Written by Charles Husemann on 6/16/2005 for
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Realistic physics in games has become one of the bigger trends over the last few years as they add a whole new level of realism to games. They have become integral game play elements of games like Half-Life 2, Psi-Ops, and the upcoming City of Villains.expansion pack gamers are able to interact with games in new ways and the tools to create them will provide developers with a new way to create the world gamers can explore.

While most gamers are familiar with the Havok physics engine there is a new physics engine maker on the horizon and they are looking to become one of the major players in this physics space, not only on the console side but on the PC side as well. To overcome the problem that the PC won’t have the multi-processor support that next generation consoles have, AGEIA is going to be releasing a dedicated physics processing card for PC’s later this year. Some people might scoff at card dedicated to only processing physics instructions you have to remember people weren’t won over by the concept of dedicated video processing cards until a small company named 3dFX came in and changed the way we played games.

To get a better feel for what they are actually producing we got to chat with Andy Keane, the VP Marketing at AGEIA to find out what exactly their technology can do.

GamingNexus: First off can you talk about what products AGEIA is developing?
Andy Keane: AGEIA is developing the PhysX technology. This technology includes the PhysX processor, its supporting driver software and the PhysX software (NovodeX). This processor is expected to be available in PC add-in cards by Christmas 2005.

GamingNexus: Are realistic physics something that will decrease development time or does it add to the development time?
Andy Keane: This is an interesting question because in one way physics simplifies games and in another it opens up possibilities that the game developer can take advantage of. To help the developer, tools will become available to assist in integrating physics into games. You’ll be able to see some of these tools at SIGGraph at the end of July.

GamingNexus: Which platforms will the NovodeX engine support? Will you eventually support the Nintendo Revolution or not?
Andy Keane: We have announced NovodeX support for Xbox 360, Sony Playstation3 and the PC. Nothing to date has been announced for Nintendo Revolution.

GamingNexus: This is a politically charged question but was it easier to port the engine to the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3? Will one perform better than the other?
Andy Keane: We can’t comment on the individual platforms. We’ll have optimized versions of our software for both platforms.

GamingNexus: Why no current generation support (X-Box, PS2, Gamecube)?
Andy Keane: Our development looks forward to the next generation of hardware that offers tremendous power for compelling physics. If you look at the activity in developers and publishers, the interesting development work for us is on the next generation platforms. If the developers and publishers we work with demand the legacy platforms we’ll certainly support those.GamingNexus: How does the NovodeX engine work with the multiple-thread/multiple processors of the next generation hardware?
Andy Keane: NovodeX is a multi-threaded API and was designed to take advantage of a highly multi-threaded processing environment with parallel processors since this is the foundation of our PhysX processor. Therefore, we are the first SDK to take advantage of multiple processors.

GamingNexus: How does your engine compare to the Havok physics engine?
Andy Keane: NovodeX is also a software physics middleware engine. NovodeX is a software physics engine that offers the same advantages as the Havok engine with a few major additions. We offer multi-threaded capabilities, support an upgrade path through the PhysX hardware acceleration, and have other unique features such as universal collision detection.

GamingNexus: Why should gamers plunk out $249-299 for a dedicated physics card?
Andy Keane: It’s about the experience. Remember the impact that the software physics in Half-Life 2 had on the game play and realism? Magnify that by the thousands. And, of course, the hardware is nothing without the game content to support it. We have been working with many publishers and developers to secure content that is compelling.

GamingNexus: While no other hardware based physics have been announced yet do you think there’s a possibility for a platform battle similar to the Glide/OpenGL/DirectX battle that occurred when dedicated graphics cards first came to market?
Andy Keane: As the market for physics in games develops and expands, we anticipate the standardization that will take place for a physics API. Our business model is designed to follow those standards since our goal is compelling content. We are working closely with partners and standards organizations to try and prevent the same issues with physics. Also, NovodeX is highly compatible with other physics middleware, therefore game development headaches should be avoided.

GamingNexus: If a PC game uses the NovodeX engine will gamers without the card still be able to play it (at a decreased experience) or not? Is this a developer decision?
Andy Keane: Yes, if a game uses NovodeX it will at a minimum support the software features within a game. The game developer does, however, decide which features take advantage of software versus hardware or both. We see developers that are early in development seeing hardware support as a major technological advantage in their game. Existing games under development tend to use a combination of both software and hardware acceleration.GamingNexus: Will there be any games bundled with the card when it’s released or has that not been decided yet?
Andy Keane: Content will be bundled with the card when it is offered for sale. The exact contents of what will ship with the card will not be announced until we ship the product.

GamingNexus: Does the PC add in card require an additional power plug-in?
Andy Keane: There is an additional power plug for the board. The board power is about 25 watts which is pretty modest compared with current high end graphics.

GamingNexus: Is there a PCI-Express version in the works and if so what advantages do you see in using the PCI-E bus over traditional PCI?
Andy Keane: Yes, we will eventually support PCI-E, but the first version of the board will support PCI. The content for the PhysX processor has plenty of bandwidth over PCI since we hold the game state on the board and only update the processor with changes to the current game state.

GamingNexus: How has the community reacted to your technology since the E3 unveiling?
Andy Keane: The response has been amazing. We’ve had developers and potential partners coming out of the woodwork. Their feedback has been quite simply, “this is what we’ve been waiting for” or “this is clearly the next big thing in gaming”.

GamingNexus: Do you see the physics add on board’s success similar to 3Dfx’s in the 3D graphics world?
Andy Keane: Absolutely. 3Dfx created a new category and helped push 3D forward much faster than the incremental 3D offered by the VGA chips of the day. By offering a very compelling capability, 3Dfx allowed developers to target 3D performance that was only available in workstations. In a similar way, AGEIA has a software product that allow developers to incorporate physics into software game play and then push the physics much faster with hardware acceleration.

GamingNexus: Do you see yourself moving into including the chip on motherboards especially since space is a premium on SFF enclosures?

Andy Keane: Yes, and the similarity to graphics is appropriate here. 3D hardware is pervasive because so much content relies on hardware acceleration of 3D. In a similar way we believe that content will push PhysX technology onto the motherboard.

We’d like to thank Andy for taking the time to talk to us today and we’re looking forward to trying out the technology in games like City of Villains and Ghost Recon 3, Special thanks to Kim for helping to coordinate the interview and dealing with our constant nagging.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014.  I currently own stock in Microsoft, AMD, and nVidia.

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