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GPU PhysX in Alice: Madness Returns

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Alice: Madness Returns, highly anticipated sequel to original American McGee’s Alice, and first game with GPU PhysX support for this year. As always, we have prepared comparison PhysX video – for your viewing pleasure.

Update: PhysX benchmarks roundup

Update #2: Comparison PhysX screenshots available

GPU PhysX content in Alice: Madness Return can be characterized as “Particle Madness“. In a good way – this game contains probably most rich and diverse physically simulated particle effects, of all games with hardware PhysX support. From habitual and universal debris, chunks, smoke and dust (emitted either by player’s weapons or enemies) to environmental particles (dynamic leaves, ash, bubles, etc) and place-specific effects.

Physical simulation of goopy oil-like substance, that is spawned when black “Ruin” beings are damaged or killed, requires a special notice. During intence fights, up to 10 000 SPH fluid particles, which are colliding with level geometry and reacting to player’s movement, can be processed simultaneously.

In addition, two APEX modules  – APEX Destruction and APEX Clothing – are utilized for some minor effects:

Stone slabs, chessboards and rocks can be smashed to pieces thanks to APEX Destruction module.  Scenes, containing such objects are looking simply amazing, but unfortunately, you’ll face them only few times for the entire game.

APEX Clothing effects are so subtle, that we even haven’t included in the comparison video. Several pieces of simulated cloth and “dynamic” newspapers – you’ll be able to see them all in first 15 minutes of the game walkthrough.

Overall level of PhysX support can be adjusted via in-game settings:

PhysX High includes all additional GPU PhysX effects, described and showcased above.

PhysX Medium is less demanding for system resources – amount of physical particles is lowered, chunks from destructible objects are disappearing faster, SPH Fluid simulation is disabled.

PhysX Low -  basic CPU physics, similar for PC and consoles. Interesting note: physically simulated clothing and hair for Alice are not part of hardware PhysX content, and are not affected by PhysX settings (moreover, it is not even using PhysX engine for simulation).

Sum: Alice: Madness Returns is showing particularly good level of GPU PhysX support.  Definitely worth a play and, actually, PhysX effects may be the main reason to choose PC version over the console ones.

Keep an eye on GPU PhysX Profile page for comparison screenshots.

For additional details we recommend you to familiarize yourself with “Alice: Madness Returns: PhysX Graphics Comparison” article at

UPDATE: How to squeeze a bit of performance with GPU PhysX enabled.

Alice: Madness Returns is indeed showing top grade PhysX effects, but is also very demanding for resources – in certain scenes (for example, while you’re shooting oil-dropping “Ruins” with Pepper Grinder, that is producing a lot of physical particles itself) overall framerate may drop to 20 and lower fps, resulting in unpleasant gameplay. That is what we’ve faced with our single GTX 470, and we saw reports on low performance from people with GTX 560+ GPUs (dedicated PhysX GPUs seems to work better, however).

Hoping to obtain some performance increase,  we’ve tried different combinations of PhysX related parameters, that can be found in game’s .ini files. Unfortunately, this game is not using APEX Particles module for particle effects (90 % of all GPU PhysX content in this title are particles), but some older PhysXParticleSystem implementation – it is not affected APEX resource budget settings (which are functioning properly) and promising “ParticlePercentage” parameter, that is supposed to define global particle LOD, is simply not working (so we can not say “hey, spawn us only 1/3 of all particles” and expect 3x performance increase).

Moreover, due to game structure, we can not disable particles effects one by one (like we did in Mafia 2) – for example, volumetric smoke from Pepper Grinder, which is big resource hog.

Finally, we came up with following settings:


\Documents\My Games\Alice Madness Returns\AliceGame\Config\AliceGame.ini




To perform less physics calculations per frame (default for UE3 – 5, default for Alice – 10).

Next, File:

\Documents\My Games\Alice Madness Returns\AliceGame\Config\AliceEngine.ini





To increase amount of GPU memory, allocated by PhysX calculations (default – 64/8).

In addition, you might also want to decrease number of rigid body chunks, produced by destructible APEX objects (but they can be found only on several game levels).




For PhysX Medium (default – 150) and PhysX High (default – 500) settings.

To check out if our tweaks will have any practical effect, we used a scene from the beginning of “Chapter 1 – Assemblage” level – an intense fight with “Ruins” (6-7 Malicious Ruins + 1 Menacing Ruin = a lot of SPH Fluid) using only Pepper Grinder (a lot of particles and volumetric smoke).

PhysX is set to High. System: C2Q 9400, GTX 470, 4BG RAM, Win 7 x64. Measured with FRAPS.

As you may see, there is no significant difference in performance, but framerate is smoother, without large fps drops.

Two last things:

- If you are not satisfied with “PhysX High” settings, switch to “PhysX Medium” – that will disable fluid simulation and scale down particles effects.

- By default framerate in Alice is capped by 30 fps. To remove it, you need to set “bSmoothFrameRate” to “False” in “AliceEngine.ini”. But in this case your framerate may bounce from 100+ fps to 30+ fps (in intensive PhysX scenes) and back, so it will result in unresponsive and choppy controls. Thus, we will recommend to keep Smooth option enabled.

If you’ll have any ideas on more performance tweaking, let us know.

Written by Zogrim

June 17th, 2011 at 5:47 am

Posted in PhysX Games

Tagged with , , , , ,

21 Responses to 'GPU PhysX in Alice: Madness Returns'

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  1. I find it really funny that thig game slows so bad. Im running two gtx560 ti top cards in sli. any fixes as of yet?




    29 May 12 at 2:24 am

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