Why Gearbox’s resurrection of Homeworld is more than just a nostalgic return to the past

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Homeworld remastered

Homeworld remastered is coming. After being rescued from the ashes of THQ by Gearbox, Homeworld 1 and 2 have been more than just touched up – they will be released at the end of the month and promise to lure in a whole new generation of gamers. I got to ask Brian Martel, Gearbox’s chief creative officer, a bevy of questions, finding out all the reasons why anyone should still care about the original space RTS.

First up was the question of why Gearbox chose to rescue the IP from THQ. As Martel explains, he felt that it would be “a travesty in the pantheon of gaming” to see Homeworld gather dust and go unused. Part blessing, part curse, he knew that nostalgia tinged our view of games, elevating them to a higher quality. His goal with the remaster was to make a version that would match your mind’s eye, making the game that you actually remember playing. He was worried that if anyone else picked it up, it would just be pure re-release of the original and would alienate new players who’d see it as yet another old game; by sprucing it up, it could look awesome and appeal to new players.

However, it wasn’t just a fresh coat of paint. Martel explained that Homeworld 1 came out before our modern rendering and shading technology:

Homeworld 2 came out at the beginning of modern rendering technology. We had to combine the two games, using Homeworld 2’s engine – heavily modified, of course – and the result is absolutely stunning and up to date.

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Of course, he makes it sound easier than it was. Every ship from Homeworld 1 had to be rebuilt and retextured, as well as updating the textures for Homeworld 2. But that wasn’t the only logistical nightmare – even the original audio and video were on CD and heavily compressed. Luckily, the award winning soundtrack was recovered in the best possible way – Paul Ruskay still had the original recordings at full quality. Yes, the remastered version will let you hear the soundtrack how it was meant to be heard. As for the original cut scenes, they were kept true to their original feel, but repainted at 4K for those who are able to view it at such high resolutions.

Beyond that, the team added a ton of “tiny” improvements, including an update to the UI. While the rendering was the biggest job, it’s important to note that they actually wrote all new netcode for the game. It was necessary considering that multiplayer for the two titles were merged. Of course I had to ask how they managed that.

We don’t want to split the user base. We were already combining the engines, so had to make all the factions in both games and all maps work. It made sense to do them at the same time. We made sure it all balanced together, but it will still be in Beta to pound on it in a way that you’re unable to today. In a few hours, players will exceed the games that we can do in-house with our testers. The quirks will be revealed for fixing and balancing.

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Yes, they are relying on the community to help bring the game forward. This will be a key thing in a range of ways – they will follow a similar approach to Borderlands, listening to the community and charting the future of Homeworld together. This includes mod support, which will be coming depending on reception. However, there’s more to this – everything is built around the future of the franchise.

I asked about the common feature in other remasters – the ability to toggle back and forth between the old and new looking game. However, Martel explained that this was actually a limiting feature. By requiring the developers to make the whole game work at both settings (when in reality most people would toggle back and forth once or twice and never again), it limited the ideas and reach of future content as players would alway be looking to the past.

Of course, it is that past that made Homeworld so popular. In a post-StarCraft 2 world, I wondered how it was still relevant. Martel believes that it’s still an exception RTS with a fleet of amazing space ships doing incredible things and letting players ascend to that commander level.

There is nothing else like it and there really hasn’t been a good attempt at it in all that time. While it was unique and different then, it has a wonderful heart that people are still attracted to. Players will be able to see it as a novel alternative – similar to all the indies that we’ve been seeing lately.

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Yes, it will be embracing the past in that regard with an old-school approach to difficulty, something that’s become more popular again. Unlike other games that hold players’ hands, Homeworld Remastered will make you work for it, and feel more accomplished for doing so.

Of course I had to ask about Homeworld: Shipbreakers. Martel couldn’t say much, but did hint that there were a couple of scenes between Homeworld 1 and 2 where you can see where the guidestones came from, what led all the civilizations to rally together. He says there are a few shots where you can see vehicles in the desert, and that’s what Shipbreakers is – taking the past up to the present. Of course, it makes sense that they’re releasing the Remaster now – what better way to get a new generation of gamers excited for Shipbreakers. I suppose symbolically, they’re also bringing the past up to the present within their community before they do it within the franchise.

Last Updated: February 4, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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