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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Nomads

Preview - our first peek at this gorgeous looking action-strategy game set in a Laputa-style world of flying islands

German publisher CDV has been on a roll recently, with World War II strategy game Sudden Strike giving them a successful UK debut which was soon followed up with the chart-topping Cossacks. Their line-up for the next two years is shaping up nicely as well, with a number of new titles being unveiled at the recent E3 trade show in Los Angeles, including Nomads.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

City In The Sky

The debut game from German developer Radon Labs, Nomads is a mix of action, strategy and role-playing elements, all set against the backdrop of a future Earth which has been quite literally shattered. And naturally it's up to you to put it back together.

As a "Wizard Engineer" you will be called upon to fly between the floating fragments of the planet, constructing factories, wind turbines, power stations, defensive emplacements and other buildings to help rebuild your broken civilization, creating entire new cities in the clouds. These can then be used to provide you with fleets of bizarre looking low-tech biplanes and zeppelins.

Once you've assembled your forces it's time to go out and make some trouble, fighting your rivals for control of precious resources and magical artifacts in true real-time strategy fashion. You can also act out all your favourite Superman/Rocketeer fantasies and simply fly around exploring the game world, searching for new islands to conquer and hunting for powerful artifacts. And with a vast seamless world to explore, there should be plenty of opportunity for free flying action.

Ain't it purty?

Nebulous

Nomads is just the latest in an ever-lengthening line of games to be set on floating lumps of rock, inspired by a combination of Victorian sci-fi writer Jules Verne and anime director Hayao Miyazaki, the brains behind Laputa and Princess Mononoke.

Thanks to Radon's own open source game engine Nebula the whole thing looks little short of awe-inspiring. Factories, trees and lighthouses cling to the orbiting rocks, while smoke and clouds drift by both above and below you. The skies through which you will be flying are amongst the most impressive we've seen to date, and characters are nicely detailed. Meanwhile a full day and night cycle with changeable weather conditions should add some variety to your surroundings.

And if you get bored of flying around by yourself, there will also be support for online and LAN-based multiplayer, including the usual selection of head-to-head battles as well as a co-operative mode. You will apparently even be able to import the towns you have created in the single player game into a multiplayer session, allowing for some massive battles without the grind of building up your entire base from scratch every game.

Nomads is looking very promising, and the only real bad news is that it isn't due out until summer 2002. Both Xbox and PC versions are in the works, and if what we have seen so far is anything to go by, CDV could have another hit on their hands.

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Nomads screenshots