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GPU PhysX in Hawken

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GPU PhysX integration in Hawken, free-to-play mech shooter from Adhesive Games, has a long and yet ongoing story – preliminary PhysX effects have emerged in Alpha and Closed Beta versions, then they have undergone a significant overhaul in Open Beta release.

Update: Hawken – GPU PhysX Profile

Update #2: Upcoming PhysX features in Hawken – Destructible Environments

And now, recent “Raider” update has added a set of new, APEX Turbulence based particles effects, and we think that GPU PhysX support in Hawken has grown up enough to be reviewed.


At current state, Hawken can offer us two types of particle effects – physically simulated debris and APEX Turbulence driven particle simulation.

Debris particles are the most common effect, that can be found almost in every single GPU PhysX title – in Hawken, such debris (pieces of concrete, strips of metal, rubble) are generated upon weapon impacts on various surfaces, rocket explosions, and are also produced as mechs are walking or jumping.

Impact debris can be found almost in any GPU PhysX game

Additionally, explosions and mech movement are also binded to forcefields, than can repel nearby particles in a certain radius.

In comparison, APEX Turbulence module was utilized only in one, fairly old game – Dark Void – but now is making a comeback with titles like PlanetSide 2, Warframe and now Hawken. Turbulence particles are controlled by volumetric velocity fields, that give them nice fluid-like and swirly behavior.

Shield creates magnetic sphere of defensive particles

Turbulence effects are applied only to four object in the game world – energy collecting machines, deployable shields, consisting of magnetic particles, energy health orbs, dropped by fallen mechs and embers, that are emitted from mech’s wreckages.

Now the negative. Hawken is not only using two types of PhysX effects in all, but even those are not utilized to their full potential. Something like environmental or area specific particles (smoke, dust, ash), would be the great addition to the particles effects. Or maybe a generation or manipulation of debris particles in a new, yet unseen way?

In turn, only a few of many potential objects are enhanced with Turbulence effects. For example, there are particles, swirling around energy collectors, but what about a process, when collected energy is extracted from mechs? It is a perfect case, especially since the player can see his mech from 3rd person perspective, but – no. Missed opportunity.


It is natural to expect a certain quality level from GPU PhysX support after years of evolution and Hawken is not the exception. All effects are done nicely and accurately, apart from some rare problems with incorrect behavior of particles.

One can even spot a several pleasant artictic details, for example, one minigun burst can produce mesh particles of various sizes and forms from a single surface, and impact debris looks differentely on sand dunes of Bazaar and stone jungles of Prosk.

Despite of that, particle debris are still lacking large portion of visual diversity. From a distant look, you can devide particles into two categories – crumpled metal strips, emitted mostly during explosions, and anything else.

And, to our taste, particle effects are largely missing physical sparks. Sparks, sparks, do you like sparks? They are non-intrusive and performance friendly. Sparks are something that you would expect while shooting giant metal robots in the world, half consisting of metal structures. Instead, all we can see are pieces of steel and concrete slabs.

Current look and idea of Turbulence effects can also raise several complaints. Energy collectors are looking great. Perfect match, can not be done better. Magnetic shields have some interesting particle motion too.

Collector feeds friendly mech with energy

And embers, emitted by death mech, are looking too simplistic with their random, noisy behaviour. Something like mushroom cloud, that mimic the explosion in real life, would certanly fit better.


Now the tricky part. In Hawken, like in some other GPU PhysX games though, extra physics effects are a matter of taste. If you find them excessive and redundant, if you think that particles, flying all over the screen, do nothing but obscure your vision – you will turn them off.

And if you like when missile, exploding near your mech, pulls out the dirt and pices of concrete from the ground, which are jumping off the windshield of your cockpit while you are trying to avoid enemy fire – you will enable the PhysX effects and ask for more. The factor of staginess.

In any case, GPU PhysX support changes the visual look of Hawken, and quite dramatically.


It is worth mentioning now, that Hawken contains three levels of PhysX interactions:

  • PhysX Particles – “Off” leaves only basic physics, calculated on CPU, such as ragdolls and some rigid body objects on levels (vehicles, containers and so on). CPU physics is calculated through PhysX SDK and, obviously, can not be turned off.
  • PhysX Particles – “On” (should be called Medium) enables first set of PhysX effects – physical particles, such as impact and explosion debris.
  • PhysX Particles – “High (NVIDIA Only)” option additionally adds Turbulence effects, using latest APEX Turbulence 1.2.3 module.

“NVIDIA Only” remark applies to CPU execution of GPU PhysX effects. While particle debris can be calculated on CPU at the expense of performance loss (more on that later), we highly not recommend to enable “High” PhysX option without a NVIDIA card in the system.

