See A 10,000-Ship Battle In Oxide’s Insane New Engine

By Nathan Grayson on January 16th, 2014 at 10:00 am.

Space: the final frontier for serious overpopulation problems.

The Stardock-funded 64-bit Nitrous Engine was the talk of the shininess-obsessed town during CES – well, when everyone wasn’t yammering endlessly about Steam Machines and Oculus Rift, anyway. The engine is being created by a small company called Oxide, and it’s focused on strategy games, which aren’t dead despite being the new adventure games in terms of how often everyone tries to shove them into grasping graves. In its current state, it can display nearly 10,000 ships at once, each with its own individual AI, firing solutions, enemy tracking, physics – everything. The end result? Pretty darn impressive, even at this early stage.

The “game” on display here, Star Swarm, is only a tech demo. But Stardock is already developing three new games with Nitrous under the hood, one of which is a Star Control reboot.

It’s quite an exciting prospect, although it’ll probably be a little while before we see anything with real meat on its bones. For now, though, I can exclusively confirm that the Nitrous Engine is very shiny. When reached for comment, I explained, “Oooooooooooooo.” And then I tried to lick it.

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72 Comments »

  1. mukuste says:

    Uh… why is it Stardock’s engine when it’s developed by another company entirely, Oxide?

    • RedViv says:

      They’re part of Stardock, with Brad Wardell even leading Oxide. So… Very closely tied, and the engine has been announced to be planned for use in several Stardock titles.

      • mukuste says:

        Ah ok. Still weird to have a separate company name then.

        EDIT. The announcement has this: “Oxide Games is an independent company based in Timonium, Maryland. Stardock is investing seed capital in the studio through the Stardock Strategic Investment Fund.” So, I don’t know.

        • RedViv says:

          Hmm. Seems I misremembered. But most of the press releases mention that the entered a deep strategic partnership, whatever that is supposed to mean.

          • UmmonTL says:

            It’s probably a simple deal where Stardock can use the engine for whatever it wants and influence development while Oxide will keep any money made by selling the engine to third parties.

    • Solidstate89 says:

      It’s a similar kind of relationship that Stardock had/has with Ironclad games with Sins of a Solar Empire.

  2. unangbangkay says:

    Deliciously impressive. We must draw up some space treaties to demand a new RTS in the vein Supreme Commander/Total Annihilation/Homeworld in this engine, immediately!

    Alternatively, that Legend of the Galactic Heroes space battle simulator I always dreamed of, with ship numbers measured in the tens of thousands all arranging themselves into neat firing lines to plug away at each other. As a special support move you can call in Iserlohn fortress to carve up entire formations of vessels with one shot from its giant beam weapon.

  3. Lemming says:

    After watching that video, I have to know: Why would you ever turn on motion blur? EVER?

    • TechnicalBen says:

      True. I’d prefer it as a lens blur/soften. A nice AA type effect. But motion blur… argh.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      I always turn it off. It’s never done correctly and is mostly employed to hide framerate jitters and LOD asset loading.

      I hate swinging my view around in a game and being unable to see any detail in a scene until the camera rotation drops below an arbitrary value. This is not how human eyes work: When you dart your head in a new direction, your eyes will fixate on the new view before your head has finished moving and the total eye movement happens in the tiniest fraction of a second.

      Motion blur should only be employed for the highest of camera turn rates, over turn angles that are beyond the limits of eye-movement. However, ending when blur happens cannot be simulated, since blur should end before the camera stops turning, but a game cannot know when a player will stop turning the camera. Unless you use incredibly fast eye-tracking kit.

      • derbefrier says:

        same here man its absolutely terrible in first person shooters.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Human vision also has saccadic masking. Dart your eyes around the room and notice how you don’t see a bunch of smears as you do.

        Like depth-of-field (especially bokeh), and lens flares, and film grain, these ugly, slow techniques are a result of AAA gaming busily jerking off to looking like the slightly rubbish camera artefacts of cinema, rather than what you’d actually see if you were there.

