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July 1, 2006

Physics engines for games and simulations.

I’ve been doing some research into physics engines lately. I’ve always been fascinated by physics. It started back in high school. I remember well the moment that I learned that all this weird math stuff they kept forcing on me might actually have some point. Math might actually have some relevance to the real world. I want to thank my high school physics teacher for not getting too annoyed with me every time i interrupted her with dumb questions. hehe. Anyhow, there has been a trend of the last couple years with games outsourcing major components to 3rd parties. Physics is a good example. There are a couple of interesting new things coming up that will really make PC physics simulations a lot more interesting…


Physics Coprocessors. Aegia PhysX (

This is a fun new concept, buying a coprocessor card, similar to your video card whose only purpose is to accelerate virtual physics.
It is very tempting to say they are the future of physics engines. Their licensing model may be a bit confusing and may turn some people off with its vagueness. The installer is quite complex and intrusive. It doesn’t seem like it would easily bundle with a game download. Otherwise the API looks solid and the feature set looks complete. It is a little worrying that they may intentionally cripple the performance of the software (non hardware accelerated) engine so as to give more incentive to buy hardware?

Free (mostly) physics APIs: (Not open source)

Open source (and Free) physics APIs:

ODE – ( although ODE seems to have some serious rough edges, it seems the most promising. It is THE target for open source physics engines. The API is a bit weird. Wrapping a C++ API with a C API seems counter intuitive to me. The samples don’t build correctly out of the box (not for MSVS2003 anyhow). Although there seems to be several commercial games shipping using ODE. I can only guess that each user had to re-invent a lot of code then didn’t bother to share their fixes. This leaves each user to do some re-invention.

Bullet – there seems to be some overlap of Bullet with ODE. Bullet seems more stable in some ways but lacks some of ODE’s features. Not surprising i suppose

Lastly there is a rumor that Microsoft is adding physics API to DirectX 11? This would change things a bit. Recent news is the Microsoft is working directly with Aegia (PhysX) on their robotics simulation package. Its easy to imagine is going further than that.


Filed under: Research — admin @ 10:24 am

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