By their nature, Turbulence effects can not be calculated normally on CPU – the velocity field, that controlls particle motion, runs only on GPU – this means, you will see the particles, but they will simply float in the air, without any of that swirly movement.

Difference between GPU and CPU execution of Turbulence effects

In addition, performance will crawl, since Turbulence effects can contain up to 100 000 particles – a little to much for a CPU to handle.

In short, no real particle motion and bad performance. Don’t enable Turbulence effects on CPU.

Now, when we are done with specific details, let’s try to extract some performance metrics. A session based MMO game like Hawken is a bad candidate for PhysX testing, since it is almost impossible to reproduce the benchmark conditions with same number and types of physics effects. However, we will try our best to give you at least the rough idea on how the GPU PhysX effects are affecting the actual game performance.

Testing system: i7 2600K CPU, GTX 580 GPU, 8 GB RAM, Win 7 64-bit | 314.14 GPU Drivers, 9.12.1031 PSS.

In-game settings: 1680×1024, Ultra settings.

Conditions: framerate is measured as average of three 30 sec fragments - close quarter firefight with at least two enemy mechs. Team Deathmatch on "Prosk" level.

As you may see, a single GPU is more than enough to handle basic PhysX particles with comfortable average fps of 50-60 frames per second. At the same time, Turbulence effects are putting more stress on the system, slowing down the performance up to 35-45 frames per second. Moreover, in some intensive scenes the framerate may be as low as 25-30 fps.

In this case, one may consider the performance drop too big for a competitive gameplay, and either disable APEX Turbulence effects or add a dedicated PhysX GPU to the system.

The GPU PhysX performance has increased in a recent patches, and we hope that work on optimization will continue as the game progresses.

As for CPU execution of PhysX effects, CPU can operate particle debris with surprisingly decent performance (40-50 fps), while enabling Turbulence effects on CPU makes the game complitely unplayble (every time such effect occur on the screen, game becomes a slideshow), just as we mentioned earlier.

And final note – Hawken is not compatible with Hybrid PhysX. Latest methods to get Hybrids working, since as engine .dll replacements, are not working in case of Hawken, since the game is checking its files for consistency every launch, due to its MMO nature.

TOTAL 7.25/10

Hawken is strong project in a line of games with GPU PhysX support, but is not of anything extraordinary. We recommend to give it a try.

However, the story of Hawken does not end just here. As we heard, the game may be enhanced with even more PhysX effects in the future. In this case, we will be pleased to re-visit Hawken and update our score.

Written by Zogrim

March 16th, 2013 at 3:03 am

12 Responses to 'GPU PhysX in Hawken'

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  1. YOu tell us that Hawken actually already uses latest APEX SDK 1.2.3, while that has just been released and usrely isn’t adopted so fast into hawken.

    You measuring physx performance hit in close combat with 2 mechs is soooo funny. Go to the AA on a 6v6-siege with physx high on a titan… have fun lagging <20fps constantly on a overclocked 670 plus a 550 secondary whatever you set it up.!!!




    16 Mar 13 at 3:17 pm

  2. Incriminated: while that has just been released and usrely isn’t adopted so fast into hawken.

    Good morning.
    NVIDIA manages PhysX/APEX integration in UE3 and also helps AG with PhysX support in Hawken, they can use internal APEX versions before public release.
    Check version of APEX SDK .dlls in Hawken folders by yourself.

    (don’t mind russian interface)

    Incriminated: You measuring physx performance hit in close combat with 2 mechs is soooo funny

    Glad you liked it. This was the best I can get from 6×6 TeamDM.
    I actually saw those 15-20 fps drops when I was recording the video last week, but right now the performance seems to be better – I believe, there was a small patch, and also the behavior of particles was changed a little.

    How about you show us your benchmarks?

    To be sure, I just played a 6×6 Siege Match on Origin. Worst fps I was able to get near the AA site was about 33-36.
    Several screens with fps counter: one, two

    Are you using a dedicated PhysX card, btw? If Hawken is supporting CUDA-interop, effects actually may run faster on a single GPU. Give it a try.




    16 Mar 13 at 4:14 pm

  3. Good review. Thanks Zogrim. I hope that once there will come single player game which use GPU PhysX like in Hawken. Do you have any new information about GPU PhysX in new Metro?




    16 Mar 13 at 5:23 pm

  4. mareknr: Do you have any new information about GPU PhysX in new Metro?

    Nope, nothing new yet.
    If any new info will emerge, I’ll post it immediately for sure.




    16 Mar 13 at 5:45 pm

  5. It’S a simple lie that hawken actually uses APEX SDK 1.2.3. yet. If you look which files are installed you still have APEX library 19.01.2013, thats the old SDK. It needs work to implement all effects into a new SDK. WHoever wrote that article was wrong. Plus rigid bodies are always done on the CPU even on physx high. If you dont believe me go to HawkenSystemSettings.ini and search for APEXGRBEnable. It is set to false and means Apex NOT rendering GPU rigid bodies (grb). Flaseflag journalism.




