Digital Anvil Shows Its Mettle

SEATTLE - The company that Chris Roberts built opens the doors to what it's been working on.

SEATTLE - Digital Anvil, the brainchild of several Origin refugees, broke its long silence at Gamestock this week, revealing a handful of innovative games. The biggest surprise was the announcement of Chris Roberts' new game, Freelancer (see accompanying story). But Digital Anvil's offerings were just as impressive.

Conquest: Frontier Wars Like Homeworld, Conquest is a gorgeous 3D space strategy game. But Conquest puts the emphasis on strategic and deliberate warfare. Whereas the action in Homeworld seems to pit a more eclectic mix of ships against each other in frenzied combat, Conquest focuses on great battles between capital ships. Some carriers can launch wings of autonomous fighters, but the emphasis is on massive ships and their special abilities. Each of the four unique races will each have its own complement of ships and special powers.

The most innovative feature of this game is that battles occur between different sectors. Within each star system players can jump to four different sectors via warp gates. Now, instead of battling in one map, players must jump across multiple maps repeatedly, as well watch out for surprise jump attacks from other sectors. Digital Anvil promises that " admirals" powered by advanced artificial intelligence will control troops when they are not under your players' direct command. With its multiple sector movement and more strategic combat, Conquest looks as though it is seriously trying to up the ante in the real-time strategy genre.

StarlancerSomewhat of a prequel to Chris Roberts' Freelancer, Privateer II designer Erin Roberts' Starlancer is a more traditional space combat simulation. The game tells of a war in which the world's nations battle for control of Earth and Mars. The war itself eventually leads to the fractured world in which Freelancer is set.

Starlancer's most notable trait is its amazing visual effects, which is perhaps not so surprising, considering that amazing graphics are now a staple in the genre. Players can actually move about the carrier, exploring their rooms and other areas of the huge ship. A wide variety of ships and weapons, and the ability to play the game cooperatively over LAN or Internet, round out this promising deep-space dogfighter.

Loose CannonThe brainchild of Tony Zurovec, creator of the Crusader games, Loose Cannon takes place in a world gone wild. The cities of the future are under police control, but the fractured federal government can't keep the outlying areas safe. People with cars and weapons are in high demand, and they can make a solid profit running goods between cities.

In many respects, Loose Cannon is an update of Origin's ancient Autoduel. As in Autoduel, players must drive long distances between cities as they pick up jobs, salvage wrecks, deliver goods, and keep themselves alive. Also like Autoduel, Loose Cannon lets players get out of the car. But this time players are armed. They'll have to complete many missions on foot, with a wide variety of weapons (as well as both first- and third-person views) to assist them.

The game will be broken into three segments, each consisting of three cities. A linear narrative will move players from one group of cities to the next. The game is not tightly structured, though, and players can pick up a wide assortment of jobs between the "necessary" gigs.

Conquest: Frontier Wars and Starlancer are expected in late 1999. Loose Cannon is expected in early 2000.

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