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Roy Taylor, vice president of content relations at NVIDIA


by Stuart Davidson - 3rd Apr 2008
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Roy Taylor, vice president of content relations at NVIDIA

Driver Heaven:Hi Roy - thanks for making the time to talk to us today, its fair to say it has been a great year for NVIDIA but i'm guessing you guys aren't resting on your laurels. What are the plans to keep the success story going in 2008?

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Roy: Yes it’s been a great year for our "The Way Its Meant To Be Played" program. Most gamers have probably noticed that all of the top titles of 2007 are in the program, but you’re right we’re not standing still. In 2008 we will be making increased investments in our developer tools, especially with the SDK and for content creation. As DX10 becomes the norm we want to arm developers with more feature examples so they can integrate better graphics into the gameplay more easily. At the same time we will be recruiting more staff to better support developers in emerging countries, because we see some real talent coming from China, Latin America and India, for example.

Our main focus is of course giving GeForce owners the best possible experience. Did you know GeForce owners are the biggest installed base of gamers in the industry? There are 8 times more GeForce owners than Xbox 360 owners, and 10 times more than PS3! We know from talking to them that they want to see more games designed for them. So in 2008 we will be making increased investments to make sure that they get more titles like BioShock, Lord of the Rings: Online, World In Conflict, and Crysis -- which all reward GeForce owners with a richer experience.

Driver Heaven: Was "The Way It's Meant To Be Played" concept (TWIMTBP) the brain child of a single person or was it a collective idea within the ranks in NVIDIA? When did the idea come into fruitition?

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Roy: Well I have give full kudos here to my colleague Bill Rehbock, who came from Sony and has a great reputation in the games industry. Bill came up with TWIMTBP after a meeting with Mark Rein at Epic Games. Bill has a keen instinct for what consumers and developers need, and a talent for communicating the benefits of our technology. But it’s essential to note that the other unsung hero of the program is Ashu Rege, who runs the development technology team. Our dev tech team are the guys that work the crazy hours to produce code and fix issues for the developers. Ashu and his team are our rock stars, no doubt. Bill and Ashu helped make the program what it is today.



Driver Heaven: It is clear to us that NVIDIA working closely with developers benefits your customers, but do you feel that it could have a detrimental impact on the industry also? For example, making it harder for competitors to challenge you in an already very limited marketplace?

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Roy: On the contrary. Publishers invest in developers and titles where they see the biggest return on investment. You and I may view the game industry romantically, but publishers don’t. For them its about the money. While publishers love the fact that they don’t pay royalties on PC games, they have issues with how to reach, touch and market to PC gamers, among other things. Traditionally its been much easier with consoles. Our success means that there is a vast user base of GeForce owners that publishers can’t ignore. So we can point to X number of units sold of a particular GPU, by region, by country, and then work with the publishers to market games in TWMTBP to them. This is very attractive to them. Deciding minimum specs, feature implementation and marketing plans is easier when we can give them a targeted audience to sell to. This makes it attractive for them to do more PC game development, which is genuinely beneficial for PC gamers.


Driver Heaven: Do you feel that the success of "TWIMTBP" is due to the time/money/effort invested by NVIDIA or the lack of these invested by your competitors in an alternative programme? How much money does Nvidia invest each year into this scheme?

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Roy: The success of the program is entirely down to its own merits. I know our competitors like to tell tall tales of us walking around with piles of money for developers, which is nonsense. We earned our success the old-fashioned way, through a lot of hard work. We have over 300 people working on supporting third party content development. That’s not only the largest team in the games industry, it’s larger than all of the other developer relations teams in the industry combined. Our investment is very substantial. We don’t charge for helping developers add better features and technology into the game and build graphics into the gameplay. We do it because at its base this is just the right thing to do. Great PC content results in satisfied customers and good sales, which makes good business sense for the industry and for NVIDIA.


Driver Heaven: What has been the singlemost important result or success story to come out of "TWIMTBP" program since it started?

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Roy: Oh so we had the easy question and now you give me the hard one! But maybe one part is easier. You know it wasn’t so very long ago that when you bought a PC game you couldn’t always guarantee that it would work either on your PC or on the PC for the person you bought the game for (think Christmas!). Today you can almost guarantee that it will. If its TWIMTBP and the gamer has a GeForce, you know it will work. That comes as a result of our CSR (Compatibility, Stability, Reliability) work at our Games Test Labs. That’s a terrific success story. However today we are engaged in moving on to the next stage which is to add rich features into games to make the experience better. This year Crysis is a showcase for what can be achieved with that.

Driver Heaven: Which developer have you most enjoyed working with? Any personal favourites?

