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Overview

Created by Relic Entertainment, the Homeworld franchise is a series of outer space real-time strategy games for the PC first introduced in 1999. One of the hallmarks of the franchise is its fully three-dimensional gameplay, which allows for unit movement in three axes rather than on a single two-dimensional plane. At present, the series spans three titles: 1999's Homeworld, 2000's Homeworld: Cataclysm, and 2003's Homeworld 2. Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were both developed by series creator Relic, while Cataclysm was developed by Barking Dog Studios; all three games were published by Sierra Entertainment. Homeworld has been a well-received series overall, and critical praise of the first game in particular was quite ebullient, including several "Game of the Year" awards. In addition, the game sold in excess of 500,000 copies. Later titles in the series also earned high marks from reviewers, and across all three games the franchise was often commended for having a cinematic presentation, complete with attractive visuals and audio, a strong, story-focused single-player component, and novel gameplay elements when compared to other contemporary RTS titles.

In August of 2004, roughly a year after the release of Homeworld 2, Relic Entertainment was purchased by THQ for approximately ten million dollars. The status of the franchise in the years following this acquisition was uncertain, as Sierra Entertainment still held the rights to the Homworld IP. In September of 2007, however, a rumor began to circulate that THQ was in talks with Vivendi, Sierra's parent company, to purchase the rights to the Homeworld franchise. In November of the same year, a THQ spokesperson commented on the rumor, stating that THQ did in fact have the rights to the franchise, though no mention was made of a deal with Vivendi. Furthermore, THQ was quick to point out that no Homeworld games were currently in development at that time. Since then, a number of Relic employees have made positive comments about the possibility of a third Relic-developed Homeworld game, though, to date, no announcements concerning future titles have been made.

Plot

The Homeworld War (Homeworld)

The Guidestone of Kharak

Inhabiting the desolate Outer Rim desert world known as Kharak, the Kushan people survived for thousands of years in the most inhospitable of conditions. One fateful day, however, a large object was detected beneath the sands of Kharak, one that would unite the warring Kushan Kiithid in an unprecedented endeavor. What they found beneath the dunes was the wreckage of an ancient spacefaring vessel; more interesting than that, an important artifact lay within it, which came to be called the Guidestone. Etched upon the stone was a map indicating that the inhabitants of Kharak were in fact native to another planet, Hiigara. United by their desire to rediscover their lost homeworld and the origin of their people, the clans of Kharak put aside their differences in order to undertake a massive construction initiative that would last some sixty years before its completion. The result of this effort was the Kushan Mothership, a massive self-sufficient colony ship designed to allow the Kushan to navigate the stars and ultimately find their home. At its helm is the scientist Karan S'jet, who volunteered to have herself permanently integrated into the ship in order to act as Fleet Command.

Any sense of accomplishment the Kushan may have felt after successfully completing the Mothership is quickly curtailed, however, as Kharak is unexpectedly attacked while the crew of the Mothership is performing a hyperspace test on their new vessel. The Mothership returns to the Kharak system to find the planet consumed by fire and the Mothership's scaffolding destroyed, and what little remains of the planet's population is contained in a small number of orbital cryo trays. Gathering the last denizens of Kharak before they leave the system, the Mothership's crew sets out to gather strength and eventually confront the Taiidani who were responsible for the attempted genocide at Kharak. Along the way, they acquire new allies in the form of the Bentusi, a race of intergalactic traders who help educate the Kushan on their heritage. They learn from them that their people had once belonged to a powerful galactic empire; 3,000 years prior they were exiled to the Outer Rim, and their home planet, Hiigara, was now occupied by the Taiidan Empire. After an arduous journey and many tribulations fighting a number of different foes, the Kushan are able to confront and defeat the Taiidan in order to retake Hiigara.

The Beast War (Homeworld: Cataclysm)

After the Homeworld War, the Taiidan fracture into two groups: Imperialists and Republicans.

