Empire Earth Impressions

We played Stainless Steel Studios' upcoming real-time strategy game.

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Late last night, Sierra Studios and Stainless Steel Studios held a press event in downtown San Francisco to showcase the upcoming real-time strategy game Empire Earth. Even though GameSpot was briefed on the game early, we did learn some new details about the game not covered in our preview.

Easily the most impressive part of the game is its graphics engine. What the screenshots in our gallery won't show you is that Empire Earth will give players the ability to scale all the way down to the unit level, in essence changing the perspective from an isometric view to a third-person view. You can opt to lock the camera behind any of the units, be they infantry or flying vehicles, and follow them around as they execute your orders. According to lead designer Rick Goodman, this feature is being included in the game to give players a chance to get personal with their units during the various campaigns. Only a few other real-time strategy games have offered that feature before, and while it's not a necessity, Goodman feels that giving players this option will further enhance the game's single-player experience. During multiplayer skirmishes, however, you won't be able to use the engine's ability to zoom in to such microscopic levels, as the camera will be locked to a standard isometric perspective. You will be given the ability to use the mousewheel to zoom in and out, but not to the same degree that you can in the single-player mode.

Other visually impressive aspects of Empire Earth were the calamities and superweapons in the game. As mentioned in yesterday's preview, calamities can be cast by any player who uses a prophet unit. Goodman demonstrated the ease with which these disasters can be wrought by casting four different calamities at once: the volcano, the typhoon, the plague, and the disease. Each calamity only lasts for a limited amount of time, but it has a devastating effect on surrounding cities and nearby units. The typhoon, for example, rapidly sank any ships that strayed too close to its dark clouds and menacing waterspout. The volcano sent flaming boulders crashing into towns below, setting huts and buildings on fire. All of these disaster effects were visually amazing, as all of them were rendered in full 3D and animated beautifully. To truly show off the power of the Empire Earth engine, Goodman loaded up a game during a later epoch, built a B-29 Superfortress, and flew it out over a nearby village. Its bay doors opened, and it dropped a single bomb that fell slowly for a few seconds before exploding in a brilliant flash that consumed the entire screen. A gigantic mushroom cloud was revealed after the flash subsided, twisting upward and inward.

Rick Goodman spent about an hour discussing the overview of the game, and he demonstrated a handful of the different epochs - as well as the robust scenario editor - to a crowd of about 30 journalists. According to Goodman, the game is 75 percent complete and should be ready to ship by the middle of next year. For more on Empire Earth, including nearly 20 new screenshots, be sure to visit the gamespace by following the link in the upper right-hand corner. We'll have more on Empire Earth as its release date approaches.

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