Thursday 4 July 2024

Neil Gaiman accused of sexual assault by two women

Fantasy author, editor and screenwriter Neil Gaiman has been accused of sexual assault with two women, one of whom was his employee at the time, as well as a fan. The accusations stem from 2005 and 2022, with the latter incident taking place in New Zealand, where the police have been notified. Gaiman has strongly denied any wrongdoing, claiming relations were consensual and the police have declined his offer to assist in their enquiry.

The Tortoise Media website published an article on the allegations and also released a four-part podcast on the matter yesterday. They reiterate at all times that Gaiman has denied any allegation of wrongdoing.

The later incident stems from February 2022, when Gaiman was 61, that he performed non-consensual acts with a newly-employed nanny, who was 21 at the time, at his residence in New Zealand. Gaiman claims the relationship was consensual and lasted three weeks. The Tortoise alleges to have seen text messages and correspondence suggesting the relationship lasted longer than this and overstepped boundaries. Gaiman has indicated that he was in contact with New Zealand police over the matter and they had declined his offer of an interview, although the New Zealand police have suggested their investigation has been hampered by Gaiman having mostly relocated to the UK and US since the alleged incident.

The earlier incident took place in 2005 when a 20-year-old fan began a relationship with Gaiman, who was 44 at the time, and she claims that he overstepped the boundaries for intimacy in the relationship that she had outlined.

Gaiman has made no direct public comment on the claims so far, only what was quoted in the Tortoise article.

Gaiman is one of the highest-profile living fantasy authors, noted for his Sandman graphic novel series and novels including American Gods, Coraline and Stardust, along with his collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (all adapted for the screen). Gaiman has been more active in screen work recently, overseeing both a Sandman adaptation for Netflix (currently in post-production on its second season) and an adaptation of Good Omens for Amazon (currently working on its third season). With well north of 40 million books sold, he is frequently cited as a one of the most popular modern fantasy authors and has a substantial fanbase, as well as championing various progressive causes.

So far, there has been no comment on the allegations from any of Gaiman's production partners on the status of these projects.

Gaiman was in an open relationship and later marriage with musician Amanda Palmer from 2009 to 2020, with whom he has a son. He has three children from an earlier relationship. Gaiman courted controversy in 2020 when he flew from New Zealand to Scotland during the COVID pandemic, breaking lockdown rules. He later apologised.

Thursday 20 June 2024

RIP Donald Sutherland

News has sadly broken of the passing of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, at the age of 88. One of the best-known actors of his generation, Sutherland had an enormous list of credits spanning almost sixty-five years.

Sutherland was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1935. He began his career at the age of just 14, becoming a news reporter for the local news radio station in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Sutherland had artistic aspirations but also took the precaution of studying engineering as a back-up career. In 1957 he left Canada to study drama in London. After graduation, he spent a year and a half in repertory theatre in Scotland.

Sutherland began his screen career in Britain (leading to occasional confusion about his nationality, helped by his facility with accents). He made his small screen debut in the BBC TV series Studio 4 (1962) and his movie debut in The World Ten Times Over (1963). His early roles were small, but gradually increased in stature. His reliability meant he quickly amassed a very large number of credits. He made memorable appearances in both The Avengers (1967) and The Saint (1965 and 1966). For the latter, with the permission of star and the director of his second episode, Roger Moore, he used his appearance as an audition reel for the film The Dirty Dozen (1967). Sutherland won the role, and his appearance as a Vernon L. Pinkley was highly memorable, despite the film being replete with much better-known actors. Shortly after release and the film's massive success, Sutherland relocated to Los Angeles.

Sutherland quickly capitalised on his success with memorable turns in M*A*S*H* (1970) and Kelly's Heroes (1970). From 1970 to 1972, Sutherland had a relationship with Jane Fonda and starred with her in Klute (1971) and Steelyard Blues (1973). Sutherland solidified his leading man status in the films Don't Look Now (1973), The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Sutherland bridged the generation gap to a younger audience with a small but memorable role in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978).

