EA, Take-Two adopt Nvidia PhysX

Rival publishers simultaneously reveal plans to adopt Ageia-powered physics engine in upcoming PC titles.

Electronic Arts and Take-Two Interactive Software are adopting Nvidia's PhysX technology, bringing more realistic gaming to the PC. The largest graphics chip supplier announced this week that Electronic Arts and Take-Two have licensed its PhysX technology as a development platform.

Nvidia got its physics technology when it acquired Ageia in February. PhysX runs on the graphics processing unit, or GPU. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, on the other hand, have been promoting technology that is executed on the central processing unit, or CPU. Intel's approach uses technology from Havok, a developer of a physics engine that Intel bought in September of 2007.

Adhering to the laws of physics
The goal of Nvidia's technology--based on the laws of physics--is to make game objects respond in a realistic way to physical events. More conventional technology uses a canned response, in which the same motion is repeated over and over. For example, a window breaks or a person falls the same way every time. In a PhysX-enabled football sports game, however, the angle and velocity of the impact is calculated by the GPU to generate a real-time response that is different every time.

The technology was meant to run on the GPU, according to Jon Peddie, whose firm tracks developments in the graphics chip industry. "It's a GPU thing, and the fact that EA and Take-Two are coming out [with support] gives you a clue why," Peddie said. "This really is a significant event," he said, "enabling the GPU to do physics."

Ageia's secret sauce is its physics libraries, which are supported on Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3, Nintendo's Wii, as well as on the CPU and Ageia's own PPU (physics processing unit), Ujesh Desai, vice president of product marketing at Nvidia, said in an interview last week. "It's a very open platform. Something game developers really liked, which is why a lot of game developers adopted it," he said.

The launch pad for Ageia on the PC is Nvidia's CUDA, or Compute Unified Device Architecture. CUDA already has a large installed base of GPUs that can run a C program, "which is what PhysX is," Desai said. "We bought Ageia, [and] they ported their PhysX API to our GPU, using our C compiler on top of CUDA. So now there are 100 million GeForce [chips] out there that can do PhysX processing."

And PhysX-enabled games will offer much greater realism. "Today, the way they do sports games is motion capture. They capture the different animation--running, falling," Desai said. "What you realize is that for the first 5 to 10 minutes of the game (or movie), it looks believable, but after you play for a while, you realize, wait a minute, every time he falls, he falls the same way. Every time I make that tackle, it looks the same."

The game Backbreaker uses PhysX. "They're calculating those tackles in real time, based on how the body interacts and the body mechanics interact. So no two tackles are the same," according to Desai. Another game, Mirror's Edge, is coming out for the PC in January from EA's Swedish studio DICE.

"Ageia changed the rules on this," Peddie said. "It's much, much more realistic."

Ageia's physics was originally done on an Ageia Physics Processing Unit, Peddie said. "This was the only way to make it work. But now this capability [software] has been ported to Nvidia GPUs, and this can be done on Nvidia silicon," he said.

Physics can also be used to make things look more photo-realistic. "In today's games, cloth and hair look very fake because you don't have the right physical properties," Desai said. But with PhysX, "all these things can be physically simulated."

Havok--the company Intel acquired--was the first to introduce physics into games and bring out a physics library. Havok's physics has been run on the CPU in a time-scheduled way, Peddie said. "Because of that, there weren't many CPU resources to really do a great job on the physics," he said. "Nothing would really happen. What happened, at most, is that you would hit this thing (a window or a wall, for example), and it would apply a decal to indicate that there was some change in it. It's not very realistic."

AMD, for its part, will pursue a balanced platform. "The GPU is a great place to do processing. We'll do the offloading [to the GPU], where it makes sense," said Korhan Erenben, product marketing manager at AMD Graphics Products Group. "[But] we are aligned with Havok, in terms of working on a future direction of physics. Right now, it is on the CPU, and we think that serves the broad installed base. Taking it to the next step would be to have a capability on the GPU--where and when it makes sense."

Physics is better on GPUs
Peddie explained why physics is more suited for the GPU than the CPU. GPUs today typically have hundreds of processors that are good at doing many things in parallel. "If you have threads or processes that can be run simultaneously, [and] if you have processors available to deal with each one of those threads, then you can get your results a lot sooner," he said.

He described a technique called Same Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD). "The same instruction is the physics equation. Things fall toward Earth all the time. And the multiple data will be what the things are. It might be a rock, might be a person, might be the wheel of a car. You have to be able to process this stuff and have it behave in a realistic fashion. To do that, you have to process it very quickly," Peddie said. "The advantage that GPUs bring is that they have this humongous number of processors. Certainly as good as the [Intel] 486 ever was. So they're really good processors, and you've got hundreds of them literally inside the GPU."

There will be challenges for users, however. "The tricky part is, why would I want to take one graphics card and spend $500 on it, and then not use it for graphics but rather use it for physics?" he said. "The answer is, of course, I wouldn't." Peddie suggested that a gamer might use the really good card for physics and employ the old card "that you got last year" for graphics, assuming that there are enough slots in the PC.

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Discussion

29 comments
RaNaBiR
RaNaBiR

"The answer is, of course, I wouldn't." Peddie suggested that a gamer might use the really good card for physics and employ the old card "that you got last year" for graphics, assuming that there are enough slots in the PC." Why does this statement anger me? It basically undermines everything the article has said until this point. Now it makes the whole PhysX idea a money-grabbing scheme.

