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Carmack: Hardware Physics A Bad Idea

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 58 comments

id Software's John Carmack spoke out against hardware-based physics at QuakeCon 2009, and it wasn't pretty.

How does it feel when one of the biggest developers of this era thinks your product is a big waste of time and money? That kind of opinion is like a swift kick in the groin, but that's basically what id Software's John Carmack said--not in private behind closed doors--but during a Q&A session at QuakeCon 2009 when asked about his thoughts on hardware physics.

"I think I was fairly public about my thinking that that was a really bad idea, and in fact it was pretty clear to me from early on that the whole idea for that was to do a startup to be acquired," he answered.

As he indicated, Carmack made his feelings regarding hardware-based physics well known in the past (story), stating that he wasn't a "believer" in physics processing units (PPUs), and that multiple CPU cores would be much more useful in general. He also previously said that some tasks would work just fine when GPUs finally get "reasonably fine-grained context switching and scheduling."

But his answer during the QuakeCon 2009 Q&A session seemed more like an attack on Ageia and its PhysX PPU that was eventually assimilated by the Nvidia collective. "I actually had a really quite negative opinion about stuff like that because they went out, they evangelized, they got some people to buy a piece of hardware that I didn't think was actually a good technical direction for things on there; certainly was going to be supplanted by later generations of more integrated compute resources on there," he continued. "I don't think it was a good idea, I certainly wasn't a backer of the company, and I hope NVIDIA didn't pay a whole lot of money for them."

Ouch. To catch the full-blown attack on hardware-based physics, check out Carmack in action captured here on YouTube.

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Top Comments
  • 22 Hide
    Aintry , August 22, 2009 1:52 AM
    Are we allowed to breathe now? I mean, John Carmack is done talking, right?
  • 17 Hide
    redgarl , August 22, 2009 2:23 AM
    Totally right, I think the same thing. PhysX is impressive, but it was far from really more impressive than Havok was when we first saw Half-Life 2.

    I am sorry, but why do we need hardware to run physics? Havok was doing a fine job and it never required any additional physical hardware to be run.

    What will happens with DX11 around the corner?
  • 17 Hide
    airborne11b , August 22, 2009 1:57 AM
    Well, where I agree that "Physx cards" were a bad idea, since you payed for hardware that only showed performance increases in select games *like 4 lol*, now that new series of GPU's come with Physx support built right into the GPU, I think it's great!

    Lets face it, id software is a little behind the time anywho, even when they released Doom3 and quake 4, the games were pretty stale. The games had decent graphics for the time they were released, but the games were nothing special, and for the part pretty boring. And what have they given to the gaming community since then? Nothing. While other game companies are pushing forward with fresh new ideas, id is sitting around talking trash about how bad physx is.

    I think this can all be summed up in 1 sentence. Id is sore that they can't invent anything new and fresh, so they attack new ideas that they wish they had come up with.
Other Comments
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  • 22 Hide
    Aintry , August 22, 2009 1:52 AM
    Are we allowed to breathe now? I mean, John Carmack is done talking, right?
  • 2 Hide
    Upendra09 , August 22, 2009 1:54 AM
    how much of a difference do they make?
    and how many people actually use PPUs?
    I have seen them in rigs from Falcon Northwest and stuff but are they worth it?
  • 17 Hide
    airborne11b , August 22, 2009 1:57 AM
    Well, where I agree that "Physx cards" were a bad idea, since you payed for hardware that only showed performance increases in select games *like 4 lol*, now that new series of GPU's come with Physx support built right into the GPU, I think it's great!

    Lets face it, id software is a little behind the time anywho, even when they released Doom3 and quake 4, the games were pretty stale. The games had decent graphics for the time they were released, but the games were nothing special, and for the part pretty boring. And what have they given to the gaming community since then? Nothing. While other game companies are pushing forward with fresh new ideas, id is sitting around talking trash about how bad physx is.

    I think this can all be summed up in 1 sentence. Id is sore that they can't invent anything new and fresh, so they attack new ideas that they wish they had come up with.
  • 8 Hide
    viometrix , August 22, 2009 1:58 AM
    i think carmack is right to a degree, a seperate ppu unit does suck, but what nvidia did by intergrating it into the video card was the way it should have always been, and maybe with a combo of using an available cpu core that isnt being used by by a game or application it would maximise what we can do with physics without the need to spend extra money, use and available slot and consume more power
  • -1 Hide
    airborne11b , August 22, 2009 2:00 AM
    and to answer Upendra, No one buys PPU's because all Geforce cards from 9 series and up come with built in PhysX support And those have been out well over a year now.
  • 0 Hide
    NuclearShadow , August 22, 2009 2:14 AM
    I believe there is potentiality in physic cards but its really up to the developers such as id to decide to actually make it worth while or not the hardware is in the complete mercy to people like Carmack. However since the merger of physics cards and GPU's this certainly makes it much more affordable to the consumer and developers that take advantage of it have a edge over those who do not.

