You may remember Kieron doing science a few weeks back about NVIDIA's CUDA system - clever trickery that allows a GPU to perform processing feats other than pixel-pushing. There's a lot of real-world algorithm-crunching applications for it, but of most interest to gamers is that it can make your GeForce 8, 9 or 200-series card behave like a PhysX board. NVIDIA bought out PhysX makers Ageia a while back, and we're soon to see the fruits of such money-labours.
The big question is to what extent simulating cratesplosion will slow down the graphics rendering. We'll get to find out next week, with the release of the GeForce Experience Pack.
Blues has word on the contents, which is mostly old PhysX stuff but retuned for CUDA:
Warmonger--full free game! Destroy walls, floors, and whole buildings top open up new paths or close existing ones. Destructive power is more than eye candy here--it's a tactical weapon in this ground-breaking action game.
Unreal Tournament 3 PhysX Mod Pack--includes three maps with amazing effects that fundamentally change the gameplay (requires commerical version of Unreal Tournament 3)
A sneak peek at the upcoming Nurien social networking service, based on the Unreal Engine 3
A sneak peek at the upcoming game Metal Knight Zero
All new NVIDIA "The Great Kulu" tech demo that showcases the use of PhysX soft bodies in a real game play environment
All new NVIDIA "Fluid" tech demo--a simulation of realistic fluid effects with a variety of liquids
In conjunction with the release of the GeForce Experience Pack, we will also be releasing new WHQL-certified drivers that enable PhysX acceleration for all GeForce 8, 9, and GTX 200 Series GPUs. This new driver also adds support for PhysX-accelerated features in the commercially available game, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2.
Tellingly, no CellFactor - the free, not-very-good FPS originally used to promote PhysX. It's been withdrawn from download for a while a now, though the official site's still running, and has talk of a forthcoming Cellfactor: Ignition. Apparently that's a full-blown, Unreal Engine 3-based retail FPS for PC and console, but perhaps it'll be CUDA-friendly.
You can actually already grab the UT3 maps from here, but it's the upcoming v177.39 Forceware driver that makes the magic happen if you don't have a PhysX board.
I'm in two minds about CUDA PhysX. If it works well, it's unquestionably taking the once-niche PhysX to a dramatically larger audience, which could mean more is made of it than the iffy frills in b-list games it amounted to in its first incarnation. It does, however, still seem hugely unlikely that decent games will be made built around hardware PhysX support. Developers don't want to leave anyone who doesn't own a GeForce 8, 9 or 200 out in the cold, after all. Which may mean PhysX remains a gimmicky luxury, as before. Having NVIDIA's weight behind PhysX could make all the difference, however.