Today, I’d like to talk about an upcoming game that hasn’t been getting much attention: Ashes of the Singularity, from Stardock and partner Oxide. Frankly, as an avid RTS fan, I am stunned this title isn’t getting more press. If Ashes successfully navigates the challenges of Early Access and beta testing it has the potential to move the RTS genre ahead by a full quantum leap.
A conceptual successor to Supreme Commander, and thus also to Total Annihilation (which just hit Steam today), Ashes takes strategy to a whole new level, a level that fans of the genre have been anticipating for years. The player will have the chance to control thousands of air or land units in a realm with accurate physics, terrain and line-of-sight limitations. Yes, thousands.
Conflicts will take place across entire planets, divided into regions that can be conquered and where the supply lines to them must be protected. Whereas before RTS simulations only focused on a single battle, as Stardock and Oxide put it, Ashes will give the player control over an entire war. Oh, and it’ll be available in full 4k resolution.
Strategy games, by their very nature, require unit management. Depending on a range of factors like the total number of units available, their designed purpose, unit AI, map size and type, and so on, a strategy game runs the risk of feeling cumbersome, requiring too much micromanagement. The inverse can also be true. If a game is streamlined too much, or unit function is overly simplified, it begins to lose its tactical elements and instead becomes a contest won by sheer numbers. It’s a delicate balancing act, especially when dealing with thousands of units.
In order to find the necessary middle-ground and to avoid the monumental task of managing thousands of individual units, the developers created what they call “meta-units.” These meta-units will be comprised of multiple individual units, from tens into the hundreds, and will operate as a single entity under a set of AI principles and behaviors assigned by the player. It’s an intriguing innovation, but its success will depend largely on how well the AI handles itself as most RTS gamers (myself included) have a deeply ingrained sense of distrust for unit AI.
Admittedly, I was skeptical after playing titles like Supreme Commander that rendering thousands of units simultaneously (and smoothly) would be possible. However, Stardock and Oxide claim that their new engine, Nitrous, is more than up to the challenge and can actually handle ten thousand units at once! Essentially, Nitrous has been designed to fully utilize all the separate cores of modern GPU’s and the game itself is being optimized for DirectX 12. It also requires 64bit Windows and extremely high end hardware. See the demonstration below for a more thorough explanation.
The story line in Ashes seems bland at the moment. Humans invent AI, AI helps humanity achieve singularity (see Raymond Kurzweil), humanity begins colonizing the cosmos, AI becomes concerned about human expansion, war ensues. Sound familiar? It did to me too, but I suspect this game will more than make up for its plot shortcomings.
Ashes of the Singularity looks stunning and has mountainous potential. As the lead designer, Brad Wardell said at an AMD demo event earlier this year, “We’re going to see completely new classes of games that we can’t even imagine yet.” Given enough players with the right hardware, I think he’s right. This game could transform the RTS genre. If you think your PC can withstand the data onslaught, go grab your copy on Steam’s Early Access for $49.99 today.