Sunday, 25 January 2015

HOMEWORLD REMASTERED launches on 25 February

Gearbox have finally announced the release date for Homeworld Remastered, their updated version of the classic space strategy games Homeworld and Homeworld 2.

Originally released by Relic Entertainment in 1999, Homeworld was lauded for its highly atmospheric soundtrack, cool visuals, the first fully successful depiction of 3D space in a strategy game and its compelling storyline. Its sequel, Homeworld 2, was released in 2003 and added some vastly more advanced graphics and a more comprehensive user interface. Released between the two was Homeworld: Cataclysm, a stand-alone expansion which is sometimes regarded, in at least gameplay terms, as the high point of the series.

Unfortunately, Cataclysm is not included in this release due the source files being missing and the rights to the game being in question.

Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were made by Relic Entertainment, by a team led by Rob Cunningham. Cunningham left Relic in 2007 to set up his own studio, Blackbird Interactive. He was joined by many veterans of the two Homeworld games. Blackbird have been assisting Gearbox in their remastering of the two games, by tracking source files and original audio and graphical assets. More excitingly, Blackbird are also working on a full prequel to the games. Homeworld: Shipbreakers will be based around ground combat and strategy as competing factions on the planet Kharak fight for resources. More news about Shipbreakers is expected to be released after the remastered games are out.

The remastered collection will feature both the original or 'classic' versions of the games as well as the new versions. The new versions will feature a remastered version of the original audio (including, where necessary, new voice recordings by the original actors), hugely updated graphics and a new multiplayer mode combining the maps and ships from both games into one competitive game. It's looking pretty great at the moment.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

GoG unleash more STAR WARS games

GoG have added yet more Star Wars titles to their store, just a few days after the last batch.

Up today is the incredibly slow and ponderous mega-strategy game Supremacy (titled Rebellion in the USA), which I found so boring that just looking at the box put me to sleep. However, other gamers swear by it due to its slow-boiling, long-term planning. Also the fact that you can have multiple Death Stars running around blowing up planets.

Considerably less dull, although still not great, is Empire at War. This RTS was released in 2006 and enables the player to pit the Empire and Rebels, Separatists and Republic against one another. It wasn't a great game, mainly down to some very stilted ground combat, but some of the space battles were passable. This version includes the Forces of Corruption expansion, and there are many mods out there to improve the game experience.

More well-known is action game Rogue Squadron. Whilst not a patch on the X-Wing series, Rogue Squadron is a much more accessible arcade blaster.

GoG will release four more Star Wars games on the 27th. These are the brilliant Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (presumably with the Mysteries of the Sith expansion included), the so-so Starfighter and the superb tactical FPS Republic Commando.


Rock Paper Shotgun have some more info on the upcoming Battlefleet Gothic: Armada game.

Briefly, the game will depict the struggle for the Gothic system. The game starts with the Imperium controlling the entire system and struggling against invading Eldar, Ork and Chaos forces. The game is dynamic, with fleets and ships being built and moved on a turn-based battle map before the game turns into a real-time tactical mode. The single-player campaign will only feature the Imperium as a controllable faction, but there will be skirmish and multiplayer mods featuring the other races. The game will also feature the ability to level entire planets from orbit (the dreaded "Exterminatus" order) and the AI of ship captains will develop, possibly leading them to rebel if you don't handle them right.

More info here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Joe Straczynski to pen adaptation of Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS TRILOGY

J. Michael Straczynski, the acclaimed creator-writer of Babylon 5 amongst many other projects, has been tapped to write Spike TV's adaptation of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

This is an interesting match. The Mars novels came out at the same time Babylon 5 was starting, and it feels like Straczynski may have tapped them for some inspiration, particularly with the subplot about terrorists on Mars fighting for independence. B5 showed that JMS 'got' Mars, even in the brief parts of the series set there, so if he can bring that same touch to this project that should be great for the atmosphere and visuals.

How much of Robinson's incredibly slow-burning narrative will remain intact or be sacrificed at the altar of action and more compressed character development remains to be seen, but Straczynski is a reasonably confident pair of hands to put the project in.

