMD.”
It’s a very strange state of affairs, and while there is certainly some level of PR in all of this, there is also some truth. While it’s tempting to also point this this to be the “trouble with PC gaming” console gaming also is pretty similar (you’ve only got to look at day one exclusive content on consoles for example). Personally, I believe that the sharing of knowledge is obviously the better for the gaming industry, but then I can also understand trade secrets. I suppose we’ll have to see how this develops…