TehUndeadHorror
TehUndeadHorror

That article was random... didn't really fit with Gamespot...

Aurion_Lloyd
Aurion_Lloyd

Now, something I didn't understand: What would happen if you had a Havoc supported CPU and a Aegis supported GPU? Will they decide in a standard someday, or at least in a co-op processing? I am totally puzzled.

xdeiri
xdeiri

so the news is just to advertise nvidia gpus , well look at the ps3 vs xbox360 gpu and tell me .

surdanis
surdanis

you can still find the PPU available in some stores like NewEgg, though that one is the Asus Brand. but it's still essentially the same Ageia card.

jogunther
jogunther

Very complicated article to explain a generally simple consept for gamers getting PC games that look better. All Sony fanboys(myself included) may get to play some Microsoft titles with better controls on PC. Guess we'll see.

Darth-Sifh
Darth-Sifh

So does this mean they are abandoning the PPU in favor of using the GPU? Because I liked the idea of having a separate unit for the physics.

Zloth2
Zloth2

"The launch pad for Ageia on the PC is Nvidia's CUDA" Huh?? Launch pad? We've been using PhysX in City of Heroes for two years now, with and without add-on cards. (And I sure hope NCSoft sees fit to upgrade the PhysX to use CUDA cards when they can.)

jrabbit99
jrabbit99

nice, I can't wait to see the Clancy games in action with it.

dkpunk
dkpunk

@ BloodMist Exactly.. Switched back to Nvidia w/ my 9600GT and realizing why I stuck with ATI. PhysX FTL... Compatability with Vista and games is another headache.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Havok>>>>>>>Ageia, in both implementation and execution in games, so unless they really mix things up here it's not gonna really be used that much, still.

Dirt49
Dirt49

Wii 2 revealed? Is this rumor true? If nintendo does make another console they should name it WiiHD. ps3 - awesome xbox360 - awesome wii - awesome People should stop being fanboys.

Birdman1333
Birdman1333

I claim some hyperbole here. Most good games use rag doll physics where actions are different depending on velocity and mass. Also, there is more to hair than just physics. You can take a person in real life that uses hair products and their hair doesn't move but it still looks like hair.

Dirt49
Dirt49

Havok was the first to introduce physics into games. There weren't many CPU resources to really do a great job on the physics. That's why hair and cloths don't look very realistic, not because of the lack of physics. Halo 3 has excellent graphics, but it is not the best looking game on the 360. Metal gear solid 4 has the best graphics.

Thidias
Thidias

Endocrine, all Nvidia GPUs will now have support for Ageia's Physics Libraries and PhysX system, and will have it onboard. Nvidia purchased Ageia, which means that they now own the rights to all their properties, and they are integrating these properties onto Nvidia's GPUs. That is what the whole article was about...

Gamerkat
Gamerkat

Naw endocrine, I think if you have at least an 8 series nvidia card, your supported. I never heard you needed two gpus to get the physx advantage.

endocrine
endocrine

So they went from a dedicated physics card to a physics graphics card where you now need two graphics cards to get both the physics and the graphics...So what changed besides the fact that you now have to spend more money for realistic physics???

Toro_Nev
Toro_Nev

sounds cool, but my graphics cards suck XD

aliko
aliko

Either way it's WIN for us! :)

wilso326
wilso326

...And the way they mention hair and cloth looks highly unrealistic due to the lack of physics, Half Life 2 Episode 2 has jigglebones, which are hair and cloth physics... and they use Havok physics. Also, recent games such as Halo 3 and GTA4 have fluid physics and do not use Ageia PhysX.

killkill3
killkill3

EA ain't so bad, but ubisoft sucks hard

wilso326
wilso326

They're talking as if no game has ever had physics until Ageia PhysX came out. No game uses just "canned" animations anymore, pretty much EVERY shooter out there has ragdoll physics, or a combination of animations and physics to simulate a guy collapsing or dying. There's nothing wrong with Havok, most people don't even have PhysX capable hardware anyways... So by building a game meant for PhysX, you're alienating everyone else who doesn't, and losing a ton of customers. And Rockstar created their own physics engine for GTA4, and they combined it with Natural Motion's Euphoria engine and it looks and performs WAY better than any PhysX game ever has. So in short, PhysX is a complete waste of resources and money and won't even work on most PCs.

Gooshnads
Gooshnads

Take 2 getting this = better games EA getting this = Just games that are higher up on the eye candy scale -.-" unless they pull off another dead space >.>

Hekynn
Hekynn

Good for Nvidia their just kicking butt this year and same here when I get a 9800GT I am gonna turn my 8800GT into a Physx card while in SLI with my new 9800GT :)

dewwy
dewwy

More and more functionality is being squeezed out of GPUs since people are realizing they can accomplish so much more than just rendering images. GPUs are packages of many many processor cores and therefore should be treated as such. Some universities are even outfitting computers for research involving large amounts of calculations by, essentially, replacing the processor with a GPU due to it's increased amount of cores!

BadAshJL
BadAshJL

As soon as I upgrade my vid card my old 8800 GT will become a dedicated physics card and it cost me less than a separate physx card would have

zaphod_b
zaphod_b

I hope to see dedicated physics processors in the future, but not based on proprietary physics engines.