Fifteen years after the monumental victory that allowed them to resettle their home planet, the Hiigarans have returned to their old ways as the Kiithid struggle amongst themselves for technological and political power. Kiithid without sufficient influence on the Daiamid, the Hiigaran governing body, are largely left to fend for themselves. The Kiith Somtaaw, one of the more marginalized Hiigaran clans, carves out an existence for itself through deep space mining while scavenging technology from any available source, including the Bentusi. Though a smaller Kiith, they are able with the aid of other Kiithid to secure the rights to the HIigaran Mothership construction facilities for a brief period, during which time they build two Mothership class mining vessels, the Kuun-Lan and the Faal-Corum, and a single science vessel, the Clee-San. Though not considered a warrior Kiith, the Somtaaw are called upon to defend against an attack by Taiidani Imperialists in 15 AHL. After the assault is successfully repulsed, the Kuun-Lan is directed to track down and assist the damaged Kiith Manaan Destroyer, the Bushan-Re, and after doing so the Somtaaw detect an artifact projecting a faint signal beacon.

Bringing the artifact aboard proves to be disastrous, as before long a mysterious infection begins to spread, forcing the Kuun-Lan to jettison parts of the ship. Though the Kuun-Lan is saved, the bio-mechanical virus responsible for the infection, which would later be called the Beast, continues to infect other ships. With no discernible way of defeating such an opponent, the Somtaaw flee and attempt to warn Hiigara of this new threat. Complicating matters further, the remnants of the old Taiidan Empire choose to ally themselves with the sentient Beast virus in order to reap the potential spoils of their conquest. Within Koreth's Rift, however, the Somtaaw discover an ancient Siege Cannon, and with help from the Bentusi, they are able to convert it into a weapon which the Kuun-Lan can use against the Beast. After using this armament to destroy the Beast's Mothership, which had formed around the Kuun-Lan's infected hangar module, the Somtaaw eventually challenge and destroy the Naggarok, the alien ship that was the source of the virus, once again with the aid of the Bentusi. Afterwards, they are lauded by the Daiamid and became known as the "Beast Slayer" clan in honor of their efforts.

The Vaygr War (Homeworld 2)

The Hiigaran Hyperspace Core

One hundred years after the conclusion of the Beast War, the Hiigarans would face yet another threat, this time in the form of a nomadic group of warriors called the Vaygr. Though the Vaygr tribes had long been known for their propensity for merciless conquest, the discovery of the Third Hyperspace Core by the warlord Makaan transforms them into something far more deadly. With it, the Vaygr are able to Far Jump, traveling vast distances with incredible speed, and using his link to the Hyperspace Core as proof of his superiority, Makaan is able to unite the Vaygr tribes toward a common purpose: the complete domination of the galaxy. Believing himself to be the Sajuuk-Khar, a mythical individual foretold to unite the three Hyperspace Cores and reawaken a godlike being known as Sajuuk, Makaan leads the Vaygr in a crusade to recover the other two Hyperspace Cores and fulfill the prophecy. As the Vaygr's bloody campaign draws ever closer to Hiigara, the Daiamid is faced with the inevitability that the Kiithid must once again band together in order to defend themselves. With this in mind, a new Hiigaran Mothership, the Pride of Hiigara, is commissioned with the utmost secrecy.

Despite their best efforts, however, the Vaygr catch wind of the Hiigaran's intentions and arrive at the Tanis Shipyards hoping to destroy the Mothership and obtain the Hiigaran's Hyperspace Core at the same time. The Mothership has just enough time to escape intact and return to Hiigara in order to collect the rest of its crew, but afterwards they have little choice but to cede their home system to the Vaygr. Without the military might to challange the Vaygr, they turn to Shipyard Nabaal for reinforcements, and after defending it successfully they are contacted by their old allies, the Bentusi, who inform them of the prophesy of the End Times, which Makaan wishes to bring about through warfare. The Bentusi, who also possess one of the three Hyperspace Cores, set them on a course to recover Progenitor technology that might aid them. In part because of their acquisition of Progenitor ships, the Hiigarans experience increasing success against the Vayger, and ultimately Makaan is defeated at Balcora before he is able to activate Sajuuk, which is revealed to be a massive Progenitor starship. Activating Sajuuk themselves, the Hiigarans use the vessel to break the siege of Hiigara and unlock an intergalactic hyperspace network.

