Havok 4.0 Interview

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posted 7/10/2006 by The GN Staff
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Over the last two to three years in games physics have become one of the biggest areas of innovation in the game industry.  From the gravity gun of Half-Life 2 to Crypto’s mind powers in Destroy All Humans, Dublin based Havok has been leading the way for in games physics engines.  At E3 this year Havok introduced the 4.0 version of their engine which introduced several new features including hardware acceleration support for certain video cards.  We were lucky to get a few questions in to the company about their latest product and where they think the market is going.

GamingNexus: Can you introduce yourself and describe your role at Havok?
My name is Jeff Yates – I’m the VP of Product Management at Havok.  I help drive our product roadmap, our product release cycles, and our partner relationships.

GamingNexus: Well the big news was that you'll be able to use an ATI card to accelerate games using the next Havok physics engine. Was this a long time coming and was this ATI's response to NVIDIA offering the same feature with their video cards?
Jeff Yates:
We always envisioned the general direction of all leading GPUs to be appropriate for our physics developments.  This has really been coming for quite some time.  I think the timing of the roll out of NVIDIA vs. ATI was impacted by a number of non-technical conditions in the end.  Where we are going in the next year, I think both vendors will differentiate based on their unique technologies - with less impact from the timing of our initial rollout.

GamingNexus: What brought on the idea of leveraging a graphics card to drive physics in the game?
The notion of the GP-GPU (or general purpose GPU) has been around for a while.  But in the last year, with the installed base of Shader Model 3 class GPUs growing significantly in consumer hands, we felt it was time to start thinking of the GPU as another platform – the way we think about PCs and Consoles.  We of course also had visibility on nearer term plans that showed what we know today – that the trajectory for GPUs continues to grow and that even more will be possible as time goes on.

GamingNexus: The technology (hardware acceleration) is only available in the latest generation of Havok software right (i.e. it’s not backwards compatible)?
Yes- this is part of our major 4.0 release.  In terms of devices, we always provide fall backs to the PC and Consoles – we of course cannot guarantee the same speeds across different hardware configurations, but functionally, our focus is on establishing a single code path always (cross platform) and then optimizing to the metal where a particular hardware configuration is concerned.  We are in the process of doing that exact thing with our GPU physics technology.

GamingNexus: Will developers have to do anything special to leverage the video card if the game is using the Havok FX engine or is it transparent to the developer with the engine doing the work of detection and automatically feeding the data to the video card?
The developer will have access to a special portion of the SDK that will target the GPU, if present.  And developers will always know what’s going on with the physics on the GPU, and be able to control it, especially in situations were consumer hardware configurations might vary.  This is really key to allow dynamic load balancing when the game is first launched by detecting available hardware and deciding what kinds of things can and cannot be simulated based on that.

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