Ashes Of The Singularity Looks Beautiful (And Expensive)

A rather impressive Ashes of the Singularity screenshot

Footage of the so-recently-announced-we’ve-not-yet-covered-it Ashes of the Singularity [official site] has emerged from GDC and gosh, does it look impressive.

Ashes of the Singularity is a forthcoming RTS from Oxide Games. It’s apparently aiming to wow us in the same way that Supreme Commander did all the way back in 2007: with impressive scale and gorgeous sci-fi warporn.

Its extreme shininess is thanks to Oxide’s own Nitrous engine, which seems quite happy to display hundreds of units on-screen at once. We’re told that every shot fired operates based on “its own targeting solution and ballistics model”. This level of complexity is, apparently, possible only thanks to Mantle and DirectX 12. It had to happen eventually, eh?

Here’s a video courtesy of AMD, featuring Stardock’s Brad Wardell and Oxide’s Dan Baker talking through the game and its technology:

Obviously that video wants taking with a pinch of salt: AMD are clearly keen to promote Mantle. Let’s be fair, though – all trailers are about promoting something, and when it looks this spectacular, I’m fine with that. Bear in mind that I can’t begin to imagine how I could afford a 4K rig, and besides I know full well that I don’t need one, but looking at Ashes of the Singularity in action I sure do want one.

How will it play? I haven’t the foggiest. With that many units bouncing around I’d hope for a UI that facilitates sensible macro-management and leaves me able to enjoy the beautiful carnage every so often. A bit like Supreme Commander, but with all the potential tweaks and refinements I’ve compiled as a mental list over the past eight years.

Would you like to know more?

In terms of plot, Ashes is about post-Singularity humans having a big old ruck with Haalee, a super-AI thing, because apparently possessing godlike powers and knowledge doesn’t stop you from acting like a bunch of greedy, petulant knobs who simply can’t get along with anyone a bit different. Pssh.

As for the snazzy tech side, here’s a second video, with Brad Wardell again. I think he shot it on a smartphone so it looks a bit daft, but if you want to know a bit more about how the game performs it might sate your techlust.

75 Comments

  1. Dunderbar says:

    Why for the love of god would you film that vertically!?

    • misterT0AST says:

      To include all the vertical list of specs which is the focus of the video.

      • OmNomNom says:

        Yeah…because that wouldn’t be legible at all if you held the camera horizontally at an appropriate distance…

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Because it was convenient, and matched the format of the info displayed?

    • Alien says:

      Say “No!” to vertical video:

  2. xcession says:

    Friends don’t let friends film in portrait.

    • bill says:

      I’ve tried man, I’ve tried! But they just can’t remember to turn the bloody phone around.

      I think I need one of those expensive rotatable monitors…

  3. LionsPhil says:

    If we’re going to go in the direction of “every application has to do a bunch of the work previously handled by drivers”, let at least be for Vulkan, not the proprietary solutions.

    • Crafter says:

      So Much This.
      I have no idea of the deals between this dev and AMD/Microsoft but it seems nearsighted to limit the game to Mantle & Directx 12. Especially for a RTS, it is not going to sell on consoles.

  4. liquidsoap89 says:

    Are we assuming that in final version of the game vehicles will actually be destroyed when hit with explosives?

    Anyways, I’m confused as to how this Mantle x DX12 thing is going to work. Isn’t Mantle supposed to be an alternative rendering solution to DX and OpenGL? Can they work in tandem like they seem to be suggesting here? And would there be a benefit if so?

    • Chalky says:

      Apparently it allows you to produce RPG combat with a large number of light sources and independently calculated projectiles to produce an effect almost indistinguishable from current technology, requiring you to put a bunch of processing statistics in the top corner of the screen to demonstrate how different it is.

      Maybe the footage doesn’t demonstrate it very well but it’s really not clear to me what they’ve achieved here.

      • Chalky says:

        And by RPG I mean RTS. And by posting this I mean to edit but apparently we don’t get to do that any more.

      • Xerophyte says:

        That Mantle somehow magically makes using more than 8 light sources not chug is an interesting piece of bullshit that likely came up due to neither the interviewer nor the interviewee knowing much about the technical aspect of rendering (which is understandable). The assorted techniques you can use to do shade with an arbitrary number of dynamic lights have been around for about a decade and there are various pros and cons with each approach (classic deferred, tiled deferred, clustered forward, etc…). None of those pros and cons have much to do with what API you use to interface with the hardware.

