NVIDIA Under Attack Again for GameWorks in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 17, 2015 - 12:04 PM |
Tagged: The Witcher 3, nvidia, hairworks, gameworks, amd

I feel like every few months I get to write more stories focusing on the exact same subject. It's almost as if nothing in the enthusiast market is happening and thus the cycle continues, taking all of us with it on a wild ride of arguments and valuable debates. Late last week I started hearing from some of my Twitter followers that there were concerns surrounding the upcoming release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Then I found a link to this news post over at Overclock3d.net that put some of the information in perspective.

Essentially, The Witcher 3 uses parts of NVIDIA's GameWorks development tools and APIs, software written by NVIDIA to help game developers take advantage of new technologies and to quickly and easily implement them into games. The problem of course is that GameWorks is written and developed by NVIDIA. That means that optimizations for AMD Radeon hardware are difficult or impossible, depending on who you want to believe. Clearly it doesn't benefit NVIDIA to optimize its software for AMD GPUs financially, though many in the community would like NVIDIA to give a better effort - for the good of said community.

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Specifically in regards to The Witcher 3, the game implements NVIDIA HairWorks technology to add realism on many of the creatures of the game world. (Actually, the game includes HairWorks, HBAO+, PhysX,  Destruction and Clothing but our current discussion focuses on HairWorks.) All of the marketing and video surrounding The Witcher 3 has been awesome and the realistic animal fur simulation has definitely been a part of it. However, it appears that AMD Radeon GPU users are concerned that performance with HairWorks enabled will suffer.

An example of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with HairWorks

One of the game's developers has been quoted as such:

Many of you have asked us if AMD Radeon GPUs would be able to run NVIDIA’s HairWorks technology – the answer is yes! However, unsatisfactory performance may be experienced as the code of this feature cannot be optimized for AMD products. Radeon users are encouraged to disable NVIDIA HairWorks if the performance is below expectations.

There are at least several interpretations of this statement floating around the web. First, and most enflaming, is that NVIDIA is not allowing CD Project Red to optimize it by not offering source code. Another is that CD Project is choosing to not optimize for AMD hardware due to time considerations. The last is that it simply isn't possible to optimize it because of hardware limitations of HairWorks.

I went to NVIDIA with these complaints about HairWorks and Brian Burke gave me this response:

We are not asking game developers do anything unethical.
 
GameWorks improves the visual quality of games running on GeForce for our customers.  It does not impair performance on competing hardware.
 
Demanding source code access to all our cool technology is an attempt to deflect their performance issues. Giving away your IP, your source code, is uncommon for anyone in the industry, including middleware providers and game developers. Most of the time we optimize games based on binary builds, not source code.
 
GameWorks licenses follow standard industry practice.  GameWorks source code is provided to developers that request it under license, but they can’t redistribute our source code to anyone who does not have a license. 
 
The bottom line is AMD’s tessellation performance is not very good and there is not a lot NVIDIA can/should do about it. Using DX11 tessellation has sound technical reasoning behind it, it helps to keep the GPU memory footprint small so multiple characters can use hair and fur at the same time.
 
I believe it is a resource issue. NVIDIA spent a lot of artist and engineering resources to help make Witcher 3 better. I would assume that AMD could have done the same thing because our agreements with developers don’t prevent them from working with other IHVs. (See also, Project Cars)
 
I think gamers want better hair, better fur, better lighting, better shadows and better effects in their games. GameWorks gives them that.  

Interesting comments for sure. The essential take away from this is that HairWorks depends heavily on tessellation performance and we have known since the GTX 680 was released that NVIDIA's architecture performs better than AMD's GCN for tessellation - often by a significant amount. NVIDIA developed its middleware to utilize the strength of its own GPU technology and while it's clear that some disagree, not to negatively impact AMD. Did NVIDIA know that would be the case when it was developing the software? Of course it did. Should it have done something to help AMD GPUs more gracefully fall back? Maybe.

