Homeworld: Game of the Year For Good Reason
Homeworld is simply one of the must play PC games of all time. No other game can touch it when it comes to offering intense space based real time strategy. The title garnered numerous awards and near universal acclaim for being an innovative, deep title was shipped with polish and truly shattered the mold placed around real time strategy games.
The Homeworld game objectives are clear from the start. The player is the commander of a powerful vessel - the most incredible technological achievement the Hiigarans have ever known, known only as the Mothership. The vessel was built with a single purpose in mind: to use hyperdrive technology to jump light years at a time until a portion of the Hiigaran population could reach and colonize their lost and until recently forgotten homeworld, Hiigara.
Of course, its never that easy. After running through some tutorial workups, skillfully portrayed as part of testing the Mothership’s systems, the player is told to make a test of the hyperdrive, jumping to outskirts of the solar system that has been the home of the Hiigarans for centuries. And it is here that the Homeworld game begins.
Homeworld Game Innovation - Three Dimensions, Carryover Units
One of the wonderful aspects of the Mothership is that it is a monstrous vessel capable of building vessels up to capital ship size and housing hundreds of fighter and corvette sized aircraft in its capacious hangar. This means that any ships built in one mission and that survive will be carried over from one mission to the next. This is one of the key aspects of Homeworld. Game designers in the real time strategy genre heretofore generally restricted the carryover of units - but Homeworld is no Command and Conquer title. In some ways it hearkens back to the turn based strategy days of Panzer General and Age of Wonders, focusing on allowing the player to build a powerful force and maintain it over the course of many scenarios.
Another excellent aspect of the game is the three dimensional graphics coupled with the ability to zoom in and out at will, even to the point where it feels that you are actually piloting that lone scout fighter you sent to investigate an all-too-quiet area of space. And the graphics are not the only area where Homeworld is a three dimensional game. Homeworld combat takes place in three dimensions as well - resources and enemies both may be on a plane above or below that of the Mothership. Fighters can be maneuvered vertically prior to engaging in combat, diving down on potentially unsuspecting enemy ships whose armor is weaker on their dorsal and ventral sides and whose weapons may not be able to track in the vertical plane.
Homeworld: Game With Capital Ships to Make the a Seasoned Veteran Grin
Homeworld is also unique in the relationship between the various ship classes found within the game. While naturally capital ships such as the Heavy Cruiser are more powerful than a mere fighter, all ships have a certain field of fire where their weapons can engage targets, and larger ships’ weapons are often unable to track high speed, maneuvering targets. Where as in games like Total Annihilation the major units at higher tech tiers can simply crush tier one opponents, a flight of Interceptors can destroy a Cruiser given enough time and proper handling.
Fighters and capital ships both can assume various formations in Homeworld. Game success or failure can actually depend on proper utilization of formations, as a claw formation designed to offer continuous streams of fire from Attack Bombers into capital ships breaks down and is smashed in the face of Multi-Gun Corvettes and Missile Destroyers. Likewise, placing Destroyers and Heavy Cruisers in a line abreast formation means that a clever opponent can flank a formation and destroy ships within it in detail.
The tactical options and three dimensional combat potential available to players of Homeworld games were revolutionary for their time and have hardly been topped in the past decade. Homeworld is still worthy of a play through more than a decade after its release, both for its gameplay and the incredible depth of its art and storyline.
Homeworld Art: Visual Immersion in Space Combat
Homeworld art is, simply put, incredible. Every scenario in the game is rendered in stunning, appropriate hues, each and every ship and weapons discharge lovingly modeled and colored. Homeworld is one of those games where the art department was clearly an integral part of game design and testing, and stands out from the real time strategy crowd as a result. Frankly, only Sins of a Solar Empire even comes close in terms out the outright beauty inherent in the game graphics.
The art of Homeworld is well represented in each and every scenario, which create atmospheric moods reminiscent of the most introspective of Star Trek episodes. In the initial missions, the art portrays orbit over the Hiigaran homeworld in exile - a desert planet with polar icecaps and settlement in a habitable fringe. The game takes the player to the outskirts of this planetary system, to an asteroid field, and into a nebula called the Gardens of Kadesh. These Gardens are stunningly rendered, wisps of colorful nebula gas swirling in the backdrop, with only stars to accompany them. The game goes on to take players all too close to an active star and even through an interstellar junkyard littered with the hulls of destroyed vessels. When the Mothership finally gets to Hiigara, the sight of the lush, green world makes you truly feel as if you’ve brought the Hiigarans home - such is the power of Homeworld art.
Music in Homeworld: Art On Another Plane
Another extraordinary example of Homeworld art is the music that accompanies each and every scenario in the game. Homeworld music won awards for its quality and the way is meshes so well with the game. Unlike games like Command and Conquer, which are known for repetitive, industrial tracks, Homeworld music is perpetually atmospheric, embedded into the fabric of the game and permeating every scenario.
From the game’s beginning the music quietly builds, never overwhelming the in game dialog or distracting from the satisfying whump of plasma blasts and determined hum of ion cannons. Its simply there, understated, subtle: an integral part of the environments and story. You can go hours without actually realizing how pervasive the music is, how much your emotions and even actions are quietly driven by the soundtrack. The music tends to build, the crescendo always near but never truly breaking, mysterious and unsettling tones accompanying a Turanic Raider attack and a wandering, exploring theme playing when jumping into a seemingly quiet, unoccupied asteroid belt.
The discussion of Homeworld art would be incomplete if the inclusion of a choral version of Samuel Barber’s beloved Adagio for Strings were not discussed. First heard when the Hiigaran Mothership jumps back to the Hiigaran home planet in exile, the choral work accompanies the discovery that while the Mothership was busy battling Turanic Raiders, a powerful fleet from an ancient empire has completely annihilated the Hiigaran world, killing every Hiigaran not on the Mothership or asleep in cryogenic systems in orbit. The genocide of nearly an entire race is appropriately commemorated by the Adagio for Strings chorus, and this moment serves to pull the player into the game and feel the Hiigaran’s need for revenge like no cheesy cutscene ever could.
Homeworld Art in the Storytelling
A final piece of Homeworld art merits discussion. The storytelling is unlike that of the third person narrative seen in Total Annihilation or the generic cut-scene that begins Sins of a Solar Empire. Homeworld’s writers created a huge backstory for the Hiigarans and a fully realized universe for them to inhabit. The characters are not merely caricatures or tropes so commonly seen in science fiction - in fact the main voice used to speak to the player throughout the game belongs to a female scientist, Karen Sjet, who physically plugged herself into the Mothership, serving as its literal heart.
The tale of genocide and righting ancient wrongs committed against the Hiigarans, the story of their long journey to their Homeworld and their interactions with other races, is epic and well told. Homeworld art would simply not be complete without the care paid to the written and spoken words that drive the story, which complete the job of pulling players into the game.