        This is not to say that Mantle isn’t helping them do pretty graphics better — I’d assume so but not like I know exactly what they’ve done. Just don’t take the statements on the technical details made by a journalist and a CEO at face value.

        Background: I implemented a very simple DX10 version of deferred shading for a game with that happily handled about 80 dynamic light sources on a shitty laptop as part of my bachelor’s thesis about 6 years ago. I’m not some kind of savant, and that wasn’t bleeding edge: it’s pretty basic stuff for modern GPU graphics.

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          datamonkey says:

          Seriously. A lot of what they’re saying that is just now made possible by Mantle/Vulkan/DX12 have been possible for a long time. With hardware instancing (available in DX9) they could easily draw as many units and particles as they’re doing and still fit in a 60fps frame. Deferred shading, as Xerophyte said, has been around for a good 10 years and allows you to push a pretty ridiculous number of lights in any given scene. Granted, these new APIs do make it a lot easier to just draw things and not worry about having to get clever with regards to CPU usage in the driver and threading.

          That all being said, I’m not sure how you sell a technology which literally only exists to make developers’ lives easier to the general public, so that’s probably why you end up with videos like this.

          On the research side of things, there are now algorithms that can make it possible to have millions of lights in a scene. See: Clustered Deferred and Forward Shading (2012).

          • phelix says:

            Seriously. A lot of what they’re saying that is just now made possible by Mantle/Vulkan/DX12 have been possible for a long time.
            Word.
            Reminds me of how Ubisoft presented faux-volumetric rays (the kind that is in every UDK game ever) for Assassin’s Creed IV like it was a cutting-edge technological marvel made only feasible by MAXIMUM NVIDIA GRAFIX.

        • Voice of Majority says:

          He is not a journalist but a Chief Gaming Scientist, AMD. Perhaps he is a scientist who likes to game and just works at AMD. Otherwise, it is a bit embarrassing.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Yeah, so Mantle was the AMD specific implementation of DX12 that AMD decided to announce before Microsoft could formally announce DX12. They tried to cash in by offering a beta implementation that worked better than their DX11 implementation (in drivers), to make it sound like Mantle was the next big thing.

      Unfortunately, Nvidia ended up proving that their DX11 drivers can match Mantle’s performance. There’s also the case that Intel CPUs have much higher single thread performance, and can handle DX11 much better than AMD’s CPUs.

      Currently, AMD’s effectively terminated Mantle, because well, DX12 is coming. They’ve contributed whatever Mantle they could towards Vulkan, and now it’s basically done.

      And yes, these are alternative rendering back-ends, and an engine can support all three in code. The user/programmer/driver can choose which to use. Oxide’s engine implements DX12, Mantle (which i’m fairly sure is just a DX12 subset) and backwards compatibility for other DX versions, and they can switch between them.

  5. RaoulDuke says:

    Looks very cool, got a Ground Control feel to it which can’t be a bad thing [Lobbing shells over mountains ftw].

    Although I’m sorry to be a pedant but there wasn’t a single frame where there was 1000s of units on screen at once, unless the individual units you can make out are actually squads of 10 or more, I think MAYBE there was a shot with 500, why pointlessly lie like that? Or do they just mean they are on the map, not in view, although I’m sure most RTS engines utilise dynamic occlusion culling to free up the gpu/cpu.

    Am I missing something?

    • Sc0r says:

      Yea looks kind of Dune/Ground Control-ish to me too!
      Also, I think you can’t go wrong with more RTS titles.
      Supreme Commander:FA was my fav, the following of the series were a failure.
      Planetary Annihilation lacks big units and Zero-K is.. too much!

      • GiantPotato says:

        SC and FA were awesome games. I don’t get the chance to say this enough. If this game is nothing more than a SupCom clone with decent AI and decent gameplay then it’s an automatic buy for me.

  6. DarkFenix says:

    When I first heard about this I figured best case scenario would have it looking something like SupCom on steroids. Well colour me optimistic, because that’s exactly how it looks.

