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nVidia´s TWIMTBP Program: An Interview

October 8, 2004 / by aths / Page 1 of 1

3DCenter: Please introduce yourself and tell us about your job at nVidia.

I'm Darryl Still, I run the developer relations group for NVIDIA in Europe and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa - Ed.). My responsibilities really are to give European developers the help they need to maximize the potential of their titles graphically, so that NVIDIA users can get the best experience from those titles.

3DCenter: The "The Way It's Meant To Be Played" logo can be found on many a game box. From time to time, voices are raised claiming the sticker is nothing but paid advertising space. Does nVidia really have to pay for placing the logo, quite apart from developers support?

Darryl Still: Let me be very clear. This could not be further from the truth, and you only have to see whose voices it is being raised to see how very transparent those claims are. Not one dollar will change hands between either side in an agreement on a title for that title to be included in the "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" program.

"The Way its Meant to be Played" is a program that spans the entire lifecycle of a piece of software. We engage with the developers as early as possible to guide and aide them through the process of optimisation and compatibility of their code, this consultation continues right until the code masters (and beyond into patches). We have an entire test lab dedicated to giving them a full in depth QA (Quality Assurance - Ed.) report on every build they submit to us. We can also aid them to find the right publisher for their title if necessary.

Once the product is proven to work well and to work reliably on NVIDIA hardware, we then offer the publisher the opportunity to put the "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" logo on their box and materials. In return for doing this they can then take advantage of a whole range of promotional opportunities we run, which tell consumers that this title is one they should safely consider for purchase and play on their NVIDIA graphics based PC. These promotions include inclusion on our NZone website. In our retail Kiosk, in our quarterley "The Way" supplement which appears in almost 1 million publications, in our retail endcaps, which place "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" titles right up next to the hardware in store, so hardware and software purchases can be made at the same time etc etc.

The logo, in effect, is the same as the Playstation2 logo on a PS2 game, it says to the consumer "this game works on your NVIDIA based PC" and this would not stand up without the hard work that has happened with the development studio at the back end. The proof of success is that retailers order more copies of titles that carry the logo, because a) they sell more and b) they get less returns. This can only be good for the PC gaming industry going forwards at a time when Compatibility is the biggest battle we have to fight against both consoles and integrated graphics.

3DCenter: Can you name the last 10 titles of your "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" programme?

Darryl Still: The "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" program consists of many more than just 10 titles. Right now 156 titles have the official seal on them and many more titles were improved through the close work of our developer technician team with the game developers. As you want to know the last ten titles, here you go: Panzers Phase One, Soeldner: Secret Wars, DTM Race Driver 2, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Battlefield Vietnam, Port Royale 2, Trackmania, Hitman: Contacts, Splinter Cell: Pandorra Tomorrow, Far Cry.

3DCenter: What is developer support for "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" partners like? More specifically: How many titles, on average, will one nVidia's developers support employee be working on?

Darryl Still: This varies greatly. Often based on how much optimisation a developer is prepared to put into their title. Often titles will have multiple support engineers across a range of skills contributing, sometimes a title will have one engineer solely focussed on that title. We have a big enough team and a flexible enough skillset in that team to be able to adapt to whatever the best strategy may be for a particular title or the developers preference. Our people can be on the end of a phone or modem 24/7 or actually based in the studio itself if required or beneficial.

The key thing is that we have the biggest game support team in the industry and that if any specific issues is beyond an engineer assigned to that title, he will have over 100 other engineers in the team, to whom he can throw out the question, and assuredly receive the answer right back. The main thing is that no developer is too small to warrant our attention and none is too big to benefit from it.

3DCenter: Series 6 supports many new features apart from Shader Model 3.0. Game developers have to cater for the common base, though. Considering the long time it usually takes until a new feature is saturating the market enough to be implemented widely, much more powerful hardware will be available in time for the first batch of "real SM 3.0 games." It's quite logical that the "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" programme is interested in persuading developers to use further features than DX8 / DX9 SM 2.0 support. But as far as we know, SM 3.0 is only used for performance reasons right now, and no gamer will miss out on graphics simply because their GPU does not yet support SM 3.0.

Darryl Still: The PC platform drives the industry forwards. Whilst consoles have a technology leap every 5 years, PC's are moving perpetually upwards and in truth it is that upwards motion that drives the next generation of consoles. Therefore it is vitally important for the future of the PC as a gaming platform that we drive gaming content onwards and upwards to remain ahead of the next generation of consoles that are coming in the next 2 years. And that we do this at the mass market end of gaming aswell as to the performance sector.

