GDC 2001: Empire Earth update

Stainless Steel Studios demonstrates its impressive RTS in a private conference at GDC.

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At GDC this afternoon, Sierra gave us a demo of three of the PC games that it will be publishing this year. Members of various development teams were on hand to demonstrate and speak about their respective products.

We were treated to a fairly lengthy demo of Stainless Steel Studios' Empire Earth, one of the three games in the company's booth. Encompassing epochs from the Paleolithic to the Imperial Age, the demo allowed us a glimpse of many of the game's systems. What stuck most in our minds were the calamities summoned forth by the game's prophet units. Acting as magic spells of sorts, these calamities have a wide range of effects--they're all quite destructive, however. The volcano calamity summons forth a small hill of sorts to appear from the ground, for example. Rock and magma will issue forth from its spout, damaging all units within a set perimeter. The hurricane is similar, though it only affects naval units. It really wreaked havoc on the ramshackle Paleolithic fishing boats it was set loose upon, sinking them within two seconds. What's interesting is that the hurricane can be controlled, to an extent, after it's let loose, making its use a bit more strategic than one would initially think.

Calamities don't all take the form of natural disasters, however. Also shown were the famine and plague--the former afflicts a units within a set area, instantly lowering their health to one; the latter, on the other hand, infects and damages only a single unit, but its effects are contagious. Meaning that if it makes its way back to its settlement, it could possibly infect the entire population.

The demo eventually shifted to a Bronze Age settlement. What ensued was the siege of a city, with two groups of armed infantrymen in the thick of combat being the core units. The attacking side had a set of siege weapons on its side, including a siege tower, a sort of ballista, and a catapult. The siege weapons succeeded in pelting the defending force, until its reinforcements arrived: the Alexander the Great hero unit. Upon arrival of the hero, the defending troops seemingly rallied, and began to systematically destroy the siege weapons.

After the resolution of the battle, we were showed some World War II-era aerial combat. This short phase of the demo featured some light fighters and bombers going at it in the skies over a lightly defended settlement. Apparently, the defending air force was able to deflect the bombers before they were able to release their payloads, but we were treated to some very nice scenes of aerial combat. According to the team member on hand, the planes' physical performances were 100 accurate to existing documented data, and their in-air antics were quite a pleasure to behold.

The last phase of the demo took place on a futuristic battlefield. While our requests to hear about that certain epoch's story were denied, Stainless Steel had a rare treat for us. After showing us the impressive mech models in fine detail, the team member present armed, and subsequently detonated a nuclear bomb. A sleek plane, of sorts, is what actually delivers the strike, and according to the developer present, it's fairly easy to destroy, if the defending settlement is decently fortified. The base in question wasn't, however, and the effects of the blast were devastating. Two fairly-sized battalions of mechs and infantrymen that were stationed rather close together were utterly demolished by the blinding explosion. Not a trace of them was visible even after the impressively rendered mushroom cloud vanished. The team member present reiterated that it would be indeed difficult to pull off a blast, given the relative weakness of the delivery craft.

We managed to shoot some gameplay footage of Empire Earth during our audience with Stainless Steel, which we'll be posting shortly. GameSpot will have more news on this anticipated game as it develops.

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