Article by Mike 'Supreme' Boughton
Strategy First has had O.R.B. (Off-world Resource Base) in development for a very long time now. Over time, real-time strategy enthusiasts and many magazines have been anticipating it more and more. Thankfully, the folks at Strategy First have graciously provided us with an early beta version of the game so you, the people, can see what all the fuss is about.
The game is a space-oriented real-time strategy title, reminiscent to that of Homeworld. It is set in a universe where in the past, many great powers have tried to decimate each other for many years, eventually bringing each other to near-total destruction. In the Aldus solar system, two races—the Malus and the Alyssians—have survived the ruination, and have once again become very technologically advanced. Now they’ve discovered each other, and are fighting one another for the control of precious resources throughout the Aldus solar system, thus beginning a new war.
Simply put, this game is already a beauty, even in the early beta version I tested. In some aspects it looked very similar to Homeworld (how can’t it?), but the majority of it was a unique beauty to behold. The spaceships had complex sharp textures, as well as shining glass, lights, and nicely detailed exhaust flowing from the back-end of the ship. While the ships did look very good intact, it was also nice to see them explode. Explosions were beautifully animated and exquisitely rendered, only rivaled by that of, you guessed it, Homeworld. And of course the game isn’t finished yet, so if anything graphics-wise is going to change, it’ll definitely change for the better.
One thing many people familiar with space-oriented titles will quickly notice is how the planets in the background are rendered. No longer do they look like flat paintings on a wall. The developers at Strategy First actually rendered them in true 3-D, each with their own detailed textures and a high polygon count. This really became apparent during the first tutorial mission. In the background, there was a fully 3-D planet circled by a meteorite- and dust-filled ring, much like that of the planet Saturn in our own solar system. While the planet and much of its ring were part of the background, the actual playing field was set in the closest one-third of the planet’s ring. This created a truly astounding sense of depth and realism.
Sound and Music:
Much of what you’d expect from a space-oriented game was present in the version I played. Explosions and gunshots; more explosions, more gunshots. There weren’t any unit acknowledgements yet, so hopefully these will be put in the game later.
The music is the same surreal and peaceful type of orchestra music akin to Homeworld. This is certainly an obvious fit since space is surreal and peaceful itself.
Present in the version Strategy First sent us were three tutorial missions and one “short combat mission test”, a short single-player combat mission. In the single-player mission, I was informed that a logistics squadron had mysteriously gone missing, and I was required to proceed to the rally point to investigate. Once there, I had to scan an area of debris to make sure it was the destroyed logistics squadron. Suddenly, an incoming enemy spacecraft was heading my way and the battle ensued.
Battling was pretty much the same as most RTS games. You set your group into the correct formation for optimal battle efficiency, then once you select the target to be destroyed you sit back and watch the fireworks. In the beta there were only the very basic fighters available for play, so we don’t know much about other fighter units yet. Resource management was also missing in the beta I played, although it’s seems like it will likely be present when the game is finished. Also missing were unit creation and the ship that creates the units, so not much is known apart from the basic fighters.
Controlling a 360-degree RTS game that isn't based on a 2-D plane is much more complex compared to traditional RTS titles. And to help manage this new level of complexity is a simple, yet powerful control scheme. To use your units, you simply select the unit(s), hold the control key (to turn on a grid), and then click on the space to move to or the enemy to attack. There is also a top-down full map mode, which you can also control your units from in case you need to move a vast distance. These basic controls were the bulk of it all, so I’d be willing to bet anyone will be able to pick up this game and master it quickly.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer modes were not intact in the beta version. However, it is going to be available later in development. Strategy First plans on releasing a multiplayer beta test, and already has an application form posted on the game’s website. Current plans indicate the multiplayer mode will feature up to eight-player co-op and head to head modes.
This is looking to be a fairly exciting year for RTS fans. O.R.B. is making more splashes in the water the closer it comes to release. Do not pass this one by, as it looks like it will surely end up as one of the many great RTS games this year. Expect it to hit store shelves in late August 2002.