E3 Day 2 Impressions

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posted 5/21/2005 by The GN Staff
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Day 2 turned out to be significantly better than Day 1. The first reason was they managed to keep the power on for the entire day and because I had five pretty sweet appointments lined up.

Kentia Hall has something of a negative reputation and while that’s where a lot of weird items are shown it’s also where a lot of new ideas and technology are shown off for the first time. Last year the hot technology that debuted was Alienware’s new SLI technology (subsequently re-purposed and re-launched by Nvidia) and this year it’s the new physics technology from AGEIA.

Gamers have been playing software driven physics engines for the last year and a half or so (Half-Life 2, Painkiller, Psi-Ops to name three) so realistic physics in games is not something that’s new. What we are seeing is that the physics engines are becoming pervasive and that these engines are quickly providing game developers with new ways to add realism to games.

This is where AGEIA comes in as they are the first company to develop hardware and software solutions for in-game physics. Their NovodeX physics engine is poised to really change the world in which we play in. The company feels that realistic in-game physics are the next be leap in gaming since dedicated graphics processing cards hit the scene in the mid-nineties. AGEIA is currently developing a solution that will allow developers to create games with highly realistic physics for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC’s.

What’s interesting about the PC side of the equation is the hardware aspect. With the multi-processor, multi-threaded capabilities of the two next generation consoles there is already a lot of processing power available to handle all of the necessary calculations for realistic physics (especially with the PS3’s cell processor) the PC doesn’t have a lot of extra bandwidth to handle all of these calculations. This is where the new AEGIA hardware solution comes in.

The PCI card will offload the physics calculations onto a dedicated processor freeing up the CPU to handle the rest of the game play calculations. This allows developers to really load up on calculations which helps create a more realistic game play experience. The intial set of board will be developed by Asus and will be released in the fourth quarter of this year with a price point between $249 and $299.

This means that rather than forcing gamers to stay within a fixed path, developers can open up the environment and setup scenarios where the environment reacts to the player. This also allows for cool things like more realistic explosions, realistic water effects, and things like realistic clothing, hair and grass. I got to see a couple of cool demonstrations of the hardware including a rotating country-side that had six thousand boulders rolling down a hill. Each boulder had its own trajectory, spend, and interaction with the environment differently. This was all done without dropping a lot of frames which is pretty impressive.

Since this is a middleware piece it doesn’t mean a lot without having software developers on board. AGEIA already has several software developers on board including NC Soft (City of Villains for the PC), Ubisoft (Ghost Recon 3 for the Xbox 360), Shiny Entertainment (Unnamed PC adventure game), as well as several other vendors.
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