Retrospective: Homeworld • Page 2

It's full of stars.

Its most notable appearance is in the opening scenes as you prepare to undergo that fateful hyperspace jump. With the camera panning back from the Mothership, units flowing from the hold and spraying engine trails across the sky, the music builds along with the relentless winding up of the engines - it's a shot of valium to the heart and settles you into the world with a deep mental sigh. In moments of danger, the soundtrack moves from a delicate ambient background track sprinkled with piano motifs to a more tribal, urgent call to arms. It works every time.

While the raw textures and activity within the game engine were impressive for their time, what keeps Homeworld timelessly immersive is its approach to style over fidelity. If 2001 set the stage for grand space opera in film, Homeworld might be said to have done the same for a sort of space ballet in gaming.

Fighter ships move gracefully into a series of formations without micro-management. Resource harvesters twist and writhe through space in order to dock in perfect geometric synchronisation with the Mothership. While you concern yourself with the bigger strategic picture, everything else falls together like over-amorous stickle-bricks. Future space games like EVE Online were smart to follow suit, sacrificing realism on the altar of grace where necessary.

This gentle approach extends to the post-mission cut-scenes, which are delivered not with bombastic, CGI extravagance but lightly animated monochrome concept drawings, a styling that adds a sense of gravitas. They serve to suggest that this is the retelling of a grand historical story, one in which you were the key to its success or failure.

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A bit larger than a womp rat, but satisfying nonetheless.

Alongside the hypnotic single-player campaign there was an enormous multiplayer following. Sadly I was late to the internet and had to put up with occasional LAN skirmishes whenever I could persuade my then housemates to switch Warcraft off for a while. I enjoyed these other sessions but, while I liked Warcraft, I was always thinking of Homeworld, and wish I had been around for its internet heyday.

Homeworld isn't without minor flaws. Even by the standards of its time, the interface and unit selection mechanics are a fiddly affair, at least until units are placed into hotkey groups. Likewise, such a bold transition from the familiar, top-down RTS viewpoint into 3D was always going to be problematic in a genre where accuracy and control are so critical.

It was a topic of debate that occupied the game's enthusiastic followers throughout development. Having established a path along the horizontal plane, accommodating for height requires a certain degree of cross-checking and refinement. Without careful camera control and practice it's entirely possibly to send your units in a different direction to that intended.

But Relic was finding its feet every bit as much as its audience, and what difficulties remain are easily forgiven in the broader context of something so bold and enthralling. Rather than its control mechanics, Homeworld will instead be remembered for its storytelling achievements and unrivalled sense of immersion.

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