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Roy: Well like everyone I have favorites but I have a lot. I recently spent some time with Bob Ferrari and a couple of the Turbine team, I love what they are doing in the MMO area. Really nice guys too. I also not long ago had a celebration dinner with the Massive team: Niklas, David, Martin and Ingo. They are the leaders that made World In Conflict happen, and you would be really hard pressed to meet better guys to have a drink with in Sweden. Mark Rein is always fun and NEVER boring -- I love working with him and the Epic team. I have a soft spot for Ubisoft too -- Jay, Andy and the team here in the USA are fun to work with. Last of course it will come as no surprise that my all-time top guys to hang out with are the Yerli brothers, Avni, Cevat and Faruk. Not only are they talented, aggressive, and ambitious, but they know the best bar in Frankfurt, and working with them is about as much fun as work can ever get to be. :~)


Driver Heaven: We noticed recently you said in an interview on IGN that NVIDIA programmers helped Crytek develop Crysis on NVIDIA hardware and you recommended 8800 series cards for the best gaming experience. Can you explain exactly how this process worked between NVIDIA and Crytek, and how many NVIDIA people were involved?

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Roy: Yes, this has been a tremendous collaboration. We were pleased to deliver the very first samples of GeForce 8800 to them in the summer of 2006 after they shared with us just how ambitious their goals for the game were. With their pedigree we knew that if we helped them they could pull it off. They are enormously talented and driven people. Our lead engineer for Crytek, Miguel Sainz, has been with the Crytek crew in Frankfurt almost non-stop since then. At times we have had as many as 4 or more engineers on site and at the same time as many as a dozen or more engineers have supported the on-site work here in Santa Clara, Calif. In all, we have invested more than 5,000 man-hours of engineering and programming time into Crysis. The process involves the sharing of code, ideas, de-bug, perf implementations, and is as close as two partners can possibly get.

Driver Heaven: How much control do NVIDIA have with developers? Has a game ever been delayed at the request of NVIDIA so that it could be improved?

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Roy: No, we do not have this level of control over games. Remember what I said about the publishers. This is a business. Once the publishing deadline is set, it’s set, and no amount of last minute suggestions or code breakthroughs can change that. Hence, patches. No game has ever been delayed from launch at our suggestion. But we have helped some games ship sooner than expected. It took 15 months from the introduction of DX9 to the first game that used the new API (Far Cry from Crytek, coincidentally). In contrast, it only took 8 months from the introduction of DX10 to the first game using it (Lost Planet), and we believe we were instrumental in that.


Driver Heaven: How early are you able to supply developers with new products? For example, the 8800 GTX was launched in November 2006; how long before that were game developers working with pre-production versions of the card?

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Roy: As I mentioned, we delivered the first GeForce 8800 to Crytek in the summer of 2006, and as you know we launched those cards in November. We get first sample hardware into the hands of any developer with the ambition to produce content for them.


Driver Heaven: Do NVIDIA generally approach developers to include them in TWIMTPB or is it usually developers contacting NV in the first instance? If the former happens more, how do you decide who to approach, and have there been occasions where NVIDIA have decided to pull support because a game is not shaping up well?

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Roy: We have existing relationships with every major developer and publisher, and most of the time we get an early heads up about new games pretty early. Occasionally we will approach someone, but it’s a rare case when we aren’t already talking to them. I can’t recall ever pulling support; we will usually match the developer’s efforts to implement features, so where you see us working hard with a large team it’s the same place the developer is working hard too. As a minimum we will put a game through our Games Test Lab and test it for compatibility, stability, and reliability if the publisher wants to be in TWIMTBP, but we prefer to reward GeForce owners by working to see how we can enrich the game with the developer.


Driver Heaven: The Way It's Meant To Be Played-branded games have been with us for a couple of years now. How much has the process evolved over the years? Has there been a lot of fine tuning?

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Roy: The program has evolved a lot. It started out with the goal of making sure that GeForce users got the best out of the box experience and that it worked perfectly. Over time we have invested heavily in tools, talent, and technology so that the program has moved from “it works” to “it rewards me.” So, yes, it has evolved over time, and we continue to look at how we can improve it every day, literally.

Driver Heaven: When you help game developers, do you take care to supply them only with standardized code, or are there specific NVIDIA-only optimizations in there as well? Is it up to the developers to provide the necessary code for other companies, or would your code work just fine, albeit slower?

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Roy: We don’t provide “drop in code” to anyone. If we did then all games would quickly start to look the same. Quite frankly most developers wouldn’t like that anyway. Each game is their baby and while they let us help them -- often extensively -- the games remain theirs. When we help developers include new features into their game, it is written in DirectX or OpenGL, which should run on all graphics hardware. We know it works well on GeForce because that’s what our developers use. There’s nothing in the code that would make competing parts run slower—only their drivers can do that. ;~)


Driver Heaven: Thinking back there were several games on launch that although branded with the TWIMTBP logo had issues with NVIDIA hardware (and hardware from competitors as well usually). What happened in these cases? Did the developers simply fail to follow all the guidelines provided?

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Roy: There a couple of things that have happened in the past. The first is those deadlines. The publishers won’t let them be missed. Sometimes we just haven’t been able to get all the help provided into the game in time for it going gold. But by the first patch or subsequent driver release we usually have those covered. The lesson we learned here was simple – get involved sooner. Secondly sometimes we’ve added technology that the game wasn’t intended to be able to support at its inception (for example SLI), and so we have had to add support to the game after launch. The lesson learned there is that if we’re going to do this, then provide tools to make adoption easier and faster.


