LGF: Ageia's man of Steele

Think faster CPUs and GPUs are the answer to better-looking games? One company thinks they have a better idea. Meet Ageia's Michael Steele.

by

LONDON--Physics processors are going to be the next big thing in gaming and will revolutionize the way games are made and played, according to one executive GameSpot spoke with at this week's London Games Festival.

GameSpot sat down with Michael Steele, Ageia's marketing vice president, to talk about what he believes PC gamers really, really want--whether they know it or not.

According to Steele, his company's PhysX processor, which comes mounted on PC add-in cards, "promises to do for game action what the 3D graphics accelerator did for game visuals."

Never heard of a physics processor? Steele says of the new technology: "People now are starting to talk about physics as a viable category from a competitive standpoint; from the processor vendors, the key software players, the players, to the game developers."

Games like Half-Life 2, which many people think have some high-level physics simulations, are "simply scratching the surface" of what is possible, says Steele. "You're still going to see things like standard 'helmet hair' and painted-on clothing, water which from a graphics standpoint looks kind of cool but it doesn't really interact."

Steele continued: "If you look at physics in games today, its largely what we call "rigid bodies," which is objects colliding; for example, a ball bouncing off another ball, or a box bouncing off the platform as you shoot it. That's a rigid body; it's a hard thing bouncing across a surface. But it's so much more than that. Physics is also fluids, hair, cloth, joints...and many of those elements from an algorithmic point of view are all put together differently, so how you make those things interact is actually quite difficult. It's a computational power thing, which is where the hardware comes in."

But it's more than just painting a prettier picture, says Steele: "The way we look at it is that it's not just the way that things look, because they look great--they keep looking better, there's all kinds of cool graphics--but that's really just animation. That's just painting a pretty picture on the page." Steele says it's about how objects behave, move, interact. "We're about...about dynamic motion, about interactivity. Like massive explosions, they don't occur the same way every time, right? It's about fluids and it's about smoke and it's about particles, how all those things interact together."

What PhysX does, says Steele, is make gameplay much more realistic. "In today's gaming environment they don't really interact. It might look like they do, but they don't. [It's about] how things interact and it also has the potential of actually changing the outcome of the gameplay."

Steele believes that games can become more powerful and realistic if they harness this new technology, which will open whole new realms for creative potential. He says: "Up until now you've only had the CPU and the GPU. The CPU's doing all the game logic, the artificial intelligence, and the GPU makes it all look beautiful. And up until now the CPU has also done a little bit of physics, but really, just a little bit. A physics processor rounds what we call 'the gaming power triangle' nicely off."

But isn't a physics chip just something else gamers will have to shell out hard-earned cash for?

Well, says Steele, "if you look at PCs 10 years ago compared to where they are today, they're almost entirely different. Like it or not the PC industry itself evolves at a tremendous pace."

"When I look back on my own experience, I can remember the days of 386 computers, and I can remember sitting there thinking: 'I have no idea why I'd want a faster processor.' It was my job at the time to do it, and I remember wondering how on earth we would market a 486 PC, and then we got one on our desk and after using it, then my only thought was, 'How can I go back to my 386 now?'"

"I think that same fundamental question is asked over and over again and that same question is answered over and over again. Do we want more? The answer is always, yes, keep going."

Steele points out that the same elements of gaming keep evolving--graphics and AI. But other areas like physics haven't been keeping up, "so we're trying to do is the kind of things that help games evolve in a more interesting way." Part of this has been work behind the scenes to make it easier for developers to use this technology in their games. "If we can create an environment where it's easy for the developers to use and it's also easy for the gaming community to use as well, from a modding perspective, then you have all the pieces of the puzzle coming together, which will really make the category take off, and that's what we're doing."

Physics is all about four key areas, says Steele. "Fidelity, scale, sophistication, and interaction. Fidelity is basically how accurately can I simulate physics well? How accurately can I simulate a character running, and the joints moving properly in his body, or lava flowing through a field, or foliage twisting and bending in the wind? How accurate can I make that simulation appear? In terms of scale, how many of those things can I do at once? Obviously, if you do a lot of them, it takes more processing power. In terms of sophistication, how deeply can I integrate those effects? How realistic can they be? And finally, how can all those things interact together."

