Away from the bustle of a show floor mostly occupied by hardware and middleware companies, Sierra and Vivendi Universal showed off a number of their 2003 titles at this year's Game Developers Conference, including the long-awaited sequel to Homeworld. This was the first time we've had a chance to see the game running, and although Relic's Dan Irish insisted that the aim of the project was to be "evolutionary, not revolutionary," we came away quite impressed. Homeworld 2 seems to enhance the original game in a number of ways, not only increasing the graphical detail, but also refining the interface and adding new facets to the strategy and tactical gameplay.
Homeworld was a critical darling, but it didn't sell remarkably well, something that's commonly explained by the fact that it was one of the first games to require hardware 3D acceleration and the fact that it featured a challenging interface for handling the 3D camera. PC hardware has evolved tremendously since 1999, so Relic has been able to increase texture detail eightfold, add compelling effects like dynamic lighting, and promise more eye candy than ever for the weapon effects. A few steps have been taken to make the interface more accessible, and players will now be able to pan the camera around the map, as is common in RTS games. Also, while ship movement along the Y-axis has been streamlined to require just a few mouse clicks, it's also now possible to effectively move through 3D space simply by navigating between landmarks. Instead of having to exercise some judgment and dexterity just to move to a resource patch located above or below the horizontal plane, you'll essentially be able to issue a "go there" command.
The original game's tech tree was extremely linear, and big capital ships really were much better, though they were expensive and vulnerable when unescorted. To make for more strategic decision making, Homeworld 2 will have a tiered tech tree with more branches, and motherships can be upgraded in specialized ways to provide an advantage in, say, research or production. Another fundamental change is to make it possible to group ships in a task force so they intelligently interact with others in the same unit--so, for example, fighters will protect capital ships and the whole group will move as a unit. On a more tactical level, ships now have subsystems that can be destroyed, so a small concentrated force can do some damage against a big ship, disabling weapons, engines, or other components. Finally, Relic has come up with a few types of space terrain, like gas clouds that can provide stealthy cover but become dangerous when charged with ion beam fire.
Relic seems to have put quite a bit of thought into how to make Homeworld 2 an even more polished and compelling game than its predecessor. We'll have more on the game soon, but in the meantime, take a look at these new screenshots.