GoG's journey to the awesome side is (nearly) complete has released an additional six Star Wars games to its library. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, X-Wing Alliance, Galactic Battlegrounds, Dark Forces, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Battlefront II are the new additions.

A non-optimum situation.

All are worthwhile purchases. Battlefront II is a multiplayer-focused shoot 'em up, with somewhat dated visuals but still fun gameplay. Knights of the Old Republic II is the far more conceptually interesting (but also far more broken) sequel to one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Incomplete on release, mods have repaired a lot of the damage and allowed the game to flourish. Dark Forces is Doom with a Star Wars skin, but still awesome. Galactic Battlegrounds is Age of Empires II with a Star Wars skin, but still pretty good.

The two X-Wing games are probably going to be the key draw here. X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is multiplayer-focused and the multiplayer is a bit flaky on the GoG version of the game at the moment. However, the single-player Balance of Power campaign is included and is very worthwhile. More impressive is X-Wing Alliance, the final game in the series. Released in 1999, the game is the most epic in the series and the largest, featuring a lengthy campaign culminating in the full-scale assault on the second Death Star at the Battle of Endor. It's the most visually impressive of the four games (and also the easiest to update to modern standards through mods), although hardcore fans will argue only the second-best, behind the more morally ambiguous TIE Fighter.

Apparently more Star Wars games are still to come, likely to comprise some or all of the remaining Dark Forces series (Jedi Knight, Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy), possibly the well-regarded Republic Commando or the more acquired taste of Supremacy (aka Rebellion). We may also get to see the flawed-but-ambitious Force Commander, with Rebel Assault also an outside possibility. Beyond that we are likely to see some more serious scraping of the barrel. It's also possible we will see some of the newer games, like the Empire at War strategy title or the two Force Unleashed titles.

It looks like between these old games, the release of Battlefront III later this year and of course the arrival of Episode VII: The Force Awakens in December, it's a good time to be a Star Wars fan.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Remaining WITCHER novels acquired by Gollancz

Gollancz have acquired the English translation and publication rights to three further Witcher books by Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski.

Gollancz started the process of releasing the books by publishing The Last Wish way back in 2007. They then, slightly oddly, jumped forwards to the third book (and the first volume in the informal five-volume series that forms the core of the franchise), Blood of Elves, published in 2008. There was then a five-year wait whilst complex rights issues were thrashed out before the series resumed, with a new translator, with Time of Contempt in 2013. Baptism of Fire followed last year.

The new releases will commence in May with the release of Sword of Destiny, the original second book in the saga. A linked collection of short stories, Sword of Destiny sets up the five-volume main saga and many cite it as required reading. The final two novels in the main saga will follow, with The Swallow's Tower out in 2016 and Lady of the Lake to follow in 2017. At the moment it appears that the recently-published prequel novel Season of Storms is not included in the deal.

Sword of Destiny will be launched alongside The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the forthcoming, eagerly-awaited third computer roleplaying game in the series. The Witcher (2007) and The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (2011) have sold over 8 million copies between them and brought the original books to a much bigger audience.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Amazon releases THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE pilot

I don't know how this one slipped me by, but Amazon Prime have filmed a pilot episode for a TV series based on Philip K. Dick's classic alternative-history novel The Man in the High Castle. Amazon have released it (US-only), along with several other pilots, for public consumption, and will later make a decision on which one to take to series.

The good news is that this pilot seems to have attracted by far the best critical response, so hopefully it will lead to a full series being commissioned.

The title sequence is also amazing. Clips follow:

Cover Art: POSEIDON'S WAKE by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz have revealed the cover art for Poseidon's Wake, the concluding novel in the informal Poseidon's Children trilogy. It follows on from Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze and will be published on 16 April.

I like this cover, as it is both retro and current. I do lament the loss of the actual shots of space and starships from the previous books in the series. Both Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze are also being reissued with similar cover art.

Info round-up on the new THUNDERBIRDS TV series

A new Thunderbirds TV series is set to debut in the next couple of months, so I thought it'd be interesting to round up all the info we have on the new series.

