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PlayStation Meeting: Sony Emphasizes Physics

CellCareening around a righthand corner, your left front tire blows, and debris spatters the vehicle beside you. Your car body, already low to the ground, makes contact. It wails in protest as it’s forcefully shoved across the pavement, sparks fizzing like a comet from the contact point. Your vector is compromised, and you become a passenger as you careen into Willy’s Window Emporium, glass shattering energetically. Your car comes to an abrupt halt as Willy watches helplessly, screeching metal twisting out of shape.

Physics. The better you want that scene to look, the better your physics must be. And game developers are keenly aware of the fact.

The Cell processor, the nucleus of the PS3, has one PowerPC core and 7 operating SPE’s that are particularly well suited to things like image and video manipulation and physics calculations. As such, Sony’s announcements at the PlayStation Meeting make a lot of sense.

Sony is licensing Havok‘s physics and animation engines for use by developers on the PS3.

Because of Havok’s engine, development teams will be able to use what is arguably the industry’s most realistic physics system for any game that wants it directly out of the box. For the unfamiliar, the Havok system incorporates elements of real-world physics such as gravity, collision, friction, and similar dynamic forces so that they can be reproduced and blended with physically-based character animations in real-time.

But Sony also set up an alliance with AGEIA, the purveyor of the AGEIA PhysX SDK for in-game physics. The name may be familiar to you – they were in the news recently for their physics-specific hardware. It seems that they have some good software in the offing too. The PhysX kit has good multithreading capabilities, a must to make best use of the Cell processor.

“A licensing agreement with AGEIA is a strategic move for us” said Masa Chatani, corporate executive and CTO, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. “With AGEIA PhysX SDK provided as part of Software Development Kit for PS3, we believe that numbers of content with entirely new forms of physics expressions optimizing the power of the Cell processor will be developed.”

Tom’s Hardware Guide kind of makes it sound like Sony is licensing the physics chip too, and not just the SDK, but I don’t think that’s the case. Or maybe I’m just misreading them.

These announcements mean that PS3 software developers will have a choice of two different physics engines when developing games for the PS3. I don’t know if developers will have to pay anything to use them, like they will with the Unreal 3.0 engine, or if Sony has that covered. Either way, developers will be able to choose the SDK which integrates with their tools better, or which does the kind of physical modelling better suited to their game.

This means that we have a lot of really cool content to look forward to. As game developers get used to the software Sony provides, they will produce better and better physical effects. I’m a big F1 fan, so I hope the F1 game in the works for the PS3 will make good use of them.

Link: PS3 IGNPS Meeting 2005: Sony Enters Havok Agreement
Link: PS3 IGNPS Meeting 2005: Sony Hooks Up with AGEIA
Link: TALK XBOXSony Announced Agreements With Havok and AGEIA