Sigma - First Impressions

Alex Garden and Relic showed off their next project, and it isn't Homeworld 2. It is, however, a 3D real-time strategy game. The unique feature, though, is that there are no set units; you build your own by combining real-world animals.

When Relic signed a deal to develop its next game for Microsoft, speculation was that Sierra had lost the Homeworld license. However, that wasn't the case, as Relic stated that indeed, Sierra still had Homeworld and that Microsoft was gaining a new product altogether. So what is this secret project that Garden and company have been working on for over a year for Microsoft? The lid of secrecy has been opened and the game is one called Sigma. The name isn't too descriptive, but after seeing a half hour demo of the game, GameSpot has a good idea of just what this game will be.

Sigma is a real-time strategy game. Garden is quick to point out that it is not a god game and is not like Black and White, especially because current screenshots depict lots of animals. The zoomed in shots especially call to mind Black and White's animal titans. However, Relic is adamant in stating that the game in development is a real-time strategy game. However, animals are very much the focus of the game. Sigma is set in the 1930s, and you are an Indiana Jones type of character who is a World War I veteran and a celebrity. He charters a plane and is on his way to rescue a well-known biologist, but en route, his pilot mugs him and dumps him on the shore of a secret island. Apparently, the pilot and the missing biologist he is searching for have been subverted and are under the control of the villain of the game, who has used the biologist to create a new technology called Sigma that can combine the genes of animals to create horrid abominations.

During the course of the game, you'll have to use and master this new technology to create animal hybrids of your own to do battle with the evil doctor's creations. You'll send teams of rangers out into the various terrain of the island to find all sorts of natural animals, like wolves, hyenas, coyotes, gorillas, giraffes, tigers, rhinos, and more. Although we only saw individual rangers running on foot to attract the attentions of animals and then lure them to a base, Garden says in the final game, you'll hop into jeeps and fly in helicopters to chase animals and tranquilize them. You'll then drag them or fly them back in nets to your headquarters. Garden says that the team is trying to recreate that scene in the Jurassic Park: Lost World movie when the team of hunters was rounding up the herd of dinosaurs. In many respects, capturing new animals will feel and play like that. There will also be villagers native to the island that you will enlist for help in capturing the island's fauna.

The game will come with no preset units, so you'll have to create your own. Once you capture animals, you'll have the basic genetic material to work build an army. You can then start combining animals to create super beasts. You could, for instance, combine a gorilla and a cheetah to gain the strength of the former and the speed of the latter. If you wanted a super unit, you could combine the sheer size and strength of a blue whale, with the land mobility of a tiger, and throw in a bat's wings to create the ultimate gargantuan, flying beast. However, to counter that super unit, you could create piranha bats that would eviscerate that massive gorilla-whale-bat beast in seconds. Relic wants to adhere to the unit balancing and combined arms strategy of Homeworld, so your large units will need to be escorted by smaller units.

To balance the game, the designers might limit the quantity of certain animals in the region or introduce the idea of a reactive ecosystem. If you start harvesting too many lions, for example, you might decimate the population. Eventually, there would thus be no more lions left to capture. It will be interesting to see if Relic goes further with this conservationist theme in the game, so that exploiting the island really does reap terrible consequences.

Garden says that the story and basic structure of the game are done, but that a lot of work still has to be done to refine and define the end product. The concept is not unlike Bullfrog's ill-fated Gene Wars, another strategy game where you had to combine different creatures to create units, but in this case, all the units will be based on real-world animals. We'll still need to wait and hear from Relic how the infrastructure, resource management, and building in the game will work.

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