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Popular Physics Engines comparison: PhysX, Havok and ODE

Published by Zogrim || December 7th, 2009 at 3:53 pm

End of the year is proper time to gather some statictics and summarize what PhysX SDK has archieved in past 4 years. In this article will try to compare it with other physics engines presented on the market not in terms of features, quality, performance or something like that – but released game titles. Best way, as we think, to understand what is really needed and adopted by game industry.

* on counting details please refer to article endnote. Graph and following article is related to time period from 2006 to 2009.

PhysX (PhysX SDK) – previously known as NovodeX. Currently owned by Nvidia, binary PC and console versions of SDK are available for free. PhysX SDK is only solution with fully-functional GPU/PPU physics acceleration pipeline.

Havok – popular and reputed commercial solution. Havok product line includes not only physics engine itself, but dedicated tools for AI, animation and behaviour.

Open Dynamics Engine (ODE) – developed by Russell Smith, open-source ODE physics engine was quite popular in 2005-2006. Currently ODE’s development seems to be suspended.

Newton Game Dynamics – free for commercial and non-commercial use (but closed source), Newton is well known for it’s stability and accuracy, and bad performance as well. However, version 2.0 (currently in beta) is going to adress this issues. Has small, but solidary community.

Bullet – open source physics simulation library, published under free zLib licence. Developed by Erwin Coumans, former Havok employee. Promising engine, but it’s adoption isn’t riding with spurs.

Both Havok and PhysX have left competitors far behind, even ODE’s lead from others is considerable enough – so this time only PhysX SDK, Havok and ODE will participate as subjects of our investigation, other engines simply won’t provide enought data for statistics.

1. Titles Quality.

Rough numbers of released games won’t show much on physics engines nature – advanced statistics is much more demonstrative. We’ll start with quality (or ranking) of released games, using metascore (by -  weighted average of all of the scores assigned by individual critics to certain games.

Titles are devided into cathegories, according to their metascore:  Third rate or specific (with metascore <50 or not listed in database at all), Decent (metascore 50.. 70), Good (metascore 71.. 85)  and Excellent (metascore >85).


Thanks to it’s free license and rich feature set PhysX SDK, preferred by small teams, is dominating PC market. Currently PhysX SDK is widely adopted by russian (mostly trash games) and korean (mostly specific MMOs) developers. Not to mention, that PhysX SDK is default physics solution for Unreal Engine 3, used in majority of UE3 based titles (Gears of War, Mass Effect, etc). Year 2009 has brought some popular games, like Dragon Age: Origins, Overlord 2 or Risen, into PhysX library.

Havok is currently best choise for AAA titles – extensive toolset , orientation on consoles, best-in-class developer support.  Well-known titles of year 2009, like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves or Killzone 2 are based on Havok. Surprisingly, even Try Havok initiative hasn’t helped Havok to gain popularity at indie-developers community.

In spite of the fact that ODE has some good games in it’s library, like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series or Word of Goo (only one with metascore > 85), 54% of all titles are based on Chrome Engine from Techland – mainly that’s trash shooters from CITY Interactive or russian UAZ 4×4 and it’s countless add-ons.


Graph above is showing games quality distribution as relative percentage ratio.

2. Dynamics of releases.

Another significant characteristic – dynamics of game releases, that is showing adoption and demand for certain physics engines over years. Choice of 2006-2009 timeframe is based on equality requirement, as there were no PhysX SDK based titles before year 2006 (also, there is no more official list for pre-2006 Havok titles).


Adoption of PhysX SDK is showing substantial growth on whole lifecycle, regardless of engine updates absence (PhysX SDK is staying without major updates for several years, while all recources are concentrated on APEX and SDK 3.0 development).

We can call situation on Havok side stable enough, meanwhile, minimal degradation of released titles numbers is present. (titles numbers are shown per year)

ODE’s usage by gamedevs is marginal in comparison with competitors, and it’s still lowering year by year, while engine development is suspended currently.


Graph above shows more detailed statistics – amount of released games per quarter (3 months) of calendar years 2006-2009.

3. Platform destribution.

Gaming platform destribution is interesting factor – AAA titles are mostly oriented on consoles (as variant, multiplatform) and can afford expensive solution like Havok, or even development of proprietary physics engines, while PC game developers prefer free and/or open source engines.


