PhysX’s Big Break? Unreal Tournament 3 PhysX Performanceby Ryan Smith on December 14, 2007 12:00 AM EST
- Posted in
It’s been a little more than a year and a half since AGEIA launched the PhysX PPU, and so far it’s fair to say that the product has been teetering on being a dud. As we’ve discussed in pervious articles, AGEIA has been battling both technical hurdles (extra PPU work dragging down the GPU) and software hurdles. When we discussed the issue over two years ago when AGEIA announced the PPU, we highlighted the likely problems that AGEIA would end up having getting developers to use their technology and unfortunately for AGEIA this has effectively come true: we can count the number of AAA titles released that support the PhysX hardware on one hand, in fact we’ve even benchmarked all of them. As the late Rodney Dangerfield would say, AGEIA just isn’t getting no respect.
As the average software development cycle is two-to-four years, the first products designed from scratch with PhysX support are just now emerging. It’s a short list. After a flurry of initial announcements, there aren’t a lot of well-known games on the horizon that are known to be supporting PhysX. And while this would probably be a swan song under any other circumstances, AGEIA has scored just a couple of significant wins as of late that will be keeping them in the game.
First and foremost is that for the time being their biggest competition is dead. GPU acceleration of physics, in spite of operating on a similar time table, has not panned out. The announcement of this technology and subsequent promise has certainly knocked some of the wind out of AGEIA’s operations, and the threat of a real GPU physics solution is always looming on the horizon (especially with AMD’s recent comments on DirectX 11). But with Intel’s acquisition of physics-leader Havok and the disappearance of their Havok FX package under mysterious circumstances, for the time being AGEIA can enjoy the fact that PhysX is the only game in town for hardware accelerated physics when it comes to gaming.
The other and far more important piece of news however is that in spite of drought of games supporting PhysX, AGEIA managed to get a single win some time back which is finally coming to fuition, and that win may very well make everything else irrelevant. That win? Epic’s Unreal Engine 3.
As game development costs have increased, studios have turned to licensing game engines rather than developing their own. For this generation of hardware and engines, there’s no bigger player in the market than Epic, whose Unreal Engine 3 has been licensed at a mind numbing rate. This has been fantastic news for AGEIA, who now is the default middleware provider for a significant percentage of first person shooters to be released over the next few years. With their troubles getting developers to adopt PhysX elsewhere, AGEIA needs PhysX support on Unreal Engine 3 games to be utilized to make or break the hardware.
Although several Unreal Engine 3 games have shipped since last year, Epic has still been hammering down the PC version of the engine and its PhysX hardware support. Only now has an Unreal Engine 3 game shipped with PhysX hardware support, Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3. With UT3 having shipped, AGEIA has reached a milestone: Unreal Engine 3 is finally shipping to developers with full PhysX hardware support, and a AAA game has finally shipped that can use PhysX for first-order physics, and a welcome change for all parties from previous AAA games that have only used second-order physics.
To get an idea of how PhysX will perform under the Unreal Engine 3, we’ll benchmark UT3 with and without PhysX hardware acceleration. While every game using the engine will be different and making strong predictions from a single datapoint isn’t possible, it will none the less give us an idea of what we can expect with future Unreal Engine 3 titles. Furthermore UT3 is a big enough title on its own that it can justify & drive PhysX sales if the performance is there, which with be the other major aspect we will be looking at today.