The new show is called Thunderbirds Are Go! and is the third television series in the franchise, following on from the original Thunderbirds that aired in 1965-65 and the animated Japanese homage series Thunderbirds 2086, which aired in 1986.

All versions of the franchise feature International Rescue, an independent organisation working from a remote Pacific island which maintains and operates several large vehicles which are used in helping out in dangerous situations, such as disaster relief or rescue missions. In the original series and the new reboot, International Rescue is run by the Tracy family, led by patriarch Jeff Tracy. His sons Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John pilot Thunderbirds 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 respectively. Thunderbird 1 is a superfast rocket plane, capable of reaching any danger zone on Earth in a matter of hours and assessing the situation. Thunderbird 2 is a heavy lifter craft which can transport a variety of smaller, automated vehicles tailored to deal with almost any situation. Thunderbird 3 is a spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel. Thunderbird 4 is a deepwater submarine. Thunderbird 5 is a space station in geostationary orbit, constantly scanning for disasters and mayday signals so the team can respond as quickly as possible. Additional characters include Brains, the creator of the Thunderbird vehicles, and the Hood, a mysterious villain who wants to capture the Thunderbird vehicles and use them to develop weapons technology he can sell to the highest bidder. Also important are Lady Penelope and her chauffeur/bodyguard Parker, who are (sometimes surprisingly ruthless) secret agents working in an intelligence-gathering role for International Rescue.

The new show seems to retain all of this backdrop, along with adding new recurring characters such as Kayo and Colonel Casey. The new series has been described as a reboot, so it's assumed it replaces the original show in continuity rather than working as a sequel to it. The precise date of the reboot, or how it will accommodate new technological innovations like the internet, are currently not known.

What is known is that the show will drop the puppets of the original (too expensive, apparently) and will use CGI characters. Before you throw things at the computer, they are using real miniatures, sets and models (although I suspect they will be using both physical ships and CGI versions and switching between them as needed) and integrating the CG characters with them. How successful this will be remains to be seen.

The new cast includes some known names. The biggest coup is Rosamund Pike, recently festooned with awards and nominations for her role in Gone Girl. She will be playing Lady Penelope, with original 1960s Parker David Graham reprising his role. British comedian Kayan Novak, known for his TV series Fonejacker and Facejacker and his role in the comedy film Four Lions, is playing Brains, whilst Thomas Brodie-Sangster (recently seen as Jojen Reed on Game of Thrones) is playing both Gordon and John Tracy. Angel Coulby (Merlin) is playing new character Kayo, whilst Sandra Dickinson (Trillian in the BBC TV version of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is playing Grandma Tracy. Weta Digital, who worked on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, as well as Avatar, are providing the effects work.

The new show will debut on ITV in the spring. Its success will hinge on how well the CG characters go across (the initial design reveal above is not hugely encouraging, although the new vehicle designs are pretty solid) and what age it's pitched at. The original was successful partly because it was kid-friendly without necessarily talking down to them, the result of the show being expanded from 25 to 50 minute episodes necessitating the introduction of more character-building scenes, comic relief and dialogue. The new show will consist of half-hour episodes, likely to be focused more on action. If they can still put together good stories with that constraint, this should be a watchable show.

BATTLEFLEET GOTHIC video game announced

Focus Interactive have announced they are working on a Battlefleet Gothic real-time strategy game, subtitled Armada. Set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Battlefleet Gothic pitches the starships, warships and massive star cruisers from the various factions against one another. The original miniatures game was very popular and there have been calls for a computer game version for years.

The board game line was suspended two years ago, leading to speculation that Games Workshop was putting the sub-franchise to one side. The video game news suggests it may have a future after all. The new game is being made by the same team behind the well-received Stellar Impact. No release date has been set, but Focus are pretty good at not announcing games until they are reasonably close to release, so a late 2015 release may be possible.

In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the starships fielded by the major races are huge, with the largest Imperial battleships exceeding 8km in length. Armada will initially depict ships from the Imperium, Orks, Eldar and Chaos factions, although if successful I imagine others will follow.