Scoops don't get much bigger than this. Having sent our Bothans on an infiltration mission into LucasArts' virtually impregnable fortress, we've managed to get our hands on the world's first concrete details on Star Wars: Empire At War. This is an RTS still so early in development, so carefully guarded that the title you see boldly emblazoned across the top of this page and on the front cover is still unconfirmed at the time of going to press.
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And as if that wasn't exciting enough, we've also discovered that the game is being designed by the newly formed development house Petroglyph, a team forged from some of the game industry's most talented individuals, including several former Westwood employees who worked on many of the Command & Conquer titles. Add to this the guidance of LucasArts and the titanic war-based possibilities provided by the Star Wars universe, and you've got the recipe for what may be an RTS so planet-shattenng that it could make the Death Star look like a water pistol.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. at least not until we've discovered and deliberated over the details, ogled at the screenshots and endlessly discussed the possibilities of what s in store. As part of theirmission, our Bothans (most of whom died while trying to deliver this info to us) managed to hunt down and interrogate Brett Tosti, LucasArts' producer onEmpire At War. who revealed numerous tantalising morsels of information for you to chew over.
Can You Feel The Force?
Empire At War will be set during the classic Star Wars period, predominantly centnng around the events of Episode IV: A New Hope, though there will be a certain amount of crossover from Episode III. 'The game begins two years before A New Hope. states Brett. 'We ll be trying to weave stories around the characters and events from that film, so you'll see how certain heroes came to be where they are or how one planet came to be under one side's control. You can also expect to see Acclamator-class assault ships - as seen in Episode II -fly alongside Imperial Star Destroyers from classic Sfar Wars.'
Star Destroyers? Acclamator assault ship?That can only mean one thing. Space and planet-based missions bundled together in one strategic package. In fact, a quick scan (go on have a look..) over these pages confirms that the game is promising to be the first ever strategy game to meld the epic 3D space-based battles of Homeworld with more traditional ground-based RTS missions. This is something which, if done right, could just propel Petroglyph s project into a new real-time strategy game dimension.
But how will Empire At War manage to stand out from an already hugely competitive RTS field? It combines the gameplay of modern RTS games with the rich Star Wars universe, but it's crafted in such a way as to introduce innovation and remove some of the repetition and tedious aspects that have crept into the genre,' says Brett.
It doesn't have linear missions like most traditional RTS games. Instead, it has a persistent real-time world in which you're trying to conquer planets and essentially take over the entire Star Wars galaxy, whether you're playing as the Empire or the Rebellion,' he continues. 'There are two sections to the game -troop-moving/planning and combat- but unlike, say, Rome: Total War, which uses a different engine for each section, we re using the same engine for both to make sure they feel connected. The engine automatically adapts to suit each gaming mode.' Sounds a little like a realtime Civilization campaign interspersed with 3D real-time battles to us. 'Exactly. Once you've moved your ships into position and decided to fight, the engine moves into Combat Mode until the battle is resolved,' confirms Brett.
So how about the space combat sections, what can we expect from those? Space combat is an integral part of projecting force across the galaxy and as a preparation for land invasion, reveals Brett. Space battles have a unique character to them. They're about massive capital ships manoeuvring to bring turbo lasers to bear as they blow each other up, one piece at a time. All the while, the more nimble fighters and corvettes dogfight in their own dance of death in a quest to get a clear shot at unleashing proton torpedo attacks on the larger ships.
Judging by these early in-game screenshots, space battles are looking like being epic affairs, intergalacticslugfests between titanic destroyers complemented by dozens of buzzing, smaller fighters. But as Brett explains, these levels should avoid the often-daunting complexity of Homeworld's fully freeform space skirmishes.
'We have our units on planes. It's a 3D world, but in terms of the camera angle, space battles won't feel too dissimilar to the ground battles. We don't want you spinning around on both axis and getting lost in the 3D world.'
However, one way in which these space-based battles will compare closely to Homeworld's is through the extensive strategies made available to you. These include tactics like concealing your ships in asteroid fields while you lie in wait for the unsuspecting enemy to float by, or the ability to target specific parts of enemy capital ships such their engines, in order to severely hinder their manoeuvrability.Now, I bet that by now you're shuffling uncomfortably in your seat, palms clammy, teeth grinding as you wonder what missions from the films you'll be able to sink your now worn-down molars into. I'm right aren't I? Well, let's tackle that question right now.
Once again, the portents are good. Very good. Battles from the movies that will be in the game include the battle on Hoth and the Battle of Yavin, comes Brett's reassuring reply. In addition, there'll be battles that represent hypothetical or implied battles from the context of the movies. The exact format of these will depend on the context of the galaxy as dictated by your actions. What if Dantooine was still defended by the Rebels when the Empire arrived? What if a large contingent of Rebel ships were present at Yavin? What about the Empire invasion of Yavin IV after the Death Star was destroyed? These and other scenarios are available as tactical battles that you can participate in.
