A little over a year ago we laid our eyes on the new 64-bit, 3D game engine called Nitrous, which developer Oxide Games said is capable of rendering as many as 10,000 individual units simultaneously. At the time it could only be seen in action through the Star Swarm demo/stress test, but yesterday Oxide and Stardock unveiled the first game built on the engine, Ashes of the Singularity, that promises to bring "an unprecedented scale" to the RTS genre.
The game takes place long after the Singularity, when humanity has moved out among the stars as beings of pure consciousness. Despite that apparent state of enlightenment, an intergalactic war with a sentient AI known as Haalee soon erupts, and now the two sides are locked in a battle for control over not just our galaxy, but all of them.
"This is a galaxy-wide struggle in which each 'battle' wages across the surface of an entire planet," Stardock CEO Brad Wardell said. "The scope of the conflict is unlike anything players have seen before."
Each individual unit in the game will carry its own independent weapon system, each with its own ballistics model and firing individually targeted shots. To make it all manageable, Ashes of the Singularity will enable the creation of "meta-units": groups of individual units that operate as a single, coherent whole. Instead of being conventionally AI-controlled, they "operate under specific, consistent rules," which players can use to create their own individual strategies.
"A meta-unit inherits all the abilities of what is within it. When the player selects this unit, all the special abilities of that unit are instantly accessible. It is not that different from a control group in a traditional RTS, except that each part of a meta-unit is aware of every other unit in its group and they work together in predetermined ways," the FAQ explains. "The argument could be made that a meta-unit is merely a player-designed unit whose components are made up of dozens or hundreds of other units."
The game will feature other conventional RTS elements, like research and base building, and it will be possible to micromanage individual units, although doing so isn't really practical. "A general certainly could order individual soldiers in battle, [but] they would never want to," it states. "They are better off allowing their sergeants run their squad, their lieutenants run their platoon, their captains run their companies and so on. A meta-unit could be described as a custom-made army division—except in Ashes, there is no abstraction."
Two obvious questions leap out: Will the Nitrous engine work as well in an actual game environment as it does in a demo? And can unit management on this scale—without the usual abstractions—be effectively implemented? It sounds potentially very impressive and I'm certainly looking forward to getting my hands on it, but at this point a certain amount of caution is probably called for.
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Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.