    I do however believe that Carmack's recent love for consoles influences his opinion on this subject. If a game was released today that had ground breaking graphics and to top it off a very advanced physics system that really took advantage of physics capabilities the game simply wouldn't be capable of running on the consoles we have today. With more developers looking to release on both consoles and PC this wouldn't be in their best interest.
  • 17 Hide
    redgarl , August 22, 2009 2:23 AM
    Totally right, I think the same thing. PhysX is impressive, but it was far from really more impressive than Havok was when we first saw Half-Life 2.

    I am sorry, but why do we need hardware to run physics? Havok was doing a fine job and it never required any additional physical hardware to be run.

    What will happens with DX11 around the corner?
  • 2 Hide
    worst 3 , August 22, 2009 2:23 AM
    I think that with gpu having physx like my 8800gt it will be good, now i don't have to sell it or just throw it out i cant turn it in to a dedicated physx card when i buy a 300 Geforce cars. then keep moving the last gen card to physx or as needed. i think physics done right could change gaming a lot and make it more fun as well as help with graphics by helping with different effects to make them look more real.
  • -2 Hide
    redgarl , August 22, 2009 2:28 AM
    Airborne11bI think this can all be summed up in 1 sentence. Id is sore that they can't invent anything new and fresh, so they attack new ideas that they wish they had come up with.


    Well, I admit that Carmack is not a really good game developer, but he knows how to code. He's one of the few who can sell graphic engines and make money over his games that way.
  • 2 Hide
    doomtomb , August 22, 2009 2:30 AM
    Nvidia's Physx on graphics cards is the right thing I think. You don't actually have to spend extra money on additional hardware taking up vital PCI-E slots. Nvidia's Physx actually makes a pretty big impact on games that support it. So his argument is pretty late to the game, we saw PPUs die a very quick death over a year ago.
  • -4 Hide
    Upendra09 , August 22, 2009 3:20 AM
    Airborne11band to answer Upendra, No one buys PPU's because all Geforce cards from 9 series and up come with built in PhysX support And those have been out well over a year now.

    tHanks for the info
  • 4 Hide
    r0x0r , August 22, 2009 3:43 AM
    Maybe Carmack is just angry at physics 'cos his rockets aren't working.

    http://www.armadilloaerospace.com/n.x/Armadillo/Home/Business/About
  • -4 Hide
    Zoonie , August 22, 2009 4:58 AM
    Ok people, this proves it! The iPhone does NOT have a physics chip.
  • 1 Hide
    megamanx00 , August 22, 2009 5:17 AM
    Well, dedicated physics cards are pretty much gone so it's kinda like a pointless rant. After all GPUs are more flexible than the ol PPU which was designed to do a specific set of calculations. As long as there isn't a crossplatorm GPU accelerated Physics API, ie doesn't rely on hardware from just one vendor, it will be just a nice thing to have rather than something mainstream.
  • 1 Hide
    mr_tuel , August 22, 2009 5:45 AM
    physX is awesome with games that support it. Makes the game feal that much more immersive.
  • -5 Hide
    scrumworks , August 22, 2009 5:48 AM
    Finally some big name says PhysX is crap. As long as ATI won't touch it, it will eventually die.
  • 2 Hide
    FSXFan , August 22, 2009 7:06 AM
    zingamWhen will dedicated graphics hardware be gone too?

    When desktop PC's are gone.
  • 2 Hide
    tpi2007 , August 22, 2009 8:44 AM
    Airborne11band to answer Upendra, No one buys PPU's because all Geforce cards from 9 series and up come with built in PhysX support And those have been out well over a year now.


    Correction: from series 8 and up; although you should at least have an 8800GT to appreciate it.
  • 15 Hide
    luissantos , August 22, 2009 10:59 AM
    I don't understand why all this hate geared towards Carmack latelly (or all the media focus to begin with)... Tim Sweeny from Epic Games has been saying things like "in the future real-developers won't use DirectX or OpenGL, they'll write their own low-level APIs" and "in about ten years the GPU will be gone, replaced by massive CPU arays"... so either the true gurus are right in their insanity or just insane.

    BTW, ID not inventive... right... first 3d engine, first FPS, first deathmatch game, first real-time shadows game... yeah... I suppose. How many GOOD PC games came out this year anyway? How many Inventive oones then? How many years since you've seen something you could say "wow, this is something totally new"?

    It's not Carmack's job to make good games, he's a programmer, he's not responsible for story line, modeling, level design, or whatever other aspect of development.
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