While Steele is focused on games as the perfect environment to make his and Ageia's mark, it isn't the only area. "It just happens that the best place to integrate physics initially is in gaming. That's not to say that there aren't other applications for physics technology."

Discussion

90 comments
thebubbleprince
thebubbleprince

i like this card i have the Ageia boxes demo on software of course but i go on youtube and people are cussing Ageia's new product. They make claims saying i dont need that i get a solid 30 FPS... BS! You cant! Its impossible for games that need it. I downloaded RealityMark and i had 0.39 FPS. I know where to buy an ageia physx card http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=2180959&CatId=697 a few days ago i think it was 250 USD price now its 200 USD :D

AnnoyedDragon
AnnoyedDragon

When it comes to a decision between physics processing methods I would have to side with Ageia. PhysX cards have dropped to around £140 at this time and have proven their ability to do their job in the compatible games such as Joint Task Force, with the unreal 3 engine backing them and a confirmed 70+ publishers working on games for the hardware Ageia won’t have the support problems in the near future that they have today. But why Ageia over Havok FX? While they say Havok FX will work with only one GPU with a nick name like SLI Physics they are not kidding anyone. SLI is for enthusiast gamers only at the moment; the compatible hardware, powerful CPU and power supply required to feed the two cards and of course a secondary GPU requires far too deep pockets to be suitable for the mainstream, there was also something said regarding Havok FX being more "cosmetic" than true physics. In comparison to upgrading half your rig giving up a PCI slot suddenly seems much more bank friendly. There are also several DEVs who have compared the technology and found dedicated PhysX to be far more powerful than a GPU sharing graphical/physics data. Of course these DEVs decided to remain anonymous so it could just be PR spinning.

mash36
mash36

Quiet interesting.... Wonder how it's gonna turn out.... More realistic gameplay eh?

judge__judy
judge__judy

I wanna see them do that then I'll go buy one.

joesbox
joesbox

You have to remember though, this is only the beginning. Ageia might bring something to the table that nVidia and ATI haven't explored. If Ageia teamed up with either one of the two major GPU developers then who knows what could happen, i think it's a fairly logical step, i'm not gonna buy a PhysX card right now but i'll deffinatly keep my eye on how it develops.

DefChaz
DefChaz

This just complicate an already complicated enough graphics system. Remember you might think that these PPU cards take the strain off the processor by being a dedicated card, but have you all forgotten that regardless of the work the PPU does, its still the GPU that has to do all the rendering. So you want a screen full of explosions and dust particles? SUre they'll move about naturally, but it'll also put a strain on your GPU just because it has to render it all. I think the idea of PPUs are nice, but its too large a step for computer technology to start specialising in different aspects of gaming. What next? A dedicated card to simulate weather systems, one for accurate weapon systems, maybe one that simulates outer space accurately (so we can get scale accurate solar systems)? A lot fo the points raised here have been very valid - devoting unused cores to pysics processing, integrating physics into GPUs. After all we're starting to get multicore GPUs now, why not take advantage of that?

bigelf72
bigelf72

Ageia= Failure Nvidia and Ati = Physx Ageia requires extensive programming inside the game to use the physics card Ati and Nvidia won't need extensive programing....its either enabled or it's not.

mark_unix
mark_unix

PhysX is great because it's cheaper and runs on more platforms then havok.. havok is expensive as hell for developers and often hard to implement in a cross-platform product.

nappan
nappan

Nvidia and ATI are already striking back against this (Nvidia first, as Neojam posted), and frankly a solution that doesn't involve taking up another slot is a big deal. I just bought a new computer, and I had to choose between an ageia card or an XM soundcard... wow, hard choice. So I can finally listen to my classical collection on my comp, and I have a few less particles in my exploding barrels. Grand visions are fine things to have, but right now all ageia's card is doing is shove a few more particles and decals into the mix, take more power from a PSU, take another slot, and compete with giants like Havok, Nvidia, and ATI. Innovation might win out, if they really start to innovate and work with game developers, but I cannot imagine that they'll be able to break the iron lock ati and nvidia have on game devs. Finally, you have to make choices when you buy or build a computer, and for most people a physics card (as it exists now, and in the next generation or so, not in this guy's wet dreams) is probably below things like SLI, a hot soundcard, more hd space, liquid cooling, etc.

mpoulin
mpoulin

This technology sounds like it would be great at animating background audiences that you find in many games, like sports games, for example.

jaefrmbk2k
jaefrmbk2k

Ageia needs a new platform to showcase this potentially next-level product cuz Advanced Warfighter wasn't it. I'm back to being disenchanted again...