Sutherland continued to appear in memorable films, including Ordinary People (1980), A War Story (1981), A Dry White Season (1989), Lock Up (1989), Backdraft (1991), JFK (1991), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Disclosure (1994) and Outbreak (1995). In 1992 he played the role of Merrick, the Watcher, in the original film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He reportedly held the script in disdain, and was rude to the film's writer Joss Whedon (although, to be fair, Whedon himself criticised the rewriting of his script). This is why his character is not mentioned in the subsequent seven-season TV version.

Sutherland starred in Space Cowboys in 2000, marking a transition to older roles. Additional turns followed in Cold Mountain (2003), The Italian Job (2003) and Pride & Prejudice (2005). Sutherland achieved a late-career renaissance by appearing in the smash-hit Hunger Games franchise as the primary antagonist, President Snow. He starred in The Hunger Games (2012), Catching Fire (2013), Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) and Mockingjay Part 2 (2015).

Remarkably, Sutherland never won or was even nominated for an Academy Award. Perhaps aware of the ridiculousness of that, he was given an honorary Academy Award as a lifetime achievement award in in 2017.

As well as an actor,  Donald Sutherland was known for his anti-war activism, which saw him investigated by American intelligence services in the early 1970s. Sutherland was hyper-focused on acting, not getting into directing or writing like many of his peers. However, Sutherland did find time to pen his memoir, Made Up, But Still True, which is due for publication late this year. 

Donald Sutherland had five children, the best-known of whom is his son Kiefer, with whom he starred in Max Dugan Returns (1983) and A Time to Kill (1996). He is also survived by his wife Francine Racette.

One of the more accomplished actors of his generation, he will be missed.

A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS castmembers announced

HBO has unveiled the cast for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, its forthcoming adaptation of George R.R. Martin's "Dunk & Egg" series of short stories, which act as a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. The show just started shooting in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Peter Claffey as Ser Duncan the Tall in the first officially-released image from A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

The show had already announced Irish actor Peter Claffey as Ser Duncan the Tall and Dexter Soll Ansell as his squire, Egg. Ser Duncan the Tall, popularly called Dunk, is a young hedge knight, a warrior of humble birth with no family name or backing, who has to make his name through his skill at arms alone. Egg is a young boy he meets on the road with a canny intelligence, whom he reluctantly takes on as a squire.

Joining the cast is Finn Bennett (True Detective: Night Country) as Prince Aerion Targaryen. The second son of Prince Maekar Targaryen, himself the fourth son of King Daeron II, the king at the time of the series, Prince Aerion is known his flights of fancy and bullying nature.

Bertie Carvel (The Crown, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, where he played Jonathan Strange) is playing Prince Baelor Targaryen. Known as Baelor Breakspear, the prince is the oldest son of King Daeron II and his heir, also serving as Hand of the King. He is known for his honour, valour in battle and political savvy. He is honouring the great tourney at Ashford Meadow with his presence.

Tanzyn Crawford (Tiny Beautiful Things) is playing Tanselle. Taneselle is a puppet-maker and player, providing entertainment for the commons.

Daniel Ings (Sex Education) is playing Ser Lyonel Baratheon, popularly called "the Laughing Storm." Lyonel is the heir to Storm's End and is also known for his honour and valour, but he is an outgoing man with a sense of humour. He is a formidable tourney knight.

Sam Spruell (Fargo) is playing Prince Maekar Targaryen. The younger brother of Prince Baelor, Maekar is known for his prickly pride and sternness, but he also has a sense of honour and fairness, if reminded of it. He is driven to distraction by his sons, who seem to delight in frustrating him.

The first season will adapt The Hedge Knight, the first of the three (so far) Dunk & Egg stories, across six episodes. Sarah Adina Smith will direct three episodes, Owen Harris the other three. Ira Parker is serving as showrunner and main writer.

The show is expected to debut on HBO in 2025.

Westeros Timeline

  • 1 AC: Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms by Aegon the Conqueror.
  • 101 - 131 AC: The events of House of the Dragon take place, ending in the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons (129 - 131 AC).
  • 209 AC: Tourney at Ashford Meadow, the events of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms begin.
  • 281 AC*: Robert's Rebellion, deposing of the Mad King.
  • 298 AC: The events of Game of Thrones begin.
* In the TV show timeline, in the book timeline the Rebellion takes place in 283 AC.