    • melnificent says:

      Because otherwise you realise that the engine is struggling to maintain even 10 frames a second.

      That motionblur is painful to watch. But I guess if they reduced the number of ships to make it smoother and playable then they couldn’t shout 10,000.

      Around the 40-60 second mark the framerate drops low enough that the laser in the background appear static…. ouch.

      • dE says:

        The part around 40-60, isn’t that the part where they basically say “lol, look at how bad DirectX is at handling these battles”?

        • UmmonTL says:

          It’s where they show the scene with motionblur active while talking about how it kills the framerate.

          • melnificent says:

            ah that makes sense, deafness ftl… I thought the whole video was just showing off the number of ships in the engine with shinies. Wish it was subtitled.

      • UmmonTL says:

        The motionblur they want to have and show is the afterimage effect of fast-moving objects. For a FPS this is usually bad because you want to see everything clearly, you’re close to the objects and constantly turning quickly. But in a space battle where most objects are rather distant it would make things look nicer. If for example a energy blast would barely miss you and zip past your cockpit you would see it clearly as the ugly low-poly glowing object that they use. With motion blur it would hide that somewhat and leave a cool afterimage.
        But since this has to be calculated for each object individually it’s no wonder they can’t deal with the amount of objects they are showing.

      • Great Cthulhu says:

        It doesn’t seem like they actually ever hit 10K ships in the video either. Maybe I missed something as I have the audio muted, but according to the numbers at the top left of the screen they always stay below 6K, and most of the time below 5K.

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Death to Motion Blur. Death to Depth of Field. It shall come to pass.

    • jackmott says:

      I signed up for this site just so I could say AMEN!! Anyone who is a game developer, or 3D hardware designer, or artist, or manager or CEO. STOP!!! The world has finite amounts of people, resources, and energy, please for the love of science stop wasting them on BLURRING MY DAMN IMAGE.

      Those intellectual and physical resources could instead be spent doing any of the following GOOD things, instead of this BAD thing:

      -fixing 3d driver bugs
      -improving the extent to which you make use of multiple cores, since that is all CPU makers can give us now…more cores
      -fixing temporal aliasing, the only remaining substantive visual artifact in 3d games, and no BLURRING THE MOTION IS NOT A FIX
      -adding more texture ram, or speeding up the process of swapping textures
      -making mass effect dialogue choices actually matter

      NO MOTION BLUR!! mark all such functions as deprecated tomorrow and then delete them next week.

      thanks
      Jack Mott

  4. RedViv says:

    That’s the first Mantle demo that impressed me. (Brainfart: Of course it is, meant to say that they impress me with the first one at all. I blame mornings!)

    And who likes motion blur anyway?

    • Geebs says:

      a) I would take that with a huge pinch of salt; drawing a few tens of thousands of low poly ships or impostors with instancing costs practically nothing in terms of CPU draw calls. All your GPU really needs to know is (x, y, z) and (xrot, yrot, zrot) and you’re golden. Ships are going to need much less work to animate than, say, human models. You also have an approximately infinite reduction in having to dick about with blending than if you were dealing with, say, trees.
      b) If you can’t do motion blur without a huge API-dependent performance hit, you are motion-blurring wrong.

      • mukuste says:

        But this engine seems to be specifically tailored to massive space scenes, so why bring people or trees into it?

        • Geebs says:

          Note that their explosions are collections of blobs and don’t seem to have alpha; similarly I don’t think the lasers had any transparency. It’s relevant because they have dramatically scaled back here to save on fillrate.

          The “no humans rendered” thing is relevant because they’re claiming to be special on the basis of a bunch of objects and higher CPU/GPU integration; but those objects have a uniquely low memory footprint because they’re very static hence saving on throughput. So yeah, they’re optimised for what they do but they’re doing less than you might think.

