Greetings! I hope you had a Merry Christmas.
(note that the video demo of “Star Swarm” was from November, it looks even better now, we were able to throw that together in basically a month or so with Nitrous).
I have a confession to make. For the past year I’ve been seeing other people. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Stardock. It’s what I still spend most of my time on. But as the next couple of years are going to make apparent, the game industry has entered a new age. The age of 64bit, multi-core games has finally arrived. And I’m lucky enough to be able to work with and help some of the best talent in our industry convert the potential of this age into actual new games.
Two gaming genres in particular are poised to leap ahead thanks to having more memory and more cores available to developers:
(1) Strategy games. Strategy games hit the 32-bit memory limit a decade ago. That’s because unlike a first person shooter, we have to keep the entire game world and all units in memory all the time. As a result, strategy games have had to get simpler and simpler in order to be visually competitive.
(2) Role Playing Games. Role playing games, in order to be visually competitive, have had to switch to being in first-person mode. But with 64-bit and multiple cores combined with a new engine that utilizes them we can create living breathing worlds of massive scope and depth.
How we got started
About 18 months ago I was talking to friends of mine who had developed the engine for Civilization V. Everyone in our industry is painfully familiar with hard limit of 32-bit memory and the old DirectX 9 age limitations.
Unlike my friends, there was nothing I could do on my own about it. I couldn’t write a 3D engine to save my life. But they had been giving the problem a lot of thought. The problem they faced was that starting a new company that would take multiple years to create a new 3D engine was very risky. How would you explain to people why you didn’t just license Unreal or Unity or something else?
This is where combining our capabilities together has made something wonderful happen. As the CEO of Stardock and principle stock holder, I have the opportunity to still take risks. Except, in my mind, I didn’t see it is a big risk because I knew the people involved.
Oxide is born
So a little over a year ago, in secret, we started a company called Oxide Games. Our mission: to build a next-generation 3D engine that can handle thousands of high fidelity objects on screen simultaneously. The goal would be to be able to show a battle from say Lord of the Rings with the same fidelity and same quantity of units but in real-time.
The rendering system would be different as well. Since we were starting from scratch with multiple cores, 64-bit and DirectX 11 as basic requirements, the team could design an engine that rendered the same way that CGI in movies are rendered except in this case, in real-time. As a result (and you really have to see it to believe it) the actual visuals look…different than what you may be used to seeing in a game. Even in the Star Swarm demo, which is a very simple, quickly made example, the movement, the lighting, etc. look like a movie scene rather than a computer game. There is no particle effect system. Instead, every laser blast, every light, every effect is an object.
Click on this to see a larger version. Notice how things look blurred? That’s not me moving the camera. It’s motion and it’s not a post-processor effect.
With SWARM (i.e. every core gets used) you can do cool things like have moving turrets on every ship in the universe with their own physics. Look closely at this shot.
The team in action
To give you a better background on the amazing engineering talent at Oxide check this page out: http://www.oxidegames.com/about.
For instance, Dan Baker was the guy who led the effort at Microsoft on HLSL for DirectX 10 which is what our industry uses now. Tim Kipp has developed 3D procedural engines for Microsoft, Firaxis and the military. You’ll be hearing a lot about procedural based content generation in the next few years. If 64-bit/Multicore is today’s revolution, procedural generation is the one on deck. Marc Meyer is the guy who largely invented the technology that many of us in the industry have borrowed from in terms of how to create dynamic user interfaces in games. As someone who’s passionate about user interfaces (don’t confuse UI design with the underlying tech that makes them possible) I can tell you that what Marc has done is crucial for game developers. Historically, making UI in games has been a huge pain. Marc’s work is making UI creation a treat. Brian Wade was my counterpart at Firaxis. He was the lead developer on Civilization V and is specialized in AI engineering (what AI do at Stardock is slightly different in that I’m responsible for the engineering and the design, at Firaxis their AI structure was a bit different). Brian is a much much better developer than I am.
Last Fall, Stardock announced that Derek Paxton was taking over day-to-day leadership of Stardock Entertainment. Now you know why. Derek’s amazing talent as the head of the studio allows me to work on projects like Oxide. For the next 2+ years, I’ll be the “interim CEO” of the company while we take Nitrous and turn it into something that can be licensed to third parties (we’re not remotely ready for licensing yet) as well as make it into something that Stardock and its studio network are able to utilize to make truly awesome new games.