  7. LeanRight says:

    Yeah it’s impressive from technical standpoint, but damn it is one ugly looking game.

  8. morbiusnl says:

    it does *exactly* look like supcom, wich just baffles me he needs an i7 to run this properly. I can create same kind of battles in supcom without any probs on a quad core.

    • KDR_11k says:

      But there are more simulation numbers underneath!

      Which is probably a bad thing because predictability is important in a competitive RTS… I know in Spring RTS it often felt like modders were working against the engine’s physics to produce more predictable results but that may just have been me (since I often went against the engine just for the fun of it).

      • Flatley says:

        That’s true, but none of the best RTS’s of the last decade – I don’t include StarCraft 2 in that category – have been designed for competitive play. No one is going to knock SC2 off its throne (or supplant the popularity of DOTA-likes for eSports, either) so it’s much better to just aim for making a fun game, rather than pursue the competitively balanced model meant for the 300+ APM’ers.

        • KDR_11k says:

          “Competitive” here just means something you play vs another person because that will automatically get cutthroat* and balance issues will ruin the fun. Nobody enjoys losing because of a diceroll (or what feels like one because it’s too complicated).

          *=Not counting “20 min no rush” here obviously, developers balance around people who play the regular rules.

      • SteelPaladin1997 says:

        I’ve never understood this concept that a game has to be completely deterministic in order to be “competitive.” This is not true of any of the competitive sports that have dominated the real world throughout human history. They all have an infinitely complex physics engine, and game RNGs just try to mimic it. Nobody says football isn’t competitive because wind currents can make a ball not fly the precise path you expect; reacting to the variation is part of the skill and challenge of the game. Why do we need to know in a game how everything is going to go down w/100% precision?

        • Cinek says:

          Completely false.
          Let me shatter your illusion with one simple thing: “Nobody says football isn’t competitive because wind currents can make a ball not fly the precise path you expect;” – they actually do say that IF game is played outdoors on an open field. That’s why all of the serious football is done on a stadiums. To make sure that wind “RNG” does not affect competitive gameplay.

          • SteelPaladin1997 says:

            That’s just minimizing, not eliminating. Air still moves in a stadium, no matter how enclosed. There are variations in the construction of the ball, in the turf, in the shoes, and on and on. Hell, weather can be a factor for stadiums that aren’t completely enclosed and climate controlled. It is patently impossible to remove chaos as a factor in a real-world contest. There are too many variables and not enough precision of control.

            So the question remains. We accept it in the real world, but not in the virtual one. Why?

          • fish99 says:

            Are you serious? They have stadia so people can watch and they can make money, it’s nothing to do with limiting wind. You actually get very bad swirling winds in a lot of football (soccer) stadiums due to poor design and it never stopped anyone using them. There’s even football stadiums with sloping pitches used by professional teams.

            In any real sport you have to accept that there are imperfections everywhere, whether that’s the referee, the playing surface, the players, the ball, the weather, whatever. It’s part of real sport and always will be.

          • fish99 says:

            ^That’s a reply to Cinek btw.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, if they’re going to stand there trying to build hype talking back and forth circling over how great their tech demo is, they should first make sure their tech demo isn’t something done by a game that ran on DirectX (I believe) 9 on a Core 2 Quad.

      And TA/SupComm were doing individual projectile modelling too, as anyone who sat and watched their idiot units pound shell after shell into a gentle hill you couldn’t see from the default camera angle will tell you.

      Or anyone who built a badly-placed Big Birtha that took out half your base with splash damage when firing in a certain direction. Only once.

    • Crafter says:

      It did not think that I would say this one day but I think that SupCom units were way more impressive.
      It is hard to provide a feeling of scale to a free camera futuristic RTS, but I definitely don’t feel it here.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      You are blind if you really believe that. The art direction is similar. The detail is much greater. Not that detail honestly matters much compared to game-play.

  9. Gap Gen says:

    Dammit, I should have read the description more clearly before opening a video with Brad Wardell in it.

    • Hex says:

      I’m really surprised I had to scroll down this far to find this sentiment.

      • subedii says:

        What’s the issue with Brad Wardell?

        • Hex says:

          He is, apparently, a tit.

