Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The HairWorks Debacle Explained

Shamus Young | 2 Jun 2015 15:00
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The Culprit

But before we form a mob and assault Castle NVIDIA with pitchforks, let's remember that their job is to sell graphics hardware, not make videogames. Making Witcher 3 stable and performant on all hardware was the job of CD Project RED.

AMD offered TressFX to CD Project, but the developer claimed it was "too late" to add it. Meaning the performance problems weren't noticed until near launch. Either they weren't doing testing, or they blindly accepted an update from NVIDIA near the end of development. Either way, that was foolish.

In fact, the Witcher 3 developers made a lot of blunders:

1) CD Project RED chose to chase after gimmicky graphical tricks. "Flowing hair" isn't exactly the next-gen killer app that gamers are looking for. If it wasn't there, most of us wouldn't complain or even notice. On the other hand, gimmicks aren't always bad. Except...

2) CD Project RED chose to do it using vendor-specific libraries, even though it was possible or even likely that NVIDIA might try something like this. Of course, using NVIDIA middleware could be safe if CD Project RED had some way to audit the code themselves, but...

3) CD Project RED didn't have access to the HairWorks source code. Not surprising, but it makes the whole thing that much more sketchy and dangerous. HairWorks was a black box and none of the programmers could see how it worked or what it was doing. That's risky enough, but apparently...

4) CD Project RED didn't do cautious testing to screen for these sorts of AMD-killing shenanigans. This was a 100% dumbass move. But even this ridiculous foolishness would have been harmless if they had just added TressFX for AMD users. But no...

5) CD Project RED dealt exclusively with NVIDIA.

Yes, you can be mad at NVIDIA for being extremely shady and destructive to the market as a whole. But let's not forget that CD Project RED behaved like complete rubes. Sure, be mad at the bank robber. But let's not overlook the banker who hired no guards, never turned on the security system, and left the vault door hanging open.

Yes, you can turn off HairWorks and just enjoy the game without it. I'm not worried about the feature itself, but the fact that the Witcher 3 developers got played. The performance of their videogame was harmed so that it could be used to sell more NVIDIA hardware. That's a really sad outcome for such a massive, bold, uncompromising game. This is one of the greatest RPGs in years, and it deserves better than to be used as a cheap sales pitch for NVIDIA's latest gizmo.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. Have a question for the column? Ask him! [email protected].

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