Brandon: Jakub, don’t get me started on the shader model two versus shader model three debate. You’re the games EIC, you should know better than anyone else how few SM 2.0 titles there are on the market right now. While there are millions of SM 2.0-capable cards out on the market, there are barely a handful of titles that utilize 2.0 shaders and Painkiller isn't one of them!
Besides, half the features in shader model 3.0 are already supported in RADEON X800. In fact, they’ve been offered by ATI since the original RADEON 9700 PRO launched nearly two years ago. In some ways you could say that Microsoft and NVIDIA are just now catching up to ATI.
And sure, you’ve got support for more pixel shaders in your precious GeForce 6800, but even the best 2.0 titles that are coming out this year are only using 40-60 shaders. NVIDIA put way too much effort into optimizing for very long shader programs, a situation which won’t exist for years.
When developing their 2.0 titles, game developers are always going to program for the lowest common denominator. And the first generation “3.0” titles like Far Cry and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will run just fine on 2.0 hardware. At best they may paste on a special 3.0 mode for GeForce 6 users that runs one or two things faster than the same effect using 2.0 shaders, but that’s about it.
The other new addition, 32-bit precision everywhere, is great for offline rendering, but this is not ILM or Pixar. Games must deliver high performance along with excellent visuals in order to immerse the user. Gaming at 10-15 frames per second isn’t an enjoyable experience, no matter how good the final product looks. NVIDIA went too far offering pie-in-the-sky paper specs that no game developer is going to push the limits with right now.
As far as Half-Life 2 is concerned, Valve’s Source engine is coming the closest to pushing the state-of-the-art. DOOM 3 was originally intended for DX7 hardware like the original GeForce 256. Shaders were only recently added, and we still don’t know how frequently they’re used.
Source, on the other hand, has shaders everywhere, not to mention high dynamic range lighting and normal maps. The Source engine is also being licensed by a number of game developers, so the results in Half-Life 2 could largely mirror the performance results in a licensees’ title. We saw that in the GeForce 6800 preview where the trends in Quake 3 also held up in Call of Duty, despite the fact that CoD uses a heavily modified version of the engine with 1.x shaders for water.
So when Gabe Newell says one architecture runs faster than another in their performance testing with Half-Life 2, you could speculate the same will occur in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines or Counter-Strike 2.