Many readers may have already heard that NVIDIA established a large office in Moscow. Besides, information about the vacancies was published on some forums as well as on the Russian web site of the corporation.
But there remains a large question, to my mind, about the aims and purposes of the new American company branch. I have paid a visit to NVIDIA in this office and offer my debriefing to our readers.
Aims and purposes
NVIDIA in Russia: forced to like it.
I'll start with a piece of history. In 2001 NVIDIA felt very sceptic about the Russian market. I must say without false modesty that iXBT.com made a considerable contribution to disillusion the American company, who had thought that there were no computers here, everybody wore caps with ear-flaps, and the only system administrators were bears in the forests (which grow everywhere, including the cities, according to many americans).
If you remember our first article about GeForce3, NVIDIA knew nothing about it :), and we reviewed video cards from its partners instead of the reference one. But approximately at the same time (of the announcement) was held the first large seminar conducted by ASUSTeK, which was attended by NVIDIA delegation from the London office. That was the first contact of this company with our market in the flesh, not on paper or e-mail or via Internet. The above mentioned material just helped them feel that video cards were actually sold on our market, they were in demand, that computers were well spread, etc. And that Russian companies could publish expert analyses of IT products, including NVIDIA models.
It had been extremely hard up to that moment to popularize our market among such companies as NVIDIA (we may as well confess that 3dfx hadn't ventured direct contacts and just ignored the Russian market till its death). Canadian ATI had been sceptical about us till 2002 (its scepsis dissolved completely only in 2003, the head of ATI's Moscow office can confirm that, but it's another story).
By "us" I mean the Russian market, not our web site and magazine.
So, the ball started rolling after 2001. Thanks to frequent visits of NVIDIA employees to Russia, several seminars, conferences, meetings, and of course expert reviews published in the Russian press (we were not the only ones who wished and still wish to supply our readers with valuable up-to-date information about the new products), the Californian company started to change its attitude.
It's no secret that by the beginning of this period, the Russian market of video cards based on NVIDIA chips amounted to 70% and higher, because the other companies, ATI in the first place, couldn't offer competition in all sectors. Competition growth made the contest increasingly interesting as well as hard. And by 2003 NVIDIA finally decided to establish its office in Moscow (this idea appeared at that time).
At the same time the administration of NVIDIA Devrel made out that CIS countries had a lot of talents it could use. There were a lot of existing development companies as well. And they all needed support in terms of game debugging, advice to make their games use video cards' features in the most efficient ways. All hardware manufacturers are interested in the latter, including ATI, who conducts seminars and conferences for developers as well.
Why the new office in Moscow
That was when appeared the idea to establish an office in Moscow with TWO main objectives:
The idea to create a large test lab has been in the air for a long time. Of course the main headquarters of the company already possessed previously created labs, but their capacities were obviously not sufficient because of the ever increasing number of new games. Our readers must understand that every respectable manufacturer of graphics chips should be aware that a bugs-free chip is only 1/3 of the job. Another third is to develop good drivers and companion software. And the other third is up to game developers to fine tune their products so that they run smooth on new GPUs. Just imagine the number of developers all over the world! How many of them can finetune their products well, having a wide set of hardware at their disposal accompanied by the proper tools.
That's why one of the expenditure articles in NVIDIA (as well as in ATI) is to keep programmers on the staff, who actively cooperate with game developers at any development stage (we shall talk about it below). To avoid game bugs is not the task for game developers or publishers only, it also concerns such companies as NVIDIA or ATI (why I keep mentioning only these companies: that's because the other companies, who can only boast of their novel products at exhibitions, and whose cards cannot be actually found on sale, DON'T GIVE A DAMN about this work, and thus owners of these cards have a heap of problems in various games: Drivers are not a UNIVERSAL HEALER! Yes, we can confidently mention S3, XGI, who don't cooperate with developers at all. Matrox gave up this work as well).
What concerns the test lab, we can safely say that a lion's share of corrections in drivers or in game patches comes from the Moscow office, where day and night works a small group of testers, who constantly tracks bugs, artifacts, problems in this or that title. The group will grow, read about this issue below.
Inside the office
Now that you have an idea about the aims and purposes of this branch, we may take a tour of the NVIDIA office itself.
Let's start with the doors.
The affiliate is located in the new office called "Dvorianski Dom" in the Arbat street (in the very beginning, right after the crossing with Bolshoy Afanasievski side-street). It occupies almost the entire floor. All the doors are equipped with electronic locks.