ObiKKa
ObiKKa

You should read about a new general application (I don't know what exactly it is, but I've read about how it works) called GPGPU. It means that software applications or parts of it can be rendered solely by a graphics card instead of a CPU, because CPU's transistor counts are woefully low compared to that of the GPUs on the market today. Using the GPGPU method, the graphics processing units can for example render Photoshop filters in real-time, instead of lagging when rendered by the CPU! Surpise, surprise, physics is just another valid possibility for using the GPGPU method! So, in conclusion, Ageia's PhysX card is a waste of money - don't buy it. I read in a magazine that Ageia's Novodex physics software are more for gameplay-driven physics effects, while the Havok physics middleware are more like graphically based physics. Whether Havok is about to improve it to gameplay-level physics, I don't know.

daddo-splat
daddo-splat

chk out tomshardware.com review of the ageus card and He states both ati and nvidia are working on drivers to accomplish more physics. another add in card probably isnt the way to go.

neojam
neojam

LATEST NEWS http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=4444 Documents Leak NVIDIA's Quantum Physics Engine NVIDIA is ready to counter the Triple Play With the release of the G80, NVIDIA will also release a new engine dubbed Quantum physics engine. Quantum Effects Technology is similar (at least in spirit) to NVIDIA's PureVideo Technology -- a dedicated layer on the GPU for physics calculations. A few documents alluding to this new engine appeared on public FTP mirrors late last week. Quantum utilizes some of the shaders from NVIDIA's G80 processor specifically for physics calculations. Physics calculations on GPUs are nothing new; ATI totes similar technology for its Stream Computing initiative and for the Triple Play physics. NVIDIA and Havok partnered up this year claiming that SLI systems would get massive performance gains by utilizing additional GeForce GPUs as physics processors. Quantum may be the fruits of that partnership, though NVIDIA documentation clearly states that Quantum will work just fine without SLI. NVIDIA's documentation claims Quantum will specifically compete with AGEIA's PhysX, yet does not mention who is providing the middleware. Given that there are only two acts in town right now, it would be safe to say Havok has a hand in the Quantum engine.

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

Really this a great idea. Now if they can start putting support for this in more games and the make the PhysX cards cheaper then it might be more successful. Heck I would buy one if they were cheaper (alot cheaper). Because, really it's a great idea thet if incorporated into more games could make your fps go up quite alot, because it's diverting the strain from the processor onto the PhysX card therefore allowing the processor to do more. Also it will let games look more pretty because it's taking alot of strain off your processor. That is super pretty effects like better physics (hence the name PhysX card duh!). So really it shouldn't be shunned by all of us PC gamers it could be a big leap forward in PC gaming...if it can catch on.

sigma8
sigma8

I don't think this problem will necessarily be solved by dual core or quad core machines. How reasonable would it sound to use an onboard GPU and then have it work with one of your cores as its GPU? The problem is that the cpu cores are not optimized for graphics or physics. That's why we have dedicated graphics cards, and possibly physics cards. I doubt anything on the market now really is using it too much, and I don't think the industry would wholly embrace a single vendor, but I do think this will be the next way to go. Graphics really are not getting more realistic.. We can render blades of grass now....much more easily than we can have them behave realistically to collision detection. Right now when you walk through grass in Oblivion, you literally walk through it. Hair and fur behaves like a joke. This can be improved.

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

No, I don't think that PPU is the future. The future is multi-core CPU. When you have 4 cores I think that you can afford to have one of it to take care of physics.

