Recently, I managed to get a sit-down with Roy Taylor, Nvidia’s “go to guy” when it comes to gaming. Roy is a well-known advocate for The Way It’s Meant To Be Played development program, and Roy isn’t afraid to shout out his opinion. In this unedited interview, you can see what thoughts are coming out from Nvidia and the direction TWIMTBP is taking.
GPU Physics unleashed
Theo: The PhysX pack had an excellent response since its launch in August. Recently, 178.24 drivers were released, containing a new PhysX library (btw, installation of the driver can occasionally hang due to PhysX v8.09.04.exe not loading up). Did Nvidia positioned a limit or at least recommended what would be the minimum GPU would be for decent acceleration of physics effects?
Roy: The experience will vary in the same way it varies with graphics. Some users are able to put in more AntiAliasing, more filtering, enhance image quality… and others less. Same is true with PhysX. In terms of minimum spec, I don’t think we have one. I know that we didn’t plan to [impose any limits]. It is a case of try… users should try for themselves. Every system has a level of settings where users should be comfortable with, that being graphics or physics. Upcoming Big Bang II will offer even more choice in configuring what levels of PhysX can be used by physics engine.
Theo: So, any GeForce 8 product will do?
Theo: When it comes to developers, how do you feel about developers reacting to all of the changes that are now happening with the expansion of GeForce line, implementation of GPU-accelerated Physics… can you share what is coming from the content side?
Roy: You asked couple of questions. First one is “How are they reacting to [GPU-accelerated PhysX]?” The answer is simple: they love it. We are preparing a lot of big announcements right now. Over the next couple of months, you are going to see more really wonderful announcements.
The reason why developers are so excited over Physics is being so successful is couple of things. First is our announcement to them that we are supporting PhysX on all platforms they’re working on. We are supporting consoles in the same way we’re supporting PC platform. Our PS3 performance on PhysX is now excellent. It’s fantastic. We optimized PhysX API for Cell processor and only recently, got an excellent jump in performance. And we are supported directly by Sony. That is a big deal for us, because if we take a look at recent market data [I advise you to check NPD Group market research, VGchartz.com is also a good source of information], Xbox 360 is starting to decline a bit, Wii is leading the pack and now PS3 woke up. PlayStation 3 is definitely picking up and we’re heading into a very interesting Christmas season. The fact that we have a physics solution for PS3, which is fast a well supported, is just by itself important. Also, you should not forget the fact that we have native PhysX implementation in Xbox 360, and with those two truly high-end consoles, we have excellent coverage of the console market.
If we discounted every other factor, we would be successful just from that (PS3 share). But PS3 is just one of the platforms we support.
Theo: Care to elaborate a bit more on the developer support side?
Roy: Of course. Developers have always liked Nvidia’s DevRel and DevTech support. The fact that they can now get that [support] for the consoles as well is really popular. We’re investing heavily in helping developers to develop the content in best possible manner and squash bugs as they come along.
If we move back from the console world back to the PC, we have GeForce GPU leading market share and that is a really big deal for developers. Let me explain why – most of the developers and publishers will sell anywhere between 2-7 million copies of a good console game. They will sell on average anywhere between 0.5-1.2 million copies of the PC version… they do that because the PC version is very profitable (its cost of development is already paid for). All they believe is that the GPU Physics gives them a second bite at the apple. It is those additional effects in the PC version, which means that the PC version might now sell in two million copies more, because if offers effects consoles just cannot process. Or even more. Those are estimates publishers are telling us about.
So, the value of GPU-accelerated physics can add the differentiating factor between the console and the PC version, giving gamers reasons to opt and buy the PC version. If you have Physics levels on consoles, only thing you do is add additional graphics and physics features or scale them for the PC version. It is worth to be straight-forward. That’s the big deal for them.
First of all, they have the console support. Second of all, they like the fact that because of PhysX accelerates on the GPU, they can ultra-easy and straight-forwardly add functionality and features to the PC version which will add reality and help sell additional copies.
Theo: What is Nvidia’s target when it comes to number of titles that you guys want to push? Ageia’s PhysX was adopted by 100-150 titles, mostly on consoles. What is the “sweet spot” that you would like to capture?
Roy: We want every single PC title going forward, to have Physics from now on. On average, throughout The Way It’s Meant to Be Played program, we support about 150 PC titles a year. In couple of years, we expect to have 500-600 titles. So, going forward, every title we work and support on will have Physics on. We hope that in all of those cases, physics API will be our PhysX.
