Havok is a step closer to truly immersing the player in a created world. Game developers don't have to waste time thinking how, say, an empty bullet clip might fall down a staircase, because Havok does the hard work for them. Recently, Havok has also branched out into development kits for character behavior, animation and special effects.
Still, sometimes it seems that the more games engines do, the less convincing things become. With modern games getting closer and closer to representing reality, the gamer can get frustrated when you can't do what you logically should be able to do. If my rocket launcher lets me blow around all the tables and chairs in a room, why won't it let me blow a hole in a thin wall?
"It's a problem for the industry, but not specifically for us," says O'Meara. "The game developers create the rules and they're always having to balance the storyline with the representation of reality. It's about getting the balance right.
"We've seen some fantastic scenes with the new PS3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, scenes that would have been impossible until really recently. We're talking about massively destructible worlds, amazing scale and realism of effects. You see the physics, the animation and the behavior stuff all coming together for a really realistic, compelling experience for the gamer."
It's still the early days: As The Escapist's own Shannon Drake has noted, when it comes to physics, developers are still "using Swiss Army knives as simple hammers."
O'Meara agrees. "We're only seeing the start of what physics can do in games. [There is] a lot more that can be done. For example, at the moment, in a crowd scene, you're limited to your key characters having full physical and behavioral effects. But we see a stage where a whole street of people will all have the full panoply of behaviors available to them and will be able to interact with you the player and with each other."
It might sound like the stuff of virtual reality dreams, but O'Meara says we'll be seeing this kind of immersion toward the end of next year.
It's a brave new world for the industry. In addition to superior graphics and physics, new ways of interaction - typified by Nintendo's Wii controller - will open radical new ways of playing. "All the next gen stuff is really going to have some form of 3-D controller - whether camera or game pad," says O'Meara. "We've always wanted players to be able to interact with our physics as much as possible. This new 3-D world will really be the next leap in game interaction as far as physics is concerned."
Where do we go from there? O'Meara says "the next step is to make characters more believable. What I'm talking about is performance - reactions that can elicit empathy from the player. When you mesh physics properly with an animated character, you'll get proper 'performances,' human-like reactions."
Better emotion through physics? It's enough to make your head spin - if they can figure out how to model that.
Gearoid Reidy is an Irish journalist working in Japan whose game-playing time is sadly limited by the laws of real-world physics. You can find him at www.gearoidreidy.com.