2006 and 2007 have been rough for Ageia and their PhysX hardware. While they can rightfully claim to be the only solution for complete hardware accelerated physics at this time, getting a base of hardware owners and a base of developers isn't coming easily. As of right now the only two major titles that have shipped with PhysX support are Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter(GRAW) and its sequel GRAW2.

Much of this we believe can be attributed to business reasons. Although Ageia offers a unified physics API that can handle physics done either in software or hardware, getting a developer to fully support the PhysX hardware means getting them to fully use said API. The Havok physics API in turn has been stiff competition in the physics middleware market, and it's fair to say that a number of games that have come out and will be coming out are using Havok and not PhysX. The situation is so bad that Ageia can't even give away the PhysX SDK - it's free and developers still aren't using it. With Havok eating up the business for software physics engines (not including those developers who use their own engines), it leaves Ageia in a poor spot.

Ageia's second business issue is that they still are suffering from a chicken & egg effect with developers and users. Without a large install base of PhysX cards, developers are less likely to try to support the PhysX hardware, and without developers to publish games using the hardware few people are interested in buying potentially useless hardware. Unfortunately for Ageia this is a time-sensitive issue that is only getting worse as the days pass by, the marginalization PhysX due to this effect is undoubtedly pushing developers towards other physics solutions, which ultimately breaks the chicken & egg scenario but not in Ageia's favor.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter w/PhysX

Because Ageia is not directly producing PhysX cards, the actions of their partners can also have a significant effect on the success of PhysX. We believe that Ageia has lost the support of powerhouse Asus, as the supply of Asus's PhysX cards has completely dried up, leaving smaller BFG to supply the North American market. Coencidentally, ELSA (who only sells products on the overseas markets) has become Ageia's third partner and is now producing PhysX cards.

At this point Ageia does have one ace left up its sleeve, and that's Unreal Engine 3. Epic is using the PhysX API at the core of the physics system, giving Ageia an automatic window of opportunity to get PhysX hardware support in to every one of the numerous games slated to be using UE3. Even if everyone else were to abandon the PhysX API, conceivably there are enough games using UE3 to sustain Ageia and PhysX.

The most important of these games will be Unreal Tournament 3, which is due for release this year. So far the only major pieces of software that Ageia has had to show off PhysX has been the GRAW series which underutilizes the PhysX hardware, the partially aborted CellFactor technology demo, and the single-level GRAW2 technology demo; UT3 will be the first major game that may be able to take full use of the hardware as Ageia has done in its technology demos. We believe that UT3 will be the final push for PhysX hardware acceptance, either the hardware will die at this point or UT3 will push the issue from developer acceptance to consumer acceptance. In turn, any victory for Ageia will be reliant on Epic making full use of the PhysX hardware and not using it solely for eye-candy; using it for the latter will mean certain death while the former will hinge on the use of PhysX hardware not slowing the game down like we saw in GRAW.

At the very least, unlike with the GPU camp we should have a clear idea by the start of 2008 if the PhysX hardware is going to take off or not. We expect Ageia will be hanging on for dear life until then.

GPU Physics Final Thoughts
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  • FluffyChicken - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    While it's not mass market like Gaming, there is Microsoft Robotics Studio that implements AGEIA PhysX hardware (& software ?)
    So they are trying ;-)

    Microsoft Robotics Studio targets a wide audience in an attempt to accelerate robotics development and adoption. An important part of this effort is the simulation runtime. It was immediately obvious that PC and Console gaming has paved the way when it comes to affordable, widely usable, robotics simulation. Games rely on photo-realistic visualizations with advanced physics simulation running within real time constraints. This was a perfect starting point for our effort.

    We designed the simulation runtime to be used in a variety of advanced scenarios with high demands for fidelity, visualization, and scaling. At the same time, a novice user with little to no coding experience can use simulation; developing interesting applications in a game-like environment. Our integration of the AGEIA PhysX Technologies enables us to leverage a very strong physics simulation product that is mature and constantly evolving towards features that will be invaluable to robotics. The rendering engine is based on Microsoft XNA Framework.

