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Interview with ATI's Richard Huddy and Kevin Strange

June 30, 2004 / by nggalai / Page 2 of 3

Developer Relations 101

3DCenter: From where to where do developer relations reach? And do you have anything to do with the 'Get into the Game' program?

Richard: ATI get actively involved with every stage of development.

For programmers we're always ready to advise about current and future technology updates, we give performance optimization feedback, help with feature adoption, offer onsite co-development, provide them with access to priority bug reporting as well as providing some free and heavily discounted hardware for development. All of these services help developers when they are building or updating their engines for current and future games.

For Developer and Publisher QA and compatibility testing, before the games are released, we offer free and heavily discounted hardware, priority bug reporting and tracking and access to ATI's free compatibility lab for Alpha and Beta versions. After the games are released we test their games in our Quality Assurance lab with each ATI driver release to minimize future bugs, wet rack and fix bugs in our drivers, provide publishers with permission to include our latest drivers on their games CD.

ATI works with publishers on co-promotions to increase sales and brand awareness for both companies' products. We also create win-win collaborations with developers by promoting their use of hardware acceleration since this also helps us to demonstrate our own technology leadership.

The 'Get in the Game' program helps us ensure marketing and engineering opportunities for mainstream ATI products. We do this on many scales from the massive promotional activities like the Half life 2 bundle and promotion through to medium scale activities like the Halo LAN tournament sponsorship, all the way down to the smallest interactions like communicating to our AIB, SI and OEM customers which titles are optimized for the latest technology.

Importantly all of these things help ensure that ATI customers get the very best gaming experience possible.

3DCenter: In that respect, can you point out some of the differences you see between NVIDIA and ATI regarding company philosophy, teamwork, business ethics, processes, etc.?

Richard: The similarities are probably much as you'd expect, after all, both companies are competing in the same market, and these days they tend to handle many situations in the same kind of ways.

But the differences are pretty striking too. All the more so when you look deep inside.

ATI is the kind of company that NVIDIA always wanted to be. It's not just successful, but it is also technology led, inclusive, and is very honest, both with its customers and with its-self.

In every way I find it to be better than NVIDIA. I don't think many people were pleased to see the GeForce 2 effectively re-branded as the GeForce 4 MX, and the advent of Cg about two and a half years ago was a clear sign that NVIDIA was more interested in controlling the future of the graphics market than it was in giving gamers the best possible experience and value. More recently we've seen some questionable behavior from their drivers which resulted in a tremendous loss of public trust for them.

And, one single recent example serves to illustrate the difference in companies well: GDDR3 - the new type of memory which we're all putting on our high end graphics cards these days ...

ATI collaborated with the memory manufacturers to fully specify GDDR3, but at all times we allowed NVIDIA access to the specs and they were free to comment on it whenever they liked. In the end the final memory spec was approved without any company politics, and the standard was simply given away. That's the way ATI likes to work, we believe that open standards are the best way to move the industry forward, and we believe that our ability to compete in these areas of pure technology is a great company strength.

Kevin: From where I stand the differences are striking. ATI is primarily focusing on solving developer's technical problems while NVIDIA is focusing primarily on paying publishers for advertising space.

ATI is promoting industry standards like OpenGL and DirectX, these are things which solve developers' problems. Instead NVIDIA is promoting Cg and Cg tools trying to lock developers in, much as 3Dfx did with Glide.

3DCenter: What's your primary target group at developer relations? Game designers? Freelance coders? End users? Institutions and corporations?

Richard: Most of the people that we work with are in the games development business. But we also get a pretty varied bunch, and we don't generally try to exclude any groups from working with us. Along with the large numbers of professional games developers I also work with university researchers, some of the technical and marketing folks in the Digital Content Creation business, students, freelance game designers and programmers and even some members of the press.

Kevin: Our team is particularly proactive with established developers, especially when their games are already signed to large publishers since these games tend to sell more and thus our work tends to be of more benefit to more ATI customers.

You'd be surprised at the number of games in development that never find a publisher, that go out of business before they are completed or get signed to a small publisher who disappoints the developer with low sales. However you never know when a new upcoming developer will have a hit, I remember supporting Crytek 4 years ago when they were only 6 people working on an unheard of demo. Obviously our support increased as their team grew and they signed their game to Ubisoft. Look at them now! Far Cry has been on top of the PC charts in many countries and they have an excellent engine that they are licensing to other developers. You never know where a small developer will be in 2 years' time and because of this ATI have additional resources in Canada dedicated to supporting smaller and non-established developers to ensure that all games run well on ATI hardware.

3DCenter: Do you frequently get requests from people who are obviously complete idiots, and shouldn't be using a pencil unattended, let alone a computer? ;-)

Richard: It's actually very rare to get a technical request from a complete duffer. But it's fair to say that there's a great deal of variation in skill levels from the smartest people in the industry who can be utterly dazzling at times, to the more recent recruits who have not yet picked up some of the fundamentals. And, maybe predictably, that rich variety in experience can be part of the fun. It's good to go over the fundamentals sometimes to refresh myself on how many different layers of complexity lie inside game coding these days, and it's also great to come across some of the awesome new inventive ideas which people are using to devise new uses for graphics cards.

3DCenter: What does a typical project look like for you at developer relations?

Kevin: Late in May we went to Berlin on a Monday to run a technical day at the Games Academy, educating future developers on DirectX 9 and shader development.

On Tuesday we were at Croteam in Croatia discussing what 3D effects and shaders Croteam were planning on using, specifically discussing what methods suited their style of game and how best to drive our hardware with the assets their artists were creating. This was very much a 2 way discussion where the developer also has lots of questions and suggestions of enhancements to our drivers and hardware which we feed back into ATI.

On Wednesday we visited a relatively new developer called 'Provox' who are in the early stages of a new game. We offered some advice on best practices as well as suggesting some techniques for shadows and uses for pixel shaders to enhance their visual quality, then we then met up with some developers and journalists in Zagreb for Lunch before heading back to the UK.

That kind of a schedule is pretty typical, and of course we're constantly providing support to developers and publishers via email and phone whilst on the road.

Recently we have been closely involved with Lionhead on Black and White 2 (along with their other titles) to implement the latest technologies to help them bring their artistic vision to game players using ATI hardware, and Lionhead demonstrated this work at E3 on our stand.

Also, a member of our group recently spent a week onsite at DICE in Sweden helping to optimize the demo of Battlefield 2 in time for E3. We will be working closely with them on performance and features right the way through to release.

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