Summary: Today at GDC, AGEIA unveiled more info about their PhysX chip, including the games that will support it. Read JCal's wrap-up of the AGEIA press conference and his impressions of the game and tech demos in this article!
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 they’re 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 AGEIA’s 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.
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 AGEIA’s 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
SIDEBAR: The first AGEIA card will have 125 million transistors, far less than the top-of-the-line GPUs from ATI and NVIDIA
It's easy to write about features but its a whole new ballgame when you actually get to see AGEIA accelerated physics in action. During our presentation we got to see a live deathmatch demo of an upcoming first person shooter called Cell Factor. (The deathmatch demo will be shown at AGEIA's booth later today at GDC). Developed by Artifical Studios and Immersion Software, the demo showed a mountainside base with tons of separate objects on screen, including crates, barrels, and massive pipes. Indeed there were so many objects on screen that the texture detail had to be toned down a tad just to get the game to run at an acceptable framerate. Yep, the graphics chip got overwhelmed by the demo, not the physics chip. The demo was being run on an Alienware rig with an Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU from AMD and dual NVIDIA 7800 GTX graphics cards running in SLI mode (when the AGEIA PhysX cards go on sale as an option later today the NVIDIA 7900 GTX will also be available as an option in Alienware systems).
The Cell Factor demo showed an impressive amount of interactivity within the enviroment as our character shot up crates into lots of different pieces, each of which stayed persistent in the level as opposed to just disappearing. The player in the Cell Factor demo has psi powers as well and we were able to see the character use that power to pick up individual pieces of those shattered crates. Of course you can also take the easy route and use a grenade to blow a pile of objects up and that was also demonstrated in the demo. Each object had its own mass as well; some objects could be moved easily, while others took more effort to move.
Even cooler were the fluid effects in the game. No longer will you just see a texture of blood sprayed on the wall as you shoot an enemy. In the Cell Factor demo we saw a head blow up with globules of blood flowing out from the body where the head used to be. Ouch.
One thing we had never seen before in a real-time game was the cloth physics in the demo. One part of the base had a huge cloth banner that not only could be shot through but torn as well in a realistic fashion. AGEIA showed off some movies that had more cloth physics effects like seeing cloth move on a frictionless surface versus one with a lot of friction as well as how the cloth animation moved while on a character in the game.
The Cell Factor demo was very cool to see and we look forward to going to AGEIA's booth later today to actually play the game with the physics enhancements against other players. We also should have more info that the company was not willing to talk about on Tuesday. We still have a lot of unanswered questions, such as how much the card will cost and how will game developers use all of the card's features. While it's still too early to render a verdict, at least the card itself will be in gamers hands very soon. We will hopefully get more info and some more testing and render a final review soon.
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