Back in May 2005 AGEIA™ Technologies, Inc., quietly announced to the world that Ghost Recon 3 would be powered by Multithreaded Physics Software from AGEIA. Ubisoft announced the PC version of Ghost Recon : Advanced Warfighter would feature Novodex technology in this Q&A session in August.
The advanced physics made possible using AGEIA technology is certainly something to get excited about, so let's take a look at what Ghost Recon fans have in store for them when they eventually load up Ghost Recon : Advanced Warfighter later this year!
Physics engines are the power houses that produce lifelike animation and interactive environments in games. Arguably the most impressive and successful display of gaming physics was completed by Valve in Half Life 2. Fans of Half Life 2 take great pleasure in re-arranging various artifacts lying around the game scenes, and using them to complete fantastic, realistic stunts. So possessive were Valve about their physics engine, that the whole thing ended up in court, that's how cut throat and competitive the whole gaming physics scene is.
Currently physics effects such as the ones achieved in Half Life 2, are calculated by the CPU, in real time. This has obvious restrictions as the CPU is being heavily used for a purpose it was not entirely designed for. A dedicated physics processor could achieve far greater potential, and free up the CPU for it's normal duties, and that's where AGEIA step in.
AGEIA technology solves this problem by taking the physics calculations away from the CPU, and handing it over to a Physics Processing Unit (PPU). This technology, pioneered by AGEIA, accelerates graphic performance through the roof. For example, where a dual core CPU might be capable of handling up to 1,000 moving objects, AGEIA can handle over 4 times that at around 4,200 objects. Once the technology is refined, that figure is expected to multiply by up to 8 times - handling over 30,000 objects!
AGEIA's first PPU is code named PhysX, and demo movies of it in action are already available for download - but more on that later. The PhysX chip produces the goods for all sorts of physics buzzwords, such as fluid dynamics, rigid body dynamics, collision detection and soft body dynamics. AGEIA manufacture the Physx chip themselves, before passing them on to board partners.
ASUS will be pleased to have been named as the lead manufacturer. Chicago based BFG Technologies are the second manufacturer to be named. Expect to see their PhysX-based PPU cards in the near future, certainly before Christmas 2005.
Initially there may be PCI boards, however PCI Express versions are likely to be the main drive. The Asus version is based on a 125 million transistor 182mm PhysX chip. The power hungry chip will require it's own power, so make sure you still have a 20W molex connection spare! As far as RAM, it'll be packing 128Mb of GDDR3
The price? You can expect to pay the same as a mid to high end graphics card, but until next month it's really anybody's guess. Early indications are that the first cards on the shelf could be as high as $300. Considering this is in additional to having a decent graphics card already installed, getting realistic physics on your games is going to be a pricey luxury.
What do all those things mean to us, the gamer? One example is realistic liquid movements; water will actually behave like water instead of a pre-rendered repeating cycle. Take a look at this short movie showing how slime slides of a polished car, if you look closely you can see how the slime's momentum reacts to the curves of the car. In this second example, look how AGEIA handles vapour movement over the same surface. For a CPU this would be fairly intensive processing, for AGEIA it's all part of the service. To see all of the demo movies, download this file.
Another feature that will no doubt make Ghost Recon 3 really shine - is damage effects. Real time damage will be apparent on bullet ridden cars and tanks destroyed by AT4. Damage will no longer be a case of the game engine selecting one of a few damage models and displaying it at random, the damage now will be calculated real-time, and never be the same twice. Awesome.
All this will happen without any impact of Frames Per Second (FPS). A recent demonstration showed how a 6,000 boulder simulation running on a high end PC was struggling at only 4-6 FPS, while the same demo on a PhysX chip ran at over 40FPS. Impressive stuff!
Despite an embarrassing climb down where AGEIA claimed that the XBox 360 could not match it's physics and produce life like liquid movements, the future does look bright for AGEIA.
The fact that Sony has already sublicensed the Ageia PhysX SDK for the PlayStation 3, and there are already almost 30 new titles including Ghost Recon 3 planning on making the most of AGEIA PPUs, shows how seriously the industry is taking this new technology. At the moment AGEIA have a head start, but it wouldn't be too speculative to expect to see Nvidia and ATi coming out with their own versions soon enough.
Wherever it comes from, the realistic collisions, damage, and interaction with the environment will lead to a far more convincing environment for gamers - even it if does come at a significant cost initially.
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