Monstromo
Monstromo

Why the heck would I buy this? It reminds me of micro-transactional content on the net. The are now dribbling out hardware like it was xbox live micro transactions. Or like some expansion pack for your video card. WTF?

firebreathing
firebreathing

Hahaha yea, it is a waste of money right now. Crysis supports tons of interactions and you don't even need a physcis card for that, so why shell out extra money when you don't even need to?

Treesong
Treesong

When 3D came into vogue with add-on cards like the Monster 3D video-card manufacturers integrated 3D quickly so that people would not have to buy an extra card. We already see the same thing happen now with physics. Currently there are physics engines that steal too much computing power from the CPU, but we have the Quad-core coming and games that feed these 4 cores like 5 different threads. One of them could very well be a thread that is dedicated to physics. Or the video-card manufacturers will implement a physics chip on their cards, or make them dual-core and dedicate one chip to it. In short, add-on cards usually get integrated quickly if what they bring to the table is important enough.

pwnr
pwnr

I'll wait a while for the PhysX to drop down to like $50 or something.

neojam
neojam

Geez, Agea is trying hard to convince gamers that they really need the card, talking about like its already became a standard in gaming, or something lol The true is, the card is pretty much useless right now, there are only a pair of games that support it, many future games like Alan Wake, wont have PhysX support at all (they will be using Havok FX engine & etc.) So In other words, currently buying Agea PhysXcard = wasting 200$.

Char1es
Char1es

Until Agiea drops the price or integrates their card into a processing unit or mobo, only the truly high end users will get this hardware. As it stands, I would always rather put the extra money into more power in existing components. Unless I had completely maxxed out the rest of my system, I wouldnt consider buying a physics addon. The other option for them is to bribe lots of big developers to make certain features of their game redundant without the physics card. This would mean they would force gamers to get their hardware. And then we would all hate Agiea. It already seems like theyre trying to make a quick buck in an already bloated industry, and I dont like that.

Powerofc3
Powerofc3

Steele is right, physics are the way of the future for gaming. Look at Crysis, the game is completely based on physics, but does NOT support a physix processor... how could this be? This is because of the development of the CPU. With Quad cores coming out next month, and probably 8 core CPUs by 2009, there will be no need for a PPU. When you can dedicate the equivilant to an Intel Core 2 Extreme 2.9Ghz processor to just physics with a Quad core CPU, you have no need for an add in card.

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

Hey if more games support this and it becomes cheaper then i'll consider buying one

smbius
smbius

I'm just waiting for Ageia to be either acquired by Nvidia or Ati. I'm very sure it will happen soon. Better yet, have the technology licensed to both or even integrated into motherboards.

Ottothebobcat
Ottothebobcat

No, you didn't. 7900GT's are still going for 250 bucks on newegg right now, so I doubt you got one for 185 "a few months ago."

SqueekyC1ean
SqueekyC1ean

lol decebal you got riped off i bought an nVidia 1900 GT PCI express for $185 delivered from newegg a few months ago. You shouldnt buy video cards from Best Buy :D

Natdaddy
Natdaddy

Aww poor baby. Did you come up with that all by yourself Blazer?

Blazer88
Blazer88

Physics processors = waste of money + failure

dsd02_
dsd02_

that'w what i hate about pc gaming. instead of trying to code it as eficient as they could - they keep demanding more powerfull hardware, wouldn't it be easier if PhysX work would be done with cpu ? i do believe thet next comming multi-core processors would handle it just fine. or how about PhysX inbuilt in gpu ? i really wouldn't like to go back in pc evolution , when you had to buy load of stuff to make it work.

dmn_link
dmn_link

One question i would like to know is, onece Physics processors become standard, on gaming pc's, will this physics processors start coming out at differnt speeds, just like procesors? (2.2ghz etc)

slothboyck
slothboyck

I really do think that a PPU is important for the future of gaming. The CPU is under too much stress trying to calculate physics. If there's a separate card for physics, then just imagine how great games could be. AI could then be increased to be run by the CPU, the GPU will still do what it's always done, and the PPU can process the physics in the world. We'll start to see some amazing games if this technology takes off. I really hope this works out.

