Wednesday, October 9, 2013


If you've never been to it before, there's a little website called "Collative Learning" run by a British chap named Rob Ager.  He likes to break down films and analyze the pieces to see where they germinated from.  By all means check his stuff out if you haven't already.  Watching some of the videos he uploaded to Youtube inspired me to try something similar, except instead of movies I want to apply some of his methodology to video games.  So for my first (and possibly only) attempt I've chosen Homeworld and its direct sequel Homeworld 2.

On a superficial level Homeworld takes plot points from the TV series Battlestar Galactica, sprinkles in some real history regarding ancient Indian trade routes, and paints it all using visuals inspired by The Terran Trade Authority series of sci-fi picture books.  An even more distilled interpretation might be PERSIANS IN SPAAAAAACE!  However, I think both of the above mentioned summaries do a bit of a disservice.  Homeworld, quite frankly, has a lot more to it.

Kharak, the desert planet from which the game starts its journey, is very similar in concept to Arrakis...also known as Dune, which in turn is the title of (and primary location in) the landmark science fiction novel of the same name by Frank Herbert.  The story of Dune features several feuding houses, each of which has a real world parallel.  House Atreides is Greek, House Harkonnen is Russian, and the Emperor is somewhat akin to a ruler of the Ottoman Empire; of course complete with Sardukar as stand-ins for Turkish Janissaries.  In Homeworld we are able to see a similar style at work.  The Taiidan Empire speaks garbled Russian during cutscenes.  The trade people known as the Bentusi have the "Great Harbor Ship" Bentus with a distinctive keyhole shape very reminiscent of harbor for the ancient city of Carthage.  Then there are the Kushan, whose language features a lot of double vowel words such as "Kiith," "Sajuuk," and "Khadeesh."  This kind of vernacular sometimes appears in romanizations of Arabic dialects.  Music too plays a part with acoustical instruments native to India and sparse lyrics in Sanskrit (for an example click here).

The Bible also has a slight influence in the form of names.  Particularly with regards to places mentioned in The Exodus.  The Garden of Kadesh has a multifaceted location name in that it was both the real world site of a great battle and carries a vague resemblance to the Garden of Eden.  Completing the picture are wrath-of-god defenders employing swarms of insect-like fighter craft, lightening spewing multi-beam frigates, and snake shaped motherships.

The warlord and chief antagonist in Homeworld 2, Makaan, is often though of as a futuristic version of Genghis Khan.  Especially so when you equate the Vaygr with outer space Mongols.  Then again other great conquerors from real history such as Hannibal Barca or Attila the Hun fit the role pretty well too.

Even ship color schemes offer clues as to sources of inspiration.  The shades of orange and blue used to represent Kushan vessels have a strong association with Arabic culture.  The shape of the Kushan mothership is also quite similar to the mainsail of a dhow.  Incidentally, a real life construction project with a similar theme in mind is the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.

So, taking all these bits and pieces into account, it's clear that Homeworld represents a complex amalgamation of different cultures found in and around places like the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Black Sea.  However, this rich tapestry does have some thread which seems to lack a discernible origin despite my investigations.  I can think of no explanation for the little details such as the intergalactic Progenitors, the Ghost Ship, or the partially complete megalithic constructs near the graveyard of Karos.  Then again perhaps all three of those things are tied together somehow.

Back to my research.

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