Oxide's engine tech demo throws thousands of starships into strategy battles

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Written by Jonathan Deesing

New independent studio Oxide Games wants to reshape the way strategy games are built. The five-man team—mostly ex-Civilization V developers—is building a new 64-bit 3D engine called Nitrous, with a focus on adding some technical muscle to new turn-based and real-time strategy games. The aim, according to the studio, is to help developers add massive scope to upcoming games.

“We believe strategy games can go a lot further than being twelve space marines vs. six bots,” Brand Manager Adam Biessener tells me. “We think we can have 5,000 space marines vs. 5,000 bots.” Biessener works for Stardock, which provided the seed capital for Oxide.

By rendering calls from whatever CPU core is most available, Nitrous allows for an insane amount of individual 3D objects on screen at a time. At a demo from CES 2014—aptly titled Star Swarm—more than 8,000 units were rendered on screen at a time, and founding partner Tim Kipp assured me this number could go as high as 10,000 before the game started to suffer. This means the engine allows for more 8,000 individual units—each with its own AI and physics—to coexist simultaneously.

Though Star Swarm is not actually a working title, Kipp explains that it is being used by Oxide to test, profile, and benchmark the new engine. “This is not a game that’s in development but the simulation and stuff running under the hood is stuff that will make it into a game,” explains Biessener.

The engine works best with AMD’s new low-level API Mantle, which allows for faster draw calls. “Our engine is designed to show of mantle really well,” says Kipp,  “we’re pushing to use Mantle.”

Three games currently utilize the technology: Stardock’s Star Control, Mohawk Games’ upcoming Mars-based RTS (created by former Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson), and Oxide’s own yet-unannounced strategy game. Kipp believes that Oxide’s relatively small size will benefit indie developers that want to use Nitrous. “Our goal is that everyone gets some sort of a win out of it," he says.