A Silicon Valley start-up hopes
to introduce a lot of bounce, rattle and roll into the video
game industry with a new microchip that makes virtual worlds
behave as realistically as they look.
For years, video games have been getting prettier thanks to
increasingly sophisticated graphics processors.
But crates that don’t budge, planks that don’t splinter and
windows that don’t break are a constant complaint of gamers who
crave more than just skin-deep realism.
Ageia Technologies Inc. wants to change that with its new
PhysX processor, which simulates the physical properties of
everything from smoke to rocks.
"What we are offering to the game industry is the ability
to make physics and interactivity reach the same level of
importance that graphics has," said Manju Hegde, AgeHia’s chief
"Physics makes games feel real the way graphics makes games
look real," Hegde told Reuters in a recent interview.
Ageia faces a number of obstacles, however, from skeptical
gamers grumbling at the prospect of opening their wallets for
yet more hardware, to competitors that are putting physics in
games using existing chips like a graphics processor.
The chips will go on sale in retail stores in May for about
$300, but the price tag is already raising eyebrows in online
forums, where gamers are asking whether its worth paying extra
for an unproven technology.
And, the chip may be somewhat ahead of its time, since
current machines may not be able to keep up.
During a demonstration at Ageia’s head office in Mountain
View, California, Hegde showed off "CellFactor," an upcoming
game in which rival combatants can use mental powers to move,
break and fling nearly everything they see.
The chip’s power was obvious as a maelstrom of debris
whirled about, piling up against walls and scattering across
But before starting the demonstration, Hegde had to lower
the resolution of the game.
The reason? The chip can generate so many objects that even
the twin graphics processors in Hegde’s top-end PC have trouble
tracking them at the highest image quality.
Still, Hegde is betting that gamers will happily sacrifice
some graphical fidelity in exchange for greater interactivity.
Buildings will blow up spectacularly, football tackles will
become more bone-crunching, and cloth will flutter and crumple,
lending a dramatic flair to online role-playing games.
Analysts say Ageia could rewrite the rules of the game for
an industry whose $10 billion in annual U.S. sales of hardware
and software outstrips Hollywood’s box office take.
"The physics chip adds a level of reality in games we just
haven’t been able to get," said Rob Enderle, principle analyst
of Enderle Group, a technology consultant.
By Scott Hillis