NVIDIA and AMD queens: How Virtual Girls Promoted Video Cards

Playkey Team
6 min readMar 6, 2019

Three years ago, The Verge published an interesting article about art of video cards boxes — a peculiar kind of art, which has now almost disappeared. Although the article is quite mocking, one can involuntarily become interested in the topic — what reasons manufacturers had to use charming girls and serious magicians on their packaging for many years and then stop doing it at some point? Moreover, NVIDIA and AMD even created virtual characters to show the advantages of video cards in tech demos.

The era of dummy heads

Modern gaming PCs and peripherals look aggressively and brutally, radiating superiority over office models with every bend and RGB diode. However, no matter what vendor you would choose — the design will look almost the same for the most users. The same goes for boxes. And that makes sense — you can’t see many people hanging in front of the shelves of computer hardware; people prefer ordering online. But the things were different from late 1990s to the end of 2000s. Just check the pictures below.

PNY GeForce 6600 GT
Inno3D GeForce 9600 GT OC
XFX GeForce 8600 GTS XXX Edition
ASUS GeForce 6800 V9999 Gamer Edition
Gainward Bliss 8800 GTS Golden Sample

Fantastic creatures with silly faces, boring warriors, half-dressed women (most often in armor) … Low detailed models, abstract backgrounds, lots of numbers on boxes. We have nothing against “pulp fiction” fantasy with boring covers, but in case of GPU we would like to ask the vendors — what did you think about? Obviously not about the graphic card development. What is interesting is that hard drives, RAM, and CPUs somehow avoided the fashion of smirking orcs or sorcerers.

Having looked at GeForce cards you could ask — but what about AMD? Well, Vendors of Team Red were following a similar path for example Sapphire. The main source of inspiration of their designers were girls. And now, Sapphire boxes are decorated with scary robots — this also applies to the recent Vega series.

Sapphire Radeon HD 4870
Sapphire Radeon HD 3870
Sapphire Radeon HD 2600 XT Dual

Funny fact — the characters from Sapphire boxes received a second life in Japan in the form of collectible figurines. They were a bonus to the card. ASUS had the same strategy — in 2006 you could get a Ruby figure (with samurai blades, that is in the spirit of the country), AMD’s most famous mascot, for purchasing the Radeon X1900 graphic card. Read more about Ruby below.

NVIDIA and its queens: From Dawn till Dusk

First off, let’s look at NVIDIA queens. At the dawn of the 2000s Team Green began to prepare tech demos with fictional heroines for each generation of video cards. The most popular among them was forest fairy Dawn.

Dawn was created in 2002 to advertise the power and programmability of the GeForce FX. NVIDIA itself called it “the first fully animated and believable character in real time.”

The skeleton and the figure of Dawn are controlled by vertex shaders, translucent wings and natural skin are also the result of using shaders. Facial expressions were surprisingly good for those years. GeForce FX models supported with DirectX 9.0 and Shader Model 2.0, but that did not save series from inconsistent sales.

It is noteworthy that in 2012, NVIDIA brought Dawn back to life in the era of DirectX 11(remember the GeForce GTX 690?). Advanced tessellation allowed not only to show the home of the fairies in the smallest detail, but also to make the hair more realistic. The original model has 1.7 thousand static strands fixed with varnish. The updated version got 40,000 of strands reflecting the light and moving in the wind.

New Dawn

Moreover, Dawn got a twin sister named Dusk (GeForce FX 5900). There is nothing new about her, except that her home was located in mega polis.

The next girl from NVIDIA was Nalu, a Hawaiian mermaid created in 2004. NVIDIA, obviously, did not believe that GeForce 6 will be sold well due to the support of Shader Model 3.0 (DirectX 9.0c), HDR (the technology was implemented, for example, in Half-Life 2) and SLI, therefore it used semi-naked Nalu to improve sales. Please take a look at changing the length of hair lighting and the simulation of light refraction in water in tech demo.

The strangest of “NVIDIA girls” is Luna (2005, GeForce 7800 GTX). It is really difficult to get the idea of the developers watching the demo — long-armed alien creatures, eyeballs sticking here and there, Asian girl with green hair … However, it’s obvious that there is too much green.

The only exception NVIDIA made was bringing a real girl into the virtual space — Adrianne Curry, the American model and actress (2006, GeForce 8800). According to the authors, the technology demonstration used shading and deformation techniques, which at that time were used in large-scale animation for rendering frames in offline mode.

Finally, the last of NVIDIA girls, except for the “resurrection” of Dawn in 2012, was Medusa (2008, GeForce 200th series).

In the future, the “green” stopped using their own fairy-tale characters. Now it is much easier to show the benefits of technologies using a partnership with major game developers or publishers (for example Final Fantasy 15).

Be nice to Ruby!

ATI (later — AMD) was not going to lag behind the competitor and sent a special agent Ruby to defend Radeon X800 series in 2004. To create an image of “a million dollar girl,” the company cooperated with RhinoFX, a studio specializing in creating visual effects for Hollywood films.

RhinoFX created a few scripted demos, which didn’t allow the user to control the heroine, unlike NVIDIA applications. These demos showed Ruby fighting with cyborg and driving in futuristic car. And if you had no interest in Ruby, you might have noticed motion blur, depth-of-field, dynamic shadows and other effects. Ruby’s facial expression wasn’t polished at start — the emphasis on it was made only in the Whiteout demo.

AMD successfully sold figures, T-shirts and other merchandise with Ruby, but at some point, the company just forgot about it. Triumphant return took place only in June 2013 at the exhibition Computex. The basis for the next demo was CryEngine 3 engine. TressFX technology (the same one that Tomb Raider had shown) helped to show heroine’s thick hair — in fact, it was the reason why Ruby didn’t have short haircut anymore. By the way, the demo wasn’t not provided for open access by AMD.

The last time AMD returned to Ruby recently was solely due to a joint campaign with the developers of Quake Champions. For the purchase of products, AMD provided a special skin for Nyx champion, and Ruby was performed for the commercials by a “live” actress.

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Hopefully, our material helped to form a rough idea of ​​how the graphics changed in games in the 2000s (or were you just looking at the girls?). Nowadays, the marketing presentation of hardware has changed dramatically, and Ruby and similar virtual characters are long gone. Nostalgia, alas, does not help sell graphic cards.

By the way, if your computer is from the 2000s or you have a laptop with a built-in graphics GPU, welcome to Playkey.net. Here you can play the most advanced games ignoring system requirements — cloud gaming makes miracles.

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Playkey Team

Playkey is a working cloud gaming platform, invented to make all hardcore games available on any device without requirements to high productivity CPU and GPU.