          • FriendlyFire says:

            I was thinking just that. The entire demo’s neat, but they’re using assets that feel rather tailored to hide possible issues. Put some actual explosions as opposed to just spheres that get bloomed (I’d wager that’s how they do that and the lasers), with alpha transparency and a lot of overdraw and shaders and all that shit, and I think it’d tank quite hard.

            I also dislike the flaunting of Mantle at first and then showing how DirectX is “bad”, but after that point never mentioning which is running when and whether Mantle can run motion blur or not. It’s somewhat implied that DX can’t but Mantle can, but since it’s never substantiated it feels a bit too much like an AMD PR move.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        AFAIK these are not low poly ships. The engine is not even using polygons.

        I’m trying to figure out what they mean by object based rendering. It might be a primitive/hypernurbs or similar based system, that is not necessarily poly count based (closer to raytracing, but I’m guessing it’s not true raytracing as that would be insane).

        • Geebs says:

          Yeah, nope. It would be insane to try to ray-trace a scene like this, so you can bet they’re rasterising. And do you really think they’re not using LOD on all those tiny distant ships taking up three or four pixels in the background?

          I don’t think per-object motion blur means what you think that it means. You still do it as a post process, just means generating another buffer in your geometry pass, which is a couple of extra lines in the shader and can be done entirely on the GPU.

      • remon says:

        And the Motion Blur is per object, not screen based.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Which is for all intents and purposes useless. Post-processed motion blur is good enough for games and has the significant advantage of not cutting your framerate in half…

      • otto_ says:

        I don’t think the problem is instancing geometry. Polycounts are not what engines fail on these days. The impressive thing is the scalability of the AI system.
        If what they say is true, each ship decides on it’s own dynamically where it wants to go, you could never realize this in current engines seeing how most engines derp out if they have to simulate pathfinding for just a handfull of units (which also only move on 2d plane compared to the 3d in space).
        On top that each ship has to dynamically avoid all other ships versus the often static environement in other RTS games. Also calculating all projectiles as a physic based object would take a huge hit on performance.

        The motionblur thing is just a demo of what the excess power can probably be used for. You could also spend this extra power on AA or other post-processing effects I guess.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          It’s worth pointing out that while 3D space increases complexity in some areas, particularly orientation, it also removes complexity in a lot of things such as pathfinding. There are a lot fewer blockers in space than on the ground, which dramatically simplifies a lot of AI concerns.

        • Geebs says:

          Definitely, the idea that they’ve multithreaded the AI and can therefore simulate a bunch of stuff is compelling (although we don’t know for a *fact* that collisions between ships are being modelled, and even if they are modelled close to the player they may not be further away), but “we can call the renderer from any thread and therefore a post-process technique (which can be done on the graphics card with minimal CPU or bandwidth overhead, using multiple render targets) is being sped up” is marketing guff and should be called out.

        • aepervius says:

          I am not sure the AI is that advanced. This sounds like a 2 swarms AI, with each ship having a very simple rules, and “redeciding” regularly or on event what to do. I remmmeber darkly programming such swarm AI a long time ago for ants colony simulation, and it was a single pass algorithm in N^2. With a few optimisation you might even go much lower than that. That still sound interresting for fas of Sins of a solar system though.

    • TheManko says:

      As far as I know this is the first Mantle demo that exists so qualifying it as the first Mantle demo that impressed you seems a bit odd.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      Uh… it’s the only Mantle demo that exists right now.

    • SuicideKing says:

      I want to compare FPS to my humble Q8400+GTX560 setup.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Just saw the video in full quality. Let’s just say that FreeSpace 2 Open looks way better, and also supported target tracking on individual turrets since the vanilla game launched in 1999. It also supports a hundred ships on a single thread at 120 fps with any modern Intel processor.

        I’m not overtly impressed with the demo.

  5. Gap Gen says:

    It still chugs a little when the camera swings to face the battle, but still, impressive.