Next, I asked Burke directly if claims that NVIDIA was preventing AMD or the game developer from optimizing HairWorks for other GPUs and platforms were true? I was told that both AMD and CD Project had the ability to tune the game, but in different ways. The developer could change the tessellation density based on the specific GPU detected (lower for a Radeon GPU with less tessellation capability, for example) but that would require dedicated engineering from either CD Project or AMD to do. AMD, without access to the source code, should be able to make changes in the driver at the binary level, similar to how most other driver optimizations are built. Burke states that in these instances NVIDIA often sends engineers to work with game developers and that AMD "could have done the same had it chosen to."  And again, NVIDIA reiterated that in no way do its agreements with game developers prohibit optimization for AMD GPUs.

It would also be possible for AMD to have pushed for the implementation of TressFX in addition to HairWorks; a similar scenario played out in Grand Theft Auto V where several vendor-specific technologies were included from both NVIDIA and AMD, customized through in-game settings. 

NVIDIA has never been accused of being altruistic; it doesn't often create things and then share it with open arms to the rest of the hardware community. But it has to be understood that game developers know this as well - they are not oblivious. CD Project knew that HairWorks performance on AMD would be poor but decided to implement the technology into The Witcher 3 anyway. They were willing to sacrifice performance penalties for some users to improve the experience of others. You can argue that is not the best choice, but at the very least The Witcher 3 will let you disable the HairWorks feature completely, removing it from the performance debate all together.

In a perfect world for consumers, NVIDIA and AMD would walk hand-in-hand through the fields and develop hardware and software in tandem, making sure all users get the best possible experience with all games. But that style of work is only helpful (from a business perspective) for the organization attempting to gain market share, not the one with the lead. NVIDIA doesn't have to do it and chooses to not. If you don't want to support that style, vote with your wallet.

Another similar controversy surrounded the recent release of Project Cars. AMD GPU performance was significantly lower than comparable NVIDIA GPUs, even though this game does not implement any GameWorks technologies. In that case, the game's developer directly blamed AMD's drivers, saying that it was a lack of reaching out from AMD that caused the issues. AMD has since recanted its stance that the performance delta was "deliberate" and says a pending driver update will address gamers performance issues.

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All arguing aside, this game looks amazing. Can we all agree on that?

The only conclusion I can come to from all of this is that if you don't like what NVIDIA is doing, that's your right - and you aren't necessarily wrong. There will be plenty of readers that see the comments made by NVIDIA above and continue to believe that they are being at best disingenuous and at worst, are straight up lying. As I mentioned above in my own comments NVIDIA is still a for-profit company that is responsible to shareholders for profit and growth. And in today's world that sometimes means working against other companies than with them, resulting in impressive new technologies for its customers and push back from competitor's customers. It's not fun, but that's how it works today.

Fans of AMD will point to G-Sync, GameWorks, CUDA, PhysX, FCAT and even SLI as indications of NVIDIA's negative impact on open PC gaming. I would argue that more users would look at that list and see improvements to PC gaming, progress that helps make gaming on a computer so much better than gaming on a console. The truth likely rests somewhere in the middle; there will always be those individuals that immediately side with one company or the other. But it's the much larger group in the middle, that shows no corporate allegiance and instead just wants to have as much fun as possible with gaming, that will impact NVIDIA and AMD the most.

So, since I know it will happen anyway, use the comments page below to vent your opinion. But, for the benefit of us all, try to keep it civil!

FarCry 4, NVIDIA Gameworks and hair products for beasts

Subject: General Tech | November 6, 2014 - 02:47 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, far cry 4, ubisoft, gameworks, txaa, hbao+

Check out the video for a look at the various in game enhancements that NVIDIA's new feaures will be bringing to FarCry 4 and gaze in awe at that gorgeous yak featured at 1:37, just look at its hair waving in the breeze and reacting to the motions of the animal.  It is not clear if AMD's TressFX will provide equivalent body and shine to the beasts that HairWorks does but you have to admit that is an impressive amount of work to make meat on the hoof look pretty.  There are two different technologies to improve the look of shadows, Percentage Closer Soft Shadows (PCSS, aka ShadowWorks) softens the edges of shadows based on the distance between the object creating the shadow and the surface the shadow appears on while Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO+) is a new and efficient way to render ambient lighting and shadows accurately without paying for it with a big hit in performance.  Temporal anti-aliasing, TXAA is reputed to offer the benefits of MSAA 8x at the performance cost of 4x; while it is hard to judge the accuracy of that in the video you can certainly see it is an effective way of removing jaggies from straight edges.  You can also expect to see God Rays rendered properly, the shot of the sun through the tree near the end makes a rather nice set peice to display that effect.

