You may have heard of AGEIA but not really known what they were all about; the Mountain View, CA-based company created quite a stir over a year ago when they first announced their plans to create a hardware chip that when made available in a PC card would not accelerate 3D graphics but game interaction and physics instead. The "PPU" (Physics Processing Unit) sounded at first like an over-indulgence. Why would a PC owner want yet another card to put in their machine?
Soon we shall find out if such a card will be accepted by gamers as AGEIA's physics cards will be sold at retail by BFG Technologies and will also be made available in gaming PC maker Alienware's machines. On Tuesday during the Game Developers Conference, FiringSquad got a chance to see a couple of new live demos showing what the AGEIA PhysX chip can do and more info on what games will actually support the chip's abilities
Formed in 2002, AGEIA is not only responsible for the R&D on PhysX, but theyíre also a game physics SDK developer as well (they have done this partly through buying out two game physics software companies, Meqon and Novadex). In fact, their software can be used in PC games and in next-generation console titles (indeed they have already announced support for the PS3). AGEIA co-founder and CEO Manju Hegde started out our GDC meeting Tuesday by talking about AGEIAís thoughts on how game physics should make playing games a better experience. He talked about how many strides PC games have made thanks to better and faster GPUs from the likes of NVIDIA and ATI. However, he made the point that the experience changes once those pretty graphics do more than just stand still "The minute the game moves, it doesn't have the same realistic feel," Hegde told us.
Enter the AGEIA PPU which he told us will add that degree of realism that most games, even those that are graphically rich like Half-Life 2, don't have. Yes, Half-Life 2 does have some physics and interactivity but compared to what AGEIA wants to see in games, it's tiny. Indeed, the challenge will be how game developers use the capabilities of what AGEIA has; things like thousands of particles in the air after explosions in a first person shooter, or fluids that move and react realistically to their surroundings, and even cloth that can not only move but do things that have never been seen in games before. Ultimately, the PPU should take a lot of the load off of the CPU and GPU in today's PCs.
PhysX-accelerated version of Bet on Solider
The PhysX-accelerated flamethrower for Bet on Solider
Even though the AGEIA card is going on sale via Alienware's web site as an option later today, it's impressive that the company already has a lot of upcoming titles that will support it. The company states that 60 developers and publishers and over 100 games will support AGEIA's PhysX card in 2006 and 2007. The first games that will support the card will be Cryptic Studios' superhero MMORPG City of Villains and the 2005 first person shooter Bet on Soldier. For City of Villains, the folks at Cryptic will actually have an AGEIA card in their servers to handle the really intense scenes of interaction in the game. The player will still have to have AGEIAís PhysX card installed in their PC in order to see the effects. For Bet on Solider, a patch will be released which will add a flamethrower that fires molten lava with fluids that move around the environment realistically. We got to see this effect briefly in a live demo and its pretty cool with lava moving around rocks and environments and frying enemies even when you are behind an object