Dear Gearbox Software – an open letter regarding Homeworld

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Dear Gearbox,

I’ve been playing the Homeworld Remastered Collection for well over a week now. I’m a good three-quarters of the way through Homeworld 1, and while there have been instances of frustration, the overarching experience has proven to be a little harder to describe. I’ve played these games before, so heading into the Remastered Collection I knew what I was getting into. What I was expecting and what I ended up experiencing, however, turned out to be rather different.

I expected to play the same games that I’d sunk dozens of ours into during my final years at high school and later university; you know, good old Homeworld but with a new coat of paint. What I didn’t realise was that I was getting much more than a remastered facelift of a classic; I was getting something more akin to a perfectly restored and priceless museum piece.

Your acquisition of one of PC gaming’s most revered IPs was met with mixed opinions. Here was a developer/publisher with a, quite frankly, chequered past gaining ownership of one of the most critically acclaimed real-time strategy series in gaming history. To many ardent fans it probably felt like a poorly equipped child inheriting the keys to a deceased parent’s dynasty; like Hemlock Grove’s spoilt Roman Godfrey taking over the Godfrey Institute. Others, however, met the news with relief that the Homeworld IP had at least survived the THQ meltdown. Still, your recent failings with Duke Nukem Forever and Aliens: Colonial Marines cast more doubt than it did assuage fears that you had bitten off more than you could chew.

It turns out that the mistrust was wholly unnecessary.

The Homeworld Remastered Collection feels like a heartfelt love letter from you, Gearbox, to all of the fans that this series has created since its 1999 debut. It’s a big, warm hug that reassures us that the orphaned Homeworld IP has (at last) found a worthy place to call home. When you voluntarily shared the IP with Blackbird back in September HomeworldRM 2015-03-01 21-34-47-122013, it should have been enough to reassure many that your heart was in the right place. Now that the Remastered Collection is out and the amount of care and love that you have put in is so conspicuously displayed, any shreds of doubt can be cast aside.

It would have been very easy for the more jaded among us to write off your speedy announcement of impending remastered versions as you wanting to make a quick buck off the back of your IP acquisition. It’s now clear that the Homeworld Remastered Collection is not a simple cash-in bundling of a venerable franchise. Gearbox, you and some of the original Relic team who now make up Blackbird have taken great care to ensure that this re-release is as far removed from the “quick buck” and “cash in” labels as possible.

Your Remastered Collection looks awe-inspiring; literally awe-inspiring. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve just stopped to pan the camera around and gape at the meticulous detail that has been crafted back into the ships. The massive new ship textures, 4K resolution options, reflective effects on ship metals, and varied light sources all help to make these two titles stand happily alongside contemporary games. The Homeworld games were always beautiful to look at, but that original beauty by today’s standards has most definitely faded. The Remastered Collection restores all of the initial wonder that the original titles’ beauty was able to create. Even next to today’s titles that are running on way more advanced engines built for more powerful hardware, the Homeworld Remastered Collection is a visual marvel. Gearbox I’d high-five you, but I’m not sure a business entity has high-five-able hands.

“…Homeworld Remastered Collection feels like a heartfelt love letter from you, Gearbox, to all of the fans that this series has created since its 1999 debut….”

The overhauled GUI also ensures that many of the user interface design flaws of the originals were not carried over to these remastered editions. The bottom line is this: Gearbox, you lot put much thought into deciding which features deserved a nip and a tuck, and which others deserved to be culled in order to strike that crucial balance of staying true to roots, and conceding outdated elements. The result: when one fires up the Homeworld Remastered Collection it feels at once like you’re playing a contemporary RTS, bolstered by nearly two decades’ worth of nostalgia. And that’s a powerful combination, Gearbox.

What’s equally striking is how much the Homeworld core mechanics still work; the gameplay hasn’t aged a bit, and I think this highlights just how radically ahead of its time the Homeworld series was. Playing this remastered homeworld_remastered_col_32collection is for me like going through a time warp: it feels like I’m still in high school, playing a spot of Homeworld in the afternoon before getting stuck into my Biology homework. Quite often with remastered versions the game’s age can still be felt, and that’s largely thanks to outdated game mechanics, or systems that feel at odds with contemporary titles from the same genre. I recently experienced this with the Command & Conquer The Ultimate Collection while playing the original, 1995 Command & Conquer. It’s probably not a fair comparison because the Command & Conquer The Ultimate Collection isn’t as much a resmastering as it is a bundled edition tweaked to run on modern operating systems. But both IPs sit comfortably in the mid-to-late-nineties RTS genre, so perhaps comparison was inevitable?

Gearbox, I feel that everyone needs to play the Homeworld Remastered Collection. You have schooled the industry in how to do a rerelease/remastering properly. So, Gearbox, thank you. Thank you for looking after an IP that means so much to so many people. Thank you for reminding me just how influential the Homeworld series has been during my gaming life.

I forgive you for Duke Nukem Forever and Colonial Marines, and I promise never to bring those up again… unless I absolutely have to for the sake of a news article or something.