Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.
Videogame (1999). Relic Entertainment (RE). Platforms: Win.
Homeworld is a Real Time Strategy game, noted for its innovative use of three-dimensional space and its involving linear storyline (see Interactive Narrative). The setting is Space Opera; the Kushan race, evicted from their homeworld long ago after losing a war against the Taiidan, have settled on the planet of Kharak and forgotten their origins. However, shortly before the beginning of the game the Kushan excavated the ruins of an ancient starship, providing them with both Faster Than Light technology and a map showing the location of their planet of origin. A gigantic starship (the Mothership) is constructed, containing a factory system capable of building smaller ships and storage space for half a million colonists in Suspended Animation, and launched on a test flight. The player serves as commander of the Mothership's subordinate spacecraft. After the ship's experimental Hyperspace jump to the outer reaches of the Kharak system, it is unexpectedly attacked; upon its return, it discovers Kharak has been destroyed, and the only survivors are frozen colonists in high orbit. The Mothership's mission is now crucial to the Kushan's future; their search for a lost homeworld has become the only hope their race has of survival.
Gameplay focuses on three-dimensional movement of spacecraft, asteroid mining and combat, using an ingenious interface. The plot is unusually well integrated with the gameplay, and its linearity does not appear confining; the player's status as a subordinate of the Mothership's commander makes obedience to orders seem natural. The artificiality of many RTS games is also absent, with credible justifications provided for such contrivances as the player's need to research improvements in ship technology, and a three-dimensional display that is both convincing and beautiful. Ultimately, diplomacy with other races allows the player to discover that Kharak was destroyed by the Taiidan. This act of genocide was technically justified by a ban on the Kushan developing Faster Than Light drives, imposed following an unprovoked attack on the Taiidan which started the long-ago war. However, the savagery of the Taiidan action has caused internal dissent within their Empire. The player can ally with Taiidan rebels and help bring about the corrupt Empire's transformation into a Republic, after which the Kushan sentence of exile is lifted. The game's scrupulous avoidance of melodrama helps it to convey a powerful sense of sorrow and loss, only partially ameliorated by the Kushan's eventual return home.
Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000 Barking Dog / RE, Win) is an expansion pack, largely created by a different developer. Various changes were made to the design, resulting in a broadly similar game which requires a higher level of detail management on the part of the player. It is set 15 years after Homeworld, concentrating on a clan of Kushan asteroid miners who encounter a derelict construct in deep space. During investigation, the derelict absorbs part of their ship before they can escape. Soon it emerges that the construct was host to a long dormant parasitic entity which uses Nanotechnology to subvert the technology of other races, and which poses a major threat to the galaxy; the peaceful miners must become warriors in order to defeat it. The entity's nature has interesting effects on tactics; massed attacks will generally end with it assimilating the player's vessels. Homeworld 2 (2003 RE, Win; 2004 Mac) is a sequel, set a century after the first game. The story deals with a threat to the Kushan homeworld from a nomadic warrior race who are gradually conquering the known galaxy. To defeat them the player must recover the lost technologies of a vanished Forerunner race. Homeworld 2 is an entertaining game which is considerably more warlike in tone than its original; the game's version of the Mothership is a military factory, not the soul of a people. Both Homeworld and Homeworld 2 have been popular as games of player versus player combat in temporary Online Worlds.
Related works: The program code for Homeworld was released to the public in 2003, since when it has been used to create versions of the game for the Linux and Apple Mac platforms. [NT]
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