DF Weekly: Does the AMD Starfield deal block rival DLSS and XeSS upscaling?

This week’s DF Direct Weekly kicks off with an in-depth discussion of AMD’s exclusive partnership with Bethesda Game Studios for Starfield. At first glance, this is the kind of arrangement that is no different from the others organized by its competitors. In this case, AMD is the exclusive technology partner of BGS and FSR2 scaling is integrated into Starfield in the PC and console iterations. However, there are concerns that this integration will come with a catch: Nvidia and Intel’s qualitatively superior scaling solutions – DLSS and XeSS – could be prevented from appearing in-game as part of the OK.

It’s an uncomfortable possibility. Is AMD paying to ensure Nvidia and Intel GPU owners can’t use rival technologies that may be better than Radeon features? Instead of developing their own more competitive technologies, the suggestion is that AMD use an exclusive partnership to ensure that all GPU owners only get image quality as good as that delivered by an AMD graphics card. . Above all, AMD itself does not deny that it is preventing Bethesda from integrating competing upscalers into Starfield.

Let’s put it all in context. It all started with an article published on June 20 by WCCFTech, which pointed out that a large number of AMD-sponsored titles come with FSR2 upscaling, while DLSS and XeSS alternatives are absent. In the case of games like Dead Island 2, The Callisto Protocol, and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, for example, the fact that they’re based on Unreal Engine 4 means that DLSS and XeSS plugins are readily available as part of the underlying tech, but for some reason these plugins are not used.

Welcome to the 118th edition of DF Direct Weekly, hosted by Rich Leadbetter, John Linneman and Tom Morgan – all upscaled to 1080p on any screen you have. Watch on YouTube
  • 00:00:00 Presentation
  • 00:01:04 News 01: Starfield to jump to DLSS, XeSS?
  • 00:22:28 News 02: FTC legal battle against Microsoft continues
  • 00:46:02 News 03: Red Dead Redemption remaster coming?
  • 00:52:08 News 04: Assassin’s Creed Unity gets huge performance boost on Intel Arc GPUs
  • 00:57:42 News 05: New Space World 2000 footage unearthed!
  • 01:08:55 Supporter Q1: If I run a game at 60fps on a CRT at 85Hz, will there be stutter?
  • 01:10:19 Supporter Q2: With the next-gen Switch rumored to have PS4-level power, what specs would it have?
  • 01:15:19 Supporter Q3: Is there anything special about the Steam Deck’s refresh rate altering capabilities, or could a new switch offer that as well?
  • 01:18:31 Supporter Q4: Could a temporal upsampling system incorporate high resolution keyframes to improve image quality?
  • 01:21:09 Supporter Q5: Would there be room in the gaming market for a high-end $1,000 PS5 Pro?
  • 01:26:22 Supporter Q6: Which game leaders would you like to see compete in a cage match?

Beyond UE4, AMD’s FSR2 technology uses the same fundamental inputs as DLSS and XeSS, greatly simplifying integration. That’s why we’ve seen a range of FSR2 mods for DLSS-only games and vice-versa. We’ve even seen tweaked DLSS 3 frame generation in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor – a game that really benefits from it due to its massive CPU limitations. With all of this being the case, new titles that only support a single upscaler (whether FSR2 or DLSS) are viewed with some degree of suspicion if an element of sponsorship is involved. Why is only one technology preferred? Why not provide the best quality experience for all PC owners?

In response to requests from WCCFTech, AMD reaffirmed its commitment to open source solutions that work on all GPUs – but at the same time did not deny that some sponsorships included terms that blocked alternative features from Nvidia and Intel. Simultaneously, Nvidia confirmed that it “does not block, restrict, discourage, or prevent developers from implementing competing technologies in any way”. That said, this is a somewhat easier policy for Nvidia to adopt due to its overall market dominance, as well as the general consensus that DLSS is qualitatively the best bet.

Even so, there was no real “gun” tying AMD’s sponsorship to the exclusion of competing features – just lots of coincidences. Based on our own investigations over the past week, the situation is certainly more nuanced than the original WCCFTech article suggests. We understand that one of the games on the WCCFTech list does not have DLSS support because the developer has a policy of only integrating features where they have source code visibility, which would rule out DLSS. On the other hand, after filming this week’s DF Direct Weekly, we were approached by a programmer who was working on an AMD-sponsored title where his own DLSS integration work never made it into the game. dispatch.