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Electronic Arts announce release window for new DRAGON AGE game

Electronic Arts and subsidiary BioWare have announced the release date for the latest Dragon Age fantasy RPG. The video game, recently retitled Dragon Age: The Veilguard, is due for release in autumn this year. They have also released a gameplay trailer.

The Veilguard is the fourth full game in the series, following on from Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Dragon Age II (2011) and Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) (though some count Dragon Age: Origins' massive 2010 expansion, Awakening, as an additional full game in the series as well since it is about as large as Dragon Age II). The series is set on the continent of Thedas and chronicles the battling of the player character and various allies against a series of large-scale threats to the continent and the world. Each game in the series has its own antagonists and cast of characters, with relatively light continuity connections between games, although a few characters do appear in multiple titles.

The series so far has acted as something of a travelogue of the continent, with Origins and Awakening set in the kingdom of Ferelden in the south-east; Dragon Age II in the Free March of Kirkwall in the central-eastern region; and Dragon Age: Inquisition in the Empire of Orlais in the centre of the continent. The Veilguard takes place in the Tevinter Imperium, a huge, mage-controlled empire in the central-north region. The game specifically opens in the capital city of Minrathous. The plot follows a new adventurer - yourself - joining forces with a band of seven fellow heroes to save the world from the Dread Wolf, a fallen elven god who banished his fellows and plans to now restore them, despite the fact this will tear open the Veil and release thousands of powerful demons into the world.

The game feels like a bit of a make or break moment for BioWare. The once-lauded RPG powerhouse was famed for its long run of hit games: Baldur's Gate (1998), Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000), Neverwinter Nights (2002), Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), Jade Empire (2005), Mass Effect (2007), Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Mass Effect 2 (2010) and, despite an iffy ending, Mass Effect 3 (2012).

However, the wheels seemed to fall off after BioWare was purchased by Electronic Arts (during the development of Dragon Age: Origins). They mandated a quickie Dragon Age sequel, resulting in the controversial Dragon Age II (2011), and both a move to cash in on the open world craze and using the Frostbite Engine, which was not well-suited for open world environments. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) had a mixed reception, with praise for its story and DLC, but criticisms of its vast amount of filler content; Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) had a similarly mixed reception and disappointing sales. Anthem (2019) was a move to a multiplayer-focused, online style of game which was a bizarre choice for a developer known for deep, single-player roleplaying games. The game was heavily criticised and died almost immediately.

Although Dragon Age II and Inquisition both sold well, Andromeda and Anthem were both flops. This means that BioWare is betting the farm on The Veilguard and a forthcoming new Mass Effect game; if these both do badly, then BioWare's future may be in doubt. More ironic is that the Dragon Age franchise has moved away from the deep, party-based tactical combat of the original game to more of an action game, but Larian's Baldur's Gate III - a sequel to BioWare's own series - sold over 20 million copies by leaning very hard on party-based, tactical combat and even being turn-based.

Whether The Veilguard can stop the rot and rescue BioWare remains to be seen. The game will launch later this year.

Wednesday 5 June 2024

China Miéville completes 1,000-page new novel

Wired has published an interview with British genre author China Miéville about his upcoming collaboration with actor-musician-icon Keanu Reeves, but also touching on his other projects.

As related previously, Miéville has joined forces with Reeves to write The Book of Elsewhere, a tie-in novel to Reeves' BRZRKR comic book franchise. Miéville agreed to tackle the project because he thought it would be interesting to work within the constraints of someone else's fictional universe whilst also delivering a satisfying narrative. The novel will be published on 23 July this year.

However, Miéville fans frustrated with his lack of output in the last decade will be pleased to hear he has a new solo novel in the works as well, and not just in-progress but completed and sent to the publisher. Miéville's last novel was Railsea, published in 2012. He did publish two novellas, This Census-Taker and The Last Days of New Paris, in 2016, and a short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion, in 2015. However, his fans have been crying out for a new solo novel.

Miéville doesn't reveal much about the new book but at over a thousand pages, it will be his longest book to date (and books like Perdito Street Station and The Scar are not exactly slight novels). Presumably it will be published in 2025, but hopefully we'll get more news soon.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

RIP William Russell

British actor William Russell, one of the original castmembers of Doctor Who, has passed away at the age of 99.


