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3ds Max 2012: Farewell Reactor

Having recently upgraded from 3ds Max 2011 to 3ds Max 2012, I've been busy learning how to use some of the shiny new features. Because of my soft spot for physics engines, I was excited to hear about MassFX for 3ds Max. Sadly, Autodesk also removed Reactor, a physics engine that had been in 3ds Max for years. Unlike Reactor, MassFX does not simulate soft-body dynamics, cloth, water, ragdolls, etc. It only simulates rigid bodies!

Feature Reactor MassFX
Rigid Bodies Yes Yes
Cloth Yes No
Soft Bodies Yes No
Rope Yes No
Deforming Meshes Yes Some
Water simulation Yes No
Wind Yes No

So what's the big deal? For starters, any scene created with Reactor will not function in 3ds Max 2012. If you try to open a file using reactor, Max will report a missing plugin. Users also lose Reactor's soft body dynamics, rope, cloth, and water, to name a few. The table at the right provides a brief summary. As you can see, 3ds Max 2012 users lose out on physical simulations of everything but rigid body dynamics (ie, solid objects interacting with eachother). No more integrated ragdoll physics, no more jello, no more sailboats, no more vehicles. A sad day indeed. Note that while animated characters can affect MassFX simulations, eg. kicking down a brick wall, MassFX will not affect your characters.

Will Reactor ever return to 3ds Max? Sadly, no. In a Reactor Feature Request topic created on the 3ds Max Community Wishlist, Ken Pimentel had this to say:

There is zero chance of Reactor coming back, therefore, it is better if your votes are placed elsewhere. Unlike Reactor, we are now fully engaged with the PhysX and APEX teams on research in a lot of different areas. I hope you see the value of this research in the coming years. 

Ken Pimentel Director, Autodesk Media & Entertainment

The decision to remove Reactor was based on statistics gathered from the Customer Involvement Program (CIP) which provides AutoDesk with usage statistics from 3ds Max users. Based on those who participated, only 3% actually used Reactor. I'm kicking myself now, for not opting in to their program, but I've since enabled it in the hopes that the tools I use wont be the next ones on the chopping block.

All hope isn't lost, however. The Cloth modifier does a good job at simulating cloth and Flex can simulate soft body dynamics and water ripples. Both system can also be used to simulate rope. Over the next few weeks, I'll develop tutorials showing how to use these systems for simulation. Email me if you have any preferences regarding what tutorials I should focus on first. Update: check out the tutorial on simulating water ripples using the Flex modifier and faking buoyancy without reactor.

You can also head over to and sign up for their PhysX plugin. Support for 3ds Max 2012 should come "soon."

For water and ocean simulations, you could also use Houdini Ocean Toolkit for 3dsmax, ported to 3ds Max by Guillaume Plourde. This toolkit was based on algorithms by Jerry Tessendorf presented at SIGGRAPH 2004.

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  1. hi. what do you mean:
    Deforming Meshes Yes Some
    in Mass FX table
    I couldnt actually find anything regarding any deformations in Mass FX.
    Could you tell where this feature can be found?

    • MassFX simulations can use deforming meshes (eg, a skinned character) to knock rigid bodies around. Think of a wall full of rigid bodies getting punched down by a deformable character. Unfortunately, MassFX can not affect deformed characters or do ragdoll physics. The help documents on the Skeleton Helper can help you set up such a simulation, if you’re looking for it.

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