Swedish company Meqon, the firm behind the physics for 3D Realms' Duke Nukem Forever, have rekindled interest in the long-delayed game with a stunning demonstration of its latest physics technology.
The company, which was relatively unknown before 3D Realms announced them as the provider of the physics middleware for DNF a few months ago, is showing off version 2.0 of its technology behind closed doors at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week.
In a short but hugely impressive real-time demo, a room is almost completely demolished using a weapon that fires tennis-ball sized projectiles. In the first section of the demo, glass panels shatter realistically and fragile boxes full of objects suspended from the ceiling are smashed, leaving jagged corners hanging on ropes while the contents smash to the floor.
In another section, a tiled wall is destroyed realistically, with tiles breaking and popping off the wall when they're hit sufficiently hard, while further demonstrations of the engine's prowess include human shaped "rag doll" models in glass boxes, which react realistically to the environment around them being damaged, and most impressively of all, a completely interactive piece of cloth suspended between poles - which billows and stretches when it's shot, and can even be filled with balls like a hammock.
The demonstration goes far beyond the rigid-body physics which has impressed so many players in games like Half-Life 2, and according to Meqon CTO Dennis Gustafsson, every effect is entirely real-time - with even the smashing of fragile objects being generated on the fly, rather than happening along "fault lines" inserted by artists.
Although the company adamantly refused to be drawn on any details regarding its most famous client, or just how much of this technology will make its way into Duke Nukem Forever, it seems logical that 3D Realms would use this next-generation physics system as one way to gain an edge over the critically acclaimed Half-Life 2.
The second version of Meqon's technology is designed for next-generation consoles, and is multi-threaded from the ground up to take advantage of the multi-processor designs of systems such as the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles, Gustafsson told us. The demonstration at GDC, however, is running smoothly on a medium-spec PC laptop.
It is emphasising a number of key features of the Meqon technology, including the ability for developers to easily add new behaviours to the system which interact properly with existing behaviours - "we don't want physics to look the same in every game," according to CEO Jonas Lindqvist - and a level of detail system that allows some objects in the game to be simulated more accurately than others, depending on the developer's preferences.
Also impressive was the company's toolset, which it says has been an area of major focus over the past year. Meqon has integrated physics data with the filesystem, allowing developers to tweak problems as they see them in the game itself - using an intuitive debugger that allows for visual changing of physics parameters and behaviour - and then export that new physics data right back through the tool chain into the modelling application.
The company, which was set up as part of an incubator program at the University of Linkoping in Sweden in mid-2002, intends to hand out time-limited versions of its SDK to developers at the conference over the coming days.