Theo: How do you actually see Physics effects balancing themselves out in a mix between PC, Xbox and PlayStation 3? GPU can obviously do much more than any CPU in distant future, so how are you going to evolve the Physics-scaling? How do you rank the performance for PhysX?
Roy: What we have today is a rough equivalent of 3D world in 1992. Everything that we see is very rudimentary. Imagine the year 1992 and you were trying to guess where 3D is going to go from there. We cannot have any concept or idea how fast Physics is going to take off in the next 10-15 years, but it is likely to have as dramatic influence on the market as 3D graphics had and still has. All physics effects that exist today are very rudimentary and the key phrase is what we call “fixed state”. What that means is that if you can blow up an object, you can blow up a car in 10 pieces on Xbox 360. Well, you can blow up the same car into 10 pieces on PS3 and you can blow it up in 10 pieces on the PC [using a CPU]. But with the release of our driver last month, we introduced GPU-scaling physics, which means now you can blow up that car in hundreds of pieces, if you have the right GPU. So, we are seeing a transition from fixed-state physics into a fully blown scalable physics. Biggest problem today are faces, since model animation is only animated through fixed-state physics. And PhysX is very scalable physics [API].
Theo: How do you plan to develop PhysX in the future? While AGEIA was running the show, I got the opportunity to see their future roadmap and things that they want to develop. You know, neither PhysX or Havok are complete physics engines by a mile, there is a lot of things that need to be implemented to have a very compelling and realistic physics experience. What is Nvidia doing to enhanced future implementation of PhysX? We can call if PhysX 1.5, or 2.0 or something like that…
Roy: Yes, there are two parts of the answer. First one is of course, the actual hardware. For obvious reasons, we cannot disclose what are we working on in the future GPU parts, nor we can comment on unannounced products, but you don’t need to own a crystal ball to see that we are going to implement even more PhysX-optimized units in the future. And yes, we are going to add more cores to our processors. What cores – that remains to be seen. From the hardware point of view, we are going to see greater levels of parallelism, and Physics is a massive parallel problem. From hardware standpoint, we’re going to add more hardware acceleration to solve complex parallel mathematical problem which is physics.
In terms of software problems, things are going extremely well, and we’re really satisfied with the way how PhysX is expanding. What we are going to do are two things: firstly, we’re going to enhance the implementation of effects that we already do well. This will of course, be done with our APEX – Advanced Physics EXtensions. APEX is going to be a big deal. Secondly, we’ll develop tools that will enable developers to implement PhysX more easily, and put much more physics effects into the game. What we need for that is a very strong tool-chain. We now have hundreds of engineers working on PhysX. Literally, we’re not fooling around. We have hundreds of engineers that extended Manju’s (Manju Hegde, co-founder of AGEIA) original team of engineers and the APEX Tool is another reason why we are being successful with the developers. It will put the power into artists’ hands, not limitations. By using APEX, you are able to apply physical attributes to a number of different elements. That can be vegetation, or destruction or vehicles, or whatever element or object in the game you want to apply PhysX attributes to.
The APEX itself, APEX Tool and ApPerfMon are doing wonders for tweaking the PhysX performance and that is really important for the success of Physics. We are going to have a number of announcements about the tool chain coming up in the near future. Our roadmap is built upon APEX, ApPerfMon and some other to be announced tools that are aiding in the introduction of greater physics into the existing environments.
Key to adding more physics is also further separation of Physics development are two stages: first one stage is PhysX Effects, second stage is PhysX gameplay. Let me give you couple of examples. Water in Crysis is beautiful, but you can’t splash anyone. Nor can you go to a river and scoop some water into your water-canister. You can’t pour water on anyone. In terms of weather, we have some really cool weather effects coming in STALKER: Clear Sky and Far Cry 2, but there are still some limitations. You cannot stand in the water and wash your hair, for example. You could not have the rain flood the river… you cannot have lightening strike a straw hut and catch it on fire.
So, there are some limitations that game developers are facing. What we are going to do is remove those limitations. Good example is also destruction. We have destruction in games today, but it is really rudimentary. We were all impressed with the fact that you can shoot a tree in Crysis, but you cannot take a machete and start chopping down the vegetation to clear your path. These are just some examples of physics effects that developers want to see implemented in their games.
