ECTS: Z2

We look at the Bitmap Brothers' much-delayed real-time strategy game.

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Less than two weeks ago, Bitmap Brothers announced that it had secured a new publisher, EON Digital, for Z2 - just in time to show the game at ECTS. Z2 brings back the territory-based real-time strategy gameplay that distinguished the original game, but adds a modern 3D graphics engine for more visual flare.

Z2's game focus is very different from that of other real-time strategy games. Instead of making you gather resources with which to buy your troops, or doing away with resources altogether in favor of purely tactical combat, Z2 divides each map into territories that you claim control of by capturing a central flag. In strategic terms, this territory system promotes conflict along front lines, as each side probes the others and exploits weak defenses. Each territory gives a steady resource stream to the owner, depending on the size of the territory. Only your infantry robots can lay claim to these sites, because they have hands to do the actual capturing of the flag - but your forces will also be made up of a wide variety of armor, air, and naval units. To give you ample cause to test out naval tactics, the campaign will feature a series of missions in an island archipelago.

While the graphics in the original Z weren't noteworthy, the developers at Bitmap Brothers have worked hard to build an attractive 3D engine for Z2. The landscapes are clean and clear to the horizon, thanks to a level-of-detail system that avoids the need for fogging or placing other limitations on the 3D camera. The unit graphics, especially for the air and armor units, are quite detailed. Tanks feature independent turrets and their sloping curves aren't blocky as in other recent sci-fi real-time strategy games. The landscapes are also dotted with strange alien life, from pterodactyls to strange herd beasts depending on the world.

Having been in development for five years, Z2 was subject to several major delays and changes of publishers three times this year alone, as it went from GT Interactive to Infogrames and then to EON Digital. But things appear to be coming together now, and Bitmap Brothers expects that Z2 will be feature-complete this October. The game is scheduled for release next spring.

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