updated 10:59 pm EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Use of Gameworks tools said to put AMD at a disadvantage, Nvidia refutes claim
With the release of Watch Dogs on PC this week, a number of complaints have arisen over the state of the game when played on AMD hardware. In a pair of articles from Jason Evangelho of Forbes, AMD brings to light some of the underlining problems caused by companies like Ubisoft using Nvidia's Gameworks tools during development. Nvidia dismissed the claims, trying to poke holes in AMD's statements of blocking them out of driver optimization.
AMD's Robert Hallock said that Nvidia's program puts users of other hardware at a distinct disadvantage because of how it ends up crippling AMD hardware. Hallock claimed that developers using Gameworks are left unable to take suggestions from the company, leaving game level optimization lost for a large number of consumers. This sort of blockade works against AMD's open-source development stance.
"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," said Hallock. "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."
Often AMD is left with little time with the games, in this case Watch Dogs, before they are released. Even though some fixes can be done post-release, AMD is unable to contribute to the optimization of code ahead of time. The problem has the potential of spreading further with Unreal Engine 4 having direct integration of Gameworks.
To get the other side of the story Evangelho followed up with Nvidia's Director of Engineering, Developer Technology Cem Cebenoyan. Cebenoyan laid out numerous reasons why the information from AMD's Hallock doesn't stand up. He confirmed that Gameworks was "tightly integrated" into Unreal Engine 4, but argues that Nvidia has long had that sort of relationship with Epic.
Working with a game developer starts early on in the development of a project, and often continues far into the process for Nvidia. As for if involvement in the Gameworks program is set to hinder other manufacturers, Cebenoyan says that isn't the case. He says that Nvidia hasn't restricted anyone from getting access under any agreement terms. Developers are free to do as they choose with their source code.
Instead, Nvidia looks to build on the experience for all PC gamers, not just those with Geforce branded hardware. The idea that a company would need to see the source code to a game for optimization, as AMD states, simply isn't true according to Cebenoyan. Driver optimization with the source code isn't something Nvidia sees as necessary to the process.
"Thousands of games get released, but we don't need to look at that source code," said Cebenoyan. "Most developers don't give you the source code. You don't need source code of the game itself to do optimization for those games. AMD's been saying for awhile that without access to the source code it's impossible to optimize. That's crazy."
Cebenoyan was asked by Evangelho if there was anything built into Gameworks that would decrease AMD hardware performance. "No, never," he answered.
Not to leave AMD unscathed, it was pointed out that Nvidia is also left trying to optimize games that may have made prior arrangements with the competition. Even though Nvidia ends up having to pull something together in a short period of time in some instances, Cebenoyan reiterated that Nvidia doesn't have any part in restricting access to builds.
The battle between the two major graphics companies in PC gaming isn't likely to end soon, but the reports shed some light on the perceived development of game titles. It's common to see games labeled with optimization for either AMD or Nvidia hardware, but the extent of the deals behind this sort of branding is often lost to consumers. It's interesting that no mention of either the Playstation 4 or Xbox One was mentioned as part of a development problem since both machines utilize AMD GPUs.