Introduction

If you believe the more tabloid-oriented hardware news sites, 16 months ago you would have thought that ATI and NVIDIA were at an all out war. Harsh phrases were flung, benchmarks were beat to death, and both sides plotted for motherboards with a third x16 PCIe slot in order to have a GPU dedicated to physics. Yes, 2006 was sure an exciting time for GPU-accelerated physics, and then the party came to a grinding halt.

Over in the Ageia camp, 2005 saw them kick off the whole subject of hardware accelerated physics with their announcement of plans to develop the PhysX hardware. 2006 saw the launch of that hardware, and while it had initial promise there was a failure to follow through with games that meaningfully used the hardware. Much like with the GPU camp, Ageia has been keeping a low profile so far this year.

To be fair, much of this is aligned with the traditional gaming seasons; titles are often loaded in to the 4th quarter for the Christmas season, leaving few games - and by extension few new uses of physics - to talk about. But it's also indicative of a general dampening of spirit for hardware accelerated physics, things have not gone as planned for anyone. Now in 2007, some 2 years after Ageia's announcement got the ball rolling, the number of released AAA titles using some sort of hardware physics acceleration can still be counted on one hand.

So what happened to the enthusiasm? It's not a simple answer as there's no single reason, but rather a combination of reasons that have done a very good job dampening things. Today we'll take a look at these reasons, the business behind all of this, and why as the days tick by hardware accelerated physics keeps looking like a pipe dream.

GPU Physics
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  • FluffyChicken - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    While it's not mass market like Gaming, there is Microsoft Robotics Studio that implements AGEIA PhysX hardware (& software ?)
    So they are trying ;-)

    Microsoft Robotics Studio targets a wide audience in an attempt to accelerate robotics development and adoption. An important part of this effort is the simulation runtime. It was immediately obvious that PC and Console gaming has paved the way when it comes to affordable, widely usable, robotics simulation. Games rely on photo-realistic visualizations with advanced physics simulation running within real time constraints. This was a perfect starting point for our effort.

    We designed the simulation runtime to be used in a variety of advanced scenarios with high demands for fidelity, visualization, and scaling. At the same time, a novice user with little to no coding experience can use simulation; developing interesting applications in a game-like environment. Our integration of the AGEIA PhysX Technologies enables us to leverage a very strong physics simulation product that is mature and constantly evolving towards features that will be invaluable to robotics. The rendering engine is based on Microsoft XNA Framework.


    So expect there to be a large surge a Dell for the 15yr olds to hook up the lego.
    Reply
  • DeathBooger - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    There is no need. Not to mention Epic hasn't said anything about it in over two years. If anything it would just be eye candy since Unreal Tournament 3 relies on it's online multiplayer. You can't have added interactive features only a percentage will be able utilize in a multiplayer game.

    Some Unreal Engine 3 titles are replacing the built in Ageia SDK in favor of Havok's SDK. Stranglehold and Blacksite are examples of this.
    Reply
  • Bladen - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    Physics cards go here >

    Non physics cards go there <
    Reply
  • Schrag4 - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    My friends and I have had this 'chicken and egg' discussion on many occassions, specifically about why physics hardware is not taking off. As long as a game only uses the physics for eye-candy, the feature won't affect gameplay at all and therefore will be able to be turned off by those who don't have the resources to play with it turned on (no PhysX card, no multiple cores, no SLI graphics, whatever). So who's gonna buy a 200-400 dollar card that's not needed?

    In order for hardware like PhysX to take off, there MUST be a game where the physics is up front, interactive, what makes the game fun to play, and it MUST be required. Not only that, but it better be one hell of a game, one that people just can't do without. I mean, after all, since this is the 'egg' in the chicken-egg scenario, you're basically spending 400 bucks for the game that you want to play, since there are no other games that are even worth mentioning (again, if it's just eye candy, who cares).

    If you don't believe me about the eye-candy comments (about how eye-candy has its place but is over-valued), then please explain to me why the Wii is outselling its direct competition? It's because the games are FUN (mostly because of the innovative interface), not because they look great (they don't). I mean, come on, who cares what a game looks like if it's tedious and frustrating, shoot, even just boring to play.

    What we're longing for is a game where there are no more canned animations for everything. For instance, you don't press a fire button to swing a sword. You somehow define a sword stroke that's different every time you swing. Also, whether or not you hit your target should not be defined by your distance from your target. It should be defined by the strength of the joints that make up your character, along with the mass of the sword, along with the mass of whatever gets in the way of your swing, etc etc. We're actually working on such a game. It's early in the development, and we don't plan on having anything beyond what can be played at LAN parties, but it's a dream we all share and maybe, just maybe, we can eek out something interesting. FYI, we are using the PhysX SDK...
    Reply
  • Myrandex - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    UT3 should use physX for environments and not just features. Reading the article shows that PhysX can be done in s/w. That way, everyone can pay the same game, and join the same servers, etc., but if they are running on an older system, PhysX will just eat their CPU's resources completely. If they upgrade to 64 core 256bit CPUs, then it will run nice, or if they pop in a little PCI card, it will run nice.

    Either way it is definite that the game has be be revolutionary, good, and always have PhysX running for at least the enrivonmental aspects (maybe leave it as an option for Particle physics so they can get performance back some how for playing on their Compy 486).
    Reply
  • AttitudeAdjuster - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    The issue of getting access to the results of any calculation performed on a GPU is a mjor one. On that subject you might be interested to look at the preprint of a scientific paper regarding using multiple GPUs to perform real physical (not game-related physics) calculations using nVidia CUDA SDK. The preprint is by http://arxiv.org/abs/0707.2991">Schive et alSchive et al (astro-ph/0707.2991), at the arXiv.org physics preprint server. Reply
  • Warder45 - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    I wonder what that new Lucasarts game Fracture(I think) is using for the deformable terrain. Reply
  • jackylman - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    Typo in the last paragraph of Page 3:
    "...if the PhysX hardware is going to take of or not..."
    Reply
  • Sulphademus - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    " We except Ageia will be hanging on for dear life until then."

    Also page 3. I except you mean expect.
    Reply
  • Regs - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    I would think AMD would be pushing more physics by using a co-processor. Why not Aegia team up with AMD to make one for games and sell a AMD CPU bundled with the co-processor for gamers? I think that will be a lesser risk then making a completely independent card for it. Reply

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