Here’s AMD’s announcement video, featuring an appearance from Todd Howard.

To add to the confusion, there are AMD sponsored games where DLSS and/or XeSS TO DO appear, which, on the face of it, puts an end to the lockout conjecture. However, it’s important to point out that there is no “one size fits all” sponsorship deal. Sometimes it’s more of a marketing deal than a technology integration. Sometimes DLSS/XeSS may have already been integrated and the developer may be reluctant to remove it. Either way, it’s clear AMD and Bethesda have some questions to answer about the Starfield arrangement. I contacted both companies last week and so far have received no response. However, Gamers Nexus’ Stephen Burke posed the question to AMD and got an answer:

Player Nexus: Does the contract between AMD and Bethesda contain language that intentionally blocks or could be construed to block or limit Bethesda’s ability to integrate alternative scaling technologies within Starfield?

AMD: We don’t have any comments at the moment.

While still not a “smoking gun”, AMD refuses to answer a clear and unambiguous question and, as Steve Burke points out, one of two things can now happen. In the best-case scenario, Starfield comes with all the upscaling features and AMD can argue that the whole controversy was a nothing, a storm in a teacup – another classic “jebait” scenario. Alternatively, non-denial may be the closest to confirmation we’re going to get that AMD’s association with key titles diminishes the quality of experience for any RTX or Arc user looking for the best fit. scaling for their hardware – something that is certainly the case with Resident Evil 4, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, The Callisto Protocol and Dead Island 2.

Perhaps due to lack of information from AMD and Bethesda, a series of arguments and possible explanations for the omission of competing upscalers have emerged since the announcement of the Starfield partnership. First, AMD was the obvious choice because FSR2 is the only scaling solution that works on both consoles and all PC hardware – which is absolutely true, but shouldn’t diminish the options available for pc users. Second, there’s the idea that adding these extra features has a development cost that the studio has to bear. This argument is somewhat odd as we’re told that AMD itself is working with Bethesda to integrate FSR2, but Nvidia and Intel also have engineers available to work directly with game makers, especially those making what will likely be the biggest release of the year. .

Resident Evil 4 Remake’s omission of DLSS has been addressed to some extent by a user mod. It’s not the finished article, but it’s clearly a superior scaling solution to Capcom’s FSR2 implementation. Watch on YouTube

What’s particularly disconcerting about the whole storyline is that the massive wave of negative feedback on AMD’s path following this announcement doesn’t make PC users think positively of the Radeon brand or to its association with key games. When DLSS mods appear for the likes of Resident Evil 4 that show clear image quality improvements over the FSR2 implementation that officially ships with the game, this is a poor reflection of AMD and the developer/publisher associated with the game. ‘OK.

It is a lose-lose scenario and ultimately a self-defeating policy. The way forward is obvious: AMD needs to produce better, more competitive products rather than including clauses in sponsorship deals that block competing technologies, assuming that’s what’s happening here. And to be clear, the idea that sponsorship agreements should not block alternative and established features should be applied uniformly across all manufacturers – which should go without saying.

What is the way forward in the Starfield situation? At this point, it is damaging to the reputation of AMD and Bethesda to continue to refrain from commenting. Given the scrutiny of Starfield in general and this deal in particular, it’s probably best to clarify the nature of the partnership – and whether there are good reasons not to integrate competing scaling technologies , let’s listen to them. And in general, a greater degree of disclosure should be available on any sponsorship deal where controversies arise, whether with AMD, Nvidia or Intel.

The PC platform differs from consoles in so many positive ways – but for me the idea is that it’s the best way to play games with the most user choice. This choice includes purchasing features and technologies that elevate the PC gaming experience beyond consoles. Nvidia’s investment in scaling AI and ray tracing is evident across a range of titles, but these features should never come at the expense of perfectly worthy alternatives if they exist. Let’s hope for more clarity and a pleasant resolution to this troubling situation – and for lessons to be learned in the future.

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