E3: PhysX engine maker remains Mac friendly, realistic

PhysX engine maker Ageia is making a big splash at this year’s E3 by having a presence in the gargantuan South Hall, alongside such industry titans as Electronic Arts, Activision, Vivendi Universal and many others. The company is showing off its physics acceleration software and hardware. It looks like Mac users may be waiting a while longer to get their hands on PhysX-enabled acceleration hardware, however.

Ageia gives its PhysX Software Developer Kit (SDK) to game makers — it counts more than 60 leading publishers and developers on its current roster, and says that more than 100 new games will feature support for the technology. In short, Ageia’s PhysX software makes it possible to hardware-accelerate the physics effects shown in games using “physics processing unit” (or PPU) hardware, much in the same way that 3D graphics are accelerated using graphics processing units made by ATI or Nvidia.

Unfortunately, support for the Macintosh has crawled to a stop at this startup company, which is leveraging its expertise and its engineering dollars to support the larger and more lucrative Windows PC market. That doesn’t mean that Ageia is actively hostile to the Mac, the company’s vice president of content acquisition told Macworld.

Kathy Schoback instead said Ageia is waiting for the right time and the right opportunity to bring more emphasis to Mac gaming, and pointed out that the Mac platform isn’t the only one that Ageia has had to put on hold as the young company establishes its technology in the marketplace.

Only this week did Ageia announce that its PPU accelerator cards are now shipping. Manufactured by ASUS and BFG, the $300 add-in cards only work in PCs, because they’re dependent on driver software that only exists for Windows right now.

Schoback pointed to Apple’s transition to Intel CPUs as a positive step that she hopes will lead to greater Mac sales and more interest in developing the Mac as a gaming platform, and said that could ultimately translate into new Mac products from Ageia.

Ageia’s lack of interest in supporting the Mac directly hasn’t stopped Mac software developers from using the technology, however. While Ageia’s lack of effort may mean that Mac users won’t be getting PPU add in cards for their Power Macs any time soon, it doesn’t mean that they can’t still benefit from PhysX’s existence as middleware.

OverTheEdge’s (OTEE) Mac OS X-native game development engine Unity uses PhysX for its physics engine, for example. OTEE CEO David Helgason said that his company has actively developed and continued to refine the PhysX SDK for use with Unity and Mac OS X.

What’s more, Austrian game maker Bongfish Interactive Entertainment is working on a snowboarding game that it expects to finish for the Mac later this summer, which also depends on PhysX. All that will be missing from the finished Mac project compared to its hardware-accelerated PC counterpart is avalanche effects, Bongfish said.

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