Maryland's Oxide Games does it their way – with their own game engine

01/22/2024| Daniel Leaderman

Maryland's Oxide Games does it their way – with their own game engine

01/22/2024 | Daniel Leaderman

The video game market may be a crowded place, but Oxide Games  has something that sets it apart from many of its peers in the industry. The Maryland-based game developer's "Nitrous Engine" is a cutting-edge proprietary platform that pushes new limits in creating the immersive digital worlds of its games.

Many developers license existing "off the shelf" software, such as the Unity or Unreal engines, to design their games, but that convenience comes with constraints, says Oxide President Marc Meyer. Your vision for your game is limited by the abilities of the engine you're using.

But ten years ago, Oxide's four founders envisioned something different. "We felt like we could make significant contributions to game development through technology," said Meyer. "We wanted to make a really powerful game engine."

Meyer and his co-founders, Chief Graphics Architect Dan Baker, Creative Director Brian Wade, and Chief Systems Architect Tim Kipp, are veterans of Firaxis Games in Hunt Valley. There, they worked on games in the long-running Civilization and X-COM franchises, among others.

In the decade since, Oxide Games, which began as four guys in a basement in Towson, has grown to more than 60 employees with headquarters in Timonium.

The engine the team developed, called NITROUS, powered the company's first game in 2016: Ashes of the Singularity , which depicts immense battles between opposing armies. So-called "real-time strategy" games have been around for years, but what sets Ashes of the Singularity apart is the size of the battles the NITROUS engine can depict.

Often, such games might show a handful of soldiers to represent a vast army; but Oxide's engine allows for thousands of individual units to operate independently within the game, Meyer said.

The result, according to Lead Designer Michelle Menard, who joined the company after the first game's release, is a sense of scale that’s missing from similar games made with off-the-shelf game engines. "Cities, feels like it’s a world," Menard said. "Not just a few little board game pieces that are symbolic of something larger."

The Oxide Games team is continuing to explore the artistic and design possibilities of NITROUS with its next game, Ara: History Untold , slated for release this year.

Designed to rival other world-building games, like the classic Civilization series, Ara will allow players to establish a nation and guide its growth and development through history, from a prehistoric culture to an advanced, futuristic society.

"We felt like we could compete [with the established franchises]," Meyer said. "We can challenge all of the assumptions and try things very differently."

Oxide Games has chosen to stay in Maryland as it's grown, bolstered by the numerous other video game companies in the state.

"Here, there is a real ecosystem that we’re a part of. It helps us find talent and attract people," Meyer said.

They have even pulled in talent from the West Coast, which is traditionally quite difficult, said Menard. "They've really liked that Maryland is central, with very easy access to D.C. and New York," she said. "They like how connected everything is here."

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