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As WP's senior editor, I edit review and preview articles, attempt to keep up with the frantic pace of Rainier's news posts, and keep our reviewers on deadline, which is akin to herding cats. When I have a moment to myself and don't have my nose in a book, I like to play action/RPG, adventure and platforming games.

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AGEIA Technologies Unveils New PhysX Chip

by Judy on March 8, 2005 @ 1:25 a.m. PST

Silicon Valley chip maker AGEIA Technologies, Inc. today at the Game Developers Conference introduced a new category of semiconductor—the Physics Processing Unit, or PPU. The company's debut product, the AGEIA PhysX chip, will be the first dedicated physics semiconductor chip to be used in next-generation game platforms.

The current trend among game developers is to use software-based physics engines to enable objects and characters to interact in a real-world manner and provide some of the industry's most stunning effects. However, without dedicated physics hardware game developers are unable to fully unleash the power of physics on today's platforms.

"What is increasingly defining successful games is how well they emulate reality," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group. "PhysX has the potential to create environments that are vastly more real and compelling to both existing gamers and those that have not yet discovered the amazing worlds created by leading developers."

By performing advanced physics simulations in real time, the PPU can respond to gamer actions as well as environments contributing to pervasive interactive reality. By introducing dramatic amounts of physics, games can now react uniquely to each input, adding a tremendous variety of game play. Physics will offer a host of advanced features including universal collision detection, rigid-body dynamics, soft-body dynamics, fluid dynamics, smart particle systems, clothing simulation, soft-body deformation with tearing, and brittle fracturing for destruction of objects in gaming environments.

Completing the Triangle: CPU – GPU – PPU
The advent of the PPU and its influence on game reality has the power to mirror that of Graphic Processing Units (GPU) in the late 1990s. The GPU was developed as a specialized form of hardware to speed up the rendering and display functions previously done in software. As a result, the visual quality of games increased dramatically and every significant game was compelled to incorporate the new 3D hardware technology.

In turn, the widespread adoption of GPUs created the need for other functions on the CPU to support the increased visual quality. A similar phenomenon can be anticipated with the adoption of Physics Processing Units (PPU). The increased scope of physics has the ability to create the need for additional CPU functions and raise the bar on the visual effects provided by the GPU.

"Hardware-accelerated physics is a major innovation that is likely to breathe new life into the PC as a gaming platform," said Dr. Jon Peddie, Jon Peddie Research, the leading graphics research firm based in Tiburon, CA. "While the CPU and GPU offer high-speed game processing and 3D imagery, a dedicated PPU like the AGEIA PhysX chip is required to truly handle the compute-intensive tasks of real-world simulation."

NovodeX SDK Enables PhysX Adoption
To give game developers a head start in designing hardware-accelerated games, AGEIA has made available a software development kit, the NovodeXTM Physics SDK. NovodeX is already in wide use by game developers, many of whom expect to have hardware-accelerated titles by Christmas of 2005. NovodeX is also the only multithreaded physics SDK on the market today, which allows game developers to prepare for tomorrow's multiprocessor PCs and multiprocessor game platforms.

"With hardware-accelerated physics and an SDK that supports parallel processing, the sky is the limit for game developers, which is why we believe the game industry will embrace this new category," said Manju Hegde, CEO and co-founder of AGEIA.

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