It was about ten years ago, after 3-D gameplay had taken over the world of gaming, that dedicated 3-D accelerator cards were introduced to the market for PC gamers. They were gimmicky and expensive at first, were only supported by a few games, and a lot of people thought they were a waste of money. Ten years later, if you don’t have a 3-D accelerator in your computer you simply can’t play games. Ageia and their PhysX hardware want to be at the forefront of the next gaming revolution.
The Ageia logo hangs over their booth at E3.
Ageia’s PhysX system is basically an easy way for game developers to include realistic physics effects into their games. Standard effects like ragdoll bodies and barrels that roll down hills require months of work developing custom solutions or the purchase of expensive physics libraries. The PhysX library solution is completely free.
How can Ageia afford to give away their SDK? They want you to buy a hardware physics accelerator containing an Ageia chip, that’s how, and their cards have very recently gone to market. Initially available only through system builders like Dell and Alienware, videocard markers Asus and BFG have just released standalone cards for individual purchase. Both go for about $300.
The Ageia processor is currently utilized on
cards made by Asus and BFG.
So what’s the point in an accelerator when current games like Half-Life 2 already feature impressive real-time physics? With a dedicated card like Ageia’s, effects like those seen there are just the beginning. Ageia’s PPU (Physics Processor Unit) enables incredible effects not seen in games before, like fabric that tears, barrels full of liquid that spill their contents when toppled, and water that flows downhill. Without an Ageia card you simply don’t get these effects and don’t have access to weapons or levels that use them.
Realistic fabric effects, including fabric that
tears when damaged, are possible with physics acceleration.
Right now there’s only a handful of games that really rely on the acceleration, and many of those use it very sparingly. The exception is an FPS on display called Cell Factor featuring amazing psionic abilities that enable you to pick up masses of barrels and boxes and toss them around, deform objects dynamically, spill the blood of your enemies all over the floor, or destroy opponents with massive explosions.
The Ageia physics processor enables dynamic
object interactions on an amazing scale.
This is just the beginning, and while it remains to be seen whether physics acceleration will take off like 3-D graphics acceleration did 10 years ago, Ageia is at the forefront. With their free SDK that’s more comprehensive than the competition’s, they’re in a very, very good position.
[Text and original images by Tim Stevens.]