    So expect there to be a large surge a Dell for the 15yr olds to hook up the lego.
  • DeathBooger - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    There is no need. Not to mention Epic hasn't said anything about it in over two years. If anything it would just be eye candy since Unreal Tournament 3 relies on it's online multiplayer. You can't have added interactive features only a percentage will be able utilize in a multiplayer game.

    Some Unreal Engine 3 titles are replacing the built in Ageia SDK in favor of Havok's SDK. Stranglehold and Blacksite are examples of this.
  • Bladen - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    Physics cards go here >

    Non physics cards go there <
  • Schrag4 - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    My friends and I have had this 'chicken and egg' discussion on many occassions, specifically about why physics hardware is not taking off. As long as a game only uses the physics for eye-candy, the feature won't affect gameplay at all and therefore will be able to be turned off by those who don't have the resources to play with it turned on (no PhysX card, no multiple cores, no SLI graphics, whatever). So who's gonna buy a 200-400 dollar card that's not needed?

    In order for hardware like PhysX to take off, there MUST be a game where the physics is up front, interactive, what makes the game fun to play, and it MUST be required. Not only that, but it better be one hell of a game, one that people just can't do without. I mean, after all, since this is the 'egg' in the chicken-egg scenario, you're basically spending 400 bucks for the game that you want to play, since there are no other games that are even worth mentioning (again, if it's just eye candy, who cares).

    If you don't believe me about the eye-candy comments (about how eye-candy has its place but is over-valued), then please explain to me why the Wii is outselling its direct competition? It's because the games are FUN (mostly because of the innovative interface), not because they look great (they don't). I mean, come on, who cares what a game looks like if it's tedious and frustrating, shoot, even just boring to play.

    What we're longing for is a game where there are no more canned animations for everything. For instance, you don't press a fire button to swing a sword. You somehow define a sword stroke that's different every time you swing. Also, whether or not you hit your target should not be defined by your distance from your target. It should be defined by the strength of the joints that make up your character, along with the mass of the sword, along with the mass of whatever gets in the way of your swing, etc etc. We're actually working on such a game. It's early in the development, and we don't plan on having anything beyond what can be played at LAN parties, but it's a dream we all share and maybe, just maybe, we can eek out something interesting. FYI, we are using the PhysX SDK...
  • Myrandex - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    UT3 should use physX for environments and not just features. Reading the article shows that PhysX can be done in s/w. That way, everyone can pay the same game, and join the same servers, etc., but if they are running on an older system, PhysX will just eat their CPU's resources completely. If they upgrade to 64 core 256bit CPUs, then it will run nice, or if they pop in a little PCI card, it will run nice.

    Either way it is definite that the game has be be revolutionary, good, and always have PhysX running for at least the enrivonmental aspects (maybe leave it as an option for Particle physics so they can get performance back some how for playing on their Compy 486).
  • AttitudeAdjuster - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    The issue of getting access to the results of any calculation performed on a GPU is a mjor one. On that subject you might be interested to look at the preprint of a scientific paper regarding using multiple GPUs to perform real physical (not game-related physics) calculations using nVidia CUDA SDK. The preprint is by">Schive et alSchive et al (astro-ph/0707.2991), at the physics preprint server.
  • Warder45 - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    I wonder what that new Lucasarts game Fracture(I think) is using for the deformable terrain.
  • jackylman - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    Typo in the last paragraph of Page 3:
    "...if the PhysX hardware is going to take of or not..."
  • Sulphademus - Friday, July 27, 2007 - link

    " We except Ageia will be hanging on for dear life until then."

    Also page 3. I except you mean expect.
  • Regs - Thursday, July 26, 2007 - link

    I would think AMD would be pushing more physics by using a co-processor. Why not Aegia team up with AMD to make one for games and sell a AMD CPU bundled with the co-processor for gamers? I think that will be a lesser risk then making a completely independent card for it.

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