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Ageia makes splash with physics processing hardware

Posted BY: Flargh, Thursday, May 11, 2006, 1:26PM EST

Ageia is already an E3 veteran, but while the startup company was relegated to a small meeting area in Kentia Hall last year, the company has come up strong this year with a booth in the more prominent South Hall. Here's a company you'll be hearing a lot more about in the coming months, because they make a software development kit (SDK) that game developers can use as their game's physics engine -- and what's more, it can be accelerated using a hardware card, which will soon be available in stores.

Ageia made a slew of announcements at E3 this year noting partnerships with MMO developers, simulation makers, first person shooter developers and others, all of whom have pledged support for Ageia's PhysX hardware.

In a nutshell, licensing the PhysX SDK gives developers a robust way of managing physics in their games. It's middleware -- the software that glues games together, and that saves game makers from having to craft their own complex physics engine.

The net result? Far more realistic particle effects in games. Explosions that look like they've been pulled from Hollywood films. Disintegrating objects that collapse into thousands of pieces. More realistic soft-body physics. And much more.

But when paired with a physics processing unit (PPU), PhysX-enabled games get a whole new dimension of sophistication. PhysX cards promise to do for game physics what ATI and Nvidia GPUs have done for 3D graphics.

Games accelerated using the PhysX engine include Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter from Ubisoft, Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends from Microsoft and City of Villains from NCSoft. Forthcoming titles with PhysX support will include Unreal Tournament 2007 from Epic and Midway, Mythic's new Warhammer MMO and many others.

To be sure, Ageia isn't the only player in this field -- earlier this year, Nvidia and rival physics software maker Havok announced a partnership that will yield Havok hardware-based acceleration in some Nvidia graphics chips.

But the big news from Ageia this week -- besides many new software licenses to announce -- is the availability for the first time of the PhysX processor add-in accelerator cards. You can buy add-in cards from ASUS and BFG at major retailers.

Early adopters are going to get dinged to the tune of about $300 for the privilege of living on the bleeding edge of physics realism for their games. But ultimately the prices will come down as more and more board makers hop on board with their own PhysX-based cards, and as more and more gamers clamor for realistic physics effects in their games.

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