  6. distantlurker says:

    Sins. 2. Now. Thanks ^^

    • unangbangkay says:

      Is it just me or has anyone else had trouble getting into Sins (and to an extent, Endless Space)? I just can’t seem to get into the right mindset without at least some kind of campaign to help ease everything in. With games like Total War, Civ, and even Alpha Centauri it’s easier for me because the background of history sort of takes care of the “narrative” aspects of these kinds of games, but when it comes to the other games it feels like looking at what is essentially a “Start Skirmish” screen and I can’t help but ask “What’s my motivation?”

      • Gap Gen says:

        I haven’t really played much of it, either. You’re right that the backstory seems mostly to be generic nothings, which sometimes obscures the strategy when different races have the same units with different names and shapes that just makes it harder to identify units to build and defend against. Alpha Centauri is quite rare in building a backstory that creates atmosphere and ties into the game mechanics at a fundamental level (i.e. the Morganites have huge, rich cities prone to drone riots while the Believers fight well but have crappy tech, and the University the opposite) while having the same units available to every faction.

        There’s also a lot of busywork for not much strategic gain – having to manually build mines and upgrades on every small system you conquer distracts from the other stuff you could be doing, while the combat seems to be quite heavily based around building a big blob of ships and stomping it through your enemy’s defences. It’d be nice to have something more purist, or at least heavily automated, that emphasised strategic and diplomatic wrangling over just clicking on stuff to get more stuff.

        • unangbangkay says:

          I ADORE Alpha Centauri’s lore. Every so often I pull out my old copy of the strategy guide and read the flavor text describing all the techs.

        • tiltaghe says:

          For me the good particularities of Sins’ strategic model (and this is maybe quite common because I am not familiar with other 4Xs) are the node-based map and the fact that jumping is a crucial decision as it hides/reveals informations and is heavily influenced by tech trees and special abilities. There is something about the whole pacing of the game that I just like.
          Also, very-long range planetary nukes! and the flavour of the Vasari faction with its returning armada.

          I agree it is tedious in singleplayer tho.

      • Cinek says:

        I played Sins on my fried PC – just one session.
        And I felt like I have seen and done everything that can be seen and done in that game.
        I wouldn’t spend 10$ on it.

      • Hunchback says:

        I know what you mean, i felt exactly the same way with all 4X (or was it X4?) games i tried to play – I really love the concept – turn based, large scale strategy, space, ship design, etc… I am a sucker for Sci-Fi, and my favourite book ever is the Hyperion cantos…

        But all of these games seem “empty”, just a big playground with no motivation because there’s no story, no progression, no sensible background. You pick your nation, generate an universe and go conquer it. And even tho the gameplay is usually quite satisfying, the whole sci-fi feeling awesome etc, ultimately it’s the lack of motivation that stops me somewhere mid game, because i find myself not really giving much of a damn about my race’s future.

        And then Sins really dissapointed me with being “pausable real-time” – this didn’t click for me at all.

        Are there any X4 games that actually include some narrative, story or anything like a plot?

        • Gap Gen says:

          If you haven’t played Alpha Centauri, play Alpha Centauri.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          Not so much of a story really, but if you haven’t tried it, you NEED to play Galactic Civilizations 2. I think 3 is in the works right now…

          • Zenicetus says:

            GalCiv2 didn’t have a narrative, unless you count the “campaign” which was really just a tutorial that most people probably ignored.

            On the other hand, it did have more role-playing possibilities in the sandbox game than some other 4X games, because the different factions had (mostly) separate tech trees and economic strategies. It’s easier to role-play a faction when it’s very different from the other factions in the game.

            That’s my main complaint about Endless Space, which is otherwise a mechanically sound and visually nice-looking game. The factions just aren’t different enough, and share too much of the tech tree in common. For me to really get into a 4X game, I need to feel that the faction I’m playing has something unique about it.

