Sunday, January 24, 2016


It's no secret that the fictional desert planet of Kharak is heavily inspired by the classic novel "Dune" by Frank Herbert.  Homeworld is hardly the first to do this when it comes to science fiction media, but in the realm of video games there are surprisingly few examples.  Kerona from Space Quest is really all that stands out in my mind.
Regardless of what your definitive desert world is though, Kharak does manage to distinguish itself in a few interesting ways.  For one thing the temperature at the equator reaches the boiling point during the daytime.  Hence, the reason why people tend to stick to the air conditioned safety of enclosed dune buggies and their larger brethren, referred to as "baserunners" in the game.  Additionally, Kharak is home to a number of wrecked spacecraft.  Normally it's difficult (if not downright impossible) to find them in the vastness of the deep desert.  However, satellites recently deployed in orbit have made it possible to pinpoint the location of these ancient treasure troves of technology and resources.

The notion of scarcity is integral to the setting, and while I can't speak definitively on the topic - I find myself wondering how an industrialized civilization would develop without the presence of fossil fuels (coal and oil) or certain heavy metals (plutonium and uranium).  To ask a more specific question, where do they get their electricity?  Kharak obviously doesn't have any waterways so hydro power is out.  The lack of volcanic activity also makes geothermal energy impractical.  That leaves them with wind and solar, both of which suffer from intermittent productivity and lower energy yields.  The only other option that could possibly exist within the realm of scientific possibility is fusion, which I think is safe to say the source of power for all the spacecraft featured in the Homeworld series.  There's also some visual evidence to support my hypothesis, namely when vehicles explode they vanish into clouds of ionized vapor rather than balls of orange flame.  It would seem that at least some craft run on batteries or perhaps hydrogen fuel cells.  Only the largest unit in the game (the land carrier) seems to emit engine exhaust.  Maybe it runs on ethanol or a similar bio-organic fuel source.

Organic material doesn't seem to be readily available in substantial quantities though.  No flora or fauna appear anywhere in the game, and only a few species are mentioned by name in the lore.  Supposedly most life, outside the polar regions, dwells well below the surface in order to escape the heat of the sun.  Harsher still, a global wide conflict has destabilized the fragile ecosystem; the land is becoming ever more barren and massive dust storms ravage the globe.  It all sounds interesting from a setting standpoint, but ultimately Deserts of Kharak is an RTS.  How much fun it is to play depends largely on what Black Bird Interactive does to make it standout compared to other recent entries in the genre (such as Grey Goo or Planetary Annihilation).  Having a highly mobile base of operations is cool, although the three dimensional battlefields of the previous games are obviously gone.

Speaking as someone who used to ride dirt bikes and three-wheelers, the track marks and dust trails feel far too subdued.  Realistically speaking each vehicle should cut a line (and every convoy a ribbon) across the terrain.  Another immersion breaker for me is the glowing light cones used by units engaged in salvage or repair operations.  Considering that Homeworld 2 had proper docking animations for these kinds of things, makes me feel like the franchise is taking a slight step backward from a graphics perspective.  Oh well...maybe the modding community can address some of these issues.  A total conversion to Arrakis or a Mad Max setting would be pretty neat too...    

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