Advanced technology from AMD means that strategy games will soon be able to support thousands of individually-simulated units at a time.
Real-time strategy games like Starcraft often have a strange sense of scale, where even the largest battles only have a few dozen combatants. This is partially for balance reasons, but also because our computers can only simulate so much at once. Technology marches on, though, and new innovations are starting to make hardware-induced unit caps a thing of the past. A new engine called Nitrous, using AMD's Mantle tool, is powerful enough to simulate battles with over 5000 units, each with moderately complex AI and physics. And this is only the beginning.
Let's get technical for a moment. Computers have a CPU and a GPU; the CPU generally handles math while the GPU does graphics. We have CPUs and GPUs that are really powerful, but they're two separate units, and the bottleneck comes into play when they need to communicate with each other. Mantle essentially removes (or greatly widens) that bottleneck: all your CPU cores can talk to the GPU at the same time, making it possible to do some really complex simulations.
In terms of games, that means developers will be able to have thousands of AI or physics-driven objects on the screen. An RTS demo called Starswarm shows off the power of this new tech with a massive space battle; the demo ran at a choppy 13 frames per second on conventional hardware, but Mantle more than tripled that. It's not just for strategy games, either: an upcoming update for Battlefield 4 will integrate Mantle tech to increase performance by up to 45 percent. If this catches on, this technology alone could provide developers with a bigger boost in power than any "next-gen" innovations currently available.
Update: Now with video!