Physics Gameplay is whole another ballgame. This requires a lot of work on developer side, so we expect that it will take time to implement. Physics Gameplay is introducing the in-game physics at a higher level, so that you can entirely change the game. For instance, if we take the game Hitman, you noticed that he never-ever changes his suit. Don’t you think that if someone is assassin, assassin should be able to change the clothes quickly and blend with the regular crowd? In physics gameplay effects, you’re going to able to change your clothes. Or, rip your clothes. Or even, put hat on. Have you ever noticed that you cannot put a hat on a character in a game? Or put a beard on… there are plenty of games where you can shoot off a hat from the head of a soldier…but you never see a soldier put that helmet back on. In physics gameplay, these dynamic changes will enable a change how characters interact with environment.
We’ll be able to destroy clothes, burn them, rip them off… getting them soiled and dirty. Also, let’s talk about racing games. There are plenty of car games on the market, and you see cars crashing into each other. For example, you’re in a racing game, and you lose a wheel. In a game, that might be the end. But in reality, or in physics gameplay, it might be that the wheel is just damaged and you can continue to drive the car in a way… or you might be able to spin the car over and over and over and still keep driving it. Or you might have some components coming off from the car.
Let’s give another example – how about, in terms of physics gameplay, that you go into the city and you can go into every building, see through every window, open every door? Imagine trying to find a sniper when the shooter can move inside the whole building… and if every single window could be opened? We might end up with a game that has no locked doors…or if the doors are locked, you have the ability to open them up, either by lock picking or just kicking them down.
These [effects] are what we call physics effects, and these were just the examples coming from the games we’re working on. And they’re just limited by your imagination.
Theo: Yes, I am aware of several titles that feature physics in a whole new light. Just like with the appearance of 3D, we would expect that there are game developers out there that will use physics effects in a ways we did not expect…
Roy: When people think about gameplay, what they really think about is interactivity. Gameplay means interactivity. The more I can do inside the game, more I can interact with [the virtual world]… the more fun I find it. If I can drive any vehicle, or any plane, or interact with any object, it’s fun. And that interactivity is physics. So equation to me is: Gameplay = Interactivity = Physics.
Theo: You’ve mentioned game developers and publishers that are enabling physics in games. Can you tell my readers a bit more about those developers?
Roy: All of the announcements are left for partners, but we’re working closely with them and very soon, we will have some very exciting announcements. Examples I gave are just a small taste of what’s coming…
Roy issues an open invitation to developers
Theo: AGEIA used to support development of free games such as Warmonger, Cell Factor: Revolution. Will Nvidia support teams like these ones in the future, or just focus on bringing the PhysX to market with big guns?
Roy: Absolutely. We are supporting some small guys. We’re supporting developers like Ascaron in Germany (Sacred II), we’re supporting Metropolis (Day), Black Lion (Shadow harvest)… in fact, any developer which reads your article, I am happy to print an open invitation to any… you can put my e-mail address in your article, it is rtaylor @ nvidia.com (please remove two spaces between before sending). I am using this space to invite any game developer out there who is interested in using physics. Any developer can send me an e-mail and I guarantee you that I will return that e-mail to every single developer.
Theo: Consider it done, though bear in mind that I cannot promise that this e-mail address will not be picked up by a lot of spam bots that are hovering around popular websites
Roy: I would be only too happy to anyone that wants to use physics and enhance his virtual world. We all need new level of interactivity inside games and entertaining applications.
Theo: At the end of the day, we’re bound by the world we live in. That world has its limitations we all have to endure. But, every time someone pushes those boundaries, regardless of that being skaters or bikers pulling incredible stunts, racing cars, pilots undergoing insane G forces for fun [Red Bull Air Race], those are experiences that matter. Seeing a game and not being able to destroy a trash can with a tank really demoralizes the player.
Roy: Exactly. This is why I said that we’re living in 1992 when it comes to physics in games. The new world of physics started last month, with the introduction of our beta driver that did GPU-accelerated physics scaling. Now, developers are going to have a whole new world to think about when it comes to physics development. We need new levels of interactivity, and we strongly believe that physics is the only viable way to enhance interactivity.
In the end I wish to thank Roy for this interview; I know it’s been a while since we made it. It looks like Nvidia is betting a lot of things on the adoption of physics engine, and in all honesty, we need it. Upcoming touch-screen and 3D glasses will change the way we play and experience computing, regardless of that being Windows 7 UI, 3D game or a movie. Physics is an integral part of enhancing computing experience, removing a lot of limitations that we have in our current configuration, consisting mostly out of a keyboard and a mouse.
Disclaimer: Photos were “borrowed” from Facebook in terms with FB’s EULA ;-). Roy Taylor was not hurt during shooting of these images