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Gameworks, Mantle and a pot calling a kettle black

AMD’s hysteria over Gameworks in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is first rank hypocrisy. Both Gameworks and Mantle are bad for consumers because they impede cross-compatibility.

Watch Dogs Aiden Pearce

This past week Nvidia and AMD have been at each other’s throats in the posts on Forbes over allegations that Nvidia’s Gameworks library is hindering the performance of Ubisoft’s new game Watch Dogs on AMD hardware.

AMD fired the first salvo on Monday in a piece by Jason Evangelho. Speaking to Evangelho, AMD’s Robert Hallock, one of the company’s technology evangelists for Radeon, called Gameworks a “clear and present threat to gamers” because it “deliberately [cripples] performance on AMD products to widen the margin in favor of Nvidia.”

Hallock further alleged — but did not provide definite proof — that participation in Gameworks bars developers from sharing their code with other hardware makers to optimize their drivers for the game.

“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,” he said.

Hallock used TressFX as an example of AMD taking the moral high ground with code. The hair optimization library runs equally well on both Nvidia and AMD hardware, which benefits all he said.

Nvidia was quick to fire back and rebut Hallock’s claims.

Cem Cebenoyan, Nvidia’s Director of Engineering in its Developer Technology unit, downplayed some of AMD’s claims and outright denied others.

Cebenoyan said that while Nvidia will assist developers with certain parts of the game, namely optimizing effects and particle simulation, working with Nvidia does not preclude a developer from working with another company. Cebenoyan outright denied Hallock’s claim that developers will legally restricted from giving Nvidia’s GPU rivals access to the source code of Gameworks-optimized titles.

“I’ve heard that before from AMD and it’s a little mysterious to me. We don’t and we never have restricted anyone from getting access as part of our agreements,” he said.  “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.”

Direct X and OpenGL exist for a reason

Both AMD and Nvidia are known for their hyperbole and spin, so while Hallock and Cebenoyan both have legitimate points and grievances, the real truth lies somewhere down the middle.

But for every sin AMD accuses Nvidia of, AMD is almost as guilty of themselves to a certain extent. Take, for instance, Mantle. AMD’s proprietary API allows developers low-level access to AMD’s GCN silicon for a “console-like” (this has proven to mean a number of things during Mantle’s life thus far) development experience. Giving developers this intimate access means that developers could write more efficient code reducing the CPU overhead and providing a better gameplay experience for the end user. The few Mantle-optimized titles that have been released to date have shown performance bumps primarily on AMD APUs.

While nobody is accusing AMD of using Nvidia-like tactics and withholding code, effectively with Mantle AMD is taking a different approach to the optimization question. AMD is equally trying to galvanize the gaming industry into different camps, but is playing the offensive and painting this as a David and Goliath narrative with Nvidia.

A fair question to ask, is why exactly are Nvidia and AMD trying to create these vendor-specific silos? As a follow-up, why are developers playing along? After all, as demonstrated at the Game Developer Conference earlier this year, DirectX is set to close the low-level access access gap with Mantle and offer developers the same opportunities. The same can be sade for the new version of OpenGL.

The reason why game developers participate in Nvidia and AMD’s vendor-specific silos is for the monetary incentives. The video game industry lives off monetary incentives and corporate welfare. Declaring an allegiance to either the “Way its meant to be played” or “Gaming Evolved” camp and implementing the respective API unlocks development funds for the developer and commits that specific vendor to bulk buy serial keys for the specific game (e.g AMD’s Never Settle Forever bundles). Money talks, so what’s a dev to do?

Gameworks and Mantle are both understandable attempts for Nvidia and AMD to boost their respective market share by claiming that the top titles of the year will run the best on their hardware. But in the end this is a throwback to the dark, pre-API days. Direct X and OpenGL were created to ensure that programmers didn’t have the herculean task of programming their game to work on each specific piece of hardware (but back then the video card market was more crowded). A performance overhead hit would certainly occur, but this was a fair tradeoff for widespread compatibility. Nvidia and AMD are trying to undo this with their respective silos.

Nvidia and Ubisoft both ignored requests for comment on this story.

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