When Homeworld released in 1999 it was a revelation. A fully 3d real time strategy game of space fleet combat with in incredibly rich backstory, races, ship design, and game mechanics. My even saying the words doesn’t give it justice, just watch the opening few minutes, and the jaw dropping use of a choral version of Adagio for Strings.
I remember right off the bat sitting in my chair in front of my computer and I did something I don’t think I had ever done before: I exited the game and restarted it solely to watch the opening again. The Homeworld saga (I include its mission pack Cataclysm as well as Homeworld 2 to be one storyline much like Halo) is easily in my top five game experiences of all time. It sits comfortably alongside Half Life, Halo, Mass Effect or Bioshock as richly created alternate realities that, when you weren’t floored by the gameplay, you were gobsmacked by the story.
Which brings me to today’s news that Gearbox software has acquired the rights to the franchise. Homeworld will be coming back.
Right off the bat there was Internet skepticism, due to the recent efforts by Gearbox on Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines. I played the former, I have not gotten a chance to play the latter between writing and looking for work. DNF’s problem was that it was a perfect sequel to Duke Nukem 3d, had it been released in 2002. Story, and game mechanics, have moved on dramatically from that time. The game that was released was fine for a Duke game, but bringing back a tone and humor from 1997 fifteen years later is tough to pull off when the basis of the tone is around the humor. I remember Leisure Suit Larry fondly, but there’s no way that game is going to work today.
Why wouldn’t the same problem apply to the game mechanics and story of Homeworld, a game from 1999? I’ll answer in two parts.
The gameplay of the original game was ahead of its time, and is seen mimicked today in EVE Online and Sins of a Solar Empire. Designers of modern 3d space tactic games routinely cite Homeworld as their inspiration. The game itself broke stylistic convention with use of wonderful ambient or orchestral music before Halo perfected the formula. The spaceship designs draw obvious influence from famed science fiction artists Chris Foss and Peter Elson. They even contracted with the rock band Yes to make an original song for the game!
Second, the universe laid down in the story is rich and deep. Prophecies are described and fulfilled. Alien races are interesting and their politics are intricate. The first time you encounter the Bentusi is one of my favorite moments in any video game ever. You play the role of a race who never knew they had been subjugated thousands of years before, and that your world is actually not your home. And even that that plotline is resolved you pivot to play along the (reformed) antagonist in an add-on set fifteen years later. Homeworld 2 advances the story to a galactic one, and at the conclusion it is revealed we have entered the age of Karan S’Jet, the scientist who melded her body to the mothership and the Pride of Hiigara. The prophecy of the Sajuuk is revealed to be completely different than what was expected, and the ending is satisfying and makes you want more of this universe.
It’s safe to say that outside of triumvirate universes of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Halo, I know more about the Homeworld universe as presented through the games than just about any other sci fi video game, even Mass Effect.
I’m to understand that this was a personal mission on the part of Brian Martel, the Chief Creative Officer of Gearbox, to secure this for Gearbox. I want to see a whole new generation get introduced to the Homeworld story and universe on iOS, PC, Android, Mac, whatever. I want to see comics, web episodes, and all the things Gearbox has been doing with Borderlands.
I want to see prequel games about the Taiidan Empire, or the original war with the Hiigarans, or even the formation of the Taiidan Republic just before Cataclysm.
More than anything, I want to see a Homeworld 3. Will the Bentusi return? Do the events at the end of Homeworld 2 bode well or ill for the Hiigarans? And what of the Galactic Council? What if the Sajuuk-Khar is attacked or destroyed, what does that do to the hyperspace gates?
There’s so much there. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.
So color me more than pleased.