        • airmikee says:

          Someone filed a lawsuit against him, but couldn’t prove anything in court, and dropped their lawsuit and apologized for bringing it, which makes him a bad guy, apparently.

      • GiantPotato says:

        Sorry, but I don’t get this. Every game dev owner is a bit self-important., but that’s because their own personal money is tied up in this stuff. If he wants to participate in a staged interview with AMD to promote the game that he’s personally invested in, then fine. What’s the problem with it?

    • pepperfez says:

      I’ve lobbied for Youtube to start showing “Content Warning: Smarmy Twit” messages where necessary, but it hasn’t caught on.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Hah. Funny thing – I have run into his dickery on Twitter but did not know what he looked like, and while half-watching the video I thought to myself, “How much bulshit can one person spew forth from his shmarmy gob?”

      Then noticed the name and it all became clear.

  10. SomeDuder says:

    keep namedropping that mantle, it’ll catch on faster that way

  11. TechnicalBen says:

    “[eh] Thousands”
    Obviously it was hundreds but he dare not correct the interviewer on video and risk embarrassment.

  12. Timbrelaine says:

    In the dystopian future, sci-fi armies battle for dominance, always careful to keep their hi-tech fighters and missiles from breaking the 6 km/h speed limit, beyond which they both agree things just get too hectic.

    • Shaun Green says:

      Or indeed firing anything from dozens or hundreds of kilometres away. :)

      Multi Spectrum Dominance: the RTS in which real victory means never seeing your opponent.

  13. The Sombrero Kid says:

    absolute nonsense, my own engine can support 32 simultaneous dynamic shadow casting lights never mind a cutting edge AAA engine like UE4, any deferred lighting setup can handle thousands of lights.

  14. vorador says:

    If i remember well, even the bit about every shot having ballistics calculated was done by SupCom before. In 2007. Mantle and DX 12 my ass.

    Oh well, i will take it. It’s been 8 years since SupCom so a sequel, spiritually or otherwise, it’s in proper order. Hoping i don’t have to upgrade my OS for this.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m reasonably sure TA did it too, and that was 1997 on sub-half-GHz single-core boxes doing software 3D rendering at the same time. Modelling trajectories isn’t actually that demanding, at least with heightmap terrain.

      Wikipedia seems to confirm I’m remembering this right.

      • KDR_11k says:

        Well, you could model more than just gravity, stuff like air resistance and penetration and stuff but at that point nobody gives a shit, especially when it’s just AI controlled guns firing those projectiles anyway.

    • Lord_Mordja says:

      Homeworld 1 too I think, and of course then there’s the Men of War series as well.

      That said, hey, more RTS games are always welcome so I’ll keep my on this one.

      • Cinek says:

        Yea, and then they changed it to pure RNG calculation in Homeworld 2 and Homeworld: Remastered :/

  15. Master_of_None says:

    “Would you like to know more?”

    Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?!?

    • Shaun Green says:

      If I’d had the time, I would’ve knocked up a special graphic just to justify more Starship Troopers references!

  16. internisus says:

    Technical power without worthy art design is just masturbation.

  17. bill says:

    Does that look very amazing?

    I haven’t played an RTS in decades, but that doesn’t look particularly impressive to me. Maybe all the stuff going on in the background is mode complex, but it looks like a bland version of every other RTS I’ve seen over the past 10 years.

    I think we should fight real wars in RTS style. Have 100 tanks stand still in 2 big groups and just shoot at each other for 10 minutes until finally a few explode. It’d save money by getting rid of the need for things like drivers and tactics.

    • Cinek says:

      You know what would be amazing? 8000 tanks, 35000 guns & mortals and 5000 aircraft in a single map – an RTS Battle of Kursk.

  18. fish99 says:

    Had to stop the video after about 8 seconds due to the amount of BS.

  19. vlonk says:

    …several thousands of units… control not only battles but whole wars…
    I guess this will play like a militaristic screensaver
    “select all” on the whole army – attack-move command on enemy HQ – watch the world burn

  20. MrLoque says:

    Mantle… yes, Mantle, … thanks to Mantle… you know, Mantle!… And this is because Mantle… Did I mention Mantle? Mantle.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Which he keeps on his mantlepiece, of course.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      It was almost infomercial level of obnoxiousness. Just needed a crowd gasping, and for the journo to require more repetitions to get the message.

