Available: Late August 2002

Screenshots 21-28 are Exclusive to this interview.

Strategy First, publisher of award-winning strategy games such as Kohan and Disciples, is close to releasing O.R.B., a 3D real-time strategy game that involves the struggles of two races among a dense star system. While many people may be comparing O.R.B. to Homeworld, there are many differences, and Paul "Zorlok" Gadbois, associate producer of O.R.B., was kind enough to talk about some of the in-depth features of O.R.B.

I know you are at a very busy time, so I will only try to ask specific questions about the game. First, tell me about the strategic depth of the game. For example, can two units combine to make a "Super Unit"?

Paul Gadbois: ORB offers many options as far as strategy is concerned. The environment plays a major role in strategy. The asteroids move around in the system, the player can hide ships on them to avoid enemy patrols, he can dig inside them to create covert bases and surprise attack the enemy and so on; As for units, we have Cloaking, Hyper Jump, Shadow, Attack to Disable, Ram, Kamikaze, Missiles, Torpedoes, Solar Shields, Guard, and more; There are 2 playable races each with their own specific technologies and models. There are approximately 50+ techs to research per race and 20+ types of different units per playable races.

How will the learning curve be? Will the interface be familiar for people who have played 3-D space RTS games like Homeworld and Project Earth-Starmaggedon?

Paul Gadbois: The controls are easy and very efficient. Even someone who has never played a 3D RTS before should have no problem what so ever getting used to ORB. Right Click and you have camera control, left click to band select, hold 1 key and left click to give orders. ORB is case sensitive, meaning that in most cases ORB will know what you want to do and will assign the proper action to your unit without going through a menu system. There are some advanced actions that you can perform through an easy drop down menu.

There's a wide variety of tools available in ORB for those that are "new" to the genre and even some for more advanced players. For those who are having problems keeping track of every unit on the map, there's the VERBOSE mode that places an ICON on every object of importance in the game. There's the standard grouping tool that allows you to map groups of units to a number on your keypad. There's the 2D Map, a replica of the 3D world on a single plane, there's the Squad Manager tool, which allows the player to select units from categories or groups previously created. The Command & Control Interface is also an excellent tool to use, just band select a bunch of units and mouse over the "Currently Selected" list and those units will be highlighted in the world for an easy find. The Minimap displays the 2D representation of the game while in 3D and vice-versa.
There's definitely a tool bound to fit the player's needs and style of play.

I read about how a player is able to "steal" other races' technology. Delve a bit more on that.

Paul Gadbois: There are two ways a player can acquire foreign technology. The 1st being through the Spy System: This one is more of an abstract feature, what you do is you remove available Manpower in your pool and assign them to Spying. Depending on the amount of spies you send, your chances increase and you might get to know where the other player is at technology wise, you might get a shot at sabotage : and of course the toughest one "Steal Technology". All this happens through the use of messages.

The other way to steal technology is by using the Shock Troops Special Units. Through the combination of "Attack to disable" and the troops you may acquire enemy ships on the field. You first need to disable a ship, then send a Trooper to the disabled unit and hope that the troop will manage to breach the hull and take over that unit. Once this is successful, the player only gains the moving abilities of that unit, he must repair the unit before using guns or any special features it as. Another option is to dismantle the unit and hope that the scientist will understand the foreign tech and apply it to his own ships.

Customization of units has been becoming a popular trend in RTS (other genres also) games. Will O.R.B. include this, and if so, could you tell me the details?

Paul Gadbois: Actually, in the game itself, you can only customize the ship logos in multiplayer. If you're into mods this is where it gets very interesting, anyone with a little talent can change mostly everything visual in the game: from ship models, textures, asteroids, planets, nebulas, music, sound effects, stats, tech trees and so on. We will provide all the tools necessary to apply these changes through download after ORB releases.

How will the two single-player campaigns "go together?" Will it be a continuous campaign, totally different campaign, and or a campaign from each perspective?

Paul Gadbois: The Malus race was created a long time ago by the Aldar. The Aldar governed the Malus for thousands of years and disappeared over time leaving behind the Taurimen Books. These writings talk about the Aldar Empire, their success and their defeat. It is said that another race, defined by their logo, allied with other Gods and led to the destruction of the Aldar.

The Malus campaign setting starts when an unidentified satellite crashes on Malus. After some research, they discover that the satellite is marked with this "Logo (The Alyssians)" described in the Taurimen writings. Panic immediately erupts knowing that the race responsible for the Aldar destruction is coming to destroy them?