amar1234
amar1234

actually Kandy Korn man, Bit tech.net reported the other day that Aegia are releasing a pcie x1 veriosn of the PPU very soon, si that should aleviate that problem. They said it won't be more powerful or anything. The sole reason was to allow the ighe end community who have dual gpu, xfi setups to buy a PPU, because lets face it they aer the only type of people who would even consider buying a PPU right now. The single slot 6600gt/ onbaord sound typw dude would not be able to fathom spending this much money on such frivilous purchase. Link: http://www.bit-tech.net/news/2006/10/03/PCI-E_PhysX_coming/

decebal
decebal

I can't belive people are so blinded by Nvidia and ATI. Not only the NVIDIA, ATI solution is A LOT more expensive up front, but it's not consumer friendly inthe long run. Well look guys, ageia is asking for $300 for their phisics card. Which you buy once and use independently of your video card. So when the time comes that your video card does not keep up anymore, throw that out and buy another one. On the other hand Nvidia is aksing for an SLI set up to do physics. For a good sly set up you will spend MORE than $500. And guess what? When the time comes that your video card doesn't keep up anymore, you ought throw both out and buy 2 new ones. Assuming you buy a video card every 18 months, which is reasonable to any gammer, over 3 years you will spend: - with ageia: (2 GPUs) * $250 + (1 PPU) * $300 = $800 - with Nvidia: (2 GPUS)* $250 +(2GPUs)*$250 = $1000 And notice now that I put down cheap videocards (the NVIDIA good cards cost way more than that. I paid $549 for my 7800GTX - that's one card not SLI). So please someone enlighten me, what kind of paralel universe logic do you use to support NVIDIA? Similarly ATI does the same thing but with 3 cards. Now ATI is a little bit better because once your video card doesn't sustain, you can just upgrade that and keep the 3rd card for phisics. Which is a bit more pocket friendly than Nvidia, but still more expensive than Ageia. So what's wrong with you people? Sure Havok has a great reputation, and Ageia cards are useless at the moment, but in the long run, it's in our best interest for Ageia to win. If that is the case, many PPU companies will apear, driving down the cost, and keeping the Physics in a different business that the Graphics. That way you can save your money by upgradeing them independetnly of each other. THINK PEOPLE! THINK!

KandyKornMan
KandyKornMan

the physics card could be put out of business real fast if nvidia and ati decide to make video cards with an integrated physics processor.or if they have a dx version with physics capabilities.hey even cooler is if it were possible to take the idea of the 7950gx2 and have a card with gpu and the other card is a ppu.stick that in your sli setup and add another card with just the gpu.you could have 3 cards without using to many slots.dont know if this is possible but its a idea to think about.

KandyKornMan
KandyKornMan

i think the problem with these physics processors is the slot type they use.if you have sli you probably dont have any pci slots left to put something like this.so why cant they make these to use the almosts useless pcie x1 slots.then anyone with a cramped case can stick one of them in with no worries.anyways dont some game engines have physics already so why waste the money.right now game companies have to make games with dual core and sli support.this is one more thing theyd have to program for the games.

alchemda
alchemda

Yep, Thereisnotri, ATI released information on their new crossfire setup where the second GPU card is doing only physics calculations.

Thereisnotri
Thereisnotri

With dual core now almost mainstream and quad core about to hit the market, they're probably too late. The third or fouth cpu core will pick up physics calculations once games are properly written to take advantage of multiple cores. Developers are already looking at writing code so that different sub-routines - AI, physics etc that currently have to get lumped together with running the whole game. There's not a single game on the market currently written to independently process seperate code functions using different cores, all dual core does at the moment is process the code quicker - in the future it will process different sub-routines at the same time on different cores, meaning you can do more, more efficiently. If PhysX want their processor to survive, they probably need to do a deal with Intel of NVidia to get it onto motherboards, or with Ati or Nvidia to get it bundled with graphics cards. There's all a threat from Ati and Nvidia as they will no doubt soon have multie core GPU's, rather than multiple GPU's on one card, or SLI/crossfire (or as well as) and I'm sure Ati and Nvidia will think of using some of that power to deal with physics problems.

