In-game physics. Itís a topic thatís been discussed extensively over the last several years. Some see it as the missing link thatís capable of truly delivering immersive games. Others consider it an overly hyped gimmick. Whatever your stance on the topic is, one thing is certain, with AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA, as well as thousands of game developers all devoting resources to physics, itís only going to become more prevalent as time goes on. How itís ultimately implemented in future games is an open race however.
AGEIA was the first and only company to provide dedicated hardware for in-game physics. Their PhysX card launched with tons of buzz in 2006 with the company touting that PhysX would change the way games are played. Initially AGEIA was aiming for effects such as realistic smoke and explosions, and fluid and cloth animation, but eventually AGEIA envisioned a future where the physics effects produced by their PhysX processor could affect gameplay elements.
Taking PhysX from concept to the public
After taking a look at a card sporting AGEIAís PhysX PPU, we concluded by saying that the card needs a killer app that really takes advantage of the chip. As the months of waiting wore on, the PPU concept slowly faded from the forefront of our minds to the complete backburner; it was an interesting idea, and AGEIA had certainly put together a few really nice technology demonstrations, but without that killer app the technology just wasnít very compelling.
To their credit, AGEIA did not give up. While a blockbuster application that really took full advantage of PhysX didnít arrive in 2006, the company was working hard behind the scenes on expanding the PhysX platform. The PhysX SDK was released to Playstation 3 developers in early 2006, and AGEIA signed on dozens of additional game developers later that year, including BioWare. Things really heated up in 2007. Not only did we see the release of Unreal Tournament 3, but Cell Factor: Revolution and Warmonger were also released for free to the public.
What really got the ball rolling for AGEIA in our opinion was ironically Intelís purchase of Havok, rumored to be in the ballpark of $110 million. When a company like Intel forks over that kind of money, itís a big deal. Intelís purchase of Havok validated everything Havok and to a lesser extent, AGEIA was doing, and in the process AGEIA became the only independent company left with physics technology. Up to that point both ATI and NVIDIA had publicly downplayed the importance of AGEIAís PhysX, promoting GPU-based physics via Havok FX instead.
With the Havok FX initiative floundering and now in the hands of Intel, AGEIAís status as the last man standing suddenly made them highly attractive to both AMD and NVIDIA, and ultimately NVIDIA purchased AGEIA in February of this year with the goal of bringing PhysX to the GeForce platform of GPUs. AGEIA still didnít have a killer app, but with over 140 titles in development or shipping with PhysX support, and full support for all the major game consoles, NVIDIA saw a huge opportunity that they couldnít pass up: with their huge network of game developers participating in their The Way Itís Meant To Be Played program and over 70 million programmable GPUs floating around out there, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Bringing PhysX to GeForce
Immediately after the AGEIA acquisition, work began on porting AGEIAís PhysX SDK using CUDA, and now this effort is about to pay off. On August 12th NVIDIA will be opening up GeForce-based PhysX support to all GeForce 8, 9, and GTX 200 series users. Today weíre going to take a quick look at whatís in store for gamers later this month!