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Despite growing adoption, PhysX needs time

PC game makers license physics programming technology from Nvidia

We've already covered Nvidia's news this morning announcing that game makers Electronic Arts and Take Two Interactive have adopted Nvidia's PhysX hardware physics acceleration technology in upcoming titles. A demo video, linked below, highlights a PhysX-enabled demo of the PC version of EA's Mirror's Edge. The video demonstrates the physics accelerated PC version side-by-side with the non-physics accelerated console version.

(The fine print below the video tells us that the frame rate has been slowed to better showcase the added effects.)

As we've said from the time when PhysX was still the property of original developer Ageia, PhysX, and hardware physics acceleration in general, has potential. The free PhysX showcase title CellFactor: Revolution (commissioned by Ageia) demonstrated some very cool, new ways to interact with a gaming environment, none of which we'd seen before.

The difficulty is that PhysX has a chicken-and-egg problem. Game developers can't devote significant resources to a technology supported by only a few customers, but gamers may be reluctant to purchase specially designed hardware if few titles will take advantage of it.

By including PhysX support in all of its new 3D cards, Nvidia certainly helps increase the size of the supporting user base, but given the fragmented nature of PC hardware, ATI users and other non-PhysX capable customers will continue to place limits on just how widely game developers can support a proprietary physics acceleration engine.

The solution, should the market eventually demand one, is likely Microsoft, whose DirectX programming framework is the best positioned to develop a physics standard, similar to the way in which Direct3D unified the various 3D graphics standards.

In any case, it's probably best to consider hardware physics similar to touch-based desktops, an early-stage, visually impressive technology waiting to catch on en masse. And like Hewlett-Packard and its TouchSmart all-in-one PCs, we're glad to see companies taking a chance on the early development and marketing work with accelerated physics. And if we can't say that we find a handful of extra glass shards (as featured above) a compelling enough reason to upgrade a 3D card, anyone who does will also be contributing to the greater cause of more substantial game-changing physics down the road.