Driver Heaven: A few years ago, "Driver Optimisations" were seen as a bad thing by the public, even when they sometimes weren't. Thankfully today most of that is forgotten and driver optimisations have become commonplace, frequently enhancing the gamer’s experience. Can you tell us what are the most common optimisations you employ, seeing how they are usually game dependant.

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Roy: Its important to understand that games engines have become exponentially more complex. Crysis for example contains over one million lines of code. To give that some context if you saw the code typed up on a single sheet of very long A4 paper it would reach around your house a couple of times. That’s just CryEngine2. Tech5 from id, Unreal Engine 3 from Epic and other upcoming engines are going to be at least as complex, if not moreso. Our driver work is based on making sure that we allow the game and the API access to the metal of our GPUs as fast as possible, as simply as possible. That’s a huge amount of work. So its not as simple as we simply implement instruction X,Y, and Z. The truth is that there simply are no or very, very few common optimizations. This is why its so hard for our competitors to stay with us. Its very complex - a huge challenge.

Driver Heaven: The 8800 series has been the undisputed GFX leader for almost a year now. While the cards are powerful there have been some noticable performance increases due to newer drivers. Can we expect additional performance boosts in the future, or has the architecture reached its limits? One game that springs to mind is CRYSIS, are gamers going to see another performance driver for this game when it is launched?

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Roy: Yes! See the above answer. Every single day we have more time to examine our GPUs, the DX10 API, and the game engines we are able to dive deeper and deeper to work out the best way to produce a given effect or implement a technology. Every day we find new things, try new ways, examine new avenues. Expect breakthroughs constantly. Keeping your drivers updated is essential.

Driver Heaven: DX10.1 is around the corner even though we have yet to see true DX10 titles. The 8800 DX10 performance is obviously fantastic, but do you intend to keep refining your DX10 driver code, or will you be shifting focus to DX10.1 features with upcoming cards?

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Roy: Updates to the API come in different flavours. Sometimes they are important because they add features that gamers and developers are waiting for. Other times they simply tidy up and make things easier. The move from DX10 to 10.1 makes life easier and tidier but it doesn’t add any new features that will change gameplay or add a new effect. When it arrives in spring next year it’ll be helpful but we don’t expect it to change any development work in 2008. So far as we know – and we know a lot of titles and developers – there aren’t any cases at all where 10.1 is planned to be used so far. Frankly DX10 is so new that most developers are still just adopting it fully for the first time.

Driver Heaven: Vista is still in its infancy, so even some of the 8800 owners can't access DX10 features. Do you intend to provide »DX10 functionality« via OpenGL for Windows XP? Perhaps you could educate our readers in layman's terms on exactly what is not achievable on Windows XP.

With threads like this online, there is considerable confusion amongst the masses !

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Roy: Let’s talk a little bit about Vista. Microsoft has already shipped a whopping 60 million copies. It’s the fastest ramp of a new OS in their history. Nor is Vista going away. DX10 is the basis of all graphics API work going forward. Sorry but I wanted to get that out on the table. If you haven’t invested in Vista yet then I urge you to do so because WindowsXP is valid but staying with it is to stay in the past. I am excited about the future.

We are also fans of OpenGL here, and we were delighted with the work we did with id for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

To answer your question on DX10 effects, let me refer to some comments from Cevat Yerli of Crytek, which I’ve copied here for your convenience: (Gaming Heaven interviewed Cevat last month over here)

“DX9 vs. DX10 - The endless question"

To shed some light into one of the most discussed topics regarding Crysis multiplayer I would like to explain the differences between Crysis MP DX9 and DX10.

As for the DX9 version we won’t have physics and day and night cycle in-game. That means you won’t be able to shoot down trees and/or alter any other objects than vehicles on the map. Additionally the time of day setting doesn’t change dynamically. This is caused due to the tremendous server load such physics might cause on crowded gaming servers. Still you will be able to experience maps with different time of day settings since the maps can be altered in the Sandbox2 Editor.

Rather than providing the community partially working features we limit this for the DX10 version only. Due to the strong hardware available with DX10, server load is less and performance is increased. This ensures the pure physics and day and night cycle experience without any limitation.

Gamers with a DX10 card are able to play on DX9 servers, but with the limitation of the respective server. Vice versa it is not possible for gamers with DX9 cards to play on DX10 servers due to the limited features.” – Cevat Yerli comments from InCrysis.com

Driver Heaven: Thanks for spending some time with us today Roy, is there anything you would like to say in closing to our readers?

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Roy: Yes, thanks to you for the opportunity to talk to you. I would just like to tell everyone if you own a GeForce then please look out for The Way Its Meant To Be Played games. They have been produced with you in mind, and contain features that will reward your investment. There’s never been a better time to be a GeForce owner!

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