The wave of next generation games is upon us. First and foremost, Crysis 3 offers unbelievable level of graphics details, and now Lara Croft is being rebooted with the new Tomb Raider. However, not all GPU vendors offer enjoyable experience. The game was released this week and immediately garnered interest not just from specialized gaming or tech press, but from mainstream media outlets as well. For example, Conan O’Brien made a "Clueless Gamer" review of Tomb Raider and received significant audience (measured in six figures).

More importantly, Tomb Raider represents a technological breakthrough. While the game is multiplatform and supports popular consoles, the team at Crystal Dynamics decided to include DirectX 11 features into the game, as well as putting special accent on DirectCompute for real-time hair rendering.

In order to enable the effect which is now known as TressFX, Crystal Dynamics worked closely with hardware vendors in order to extract the best possible visual quality. The end result is quite impressive:

Real-time, physically calculated hair on Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider
Meet TressFX: Real-time, physically calculated hair on Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider

As is typically goes, in order to enable such effect, developer has to choose to closely work with the engineers from Nvidia and AMD to receive the necessary support (we’re talking about man power here, no marketing money can replace engineers that need to write thousands and thousands of lines of code). Naturally, the companies we mentioned would typically request that the game title comes with an appropriate sticker. Crystal Dynamics chose to align with AMD, which is a surprise as Tomb Raider was a well-established Nvidia-branded franchise.

The hair acts differently depending on the environment - it will get dirty, rain will wash it... all paving path towards physically-correct games
The hair acts differently depending on the environment – it will get dirty, rain will wash it… all paving path towards physically-correct games

Tomb Raider is now a part of AMD’s Gaming Evolve program, rather than Nvidia’s well-established The Way Its Meant To Be Played (TWIMTBP). Following the departure of CryTek and practically the whole of Electronic Arts into AMD’s arms, Crystal Dynamics was just the latest to join the army of game developers that left TWIMTBP wings. We believe that this closely correlates to departure of some individuals from AMD to Intel, and the internal reorganization of AMD that adheres to "keep it simple and straight" policies, rather than veiled politics of yesteryear.

Furthermore, in off-the-record discussions with the developers, we learned that Nvidia no longer invests as much in PC gaming developer teams as it used to, as Tegra is viewed as the main growth driver for the company. Naturally, this is purely one sided view, but a view coming from several game development companies which combined shipped over 100 million units. Chances are you at least have one or two titles (or three, four?) from them. We could not reach Crystal Dynamics for comment at press time, but their quote from the TressFX press release is quite revealing:

"AMD and the Square Enix Studios, including Crystal Dynamics, have a long successful history of collaboration, starting with ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’ from Eidos Montreal," said Darrell Gallagher, studio head, Crystal Dynamics. "We continue this close PC gaming relationship with the latest edition of ‘Tomb Raider.’ The AMD Gaming Evolved engineers and the team at Crystal Dynamics worked for months to make TressFX Hair a reality – with tremendous success. We believe that AMD Radeon Graphics and Graphics Core Next (architecture) is the best way to take advantage of the dynamic realism we?ve brought to Lara in Tomb Raider."

The game came out and what happened is that the game experience on Nvidia hardware is less than ideal. We received reports from gamers on Nvidia and Steam forums which are complaining that with Real-Time hair, the Nvidia GeForce cards take a massive hit. We’re talking about owners of GeForce GTX 690 boards to go from 60+ frames per second to 30 or lower if the high quality hair mesh is used.

Following the reports of less-than-stellar performance with the high-end hardware, Nvidia did not stood still and released an apology, for which the company deserves respect:

"We are aware of major performance and stability issues with GeForce GPUs running Tomb Raider with maximum settings. Unfortunately, NVIDIA didn?t receive final code until this past weekend which substantially decreased stability, image quality and performance over a build we were previously provided. We are working closely with Crystal Dynamics to address and resolve all game issues as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, we would like to apologize to GeForce users that are not able to have a great experience playing Tomb Raider, as they have come to expect with all of their favorite PC games."

Will the recent turn of events cause Nvidia to invest more money into PC game developer support program? Only time will tell but for now the tide seems to be turning towards AMD in a pretty big way. CryTek (Crysis 3), Irrational Games (BioShock Infinite), Ubi Soft (Far Cry 3), Maxis (Sim City), Electronic Arts, Square Enix, Ubi Soft… this can no longer be dismissed as exceptions, they’re a tidal wave of game developers and publishers shifting towards the red color. They obviously decided to never settle for second best, pun intended.