Summary: Earlier this week, Havok sounded off on physics usage in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter specifically dealing with AGEIA's PhysX card. In particular Havok cited claims by users of lower frame rates once PhysX was applied to the game. In this article AGEIA responds to the FPS reports, as well as clarifying physics usage in GRAW and game consoles. See what AGEIA had to say about all this and more inside!
In the other corner we have AGEIA which has its own physics software engine, the PhysX API, but is also pushing their own enhancement called the PhysX physics processing chip. Officially revealed last year, the chip is now being put on add-on cards that people can select if they buy a machine from Dell, Alienware, Falcon Northwest or other PC makers. Add-on cards from BFG and Asus are scheduled to ship to stores next week. The first game that supports the AGEIA physics chip is UbiSoft's latest military tactical shooter Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter which shipped to stores this week. A free playable demo of the game that also supports the AGEIA processor was released on the Internet last week.
However, Havok is not letting AGEIA off the hook and earlier this week their marketing manager sent over to FiringSquad some comments and claims about the AGEIA support for Advanced Warfighter. For people who did not see our original post, you can read it at http://www.firingsquad.com/news/newsarticle.asp?searchid=10096. We immediately sent this press notice over to AGEIA’s PR reps and on Friday they sent us a point-by-point rebuttal of the claims made by Havok. For your point of reference, the Havok statements are in italics while the AGEIA rebuttal statements are in bold. We’ve also included two screenshots from Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter as well as 10 shots from Cell Factor.
Havok: In advance of our E3 press releases, which we will send on Monday, May 9, we wanted to highlight a few facts about Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter for PC (GRAW) that is releasing this week.
We know that there will be claims made by AGEIA in respect of GRAW for PC, and we wanted to let you know where Havok stands on that.
AGEIA: We will of course make factual claims regarding Ghost Recon :
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a great game which highlights some of what can be done with AGEIA PhysX to enable hardware-accelerated physics beyond the standard software driven effects already inherent to the game.
While Ghost Recon is a very interesting game which we applaud, it’s only a taste of what you can expect in the next generation of games to which PhysX will bring literally 1,000s of interactive elements of physics into the gameplay itself. Have you seen CellFactor, a PhysX-enabled game demo which brings physics into the game? Explosions cause collateral damage, cloth sways and tears naturally, fluids of all types flow and impact the environment and players, telekinesis powers which control moveable objects that can be used as weapons in the game play. This exciting multiplayer game demo was shown at GDC in March. It’s available for download now. And it’s the shape of things to come.
What you see today is just the beginning. Let’s just start with the fact that PhysX is integrated in Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. That alone will lead to a rush of PhysX-enabled games.
Havok Physics (on the CPU) is used for all game-play physics in both the multiplayer and single-player PC versions of the game. All persistent collidable objects in the game are simulated using Havok software technology running on the CPU.
AGEIA: That is true. AGEIA PhysX had to be layered on top of Havok to extend the physics effects beyond that which could be achieved with CPU only. Imagine what you’ll see in tomorrow’s games in which all resources can be dedicated to PhysX without the hinderance of a software physics engine that runs on general purpose hardware.
Havok: Havok’s logo is on the GRAW PC box, substantiating Havok’s use in the game (confirmed by Ubisoft marketing).
AGEIA: Not sure the point of that notation, but the PhysX logo is on there too.
Havok: Havok was also used in recent GRAW releases including Xbox360, Xbox, and PS2 skus.
AGEIA: That is true. We have no reason to dispute that. It is also true that AGEIA’s PhysX software technology is used to extend the physics features in the Xbox360 version. In fact PhysX is the core SDK in the single-player version of GRAW 360 – it’s not an extension of Havok in that SKU.
Havok: AGEIA Novodex is said to be used in the single-player GRAW version for added PPU-accelerated effects – at the most AGEIA appears to be used for particle effects – and in no-way affects game-play outcome.
AGEIA: It’s true that PhysX is used for effects, but it goes beyond simple particle effects that one would expect when enabling physics in software. AGEIA PhysX is global within the game, but are very distinct within each level:
Explosions are physically simulated with a combination of rigid-body and particle behaviors. Objects in the game blow apart with a cloud of realistic dust and smoke that drifts with the force of the explosion. Fragments bounce off each other and the surroundings, damaging other game objects, and impacting the environment.
With PhysX all destructible objects in the game now explode with greater realism.
All other particle behaviors in the game are physically simulated, including trash and grit blowing in the street, and bullets kicking up shards of any object shot in the environment.
