by John Reynolds
At this year’s E3Expo event SimHQ was lucky enough to meet some of the fine folk fromAGEIA, the new fabless semiconductor startup that hopes to add the acronym, PPU, to the vernacular used by gamers and hardware enthusiasts alike. Chunx wrote a good overviewof the company and its upcoming PhysX board as part of SimHQ’s technology coverage for E3. So there’s little need to travel the beaten path, other than to say that AGEIA hopes to essentially invent a new market for physics add-in boards by providing hardware capable of revolutionizing in-game physics support to a degree that perhaps parallels what 3dfx did for graphics acceleration almost ten years ago. AGEIA has graciously agreed to a Q&A session with SimHQ, so let’s hear how the company’s PhysX chip can benefit applications that support this new technology from Manju Hegde, CEO and founder of AGEIA Technologies.
Q: While the cost of entry-level PCs has been steadily declining, the price on performance, gaming rigs has been tracking in the opposite direction, with prices rising on CPUs, GPUs, sound cards, etc. Quite frankly, the company could certainly be doing a better job of evangelizing the potential of this technology to the online gaming community, which seems to have some resistance to the uptake of PhysX boards for fear of feeling pressured in buying yet another expensive add-in board for their systems. How does AGEIA see itself and its partners leveraging PhysX processor-based products into such a market?
A: At AGEIA, we know that we are pioneering a new category and by doing so there will be a natural level of skepticism. One of the main ways we are going to support the gaming community is by offering the PhysX processor as a platform on the PC, not as add in card that needs to be replaced every six months. Once a gamer buys the PhysX add-in board, they can expect a multitude of titles over time that take advantage of the technology in more advanced ways.
Gamers will be convinced that the $249-$299 will impact their games in a way that is unmatched, and PhysX technology will ultimately change their expectations irreversibly of what realism looks and feels like in games. This is important for us because it is the response of this community that will enable us to lobby the game development community to ramp the production of PhysX enabled titles even faster.
Interestingly, we’ve seen a relatively high adoption rate of massive multiplayer online titles, such as Icarus “Fallen Earth”, Cryptic “City of Villains”, and the Mythic “Warhammer MMO”.
Q. Both ASUS and BFG have announced plans to bring a part to market this fall based on AGEIA’s PhysX chip; can we expect to see more add-in board partners lined up or do you think other companies might be taking more of a “sit back and watch” stance, waiting to see how the market reacts to the introduction of a PPU?
A. We strategically chose to work with BFG and ASUS, because they are the leading provider of add in boards for the game market. BFG has a very strong US retail presence and ASUS has a strong international presence. Therefore, they were the ideal companies for us to partner with in introducing a new category of product to the gaming market.
Q. It’s probably fair to assert that GlQuake was the application that helped pave the way for 3dfx’s Voodoo boards into the PC, thereby introducing the market to a new industry of graphics acceleration. While the list of game developers optimizing their titles for the PhysX chip is slowly growing, is there a particular game AGEIA foresees as being that truly halcyon application that will pave the way for PPUs?
A. At AGEIA, we recognized early on that the success of the PhysX processor will be gauged on the content that takes advantage of it. And so we have been working with developers for about two years to evangelize and support the technology.
Yes, we have signed up many developers who are planning to use the technology in exciting and inventive ways. Several AAA titles in the list of upcoming games that support the PhysX processor have the potential to be the killer app — we will only know after we see the reception by gamers. Hardware physics has the potential to affect game play in many different ways, making the situation even richer that that during the Voodoo days.