    • Scroll says:

      Yeah is this the tech powering sins 2? I really hope so.

  7. CookPassBabtridge says:

    This combined with an empire building game like say a good X game would be amazing. I’m loving X3 Terran Conflict at the mo and seeing multi ship battles with caps, corvettes and fighters is so cool. I want my own 10000 ship corporate pirate punching fleet

  8. Megakoresh says:

    Motherf…
    Yeah I would like to see the next SSE on this one. Voice by the same Text To Speech woman!

  9. BobbyDylan says:

    STAR CONTROL!!!!!!! Fuck yeah!!!

  10. Lucid Spleen says:

    Wow, that is the most sexy thing I have seen in a long time. I need to get out more.

  11. Arcanon says:

    Hey Gearbox, now you know what to run Homeworld 3 on!!!

  12. BlacKHeaDSg1 says:

    This engine and Homeworld … that would be awesome.

  13. phuzz says:

    So, Gratuitous Space Battles 3D then?

  14. Hunchback says:

    Homeworld is not about fielding (is it called “fielding” if it’s in space? There’s not actual field whatsoever, hmm…) thousands of ships.

  15. DThor says:

    1. Hopefully nothing is reliant on bloated, buggy and oh btw CRAPPY AMD video drivers. I’m all delighted that devs might like an API that supports moar threading, but sure do hope nvidia will have a slice of awesome.

    2. I’m all impressed by tech demos that show thousands of physically accurate bodies in space, but in the end the human brain can’t truly process that much information simultaneously so it’s unclear to me how it figures in a strategy game, except perhaps OMG KEWL! Fair enough. This comes dangerously close to a pet peeve of mine wherein dumping massive amounts of data all over the player like gooey molasses over a colony of ants is perceived as a good thing, when in reality the hard part is distilling complex systems to get to a core meaning and is why google succeeds and everyone loves a well written book.

    3. Sorta looks like motion blur blows, huh?

    4. This is all unrelated to my opinion of the game series, which I have been heard going *SQUEE* over in the past.

    That is all.

  16. Sidewinder says:

    So we’ll finally be able to make Mount and Blade: starship edition?

  17. FhnuZoag says:

    So, Freespace 3, when?

  18. Tei says:

    Theres a alternate universe, where Stardock and Positech colaborate and GSB2 uses this engine. Also Cliff is rich.

  19. Dances to Podcasts says:

    I want to see some of those ‘new types of games that simply weren’t possible before’. I’m sure they don’t mean ‘old types of games with more shiny’.

  20. huldu says:

    I’d like to see a space game that isn’t horrible or aged…

  21. airknots says:

    I wonder if this engine could have been used on SimCity instead of Glassbox.

  22. Zenicetus says:

    Well, that’s an impressive demo of a worn-out concept, which is spaceships fighting like they’re WW2 prop fighters at close range.

    How about some new ideas, for once? I’d trade all those polygons for a space game that used relativistic physics as your combat tactics. Read some classic Niven or newer Reynolds novels for inspiration on space battles that aren’t “pew pew” at spitting range.

    • Sidewinder says:

      Read them? Hell, boot up the Evochron series and play them.
      Catch is, for a great many people, it’s not much fun. If we wanted realism, reality is available.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I’ve played one of the previous Evochron games, the one before the current version, I think. Unless there’s something new, it’s the same short-range pew pew combat with a governor on the top speed that you see in most space games.

        Nobody has ever done a space game with relativistic modeling (using lightspeed delay for cloaking, etc.), so how do we know it wouldn’t be fun? It would probably play more like a classic submarine sim than a WW2 fighter game, but some people might enjoy it. We won’t know if it could be fun, unless some game developer gets interested enough in the concept to try it.

    • Diatribe says:

      War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of intense terror. Realistic war games would be horrible.

      “Realistic” space games would probably be even worse. See http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewarintro.php

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