William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who's An Unearthly Child (23 November 1963, top) and The Power of the Doctor (23 October 2022). The 59-year-gap between his first and last appearances on television playing the same character, and the 57-year gap between appearances, are both believed to be world records.

Born in Sunderland, County Durham, in 1924, William Russell Enoch attended Oxford University and did his national service in the Royal Air Force at the tail end of the war. He went into repertory theatre and began making screen appearances in the early 1950s. He made his film debut in Gift Horse (1952) and his TV debut in the short film Lonesome Like (1954). He made his breakthrough in 1956, playing the role of Sir Lancelot on the British adventure TV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, which ran for 30 episodes and was a surprise hit on American television (in publicity for which he rode a horse down Fifth Avenue in New York City). He starred in a TV adaptation of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby the following year, and was the lead in the 1960 serial St. Ives and the 1961 drama Triton. These roles, supported by a steady stream of guest roles and supporting film appearances, made him a familiar face on British television and film.

In 1963 he was cast in the BBC's new science fiction drama series, Doctor Who. The main role of the mysterious Doctor had been cast with William Hartnell, who was in his mid-50s but somewhat frail. The producers decided they wanted a younger leading male who could handle fight scenes and more physically demanding work. Russell was cast in the role of Ian Chesterton, the science teacher at Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, London. Along with history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), he becomes suspicious over the odd behaviour of pupil Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who is brilliant but has strange gaps in her knowledge. Ian and Barbara follow Susan home to a junkyard, to see her enter a police box. Following her inside, they find a huge, futuristic control room, impossibly larger inside than out. Susan's grandfather, the Doctor (Hartnell), explains they are aliens from another time and space, and their ship, the TARDIS, can travel anywhere and anywhen in the universe. The teachers are sceptical, until the TARDIS takes off and lands on prehistoric Earth, where the four crewmembers are inadvertently responsible for a primitive tribe of cavemen in discovering fire. The Doctor is initially suspicious and hostile towards his new guests but takes responsibility for dragging them away for their lives and tries to return them to Earth at the moment of departure, but this is complicated by malfunctions in the TARDIS guidance system.

Ian and Barbara remained the Doctor's companions for most of the first two seasons of the show, chalking up some 78 episode appearances. Remarkably, this run made them the joint-fourth longest-running companions of all time (behind Jamie McCrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith and K9), which they hold to this day. They left the show in 1965, at the conclusion of the serial The Chase (the penultimate serial of Season 2), when they used a captured Dalek time ship to return home to Earth.

The producers of Doctor Who tried on several times to get Russell to reprise his role on the show, but availability was a key issue: Russell continued to have a prolific career on British TV and in film, including a memorable stint on soap opera Coronation Street (blamed for causing Doctor Who's original demise in 1989 during a ratings showdown) in 1992 and a brief, supporting role in Superman (1978), among many others. He finally reprised his role as Ian for the Big Finish audio drama range, appearing in nineteen stories from 2009 to 2020.

He finally returned to Doctor Who in 2022's The Power of the Doctor, reprising his role as Ian briefly in a "self-help group" for former companions of the Doctor. This appearance, coming fifty-seven years after his last on-screen appearance, broke the Guinness World Record for the longest gap between appearances of an actor playing the same role on television.

Russell passed away on 3 June 2024. He is survived by his second wife and four children, including Alfred Enoch (best-known for playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies). He will very much be missed.

Monday 27 May 2024

RED DWARF to return (again)

It's been confirmed that Red Dwarf will be returning - yet again - with new episodes in 2025. The venerable British science fiction sitcom celebrated its thirty-sixth anniversary in February and a long-running rights dispute between co-creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor was settled last year, allowing both writers to continue working with the franchise (they worked on the show together for its first six seasons before splitting in 1993).

The new episodes will be helmed by Doug Naylor again, who has also helmed all of the episodes produced since 1993, and will take the form of a 90-minute special split into three 30-minute episodes for broadcast. With the cast now getting on a bit, there had been doubt over whether the show would return, with the 68-year-old Robert Llewellyn particularly reluctant to don the heavy prosthetics needed to play the android Kryten. But he notes that he was talked back into the role once more, for a possible last (?) hurrah.