Gameplay

General Gameplay

One of the most noticeable attributes of all three Homeworld games is the option to move in all directions; a normal movement command will simply direct a unit along a two-dimensional plane, whereas by holding the Shift key while issuing a movement order units can also be commanded to move up or down along the z-axis. The ability to take full advantage of three-dimensional space plays an important part in gameplay, as there are very few objects within environments that truly restrict movement. As such, success in combat is often a matter of making sound tactical decisions such as choosing the appropriate unit formations and attacking ships where they are most vulnerable. Powerful Capital ships, for instance, may be vulnerable from the side or the rear but extremely deadly when faced directly, and Fighter squadrons may be able to increase their effectiveness by having their tactics or formations adjusted to suit the particular type of foe they are facing.

Building a fleet of ships in Homeworld is done through construction vessels such as the Mothership, which are typically vulnerable and slow-moving. Though the franchise does not feature base building per se, these production facilities can be thought of as a player's headquarters, and they represent a significant disadvantage if lost. In single-player, loss of the Mothership usually results in immediate mission failure. Production ships also act as repair stations, resource drop points, and docking facilities for smaller ships. In later games, they are also centers for research into new ship designs and upgrades for existing ships. Ships are built using Resource Units, or RUs, which are the one consistent resource throughout the series. Resource Units are gathered from raw materials by Resource Collectors and dropped off at the nearest production vessel or resource collection unit, at which point they can be used to fund new ships, modules, or research initiatives.

Combat encounters in Homeworld often include vessels of various sizes.

All combat-class units in the Homeworld series are divided into categories that directly correspond to their size. The smallest class is referred to as Strike ships, which is further subdivided into the smaller Fighter class and the larger Corvette class; Strike ships are the fastest and most maneuverable class, and while they do not hold up under sustained fire, many vessels do not have weaponry capable of targeting such small, agile ships reliably. Above Strike ships in size are Frigates, which are significantly slower and more cumbersome than Fighters and Corvettes but also much harder to destroy. Lastly, Capital ships, referred to as Super Capital ships in some instances, are extremely large vessels that, while sluggish, are often bristling with weaponry and incredibly hard to destroy without significant firepower. Even within classes the utility of ships can vary widely depending on their design, and other non-combat ship classes exist as well to fill roles such as resource gathering and reconnaissance.

In terms of interface, Homeworld is primarily mouse-driven, with some of the more common game commands being attached to keyboard hotkeys as well. Units can be selected by clicking on them individually or drag-selecting to select an entire group. Homeworld's camera system uses ships as a focal point, and the player can rotate around the current focal point by holding the right mouse button and dragging the mouse. Scrolling the mouse wheel in or out will zoom the camera in or out respectively, and designating a new focal point for the camera is accomplished by selecting a new unit (or units) before pressing the F key. All games in the series feature a Sensors Manager interface as well, accessed by pressing the space bar, which zooms the camera out to present a much wider view of the overall play area. Most normal actions and commands can be carried out from this interface, with the main advantage of the Sensors Manager being the ability to assess and conduct activities over a large expanse.

Single-Player

The structure of Homeworld's single-player remains fairly consistent across all titles in the franchise. In all cases, players are presented with a linear set of missions, and certain objectives must be met within each mission in order to progress to the next. Levels may include multiple objectives, and the nature of these may vary greatly from one mission to the next. As an RTS, gathering resources and building a larger offensive force is a common theme throughout; unlike many RTS titles, however, units and resources in Homeworld are carried forward from one mission to the next, allowing players to gradually build the strength of their fleet over time. Technological advancements and ship-building capacity acquired in previous missions are persistent as well. The Homeworld games also feature a number of common presentational elements, such as black-and-white, hand-drawn cutscenes between missions. The narrative is additionally progressed through liberal use of in-game voice-overs and in-engine cutscenes.

