Game Changers

Game Changer: Homeworld

Earlier this year Gearbox software released remastered versions of Homeworld (1999) and Homeworld 2 (2003). While in their own right these new versions are excellent games, it is worth looking at the originals in all their innovative glory.

What made Homeworld stand out from the crowd? Well, it was the first truly three-dimensional game ever created. It has a story which everyone can understand and immerse themselves in. And, interestingly, the game uses a fairly accurate Newtonian physics model. The plot is simple and, barring one or two important twists, rather straightforward. The success of the plot is in how relatable it is to the player. At its heart, Homeworld is about a group of people returning home.

“It was the first truly three-dimensional game ever created”

It seems though that in the midst of this well-told story, a great number of people miss the innovations of Homeworld. The most obvious is a true three-dimensional movement. Your fleet starts the level (or multiplayer match) on one particular plane, but there are no limits as to where objectives may end up, or which angles enemies may approach from. In fact, in the multiplayer scene it is not uncommon for more experienced players to attack from unexpected angles in a strategy game: above and below. This mechanic is perfectly illustrated in the sixth mission of the first game. In this mission you must avoid being destroyed by several waves of asteroids. It is possible to avoid nearly all losses in this mission by simply moving above or below the plane in which the asteroids are travelling. The game encourages thinking outside the usual two dimensions we are so used to, and greatly rewards mastery of a three-dimensional space.

“At its heart, Homeworld is about a group of people returning home”

The final innovation is fairly small in appearance, but crucial nonetheless. It is simply the application of Newtonian physics to a game. In space there is no friction. To move a ship you must accelerate, and then decelerate to stop. For the large lumbering capital ships this is barely noticeable, but for the small and nimble ‘strike craft’ it is part of their power. They accelerate towards the target, firing as they go, then slip past, and carry on firing as their momentum carries them past their target, before moving away to line up another attack run. To my mind no other game, either in space or on the ground, has replicated these nods towards reality.

Together, these make Homeworld one of the greatest strategy games ever made and their remastering only serves to make them fresh again for a younger audience.

Rupert Harris

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