Rob Grant has also confirmed that he is working on a new project called Red Dwarf: Titan, a prequel set before the events of the original show with Lister stuck on Saturn's titular moon when he runs into the officious Arnold J. Rimmer. The prequel explores their relationship before they wound up on the mining ship Red Dwarf and its fateful radiation leak which killed the entire crew (bar Lister). This project is being developed as both a novel and a TV show, possibly for streaming. The project may involved the original cast introducing or framing the story, which would obviously need to be recast with younger actors. This might be a crucial moment in determining if the franchise has a long-term future. The premise (four people stuck on a spaceship three million years in the future and thousands of light-years away) does not easily allow for spin-offs, and so far the producers have resisted recasting any of the lead roles (aside from Kryten, who was played by a different actor on his very first appearance, with Llewellyn taking over for the second).

Red Dwarf originally aired six seasons on BBC2 from 1988 to 1993. Two additional seasons were produced in 1997 and 1999 before a long hiatus, caused by problems in trying to get a feature film off the ground. The show returned on comedy channel Dave for a one-off special in 2009, followed by new, full seasons in 2012, 2016 and 2017. Another special aired in 2020.

The new Red Dwarf episodes will shoot in October for transmission in 2025.

Horizon Forbidden West

Aloy and her allies have defeated the malevolent HADES AI and apparently saved Earth from destruction. But it's clear that their actions may have only delayed Earth's demise, not prevented it. Aloy sets out to track down and eradicate all trace of HADES, aided once more - if only for his own inscrutable purposes - by the redoubtable Sylens. Word of a new threat leads Aloy to the Forbidden West, the lands beyond the mountains, where she discovers the possibility of restoring the terraforming AI GAIA to full function, and with it, Earth itself. But naturally, there are numerous complications standing in the way.

Horizon Forbidden West is the sequel to the excellent Horizon Zero Dawn (2017), a post-apocalyptic open world action-adventure game which posited the crucial question, wouldn't it be fun to fight giant robot chickens and T-Rexes? Forbidden West asks the question, basically, wouldn't it be fun to do that some more but with prettier graphics and I guess in California this time? And the answer remains yes, with some caveats.

As before, you play Aloy, the Nora orphan raised as an exile who ended up saving at least three kingdoms' worth of people. In a slightly comical opening sequence, Aloy loses most of her badass skills and equipment from the last game, forcing you to spend a good chunk of the sequel just getting back to parity with where you were before. This would be more frustrating if it wasn't fully expected. Still, Aloy has access to more gizmos, tricks and options this time around, along with many more upgrades for her weapons and tools. In fact, the array of options on offer in Forbidden West is somewhat overwhelming, even compared to its generous forebear.

Also as before, you wander around the map engaging in a mixture of main story missions which further the primary plot, side-missions of varying degrees of interest and complexity, and various repeatable missions which are helpful in grinding your character's experience and skills, but don't vary much from one to the next. There are also a vast number of collectibles, optional activities and achievements to look at, although Forbidden West does a good job of looping these back into the game's worldbuilding; flight recorders aren't just items to be checked off a list, but they also contain vital information on the last days of the war against the machines before the old world (our world roughly forty years from now) crumbled.

The backstory and worldbuilding was Zero Dawn's greatest success, with the mystery of just why the world is now full of robot goats being explored in tandem with the forward moving plot of the game. With that backstory fully revealed by the end of Zero Dawn, Forbidden West might have struggled to have found something to match it. Fortunately it succeeds: the main storyline of Forbidden West is more compelling this time around, with more factions competing for control of the titular area, each drawn in a lot of detail and with a lot of cool backstory, often diving back into areas that Zero Dawn perhaps glossed over. Forbidden West delves into a lot more detail of the ancient war and fleshes it out with stories about stirring last stands and people whom history now calls heroes, but were just ordinary folk trying to do the right thing.

That said, Forbidden West does have a problem in that the primary antagonists don't show up until surprisingly late into the game and aren't given a huge amount of detail (mainly because they're so powerful it's implausible that they'd keep showing up and Aloy would somehow survive). The focus remains on the much less formidable tribal enemies you meet earlier in the game and on the machines.

