Ageia didn't have a huge presence at GDC this year, but they continue pushing for development of games that use their PhysX SDK and hardware. The two new titles they had to show off were CellFactor: Revolution and Warmonger.
CellFactor: Revolution is a multiplayer game based on the original (and entertaining) CellFactor demo that Ageia commissioned as a showcase for PhysX hardware. The game is well along in development, and Ageia expects it to be released as soon as the end of this month or the beginning of next. The original plan was for the game to be sold as a budget title, but now Ageia plans to release it, with five levels, free of charge.
The game will run with or without PhysX hardware, although obviously it will run faster with hardware acceleration. In our initial review of the PhysX card, we found that the CellFactor demo would run just fine on a dual-core CPU with tens or hundreds of rigid body objects bouncing around the screen, but hardware acceleration was necessary for decent frame rates with effects like fluids and cloth. My experience playing through a level of CellFactor: Revolution was consistent with this assessment. Fortunately, the final game will allow players without PhysX cards to disable these advanced physics features in order to keep frame rates up. This concession should open up the possibility that a robust community might take to playing CellFactor: Revolution online. If so, Ageia hopes many of them will decide to buy a PhysX card in order to see how it can accelerate the game.
Warmonger, pictured above, is a gorgeous-looking FPS game that features loads of potential for environmental interaction, judging by the small portion of it that I got to try. The Ageia rep walked me through moving up to some stairs to a well-placed landing inside of a buildingan ideal sniper post. We then blew up the stairs below us to make sure we wouldn't be followed. Clever. The picture above isn't the greatest, but it shows "metal cloth" in action, buckling as the bus takes damage.
Like CellFactor: Revolution, Warmonger will be released for free, as a title bundled with PhysX cards. In fact, this one can't be played without a PhysX card. Ageia expects it to arrive in May or June of this year.
My main reason for meeting with the guys from Bigfoot was to apologize for utterly failing to get my review of the Killer NIC out of the door after committing to do one way back when the product was first hitting the market. The Killer NIC lingered in Damage Labs for longer than I care to admit as I focused my attention instead on the GeForce 8800, quad-core CPUs, and the like. Fortunately, the Bigfoot guys were forgiving, and we've made arrangements for a Killer NIC review here at TR before too long. That review should include the new, less expensive Killer K1, as well as the original Killer NIC.
For the uninitiated, the K1 is based on similar hardware but lacks the flashy heatsink of the original Killer NIC. That leads to slightly slower CPU clock speeds, but nothing that should affect gaming performance too dramatically, according to Bigfoot. The K1 also lacks out-of-the-box support for FNApps, applications that run independently of the host PC on the CPU and memory of the Killer NIC. Right now, however, Bigfoot is selling the K1 with FNApp support as part of a promotion.
Bigfoot had two bits of news to announce at the show. The first was the release of a new FNApp that may be of interest to some folks: a BitTorrent client, now available for download in beta form right here. Bigfoot has essentially ported an open-source BitTorrent client to the Killer NIC's embedded version of Linux. Bigfoot "CEO & Mad Scientist" Harlan Beverly told me the client can sustain up to 40 concurrent torrents at once, with zero CPU utilization on the host PC. The client writes downloaded files to an external hard drive connected to the USB port on the back of the Killer NIC, and Bigfoot provides a GUI for copying the files over to the host PC later. The client itself provides a GUI, bandwidth controls, and a search button; it also automatically checks with Bigfoot for the availability of downloadable updates. This app complements the Killer NIC's orginial FNApp, a firewall with iptables-based stateful packet inspection.
Bigfoot's other news was the release of a white paper about Windows Vista networking performance written by Harlan himself. The Vista question obviously loomed large for a company whose products rely on bypassing the Windows networking stack. The paper's basic claim is that Microsoft's optimizations of the Vista network stack can be helpful for data throughput, especially with TCP/IP, but do little to help UDP or packet latency, the two factors of most concern in online gaming. Bigfoot expects to see even more performance benefits for the Killer NIC in Windows Vista than in XP. We shall have to see about that. Bigfoot does have drivers for both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista right now.
When I first talked to the Bigfoot guys, we discussed the possibility of other firms licensing the Killer NIC technology for use on motherboards and the like. I asked Harlan for an update on that front, and he said one of his current side projects is looking at the mobile space. He envisions one of those large, luggable gaming laptops with a couple of blood-red ports on the back, one for the Killer NIC's Ethernet connection and another for USB. I wouldn't be shocked to see it happen, if a company like Alienware or Voodoo PC becomes interested.