Below you can see the recommended hardware, it is worth emphasizing that only 64bit OSes need apply on the PC.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif - November 6, 2014 - Ubisoft announces today a new technology PC gaming development partnership with NVIDIA that will bring players closer to their games than ever before.

Thanks to the power of NVIDIA GeForce GTX technology, including the just-released GTX 980 and 970 GPUs, this holiday’s long-awaited FPS, Far Cry 4 will look even more beautiful. By integrating NVIDIA’s GameWorks technologies, such as HBAO+ for realistic shadows, TXAA for cinema quality smoothness, as well as enhanced 4K support, Ubisoft is delivering cutting-edge content that allow PC players to become fully immersed in their gaming environments. In addition, Far Cry 4 also integrates NVIDIA Godrays technology so gamers can feel the sun beating down in the Himalayas, and NVIDIA HairWorks, for rendering the realistic, but deadly adversaries that will be encountered in the game.

Ubisoft also reveals Far Cry 4 PC system requirements:

  • Supported 64-Bit OS: Windows 7 (SP1) x64 / Windows 8 x64 / Windows 8.1 x64 ·
  • Processor: 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5-750 or 3.2 GHz AMD Phenom II X4 955 (2.5 GHz Intel Core i5-2400S or 4.0 GHz AMD FX-8350 or better recommended)
  • RAM: 4 GB (8 GB or greater recommended)
  • Video Card: 1 GB DirectX 11–compliant with Shader Model 5.0 or higher
    • Supported Video Cards at Time of Release: AMD Radeon HD 5850 / 6000 / 7000 / R7 / R9 series
    • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 / 500 / 600 / 700 / TITAN series \
  • Sound Card: DirectX-compatible (5.1 surround sound recommended)
  • DVD-ROM Drive: Dual-layer Hard Drive Space: 30 GB
  • Peripherals Supported: Windows-compatible keyboard, mouse, optional controller (Xbox 360 Controller for Windows recommended)
  • Multiplayer: 256 kbps or faster broadband connection ·
  • Note: This product supports 64-bit operating systems only.

Laptop versions of these cards may work, but are not officially supported. For the most up-to-date minimum requirement listings, please visit the FAQ on our support website at support.ubi.com.

If you are wondering whether or not your PC can run Far Cry 4 smoothly at the highest settings, please run the NVIDIA GPU ANALYZER which detects your graphics hardware and compares it to the developer's recommended GPU specification for Far Cry 4. It's a quick and easy way to see if your graphics hardware will provide you with an optimal experience in Far Cry 4.

With Far Cry 4 players will experience the most expansive and immersive Far Cry ever, in an entirely new, massive open-world. Players will find themselves in Kyrat, a breathtaking, perilous and wild region of the Himalayas struggling under the regime of a despotic self-appointed king. Using a vast array of weapons, vehicles and animals, players will write their own story across an exotic open-world landscape. Developed by Ubisoft Montréal in collaboration with other Ubisoft studios, Far Cry 4 will be available worldwide on November 18 for PlayStation4 and PlayStation3 computer entertainment system, Xbox One, Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft and Windows PC.