As with Zero Dawn, the machines remain the main draw of the game. They are fantastically-designed, beautifully-animated and almost always a pleasure to fight. Each machine has strengths and weaknesses, requiring careful analysis before engaging them, and more subvariants this time around means you can't just assume one tactic will work against all machines of the same type. Forbidden West is a more tactical game this time around, requiring some forethought and preparation before the destruction begins. That said, the game does somewhat nerf the first game's more formidable weapons, with Tearblast Arrows now much less effective and vastly more expensive, which feels a little bit of a cheap move from the developers.

The map is larger than Zero Dawn's and the scale is much grander. You start in the Rocky Mountains and make your way to San Francisco (and, in the Burning Shores expansion, Los Angeles), taking in Las Vegas and El Capitan in Yosemite Park along the way. There's a much greater variety of biomes, with snow in the high mountains contrasting with the wastelands of the Nevada Desert, and the skyscrapers of San Francisco and LA becoming a fun, new type of environment to engage enemies in. As before you can proceed on foot, with an enhanced array of parkour moves, grappling hooks and a new paradrop shield which basically eliminates ever having to worry about falling damage again. You also get a new method of travel near the end of the game which is very cool (although it does perhaps expose the artificiality of the map design which is much less apparent at ground level). The writing is mostly solid, aside from the aforementioned lack of depth to the eventual main antagonists, and the characters are mostly likeable.

The game does perhaps falter a tad in pacing. At around 90 hours for a reasonably completionist playthrough (all story and side-quests, most of the collectibles that add story information, but not the grindy hunting grounds), it's a significantly longer game than Zero Dawn and on occasion your eyes may glaze over at how many question marks are covering just the small part of the map around you. Obviously you can motor through the main story much more quickly, but only with the nagging feeling you are leaving yourself underpowered for the main quest by not taking on side-gigs. That said, the story does do a good job of refreshing itself every few hours by introducing new ideas, backstories and characters. The game does have some minor technical issues, like wonky physics (being hit by an enemy and shooting off in a direction never intended by gravity gets old after a while) and occasionally iffy collision detection, but these seem mostly designed to not let Aloy get realistically crushed like a gnat when she's hit by a 15-ton rampaging deathbot, and only occasionally directly inconvenience you.

The game's only other major flaw - if you think it's a flaw - is that it really does not move the needle from the first game's paradigm. Forbidden West is really just more Horizon for people who really enjoyed Zero Dawn, even down to many of the controls being the same. Launching on later hardware, it is a much prettier game, and certainly a larger and more epic one. But it can't quite surprise or innovate in the way the first game did, and I'd hesitated to suggest playing them back-to-back as burnout over ~150 hours of the same kind of gameplay would be a real concern.

The PC version of the game also ships with the Burning Shores expansion, which takes Aloy to the ruins of Los Angeles in search of a new enemy. This is a very solid expansion, adding another ~15-20 hours to the main game with new locations, new mechanics, new robots, new enemies and new allies. It also has the benefit of being much more focused than the base game, with a more constrained map that's easier to 100% explore (despite some new obstacles to travel, but also new traversal options like boats).

Another complaint might be that Forbidden West is the middle part of what is clearly now a trilogy, with the game ending on a major cliffhanger that we'll have to wait quite a long time to see resolved. But there's enough juice in the concept that I think it can sustain a third game to wrap up the saga.

Horizon Forbidden West (****½) can't quite match the original game's freshness or superb backstory revelations, but it's still a compelling and fun action-adventure game (with light RPG elements). It may outlast its welcome, or risk doing so, but for those looking for a game to lose themselves in for a long time with lots of combat, exploration and reasonably effective storytelling, it does the job well. The game is available now on PC and PlayStation 4 and 5.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Friday 17 May 2024

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang

1 November 1988. Erin Tieng, a new resident of Stony Stream, on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, is starting her new role delivering newspapers. Falling afoul of Halloween revellers, she joins forces with three other paper girls for mutual protection: Mac, KJ and Tiffany. The girls find their job complicated by the normal problems: creepy residents, overzealous cops, bullies and, obviously, a trans-temporal war between two different groups of time travellers from the far and even further futures. Sucked into a conflict spanning millions of years, the four girls have to work out how to survive, get home and prevent the annihilation of the universe. And get their papers delivered on time.

