Development software

Nvidia, Havok collaborate on physics acceleration

Graphics chip developer Nvidia Corp. on Monday announced a collaboration with Havok, creators of physics engines used in leading console and PC games. The two companies have teamed up to develop game physics technology that runs on a graphics processing unit. The technology is being introduced at this week’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose, Calif.

Nvidia makes graphics chips used by Apple and other leading PC manufacturers. Havok develops physics engine middleware that’s used in popular console and PC games.

Nvidia’s chips enable computers to accelerate 3D graphics rendered with Windows DirectX and OpenGL graphics technology. The software product announced today — called Havok FX — enables Nvidia’s GeForce 6 and GeForce 7-series processors to accelerate the display of physics in games similarly to how they already work with graphics.

With Havok FX, a gaming system can simulate thousands of colliding rigid bodies, said Nvidia, calculating friction, collisions, gravity, mass and velocity. This lets game developers program their titles to handle complex debris, smoke and fluid effects without bogging down the computer’s CPU.

Though this new technology promises more realistic physics modeling and physics-dependent effects in games than ever before, there’s a possibility that Macs may be left out of the equation — even though some of the raw components needed to get the technology working are there.

Nvidia says the technology is particularly well suited for computers that are equipped with more than one graphics card connected using Nvidia’s Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology, which enables multiple Nvidia graphics processors to share the burden of rendering 3D graphics. Apple offers Nvidia GeForce 6 and 7-series-based cards in its Power Mac G5 systems, but the company has not yet offered SLI options.

The Havok physics engine is portable to different computer platforms, but it’s yet to appear in any Macintosh games. Although Havok itself is reluctant to explain why, sources have confirmed that it comes down to licensing costs. Like other middleware, Havok must by licensed by Mac game publishers in order to be used in Mac games, and thus far the company has been unwilling to negotiate a lower price for Mac publishers than for their Windows or console counterparts. With a smaller user base to recoup the costs from, Mac game makers have had no choice but to pass on games that use the Havok engine, otherwise they’d likely lose money on the deal.

The technology is reminiscent of another physics technology called Ageia. Ageia provides similar capabilities to Havok FX, using a different physics engine that’s scalable to both software and hardware, using Ageia’s own PhysX Processor.

Ageia has announced several development partners, including MacSoft owner Destineer Studios, though the company has not yet allied itself with a GPU manufacturer.

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