From here the campaigns starts off with the Malus leading into the Alyssian campaign.
These are 2 completely different campaigns although the Malus one, in time, happens before the Alyssians. To fully understand the main plot or story, the player needs to play the Malus first followed by the Alyssian campaign.

What type of soundtrack will O.R.B. have? Who will it be produced by?

Paul Gadbois: In ORB, four main themes will be introduced in the game with variations to them. They are very Angelic, God-like themes all written by our amazing composer Philippe Charron. His past experience includes music for Disciples II, Kohan and he is currently also working on the soundtrack for Nexagon: The Pit.

How will the camera work? Will there be a bird's eye view from the ship or any other close-up perspective?

Paul Gadbois: The camera supports the standard 360 degrees from left to right and up and down. You can attach the camera to any single unit, formations, planets, asteroids and even enemy units as long as they're within sensor range. You can zoom in as close to a single unit or as far as the entire solar system. There are different camera modes such as Follow mode and Track mode. You can detach the camera at anytime and place it anywhere in the world to get a different view on things. The camera also allows you to go inside asteroid bases to watch units come in and out from them.

The resource management model seems innovative and different from other games, but how much emphasis is there on resource management as opposed to battling?

Paul Gadbois: As it stands there is only 1 type of resource in ORB and you can find that resource inside asteroids. The way the system works is that you need to build a Science Vessel and have that unit scan the asteroid belt until it finds asteroids holding resources. From there you can send a team to dig into it. So an actual mining installation is built on top of the asteroid where the digging takes place. Transport units carry the resources from the mining bases to the closest military base. Be it a Starbase, Covert base, or even a Carrier.
There's one more way to get more resources and that's by salvaging ship debris left in the world. You can recuperate a certain percentage of resources from those debris pieces.
You might find this system pretty straightforward but keep in mind that we didn't want ORB to become a micro managing resource game. There's plenty of stuff for the player to do in the game besides spending hours collecting resources.

I'd like to add also that resource collecting plays a major role in strategy since the asteroids are dynamic and move around the environment then they will most probably end up in enemy territories, the player will need to protect its resources and avoid being detected at all times.

Lastly, this game is always being compared to Homeworld. If you don't mind answering, tell me very briefly how this game will be as innovative as Homeworld for the year 2002.

Paul Gadbois: Our goal here at SFI was to create a different RTS utilizing strategies and tactics that had never been seen before in a computer game. The original concept for ORB was to create a 3D environment composed of 1 planet surrounded by several moons and an orbiting asteroid belt. There were roughly 10 units per race plus upgrades. Players would be evenly distributed among the moons and resources would be spread out in the asteroid belt.

Although the game concept as remained the same, a great many enhancements have been made since then. Here are some of the main points and changes. :

  • The small planetoid environment has grown to a full-blown solar system with a fully 3D orbiting asteroid belt, containing huge asteroids that can house secret bases.
  • There are now 20+ unique units per race (well over 50+ in the game); from tiny marines that can board and capture disabled enemy fighters, to huge carriers that get built in giant ship yards. Every unit has its own look and abilities.
  • Players can build mining infrastructures on the surface of resource rich asteroids. Once the resources depleted, these installations can be upgraded to covert military installations where units can be hidden, built and refitted.
  • Many units can house smaller ones.
  • All units can power down to mask their energy signatures in the asteroid belt.
  • Ancient portals open the door to explore other systems.
  • Many units blow up in chunks, some of which remain persistent and can be used for strategic purposes such as hiding.
  • New technologies were added: Cloaking, hyperspace, jump gates, energy shields, beam weapons, energy weapons, mines, missiles and torpedoes.
  • 3D Waypoints, user defined rally points, patrol routes, all user-definable through an easy top down 2D interface or a full-blown 3D interface.
  • Support for orbiting debris fields and minefields within an asteroid belt.
  • Support for static environments such as minefields, debris fields and asteroid fields.
  • Saving/Loading at any point in time.
  • Replay the game as an interactive movie.
  • Squad screens, Fleet screens allow an easy way to quickly select ships.
  • Customizable Squad Logos that appear on ships.
  • 8+ player cooperative MP via LAN, TCP/IP, or 3rd party service.
  • Very powerful campaign editor capable of scripting in-game cut scenes including custom music (.mp3) and sound effects (.wav).
  • Randomize existing scenario maps or create new ones from scratch.
  • Modable. Downloadable tools to import/modify almost everything visible in the game.

Paul "Zorlok" Gadbois

O.R.B. Associate Producer