AGEIA Smart Particle Fluids are utilized to enable enveloping smoke from explosions. There is no equivalent effect without PhysX.
Note: AGEIA incorporated the Novodex into a complete physics software technology branded as PhysX. There is no such product name as AGEIA Novodex.
Havok: AGEIA is NOT used in any way in any GRAW sku other than the PC.
AGEIA: This is not true and we’re not sure why anyone would think this. PhysX is used in GRAW on Xbox360.
Even players of the Xbox360 game know that AGEIA PhysX is a driving force…
Note the sample forum user thread below from hardforum.com
QUESTION POSED ON FIRINGSQUAD.COM
RESPONSE ON HARDFORUM.COM
AGEIA: It will be common to see PhysX-enabled titles continue to span PC and console platforms in the future. Developers appreciate that fact that PhysX is naturally cross-platform and easy to port between PC and console (i.e. Xbox360, Playstation 3). They also don’t mind that AGEIA provides the SDK and support for free. Havok charges 100’s of thousands of dollars for this. For these reasons, its understandable why over 60 developers and publishers are working to deliver over 100 games built for the PhysX processor.
Havok: From our inspection, differential effects in the GRAW PC game when using the PPU are not significantly obvious – but where they can be observed, additional particles do not appear in volumes greater than 100’s of particles (a range that is typically easily in the domain of the CPU/GPU for particles). These observed particle effects are also only particles and not apparently persistent rigid bodies. They pass through the environment after a short time (seconds) at most. User comments back this up:
“…to be honest it looks exactly same with the PPU as it does without it, the only difference is you get the extra blocks/debris, the strange thing is these extra blocks/debris seem to appear unrealistically out of no where when you shot things like the wall, floor etc, it really is like they've just been tacked on just to say *this game supports PhysX*.”
Consumer reports from users who already have purchased the PPU and GRAW indicate that the PPU “actually slows down the game” in moments when effects are generated that are unique to the PPU. The effects described above appear to be the cause of the slow down – our observations here using a DELL/PPU confirm this. Also see http://forums.overclockers.co.uk/showthread.php?t=17568825.
One user comments states:
“10-16 FPS slower with hardware PPU, I guess I need another GPU (SLI) to help render the added debris and effects I get from using the PPU, the price of PC gaming just went up again :-(, I can't believe that I have to disable the hardware PhysX card I just paid 200 quid for so that I can play GRAW at an acceptable FPS, to be honest I just feel like giving up on PC gaming these days. “
It’s unclear how this individual measured frame rate impact, however we aren’t keeping our heads in the sand. We appreciate feedback from the gamer community and based partly on comments like the one above, we have identified an area in our driver where fine tuning positively impacts frame rate. We made an adjustment quickly and delivered it in a new driver (2.4.3) which is available for download at ageia.com today. That’s the beauty of the PhysX solution. A powerful processor is in place now and a flexible software solution is there to continue improving the PhysX experience for our customers. Buy a PhysX accelerator today and it keeps getting better.
Havok: AGEIA appears to imply and consumers conjecture that the PPU is generating so many objects that the GPU cannot handle the load. Multiple direct tests on the game by using NVIDIA’s and ATI GPUs indicate the GPU has room to spare and in fact, if the PPU is factored out of the game, that the particle content generated by the PPU can easily be drawn at full game speeds by the GPU. So the introduction of the PPU most certainly appears to be the cause of the slow down in this case. NVIDIA specifically can technically verify that the GPU is not the cause of the slowdown.
AGEIA: While we believe that a high-end system configuration of leading edge CPUs and GPUs is always a good thing, PhysX does not require it. Today’s powerful CPUs are quite capable of excellent game AI and logic and the newest GPUs are well positioned for rendering and displaying images.
Users can make up their mind on their own about the best solution for physics. You can already see responses to the above notion on other gaming forums. GRAW and other titles today are good, but they are only the beginning....
USER RESPONSE TO ABOVE
So what do you believe? The truth is that support for the AGEIA physics chip is still very early with only two games out there – City of Villains and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (another game, the RTS title Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends, is due out next week). As such, game developers may simply have not had the chance to fully exploit the uses for the physics chip, much like how the first games that use graphic engines like Epic's Unreal or id's Quake didn't look as impressive as later games that use the same graphics engine. In the months to come a more complete picture of CPU-GPU vs. PPU game physics support will emerge as more games come out, and more developers have a chance to use the features from both Havok and AGEIA. Much like the battle between VHS vs Betamax and the current HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray, the final victor in the game physics wars will depend on consumer support.
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