Six months can be a long time in the games industry. When I first met Alex Garden last September, it was hard not to be captivated by his abundant enthusiasm for the then relatively unknown Homeworld. As my Italian journalist companion and I stood in the badly lit San Francisco warehouse that was Sierra's chosen venue for their mid-season launch party, our tape recorders trying to filter out the noise coming from other stands and the under-appreciated DJ spinning tunes that no one was listening to, I couldn't help but notice that Garden was the only games designer there that was using expletives while talking about his game and the competition. Here, I remember thinking, was a man who cared.
Now, six months on, with Garden's Relic Entertainment entering the final stretch before the game's release, the change in the man is quite alarming. He's still enthusiastic, still deeply committed to his game, but now there's an air of exhaustion about him. You don't need to be a genius to realise it's been a mammoth task.
"When we started we didn't realise it was going to be this hard, and we all just assumed we could do it," he says, sinking into his chair like a man who's just run a marathon. "If someone had sat down and explained to me exactly how difficult it was going to be, we probably wouldn't have done it in the first place. Also, it was surprising to me just how hard it was to create something with quality, rather than just creating... something. You know?"
Liquid Information Environment
Garden's is an exhaustion mixed with pride though. As he demonstrates each of the game's elements, you can see it in his eyes. He must have been through the basic first level a million times by now, but he still seems to become totally absorbed by the events on screen. His pride is well founded. Homeworld looks absolutely stunning as it blends seamlessly from a galactic map to a close-up view of a small fighter. There are only about two screens in the whole game which don't appear to be fluidly linked to each other, giving the game a feeling of constant movement. You're not sitting at a computer, playing a glorified database; you're there, flying around your forces like an ethereal spaceman. "Whenever you focus your view on two or more ships, the camera will always make sure it keeps them all on screen wherever you move them," explains Garden. "It helps you keep track of where everything is."
The setting for Homeworld is a strategy, resource management wargame in space. But unlike StarCraft, for example, every bit of Homeworld is depicted in 3D, and you're able to view your units from any conceivable angle. Not much has changed from the initial showing of the game, other than the graphics getting the expected overhaul and the AI engine being worked on. But dien Homeworld never seemed like a game that was going to deviate much from its initial concept.
It didn't need to. It was impressive then, and it's still impressive now. Garden explains all about the barely visible (but highly effective) interface, the unit Al, the way units work with each other in combat situations, covering each other's backs and flying in realistic-looking attack patterns. He goes through the way the speech engine ties audio alerts into the action on screen, giving you dues as to events off screen, and the way you can dock research ships together in a manner that's eerily similar to the present-day International Space Station (although much, much quicker) to create vast floating stations. One thing follows another, with Garden becoming more and more animated each time until eventually, during a multiplayer game, he's literally punching the air and yelling excitedly as a squadron of my fighters decimates my opponent's harvesting ships. Garden is as much a part of Homeworld as it is a part of him. He seems to almost feed off it.
Adagio For Strings
Homeworld originally sprung from Garden's love of Battlestar Galactica but it wasn't until several months after the initial idea that all the pieces clicked. 'The idea had been percolating in my head, but it wasn't until I heard this piece of music one morning on my clock radio that I suddenly sat bolt upright and went.
Oh my god!' It all crystallised. I knew then what the universe would look like, and what's here today is almost exactly what I imagined. But much, much more. These guys have done such a good job with it." There's a lot that didn't make it into the game: such as ship customisations, convoy routes and so on, mainly because Relic couldn't find effective ways to implement them. "I have a rule," says Garden with a grin. "If you put something in and do it badly, everyone will rag on you about it. But if you leave it out they'll never know. Rest assured, we have a lot of ideas for the future."
Including one that was barely seven days old and consisted of a few basic concept sketches on the wall. All he would say about it was that it "won't be like any game you've ever seen before. Even we don't know if it will work." As (or Homeworld t both Garden and Relic are just glad they're near the end. "I'm sure there's a sequel in me, but not right now. We won't be starting on Homeworld 2 tomorrow. First we're going somewhere hot for a few weeks." He glances out of the window where the Canadian rain has started to fall again and sighs.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Homeworld Screenshots and Media
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