Multiplayer

Every iteration of the Homeworld franchise has featured a multiplayer component, which includes both skirmish modes against bots and and competitive modes against other players. Homeworld and Cataclysm both shipped with a number of different game types and adjustable options for multiplayer, as well as support for up to eight concurrent players. Homeworld 2, by comparison, shipped with a single game type, Deathmatch, fewer customization options, and support for only six concurrent players, and as a result drew criticism from some fans. Gameplay mechanics change little during multiplayer, though objectives are naturally more geared toward defeating opponents than completing objectives, as is the case during single-player. Homeworld multiplayer was at one point in time supported by WON.net, an online gaming service provided by Sierra, though with the closure of this service in 2008 emphasis has shifted to third-party solutions such as GameRanger and Hamachi.

Games

Homeworld (1999)

The debut title for Relic Entertainment, Homeworld was released in 1999 to tremendous critical acclaim. It was heralded by many in the gaming media for having a strong visual and audio presentation, an engaging story-driven single-player campaign, and a unique three-dimensional twist on traditional RTS gameplay. The reception to Homeworld was strong enough that it prompted the release of a special Game of the Year Edition, which included a CD soundtrack, in order to commemorate the many accolades it had amassed. Of the three Homeworld games released to date, the original is the most highly rated in terms of aggregate review scores, and later games in the series would follow closely in its footsteps.

Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000)

Released less than a year after the original, Homeworld: Cataclysm, developed by Barking Dog Studios, was positioned as a stand-alone expansion pack for Homeworld. It uses the same engine as its immediate predecessor, though a few additional graphical embellishments have been added. In addition, a considerable number of interface tweaks and gameplay alterations are introduced. This includes smaller changes, like the option to issue attack orders from the Sensors Manager, as well as more far-reaching ones, such as the inclusion of Support Units that govern the player's ability to construct new ships. The factions of the previous game were also scrapped in favor of two new ones, the Kiith Somtaaw and the Beast.

Homeworld 2 (2003)

Almost exactly four years after Homeworld's release, Relic delivered Homeworld 2 as the first official sequel to the original game. Unlike Cataclysm, Homeworld 2 represented a significant overhaul in terms of its graphical presentation. Many new interface enhancements were added as well, including the ability to scroll the camera by moving the cursor to the edges of the screen. Gameplay mechanics were also modified in some cases; for example, producing ships within a certain class now requires that the appropriate production facility be built on the Mothership. Once again, the game features two new factions, the Hiigarans and the Vaygr, though many ships designs from the first game survive more or less intact.

Raider Retreat

Originally released as a bonus disc for purchasers of Homeworld: Cataclysm, Homeworld: Raider Retreat is a shortened demo version of the original Homeworld that contains five single-player missions. Four of these missions were included in the final game, however the fifth, which involves a Hiigaran assault on two Turanic Raider Carriers, cannot be found elsewhere. In addition to these single-player missions, Raider Retreat includes a tutorial mission, skirmish mode, and multiplayer. In commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Homeworld franchise, Relic released a free downloadable version of Raider Retreat in September of 2009, which is currently available from various sources.

From THQ to Gearbox

After THQ went bankrupt in 2012 they had to sell off all the IP's the publisher owned. The Homeworld franchise didn't find any buyer during the first auction, but Gearbox Software revealed on April 22nd 2013 that they bought the IP during a second auction.

It is currently unknown what Gearbox plan to do with the Homeworld franchise.

Homeworld's Legacy

Blackbird Interactive, a studio made up of key founders of ex-Relic Entertainment and creators the Homeworld universe, are currently working on Hardware: Shipbreakers, a multiplayer based real-time strategy game set on a desert wasteland planet littered with junked spaceship. In many ways the upcoming game can be considered a spiritual prequel to the Homeworld Universe.

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