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AMD ramps up its Gaming Evolved program

Cyril Kowaliski
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On June 6, Nvidia celebrated the 10th anniversary of its The Way It’s Meant To Be Played program. The festivities were well-deserved. These days, it’s almost expected to see Nvidia’s logo among the intro splash screens of PC blockbusters. Anyone who’s picked up, say, Borderlands 2 or Batman: Arkham City can attest to that fact. Seeing the logo usually means Nvidia has collaborated closely with the game’s developers, and it often hints at support for proprietary Nvidia technologies like PhysX and 3D Vision. Nvidia has used the TWIMTBP program to push other, non-proprietary features, as well, like its FXAA antialiasing scheme.

Historically, AMD has had a much lower profile than its rival in that department. Titles that didn’t carry the TWIMTBP badge almost never had an AMD logo in its place, and more often than not, one could expect fresh releases to work more smoothly on GeForces than on Radeons. We experienced that disparity on a grand scale last year, when AMD bungled the release of its Catalyst drivers for Rage, and users had to wait a few days for a driver supporting both the new id Software title and EA DICE’s Battlefield 3 beta. Native support for Radeon-specific features like HD3D, AMD’s stereoscopic 3D implementation, was spotty, as well.

Lately, however, we’ve seen AMD’s developer relations program gain prominence. The program got its own brand back in March of 2010: Gaming Evolved. We saw it bear fruit in August 2011, when Deus Ex: Human Revolution debuted with full AMD branding and native support for both HD3D and Eyefinity, AMD’s multi-display scheme. Earlier this year, DiRT Showdown arrived with a DirectCompute-based global illumination lighting scheme that Codemasters developed in collaboration with AMD. Time and again, we saw AMD cards perform much better than the competition with that lighting mode enabled.

GeForce users had enjoyed similar perks in new games for some time. After years of comparative neglect, Radeon users were now getting exclusive goodies of their own, at long last.

Source: AMD.

Since then, Gaming Evolved has continued to gather steam. Two major blockbusters released this fall, Dishonored and Sleeping Dogs, are part of the program. So are a number of games due within the next several months: Medal of Honor Warfighter, Far Cry 3, BioShock Infinite, and the Tomb Raider reboot. These are exactly the kinds of high-profile releases that would have, in the past, featured Nvidia TWIBMTP branding. Now, they feature the other team’s logo.

Last weekend, we traveled to AMD’s offices in Markham, Ontario and spoke to Gaming Evolved marketing chief Peter Ross, who gave us some idea of what’s been going on behind the scenes.

The program’s growing profile is evidently no accident. According to Ross, AMD has increased the size of its developer relations team, on both the marketing and the engineering sides. Part of the recent push has involved giving the developer relations program a name and marketing it explicitly, just has Nvidia has been doing. That effort began a couple of years ago with the introduction of the Gaming Evolved label. AMD has endeavored to work more closely with both developers and publishers, as well.

Interestingly, Ross told us AMD’s recent executive changes have been beneficial to the program. He said the new executive team better appreciates the importance of gaming. Ross also pointed out with some exultation that Rory Read, AMD’s new CEO, has made public statements about the company’s commitment to gaming. Given AMD’s precarious financial situation as of late, it’s telling that the company has seen fit to increase funding for the Gaming Evolved program.

The future looks bright, too. The aforementioned changes all took place more than a year ago. Ross said we’re only just now seeing them produce results, and those changes represent a continued commitment on AMD’s part. This is “not something that just flamed up and will go away,” Ross stressed. Things “will only get better from here.”

What do game developers think about all this? Jurjen Katsman was also there in Markham, and he spoke to us about his company’s collaboration with AMD. Katsman is President of Nixxes, a Dutch firm that’s developed the PC versions of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days, and several Tomb Raider games. The firm is currently working on the PC versions of Hitman: Absolution and the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot—both Gaming Evolved titles, just as Human Revolution was.

Top: Hitman: Absolution. Bottom: the new Tomb Raider. Sources: Steam, Square Enix.

Katsman made it clear that his company has ongoing relationships with both AMD and Nvidia. The folks at Nixxes “always have a good time” working with both firms, he said, and with Human Revolution, Nixxes was “just as much in touch” with Nvidia as with AMD. Katsman pointed out that engaging both companies is necessary to ensure players get the best experience. Nobody wants their message boards flooded with bug reports and complaints, after all.

Nevertheless, Nixxes seems to favor Gaming Evolved over Nvidia’s developer program. According to Katsman, what AMD brings to the table is simply more compelling, and he views the AMD team as more dedicated. While he didn’t delve too deeply into specifics, he mentioned that AMD engineers helped Nixxes implement not just Radeon-specific functionality in their games, but also MSAA antialiasing support and general DirectX 11 features. The two companies collaborate sometimes over Skype and sometimes in person, when AMD engineers visit the Nixxes offices in Utrecht, Holland.

I asked whether Katsman had seen a stark change in AMD’s developer program in recent years, but he didn’t seem to think so. The rapprochement between the two companies has happened “organically,” in his view. While he conceded that AMD and Nixxes are working more closely on Hitman: Absolution than they did on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, he sees that as a natural evolution of the relationship, given the history of two firms.

Whether developers perceive a sudden improvement or a more gradual one, the effects of AMD’s developer relations push are very much obvious. Radeon owners should now see more high-profile games cater to their hardware—and, hopefully, work flawlessly on day one. Even folks shopping for a new GPU this holiday season may reap the rewards of AMD’s effort. Yesterday, the company announced what might be its most compelling game bundle offer to date, as part of which some Radeons are available with free copies of Far Cry 3, Hitman Absolution, and Sleeping Dogs, plus 20%-off coupons for Medal of Honor Warfighter. I don’t recall Nvidia ever offering anything quite so appealing.

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