Source: NVIDIA

Podcast #306 - Budget PC Shootout, the Coolermaster Elite 110, AMD GameWorks competitor

Subject: General Tech | June 26, 2014 - 02:36 PM |
Tagged: xeon, video, seiki, podcast, nvidia, msi, Intel, HDMI 2.0, gt70 2pe, gt70, gameworks, FX-9590, displayport 1.3, coolermaster, amd, 4k

PC Perspective Podcast #306 - 06/26/2014

Join us this week as we discuss our Budget PC Shootout, the Coolermaster Elite 110, an AMD GameWorks competitor and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Allyn Maleventano

Program length: 1:19:12

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

 

 

AMD and NVIDIA get into a hairy argument

Subject: General Tech | May 29, 2014 - 07:43 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, gameworks, dirty pool, business as usual, amd

The topic on NVIDIA Gameworks was discussed at great length on last night's PCPer Podcast and from the live comments as well as the comments on Ryan's original story this is obviously a topic which draws strong opinions.  As it is always best to limit yourself to debating topics of which you are familiar with the facts The Tech Report's article on the aftereffects of the Forbes story is well worth a read.  Cyril had a chance to speak with a rep from NVIDIA's driver development team about Hallock's comments pertaining to NVIDIA's Gameworks and the legitimacy of AMD's complaints.  As you might expect there is a lot of denial and finger pointing from both sides; what long time enthusiasts might describe as 'business as usual'.  Both sides of this argument have vehemently denied ever attempting to undermine each others business but yet both sides can point to specific instances in which the competition has used questionable methods to get a leg (or hair) up on the competition.  

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"Earlier today, I spoke with Cem Cebenoyan, Director of Engineering for Developer Technology at Nvidia, who offered a rebuttal to a Forbes story we covered yesterday. In that story, AMD's Robert Hallock alleged that Nvidia's GameWorks program prevents AMD from working with game developers on GPU optimizations."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Podcast #302 - ASUS PB287Q 4K Monitor, NVIDIA and AMD's fight over GameWorks, Haswell-E Leaks and more!

Subject: General Tech | May 29, 2014 - 02:51 PM |
Tagged: video, podcast, asus, 4k, pb287q, nvidia, amd, gameworks, ubisoft, watch dogs, crucial, mx100, tegra k1, gsync

PC Perspective Podcast #302 - 05/29/2014

Join us this week as we discuss the ASUS PB287Q 4K Monitor, NVIDIA and AMD's fight over GameWorks, Haswell-E Leaks and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Allyn Maleventano

Program length: 1:29:01
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
    1. Allyn: For Josh - the Wenger Giant Knife
  4. Closing/outro

 

Author:
Manufacturer: Various

The AMD Argument

Earlier this week, a story was posted in a Forbes.com blog that dove into the idea of NVIDIA GameWorks and how it was doing a disservice not just on the latest Ubisoft title Watch_Dogs but on PC gamers in general. Using quotes from AMD directly, the author claims that NVIDIA is actively engaging in methods to prevent game developers from optimizing games for AMD graphics hardware. This is an incredibly bold statement and one that I hope AMD is not making lightly. Here is a quote from the story:

Gameworks represents a clear and present threat to gamers 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.

The example cited on the Forbes story is the recently released Watch_Dogs title, which appears to show favoritism towards NVIDIA GPUs with performance of the GTX 770 ($369) coming close the performance of a Radeon R9 290X ($549).

It's evident that Watch Dogs is optimized for Nvidia hardware but it's staggering just how un-optimized it is on AMD hardware.

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Watch_Dogs is the latest GameWorks title released this week.

I decided to get in touch with AMD directly to see exactly what stance the company was attempting to take with these kinds of claims. No surprise, AMD was just as forward with me as they appeared to be in the Forbes story originally.

The AMD Stance

Central to AMD’s latest annoyance with the competition is the NVIDIA GameWorks program. First unveiled last October during a press event in Montreal, GameWorks combines several NVIDIA built engine functions into libraries that can be utilized and accessed by game developers to build advanced features into games. NVIDIA’s website claims that GameWorks is “easy to integrate into games” while also including tutorials and tools to help quickly generate content with the software set. Included in the GameWorks suite are tools like VisualFX which offers rendering solutions like HBAO+, TXAA, Depth of Field, FaceWorks, HairWorks and more. Physics tools include the obvious like PhysX while also adding clothing, destruction, particles and more.

Continue reading our editorial on the verbal battle between AMD and NVIDIA about the GameWorks program!!