    17 Mar 13 at 7:21 pm

  6. Just go bazaar it is a relatively open area map. I have 670 and 550. Dedicating the 550 for physx is definetly faster than using the 670 for everything on physx high.

    Yeah i can play 30-40 fps too most of the time, but has reakcion time >16ms. When i go siege on bazaar with 6v6 and struggling for the AA it goes down to 10-20 all the time, because everywhere is fuzzy bunny physx. Especially the additional EU orbs in siege mode make it worse.

    Especially open areas where encountering multiple mechs plus shields plus explosions plus orbs “footstep” debris simultaniously just lagg my the match that it is unplayable.

    I even think that short 30-40fps drops like you think it’s ok is a total no-go for me. Anything below 60fps is lagg from my point of view. I usually have it running at max smoothed framerate with physx medium.

    And again using the 670 alone doesnt make a difference, same laggs.

    If you say, well the file from 29.01.2013 hasversion number and THAT BEEING the proof the new optimisations and version feature are ACTUALLY USED by the game i do not believe that! There hasm’t been any physx perforance fix yet.




    17 Mar 13 at 7:36 pm

  7. And no my 670 doesn’t handle to much. I use 1366×768 because my thats native monitor resolution. Technically the 670 is not even near max usage. Same for the 550 when using. Still it laggs. It is simply not optimisied, so please stop telling that! The high setting is still a beta-test that needs heavy developers review.




    17 Mar 13 at 7:41 pm

  8. Incriminated: It is set to false and means Apex NOT rendering GPU rigid bodies

    And it should ? GRBs are supported only by destructible APEX assets, not all rigid bodies.

    It is very nice of you to come here to PhysXInfo, the biggest and one of the oldest websites about PhysX tech, and teach us about PhysX :)

    Incriminated: number and THAT BEEING the proof the new optimisations and version feature are ACTUALLY USED by the game i do not believe that

    Hm.. but you firstly said that this is wrong and call me a liar.
    That is very mean.

    But, I will send an e-mail to PhysX team in NVIDIA (I know some people) to confirm if Hawken is using APEX 1.2.3
    Upd: official responce – Hawken is using “earlier version of APEX 1.2.3 for the Turbulence simulation”

    Incriminated: Anything below 60fps is lagg from my point of view

    Sorry, I don’t deal with personal preferences, especially such disputable as this one.
    Performance is evaluated and compared to typical PhysX performance in other GPU PhysX games.

    Incriminated: When i go siege on bazaar with 6v6 and struggling for the AA it goes down to 10-20 all the time

    Ok, let’s check that.
    Framerate is indeed worse in Siege on Bazaar, but still, largest fps drop I have encountered was between 25-30 and only a few times per 20 min match.
    This is obviously not common, but a rare case.
    Are you sure you haven’t messed up your PhysX settings in .ini files? And using latest GPU drivers and PSS?

    Incriminated: It is simply not optimisied, so please stop telling that

    Let me check, did I ever used word “optimized” in the review? Nope.
    Obviously, PhysX performance is not final and will be improved as the game will progress.




    17 Mar 13 at 8:37 pm

  9. After some additional performance testing, I must admit that I was over-optimistic with performance rating.
    On some maps, the framerate indeed suffers from Turbulence stuff, not as bad as mr. Incriminated has described, but still. Thus, I’m lowering the performance score.
    Final rating puts current GPU PhysX implementation in Hawken in a line with such games as Cryostasis and Dark Void. Which is not a bad thing :)




    18 Mar 13 at 11:39 am

  10. the game crashes every 20-30min when i activate the turbulence physix !!! . I am using SLI GTX680.




    19 Mar 13 at 7:56 am

  11. “to get Hybrids working, since as engine .dll replacements, are not working in case of Hawken, since the game is checking its files for consistency every launch”

    It doesn’t check PhysXDevice.dll(the relevant file –delete and it runs/stays gone) So it is similar to BorderLands2 in that it has unique-to-this-game code in PhysXCore.dll that prevents hybrids specifically. However, unlike BorderLands2(whose PhysXCore custom disables all dedicated GPUs, even NVidia-only setups incidentally –from testing) it is an MMO so you can’t delete files from an online-type game that replaces them.




    20 Mar 13 at 10:13 pm

  12. Same problem, GXT 670 + GTX 650 TI dedicated , the FPS drops are not causes of the wreck but yes the effect of the turbulence when it explodes Metch, even a GTX 670 as a dedicated GPU usage goes to 100% in turbulence effects spark, Physix very poorly optimized.



    fagner kisner

    23 Apr 13 at 5:55 pm

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