Tuesday, May 17, 2005

OMFG! teh physics!

I hate where the electronic gaming industry is going. Game costs are skyrocketing and in particular PC games are having a harder time getting shelf space, as sales are dropping. There's plenty of people who write eloquently on what is wrong with the industry (see: Greg Costikyan; Where have you gone Joel Mathis?), and they do it much better than I ever could. I feel compelled to comment on this one, though.

Yes, coming soon to your computers is a chip dedicated to doing math calculations for 3d engines. Specifically, it will handle all calculations related to objects bumping into each other. And moving around (or flying around, for those objects that we blow up with rocket launchers).

Here is a choice quote from the article:

According to Ageia, a physics chip can take the predictability out of video games and provide life-like interactions of even small particles. For example, if players of a first-person-shooter fire against a wall, there is little happening today. The PhysX chip however can simulate thousands of interacting fragments, which could create the illusion of disintegrating walls, such as a blown-up wall. Other examples include fluid dynamics with up 40,000 to 50,000 simulated particles per screen, gelatinous characters, windswept hair, loose flowing clothing, finite element analysis (that for example allows realistic display of damage in car racing games).

Gee, someone shove me into a pool because I am getting hot. For all .5 of my readers who don't know me well enough, that previous post was bought to you with Sarcasm(tm). What the hell good is realism anyway?

Well, sometimes it's really important. Ask any flight sim veteran. Or someone playing Madden 2005 looking for a "realistic football experience". However, even in cases such as madden there are a *number* of sacrifices made when going from concept to the playable game. Perhaps you haven't tried madden lately, but it really isn't terribly realistic. It's pretty fun though - and it does a decent job of capturing many of the nuances of the sport. Really, realism is often the enemy of a game. When I play a CRPG, I don't want to have to feed my party all the time. Or make sure they stay regular. Or make sure they stay clean. Best to just assume they're responsible adults who can do all of those things without any hitches. I'd prefer to focus on the hero-ly things they do. Like killing orcs and liberating treasure.

Realism can enhnace a game, but that's all graphics & physics can ever do. Unfortunately, the industry is driven more by the skin deep components of games, like the graphics. Thanks in no small part to the massess who want these products (may you all suffer the pox of 1000 goats). Occasionally the physics component can take on added importance (see those afformentioned flight sims), and that's fine. Sometimes we wind up with a nifty little product that takes something like physics and makes it a core element of gameplay (google Bridge builder if you don't beleive me).

But 30,000 miniscule shards flying off of a concreit wall I just filled full of lead is the type of thing that really doesn't matter. Destructable terrain can be a big deal (see X-com: UFO Defense; one of the best games ever made and done without a physics chip or 3d graphics), and lots of fun. However, it seems to me that if this physics chip catches on it may well have developers spending more time on having their engines do wild and wackhy things, and less time on actually making fun games. That doesn't help anyone.

I think the chip has a good chance to land on the trasheap of "I've got a fantastic idea for a peripheral!" throwaways (which actually exists right next to a landfill containing nothing but Atari 2600 ET cartridges. . .). The article gives you some commentary from the graphics card makers. You have to take everything in an article like this with a grain of salt, but they're right. Graphics cards can do all kinds of stuff and they continue to get more powerful. And you can get a super powerful graphics card for the price of the physics chip (and said chip cannot push polygons or render objects at all). Also, the processing world may be in for some change. Some people thing dual processing systems are the future (you can more cheaply build a dual processor system with 2 2GHz p4s than one uber 3.whatever P4, and you'll need far less power/produce far less heat running it). Processors with multiple "cores" might become common place as well.

Despite the fact that the developer of an AAA title (Big Huge Games, and the solid Rise of Nations) promises to support the chip with it's next release (Rise of Legends - a sequel of sorts to RoN), I think the odds are against this chip catching on.


At 12:32 AM, Blogger Dave said...

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I have a hardware software site/blog. It pretty much covers hardware software related stuff.

Come and check it out if you have time :-)
hardware software

At 4:15 AM, Blogger Antonio Hicks said...

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