Behind the first door is an entrance hall. That's where John Spitzer, the director of this branch office, and me are on the photo in the beginning of this article. There are three doors out of the hall: a large one to the testlab, and two small ones into negotiation rooms
One of them, a larger one, is equipped with blackboards and a projector to demonstrate presentations and conduct seminars.
The largest hall is actually the test lab itself:
All workplaces of testers and programmers are equipped with monitors, keyboards, and mice. That's actually all. The system units are collected far in the server room, access to this room is denied to everybody (except for the administration and a special system administrator who attends to these computers). Note that all the monitors are CRT, not LCD (TFT). This is easy to explain: CRT displays are much better for 3D purposes due to the lack of inertia problems.
The hall is nominally divided into places for testers, administrators, and programmers from Devrel. But in fact they all form a single whole.
All the rooms are equipped with security cameras on the ceiling:
Now entering the sanctum sanctorum: the server room with racks for 500 system units. It also hosts servers, massive air-conditioners, and power supply units.
About 200 system units are available so far. Each tester can connect his monitor to two dozens of system units and run his tests. Why so many? – Each system unit is equipped with a different video card. No further comments are necessary, I guess.
Near the server room is the most secret chamber with telecommunications equipment.
The testlab staff includes some of our former employees, one of them is Kirill Budankov:
And in conclusion of the excursion have a look at this photo – the view of Smolenskaya square from the testlab window:
Working with developers
As I have already mentioned, one of the main objectives of this branch is to keep a staff of programmers, who will cooperate with their colleagues from game developing companies. One of the first people in the new office was Yuri Uralski, who was of much help in its making. Together with John Spitzer he told me about the main Devrel vectors:
So, the Devrel department works at all game development stages. According to some specialists from ATI, its task is to coddle and cherish game developers, to be their mom, and to protect them from troubles. :) NVIDIA programmers have the same job.
The components and the development of a good game
At the early game development stage, when they work out the concept, there appears the main conflict between the creative department or Art-content (artists, scenarists, etc) and the programming department, which puts artistic persons down to earth explaining what is possible and what is not. It's important to determine even at this stage already what GPU functions can be used, so NVIDIA advice is not out of place. GPU Gems is a very popular manual in this respect. Another part of this manual is being prepared for publication.
Planning a game
The cooperation grows closer at the implementation stage, NVIDIA developed an entire set of tools, which can help programmers in their work. One should say that a new version of NVIDIA SDK will be released on one of these days, which is an important milestone for the whole department as well as for cooperation with game developers. Much has been already said about NVIDIA Cg, it's a specific area of expertise, but what is most important is that this tool is universal. It helps with content building independent of API as well as with importing 3D objects, modeled in well-known packages, into the development environment.
Working on a game
The main slogan at the implementation stage is to remember the artistic content, not to bury the fine art created by scenarists and designers under all these programming gems and optimizations.
Working on a game (continued)
What concerns shaders (these days they are the most crucial part of programming, good shaders can save a game and preserve its graphics beauty), NVIDIA offers a whole toolbox to create and edit shaders:
NVIDIA FXComposer and shaders
To optimize models (for example, if you have a model containing 1 million polygons, it's clear that no video card can process it, especially as this model is not the only one in the scene. But there is a way to delegate all detailing work to normal maps and to simplify the model to 1000 polygons) you can use a specialized tool – NVIDIA Melody:
Modelling and geometry
The implementation stage is followed by analysis. And the tools offered by the American company can make the life much easier here:
First of all it's a shader optimizer operating from command prompt. It allows to emulate any existing GPU and demonstrate the efficiency of shader execution on that GPU.
But the most interesting product is NVIDIA NVPerfHUD:
Looking for bottlenecks
This utility allows to watch for bottlenecks in any part of a game. I will publish six small video clips with Yuri Uralski's comments as an example:
All these programs can be downloaded from the special NVIDIA web site for developers.
And of course, in the light of the latest events and NVIDIA-SONY cooperation, the staff is engaged not only in the work over the graphics core of the future play station, but they also work with game developers in terms of support for all NVIDIA innovations in PS games of the next generation.
So, our excursion around the new NVIDIA branch office comes to an end. Here are the main conclusions:
Let's wish the new NVIDIA branch office to get on with its work and to perfect it, to cooperate more closely with game developers, so that users of 3D accelerators encounter as few problems as possible.
Andrey Vorobiev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
March 15, 2005
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