E3 2011: Nvidia Talks PhysX, 3D, and the Future of Gaming

by Reads (3,016)

I got a chance to sit down with a couple of Nvidia representatives at this year’s E3, and while it was difficult to get certain details out of them, they were still more than happy to show off and discuss the company’s recent endeavors.

Nvidia LogoThe Nvidia hardware line up as it stands now is “as solid as [it’s] ever been,” said Michael DeNeffe, GeForce director of marketing. He discussed the recently implemented Fermi tech — which was developed a little over a year ago — the highlight of which involves tessellation, which I actually saw first-hand in a Guild Wars 2 demo at PAX East. For those not familiar with tessellation, basically it’s a method employed to reduce “jaggies,” or the noticeable edges of polygons, as they are adjusted and smoothed in real-time as players get closer to in-game environments or objects.

But when I tried to find out specifics about future hardware from Nvidia, I couldn’t get far. DeNeffe was tight-lipped about the details of the quad-core processor that’s in development for mobile devices (code-named Kal-El), as well as the next generation of PC hardware, code-named Kepler.

So then in the meantime, what else in the cards for Nvidia? Developing DirectX 11 capabilities for their hardware, incorporating their trademark PhysX physics engine into more games, and expanding their 3D library, according to DeNeffe.

I got to see the PhysX engine in some of its more recent applications during my meeting with Nvidia, including in the upcoming title Alice: Madness Returns, American McGee’s sequel to the original Alice released back in 2000. During the demo, there were a number of instances when technical marketing rep Andrew Coonrad pointed out where PhysX was in action.

For example, Alice was equipped with a pepper grinder gatling gun. You read that correctly, and for those unfamiliar with the franchise, it’s every bit as bizarre as it sounds. At any rate, when Alice cranked the gun, smoke was emitted and little pepper flakes fell from the weapon to the ground. The smoke was what Coonrad dubbed volumetric smoke, meaning that it was a fully interactive aspect of the game, as it was rendered in real-time. This meant that walking through the smoke would disrupt and move the clouds around based on your interaction with it.

Likewise, each of the little flakes of pepper that fell from the gun was its own physical object in the in-game environment. Even the leaves that fell from Alice whenever she double-jumped were individually rendered, physical objects that the GPU rendered in real-time.

The effect that PhysX had on liquid in the game was rather impressive too. There were these oily, blob-like enemies that I could hack up with my Vorpal Blade, after which they would collapse into pools on the ground. The standing batches of oil were also simulated so as to be fully interactive; as I ran through the puddles, they were disrupted and shifted to indicate the path that I was cutting through them.

The ambitions of Nvidia are not just restricted to PhysX, however, as DeNeffe noted that the 3D capabilities of the Nvidia hardware span over 450 games, a number that should continue to increase. DeNeffe admitted, however, that Nvidia’s application of 3D in future games is contingent upon the genre.

“3D has different capabilities from game to game,” said DeNeffe. “It’s not as effective in tournament games like Starcraft 2, for example. But it’s much a much better application in genres like first person shooters and racing games.”

Before I left, I tried to coax one last piece of information out of DeNeffe and Coonrad about Nvidia’s future plans by asking about its future plans for cross-platform gaming using Nvidia hardware, which I had also witnessed at PAX East when the company was running the same game of Dungeon Defenders across a PC, PS3, and a tablet. I ran into another dead-end, as they said that nothing on the subject could currently be disclosed, but a smile that played at the lips of Coonrad suggested that there could be more to come in that vein.

“We can’t say anything about that right now, but that’s something we’re really excited about,” said Coonrad. “It’s not just about developers being able to sell more copies of their games. It’s a good way to build the Nvidia ecosystem, which we believe is the future of gaming.”

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