yboucher
yboucher

Wow, are you really THAT self-centered ?? Don't you think guys who work more than 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to establish distribution and sales strategies HAVEN'T thought of that ? But YOU did, in a couple minutes after reading a news on gamespot ?? For SURE they have been working on that for a while. But these things take time, and tight negotiations, and capital. There's nothing "magical" there. Between the thought and the actual action, there are a LOT of steps. Anybody can just think up stuff, that's not the problem. It's putting them into action that is. Aegia needs to react and start putting out comprehensive packages. If they don't some other standard of physics acceleration will be implemented in DirectX and they will be out of business while Ati and Nvidia DirectX-powered physics accelerators become a standard. Damn, I need to start asking for money for this type of counseling.

amar1234
amar1234

It's more than just explonsions and such things. At them moment yes thats all it amounts to. What I think this article is saying is that they want to take the next step. So think flowing realistic hair, realistic running/waliking movement, trees swaying in the wind , clothes that drape on you in layesr like in real life rarther than being painted on like it is now, wind in the game which effects everything, real water that spashes and lames things slippery, grass that gets trampled when you walk on it, leather jackets tha actually look like leather jackets , baggy jeans that actualy move around as you run (unlike in other games), and atc ect. Right now the existing PPU will not have the juice to do all of this. Have a look at the "Wheelman" video and have a look at whats his face Vin diesal as he steps out the car , all his clothes look real and are draped on rarther than painted on. This is what will be possibel with Physics. Of course that was just cgi video and not real gameplay. However with the next generation of unified shader , shader model 4 GPUS and next gen PPUS perhaps it will be possible to make games look like this in reality. Havok physics which is the PPU's competion and used by ATI/Nvdia is also not equipped to do all this in it's current form. So it's true that a hardware solution is needed to take the next step. Yes it should be either in the cpu, mobo or gpu and not a seperate add in board. Just like how modern gpus have HDTV chips they will need physics chips aswell. Only the ultra high end should require an expensive add in board. The current Ageia PPU is no wher near ready for where it needs to be to do all of the above in all ne games. There are also no games available to make use of it right now and all future games seem to want to work with Microsoft or Havok rarther than Aegia. It will not survive if they don't do something drastic. I suppose thats what this is about.

drack48
drack48

Aren't direct x 10 cards going to have Physics built into the cards?

rockybob
rockybob

Physics cards are not the future of gaming, as much as Mr. Steele would have you believe. With the dual core processors of today and tomorrow's Quad Core s, games are starting to be developed that utilize the extra cores (finally). Alan Wake's physics are nothing short of amazing because they use an entire CPU core to handle the physics. As much as Mr. Steele would want you to believe otherwise, that single core is MUCH faster and better prepared to handle physics calculations than the PhysX card. As it is right now, few games support the PhyX card and going forward more games will be written to utilize Dual Core and Quad Core procs. If you're willing to spend 200 dollars on an addon that doesn't work in most of todays (or tomorrow's for that matter) games, why not put that 200 dollars towards a better processor? 200 Dollars can easily get you an AMD 4400 or better dual core processor, which will be utilized MUCH more than any PPU ever will. Head over to www.alanwake.com or check it out here on GameSpot. It's pretty sweet looking.

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

apparently you guys havn't seen cell factor. That alone turned my view on physx around. I'm saving my hard earned cash just for a physx card so i can play the game the way its supposed to be played.

noelveiga
noelveiga

This strategy is plain wrong. Aegia needs to sign deals with Ati and Nvidia and start mounting PhisX chips in graphic cards or even motherboards. They have a good product, but they lack a good standard and a proper way to distribute their tech. This is exaclty what happened to 3dFX. They made the tech leap forward in the exact same format: a second card that dealt with the 3d aspects separated from your normal 2d video card. It worked for a while, then Nvidia came aboard with their Direct3D enabled one-shot 2D+3D acceleration and owned the market. Aegia needs to react and start putting out comprehensive packages. If they don't some other standard of physics acceleration will be implemented in DirectX and they will be out of business while Ati and Nvidia DirectX-powered physics accelerators become a standard. Damn, I need to start asking for money for this type of counseling.