      “So you’re saying ‘mantle’?”
      “That’s right! Mantle!”
      “But surely mantle can’t mantle all these mantles.”
      “Not only can mantle mantle these mantles, it can mantle mantles and comes in this lovely mantle pouch.”

  21. Joshua Northey says:

    The silly things about videos like this is that none of it matters one bit if the gameplay isn’t good.

  22. SuicideKing says:

    So much BS in two videos!

    So let’s get this straight, AMD’s DX11 performance sucks mainly because of three things:

    1 a) Their DX11 drivers are shit
    b) They’ve deliberately crippled their DX11 drivers in some recent cases to make Mantle look good
    2) DX11 is mostly single threaded
    3) Their CPUs have shit single-threaded performance.

    Next, that 8 lights thing is pure crap. Arma 3 has lots of light sources, heck even modded FreeSpace 2 treats each thruster, beam, laser pulse and in-system star as a separate light source.

    Then the magical performance by an AMD GPU, Mantle and 8 COAR (read: 4 module) AMD CPU amounts to 25-45 fps. Which I guess is pretty cool for 4K, but we don’t have an Intel/Nvidia combination for comparison, so I’m not sure how epic this really is.

    Finally, AMD and Mantle didn’t lead anything except publicising low-overhead APIs and pulling the covers off Mantle before MS could talk about DX12. All indications point to Mantle being an AMD-specific subset of DX12.

    Their lack of humility is disturbing.

  23. Thrippy says:

    What happened to RPS’s Mr. Laird just stating I don’t need more than four cores, not for years? Apparently I need eight cores from Intel to properly enjoy Mantle with < 10ms lag. Is there a great demand for 4K resolution games? How many gamers will initially have optimum hardware to run DirectX 12?

    I've just read all there is to read on "meta units" at ashesofthesingularity.com. Historically, when a game is designed around one big idea to exploit big new technology that game is destined to be judged as "a glorified tech demo." There are few exceptions. The entry costs would be a suitable DX12 gpu, a new Intel cpu, Windows 10 (free for most people) and either $50 or $100 to buy into the Ashes of the Singularity founders program to play the beta this summer. Again, this is something akin to an early tech demo to show off your expensive investment.

    I feel like we've just been here with Planetary Annihilation. In a matter of speaking then, this is hardware accelerated Planetary Annihilation without 'toon shaders. Which is good in the sense that PA needed acceleration.

    The bulk of Oxide Games is developers who previously worked together (in slightly different pairings) on:
    XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)
    Sid Meier's Civilization V (2010)
    Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (2008)
    The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth… (2006)

    It is ironic that from a player's perspective, the first and foremost complaint within the RTS genre, for years now, is all about stupid AI. Stupid AI pathing problems. The underwhelming challenge of playing against stupid AI controlled players. Making the stupid AI smarter involves giving the stupid AI cheats, more resources, better map vision, etc. Unrelated developers never speak to the chronic AI issues in their various unrelated RTS games, so it's hard to say what their perspective is except that they don't want to talk about AI.

    Sorry to be skeptical. I did not invoke Company of Heroes, Oxide Games did. I feel the undiscovered country of the next generation RTS lies somewhere on the other side of CoH. I don't know how biggerer maps with your own units placed under AI control to unprecedented levels (tens of thousands of units) gets us any closer.

    • GiantPotato says:

      I would agree that if any game wants to revitalize the RTS genre it will need to put a renewed focus on AI.

  24. EhexT says:

    “We’re told that every shot fired operates based on “its own targeting solution and ballistics model”. This level of complexity is, apparently, possible only thanks to Mantle and DirectX 12. It had to happen eventually, eh?”

    Could we get some actual journalism up in this? Most of the things said in that video are blatant lies. How about calling them on that instead of just reporting it like it’s true?

  25. Darkheart says:

    I understand this is still in early dev and it has a distinct SupCom/TA vibe, but all I thought was “Well, kinda boring”. I hope this will change with added explosions and craters, maybe deformable terrain.

    And they definitely could use some more inspired unit design. Right now it looks like boring space ships stranded on a scrapyard planet, that suddenly became sentient and thus decided to kill each other.