Right, let's move on to the ground-based missions, which sound like they could be every bit as enthralling as their frenetic interstellar counterparts.Once again, these missions are being designed to be heavily reliant on your ability to effectively utilise realistic battle tactics. 'There are countless tactics available such as invading with a small force on a well-defended planet with the intent of not achieving victory, but rather to destroy certain outlying special structures for great effect on the strategic game. Alternatively, you could use scouts to reveal the enemy in order to enable long-range artillery to attack from a relatively safe distance. Or you may want to call in invasion transports at a key moment in order to get maximum tactical advantage, says Brett.
Very, Very Tasty
It all sounds more mouth-moistening than a platter of skewered barbecued meat - or a plate of cabbage garnished with sprouts and turnips (I'm guessing) if you're one of those veggie types - especially the ability to launch hit-and-run attacks on enemy strongholds in order to disable key installations. The possibilities here are endless. Just imagine if you could cunningly infiltrate the enemy's defences and blow up ground-based space cannons or shield generators so your fleet could pass through a sector more safely, or have more of a chance when attacking a collection of Star Destroyers, or even the Death Star itself?
Star Wars Empire At War Free
Of course, this kind of set-up, whereby space and ground battles dynamically complement each other rather than existing as separate entities, also means that you'll sometimes find yourself on the defensive, a situation that will once again come with its own unique strategic options. These, we've been promised, will include the ability to fall back to different levels of your base and harness combined arms and terrain advantage.
These battles will be significant in their own way, and it's likely there'll be assaults similar to the battle on Hoth - where you must make a hasty retreat to fight another day in the face of a superior invasion,' claims Brett. 'Retreating would be the exception though, since a skilled player can achieve victory even against a superior force if clever tactics are employed.'
On The Defensive
But let's face it, retreat is for lily-livered wimps and mewling cry-babies, so thankfully, there'll be plenty of ways to try and avoid it. Brett suggests a number of ways off the cuff.The defender could flank the attacker in order to attack the invaders by surprise from the sides or rear, or they could race out to defeat the initial invasion force before the bulk of the invader's forces can land. In addition, there are varieties of tactics that are dictated by the kinds of forces in play and the terrain being fought over.'
One thing that both Petroglyph and LucasArts are very aware of is that they aren't just aiming to make a great strategy game, but also one that fully reflects the world and technology of the Star Wars universe. It's something that Brett believes Empire At War will do full justice to. Much of the technical flavour of Star Wars is present,' he says. Thisincludes speeders being able to entangle AT-AT's legs occasionally, as well as shields that block certain kinds of weapons, repulsortift vehicles that can travel over water and even planetary-based ion cannons that cause no end of hassle for an enemy blockading fleet.'
So just how excited (or indifferent) should you be getting? Well, while Star Wars: Empire At War may still be in the very early phases of development, if what Brett claims is true and the game really does combine space and ground-based missions in a freeform, dynamic campaign while fully utilising real tactics and truly harnessing the Star Wars universe, then it could just prove to be one of the pivotal moments in the evolution of the RTS. One that could banish the memory of Force Commander to a dark, dark r, far away. Petroglyph, may the Force be with you.
Feel The Force Online
Usually at this stage, a developer is either unwilling or unable to talk about its game's multiplayer options. In this case though, we have an exception. There'll be multiplayer head-to-head campaigns, as well as free-for-all skirmish battles in the tradition of RTS gameplay, promises LucasArts' producer, Brett Tosti. You'll also be able to rank yourself against other players on a global ladder.
It might not be much information to be going on with, but it's a start. Let's just hope that the global ladder will enable you to find and play against other people of your own ability, rather than having to put up with consistently being trounced by slack-tongued spods who've quit their jobs and disowned their families in order to concentrate on becoming the best commander in the galaxy. Here's hoping..
Aspyr Media has released a playable demo for Star Wars: Empire at War, allowing you to try out the Mac version of this RTS game which has begun shipping to retail stores in North America earlier this week.
Star Wars Empire At War Mods
Note: This demo will only work on Intel-based Macs and will not work on PowerPC machines.
Get your hands on this action-packed, single-player demo of Star Wars: Empire at War and take charge of an epic struggle to control the galaxy. You can start by playing the optional, interactive tutorial to learn important game concepts that will guide you to victory.
Or skip the tutorial and jump right into the action! As the commander of the Rebel forces on Hoth, you'll battle for control of the Outer Rim in the Vergesso Asteroids and attempt to liberate Tatooine from the grip of the Empire. Han Solo and Chewbacca, with the Millennium Falcon, are ready to lead your space fleet and invasion forces as you go up against Tie Fighters, Star Destroyers and their arch rival Boba Fett. May the force be with you!
Star Wars Empire At War Full Game
• Operating System: Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later• CPU Processor: Intel Chipset• CPU Speed: 1.83 GHz• Memory: 512 MB or higher• Video Card (ATI): Radeon X1600• Video Card (NVidia): Geforce 7300• Video Chipset (Intel): GMA 950• Video Memory (VRam)