Results are obvious enough – PhysX SDK is dominating on PC market, Havok – on console market (reasons were described in pt. 1). Also, only Havok has advanced support for various platforms – not only PC and modern consoles, but Xbox, PS2 and even PSP.

By the way,  standalone console versions of PhysX SDK existed even in 2005 (even certain games from PS3 and Wii start-up line were based on PhysX SDK), but still most of it’s console titles are based on UE3.

In accordance with open-source nature of ODE it was used in several games for Wii, but majority of titles are still Chrome engine based games for PC.


Graphical representation of relative platform destribution is shown above.

4. Conclusion

Today situation on physics engines market is clear enough, but we’ll return to this topic at the end of 2010 with great pleasure – because 2010 is going to be reach on interesting events. Havok will try to get hold of indie developers again – this time with Independent Developer Program In addition, Havok is heading omni-solution way, as it has now brand-new tools – AI, Cloth and Destruction – in product line. What’s next – Havok Sound ? Havok Network ?

PhysX SDK, in turn, will endeavour to conquer console market with long-awaited SDK 3.0 (reworked architecture, new features, extensive optimizations for Xbox 360 and PS3) and APEX toolset.

Another topic is GPU accelerated physics, what’s going to prevail – industry “standarts” like OpenCL Bullet (without GPU physics based tools and experienced developers, but working on wide set of hardware) or proprietary developements, like PhysX (with direct support from Nvidia, GPU physics oriented architecture and complete toolset, team of content-developers) ?

Feel free to share your thoughts with us in a comment section below, or via our forum

5. Endnote.
Details on titles count methodology. Please note that non-commercial indie titles, games released before 2006 and games for iPhone/iPod are not included.
PhysX – list at (CPU, GPU, PPU and console games included)
Havok – official titles list.
ODE – official titles list; wiki; Chrome Engine; UAZ 4×4 series;
Newton – official titles list;
Bullet – forum;

7 Responses to 'Popular Physics Engines comparison: PhysX, Havok and ODE'

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  1. It is a bit misleading. Although it looks like PhysX is pretty much about to conquer the world, it is also due to the fact that the Unreal Engine 3 uses it.

    And the engine is very popular as it is supported on several platforms (Xbox 360, PS3 and PC).

    But still, any kind of physics is better than nothing at all :)


    8 Dec 09 at 2:33 am

  2. “Although it looks like PhysX is pretty much about to conquer the world”
    Nowhere near. PhysX is just used in more PC games, but Havok is still preferred for AAA and console titles.


    8 Dec 09 at 10:53 am

  3. Nvidia’s policy of not supporting GPU acceleration for Physx unless the primary video adapter happens to use an Nvidia chip is likely to prove hurtful to its adoption in the long run. They would do well to revise this stance.

    On the other hand, Intel (and AMD)’s interest in keeping Havok an argument for buying quad core CPUs has left any kind of GPU support long overdue. And AMD’s failure to deliver in the GPGPU area (No OpenCL support for anything less than RV770 class GPUs, no CS 4.x support at all) bodes ill for anything but the slightest lip service to plans in this area.

    Given the current state of things, developers and consumers alike should probably be rooting for Physx with its comprehensive hardware support, excellent developer support and liberal licensing conditions.


    8 Dec 09 at 9:31 pm

  4. Found your blog and decided to have a quick read, not what a normally do but nice one. Nice to see a blog for a change that isn’t full of spam and rubbish, and actually makes some sense. Anyway, nice write up.

    Danelle Bealer

    6 Jun 10 at 1:53 pm

  5. Thank you – I liked this post.


    20 Oct 10 at 7:44 pm

  6. So which engine is better? This article is all about money and politics, not actual benchmarks.

    Cees Timmerman

    8 Dec 10 at 2:25 pm

  7. Cees Timmerman
    This article is all about money and politics
    It’s about released games and developer adoption.

    not actual benchmarks
    From what I know, each of the engines can be tweaked so, that in required case it will bypass others.

    Thus, actual benchmarking is a huge research, requires programming knowledge of all the engines (not my strong point), and I recall only one old article of such type – google for “Evaluation of real-time physics simulation systems”


    8 Dec 10 at 3:42 pm

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