Tech 1

Epic Games calls out Intel

You can’t help but like Epic Games VP Mark Rein. Sure, he is a graphics whore but he openly speaks his mind and has a lot of important things to say. In an interview with Firingsquad, Mark Rein called out Intel on making horrible graphics chips, and I could not agree with him more.

FiringSquad: What is Epic’s feeling about PC game hardware and how will the Unreal engine be part of that?

Mark Rein: I wish I could report only good news but that’s not the case.

On the good side there is a lot of exciting news in the PC space. Ageia is launching their physics hardware. NVIDIA now has Quad SLI. Dell is getting serious about PC gaming with their XPS 600 Renegade system and XPS M170 laptops. Both Intel and AMD now sell dual-core processors. Apple has switched to Intel. NVIDIA’s SLI is taking hold and lots of game enthusiasts are starting to use it. These are all good things that Unreal Engine 3 is very qualified to take advantage of. We’re obviously using the PhysX library which, in addition to giving us very strong physics performance on Xbox360 and PS3, will give us the ability to take advantage of the upcoming PC PhysX hardware. Prior to their announcement at CES this year we had a chance to run Unreal Engine 3 on Dell’s new XPS 600 Renegade Quad SLI system and I can tell you that it is fantastic! Dell is lending us gear for our GDC demos this year. In addition to running our theatre on the amazing Renegade we’ll also be demo’ing on more down-to-earth SLI-equipped XPS 600 systems and the Dell M170 laptop with NVIDIA’s Geforce Go 7800 GTX. Dell is also lending us some of their amazing 30” monitors which are fantastic for Unreal Editor demos. Our new multi-threaded renderer will also be great on dual core processors from AMD and Intel. Windows Vista will also give us a nice performance boost by getting us closer to the hardware than past versions of Windows have.

Unfortunately the bad side is getting really bad. It is getting harder and harder for the average consumer to buy a computer with a decent graphics chips in it. When I go to major electronics retailers I see that most of the machines being sold are using Intel Integrated graphics – including the vast majority of laptops. Some of the desktop machines don’t even have slots for discrete graphics cards which I find personally offensive. Laptops of course are mostly not upgradable so a bad laptop is a bad laptop forever and considering how many people are replacing desktop with laptops this is especially worrisome. It is really sad when you see the moniker “media” or “entertainment” attached to something with Intel Integrated graphics in it. I question the logic of developing dual-core CPUs and saddling them with ultra-low-end graphics especially considering that one of the big benefits of Windows Vista will be a hugely improved graphical user interface that will help improve productivity. There are some seriously expensive desktops and laptops with crappy graphics chips in them – these aren’t just the low-priced machines either. Intel salespeople are probably patting themselves on the back for these design wins but the truth is the more successful they are with this strategy the faster they could be killing off the PC games market and nobody has the balls to stand up and cry foul because Intel is so powerful.

If people take those machines home and try to play recent PC games on them they’re going to have a horrible experience and possibly give up on PC gaming altogether. Users aren’t educated in this area but when their new $1,500 PC says “no” to a decent PC game they’re going to just assume the PC games market had passed them by. This is sad because the difference in cost the PC manufacturer to put in a decent graphics chip isn’t very much.

We need to find a way to encourage manufacturers to offer more balanced systems with better graphics chips and understand that every user they convert to a gamer represents a potential higher-margin sale the next time and every user they discourage from gaming represents a potential lower-margin commodity purchaser later. We need those mainstream users to be trying PC games. It is nearly impossible to justify the cost of making games that scale down to integrated graphics when the next-gen consoles have so much graphics power and represent a huge upcoming market. How many publishers would bother bringing their latest games to PC if only the hardcore players could run them? Those customers have already proven they’re willing to spend $300 for a graphics card so expecting them to own a next-gen console isn’t much of a leap.

So despite the fact that I’m a big cheerleader for PC gaming I am worried about a potential for catastrophic failure of the PC gaming market. You’d think Intel would be worried about that too especially considering that none of the next-generation consoles use Intel CPUs.