Shader Model 3 offers a large performance improvement through the line. So a user with a lower performing set up will be able to play a title featuring SM3.0 faster than they previously would have done. In some cases, allowing them to get to play titles that would have just run too slow for their system previously. This is only going to be possible because NVIDIA offer full DX9 throughout their product line, not just at the high performance end.

3DCenter: Although nVidia supports many games with their "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" programme, some of those games run just as fast (or even faster) on competitors' hardware at better quality, too. Example: graphics quality in Far Cry clearly has been the worse for GeForceFX than its Canadian counterpart since the release of patch 1.1. If one enables similar quality, performance will drop tremendously below its direct competitor's. There are other TWIMTBP games which were released prior to GeForce 6800 which don't run as nicely on GeForceFX as on Radeon VGA. Our readers thus are uncertain about the true meaning of the TWIMTBP logo on their favorite games' boxes.

Darryl Still: Competiton is one of the things that is helping to ensure that the quality of games constantly improves. We welcome it and every time we come second in a benchmark, we work doubly hard to improve our performance next time. However it is extremely damaging to the PC gaming industry to focus solely on speed over compatibility. It would be easy for us to bypass Direct X guidelines to gain extra speed benefits, but that would also risk causing stability issues and crash bugs and we would prefer to stay within the guidelines and give our users a solid, compatible performance that runs reliably and gives them and extremely fast performance, without blue screens and constant referencing to driver updates or backdates.

We strive to give our users the best performance, and the 6800 series will offer that in almost every case, but we will not compromise reliability. That is the true meaning of "The Way Its Meant To Be Played". Performance AND reliability. No compromise.

3DCenter: Games such as Age of Mythology and Beyond Divinity also are listed by nVidia. Those games are fairly old-fashioned, technically, and should run with all effects and good performance on older hardware. With titles such as these, one would expect that almost every graphics hardware out there will play the game "the way it's meant to be played." What's the motivation behind including such comparitively undemanding titles in the programme?

Darryl Still: Because the titles are thoroughly tested and reliable, the user can be sure that they will work and give good performance throughout our range of hardware. Sure, certain titles may not fully test the entire capabilities of our latest boards, but once a title is proven, it stays listed, however far technology has moved on since. Its a symbol of quality at the time of release.

3DCenter: The logo only mentions "nVidia" (with no specific hardware recommendations or the like) and is often found on boxes for VGA such as GeForceFX 5200 which, even with a 128 bits interface, is hardly able to cope with modern games in such a way the developer will be happy with the final result. Hence, many internet forums feature discussions about how putting the logo on those boxes is nothing but a deliberate attempt by nVidia to befuddle the minds of its potential customers.

Darryl Still: The logo has to work in tandom with the minimum specifications that are printed on the box besides it. There has to be some common sense involved. Just as no-one would expect to buy a 3 year old game and see the code perform just aswell as this weeks release, because it is running on a new graphics card, so no-one should expect to buy a new game and get top performance from a 3 year old PC, whether through CPU or GPU.

I have a brand new car, and my wife still runs a ten year old model. I put high performance petrol in both, but do not expect my wife to overtake me on the motorway. 8-) Technology moves on. That is a good thing. Its a good thing that causes us issues such as this, but only education throughout the industry, with us, with the press, with the retail salesman, will allow the less knowledgeable consumer to understand that this is not a realistic expectation.

3DCenter: Doom 3 runs very well on GeForce hardware even with no pixel shader support. For casual gamers, already a GeForce4 MX440 will suffice nicely. This indicates that lots of specific optimisation work went into Doom 3 support. At least, it appears as if more was done to get Doom3 to run nicely than with all the "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" games put together.

Darryl Still: We have worked very closely with id software. But the support and effort that we put into their title was only achievable because of the support and effort they gave back. No other developer suffered lack of support because of the efforts we put into Doom 3. We have had a similar great experience with many other top development studios, such as GSC games and Crytek. Don't forget, STALKER and Far Cry were unknown titles when we first engaged with them. Did we get lucky? Sure, its like the old sporting maxim, the closer we work with developers, the more lucky we seem to get in being aligned with top quality triple A titles.

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