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  • Physics in Mass Market Games

    - Calen Henry and Jacob Karsemeyer

  •  Physics Engines
    To execute realistic physics in 3D games, developers have to devote a portion of the game engine to rendering physical interaction. This is done in one of two ways: by writing a physics engine for the game, or by using an existing middleware physics engine.

    Both solutions are common, but using a third-party physics engine is becoming the more popular approach. Crysis uses a proprietary physics engines, but Half-Life 2 uses Havok as a basis. Havok Physics, the leading middleware engine, is currently on its fifth iteration. It uses a dynamic simulation model to simulate "systems of objects that are free to move, usually in three dimensions according to Newton's laws of dynamics, or approximations thereto" (Wikipedia). Because Havok handles all the game physics, it gives game developers more time to work on other things.

    Another physics engine provider is Ageia (recently purchased by Nvidia). Ageia's software works with a physics accelerator, a hardware product required to take advantage of its engine. While consumers haven't been very receptive of the additional piece of hardware, some game makers have implemented Ageia physics as an optional feature in their games. LucasArts' upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed uses three separate third-party physics engines: Havok for rigid body physics (objects in the levels), digital molecular modeling (DMM) for material physics, and Euphoria for character interaction with the world. DMM is a system that allows materials in the game (glass, wood, metal) to be assigned realistic properties. This information is fed into Havok and determines how the material will interact with the surrounding environment. DMM is proprietary to LucasArts until September 2008 (

    As games that use highly dynamic physics models are released, like Force Unleashed, character animation will likely need to change to accommodate the entropy that will occur during play. Increasingly complex physics will call for increasingly complex, character reactions, and the integration of multiple control engines in single games may well become commonplace.

    Jacob Karsemeyer and Calen Henry recently completed Half-Life Havoc as a senior thesis project at McMaster University. They both intend to pursue careers in the video game industry, and Jacob is currently working on a conference and web site project called Pushing Play.


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