Paper Girls was an American comic book published between 2015 and 2019. Written by Brian K. Vaughan, better-known as the writer of the epic science fiction saga known as, er, Saga, the series has become a cult hit over the years. Amazon started adapting the show in 2022, creating a first season that was well-cast and excellently paced with some intriguing variances from the source material whilst also remaining faithful to the big picture. Obviously, being good, it could not be allowed to survive beyond a single season.

The original comic series was collected into a single volume a few years back, large enough to be used to stun a yak if wielded correctly. Read as a single piece, Paper Girls is relentless in its pacing. Every issue throws new ideas, new factions, new characters (or different versions of existing ones) and new creatures at the reader. Weird alien beings from another dimension? Sure. Dinosaurs? Obviously! Older versions of the main characters suffering from existential and mid-life crises? Go wild. This turns the book into a compelling page-turner, if an occasionally confusing one. Unlike the well-paced Saga, it's sometimes easy to lose the thread of what's going on in Paper Girls, what each faction is after, what resources they have access to and so forth.

In a way that increases the reader's empathy with the core quartet of girls, who sometimes get as lost in the morass of competing timelines, alternate selves and wars being fought for obscure reasons that haven't even happened yet. Our central quartet are grounded, interesting characters who grow and learn from their crazy experience. Sure, maybe they take the insane events a little too easily in their stride (the TV show works a bit better by slowing down the craziness, giving them more time to adjust to what's happening), but that also feels true to the 1980s SF movies the comic feels like it's homaging.

Ultimately the crazy SF antics are a backdrop to the simple notion of adolescent friendship. As Stephen King said, the friendships you form in later life are nothing like the ones you form at and before the age of 13 or so, and the whole book feels like it revolves around that idea. This gives the story universality, but can feel a bit like an overtrodden path, especially as contemporary projects like the superficially similar Stranger Things (which started after Paper Girls but obviously got a lot more attention) also went down the same route. But universal narratives which a lot of people can relate to remain powerful, especially if attached to the furniture of combat robots, weaponised lizards and religions emerging from modern corporate entities.

Paper Girls: The Complete Story (****) is a fun, breathless read, if sometimes a tad overwhelming or confusing. The well-drawn central characters pull the narrative back on course when it threatens to meander, and there's enough crazy SF antics to keep genre fans entertained. The book is available now. 

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

The undead plague continues to roll across the United States of America. The east coast is almost gone, and the midwest is under siege. Escaping the ruin of Summerland, Jane McKeene and nemesis-turned-ally Katherine Deveraux try to make it to a neighbouring town, where a scientist hopes to have unlocked a cure for the undead curse...or at least an immunisation. Betrayals threaten, and the last hope of California gleams on the horizon, if they can make it that far.

Deathless Divide is the sequel and follow-up to Justina Ireland's 2018 novel, Dread Nation, picking up moments after that book ended. The first half of the novel is essentially more Dread Nation, continuing story and character arcs directly from that book (you can't really read this novel as a standalone). This remains compelling, with Jane and Katherine's fiery frenemy relationship continuing to provide a solid dramatic spine for the story.

Halfway through, there's an abrupt time jump to a point where things have become considerably more apocalyptic, with Jane and Katherine now separated and pursuing different storylines, which eventually lead them back into contact and on the road to their much-dreamt goal of reaching California. This allows Ireland to explore the two characters' growth and change, or in Jane's case a regression as she becomes hyper-fixated on vengeance against someone who wronged her, to the point of destroying every other relationship in her life.

The book has a grimmer tone even than its forebear, with a real end-of-the-world vibe missing from a lot of other apocalyptic fiction, but Katherine's determination to be bright and optimistic and behave properly cuts through that in an entertaining fashion. The continent may have been consumed by a ravening horde of undead, but that's no excuse for not keeping your weapons cleaned and riding a horse in an appropriate manner for a lady.

Ireland continues to further her successes from Dread Nation: there is some excellent action, some good character arcs and development, and some great use of the premise to explore issues of Civil War and Reconstruction-era racism and resentment (no matter how insane that is in the face of a much bigger, all-consuming threat). She also provides some great zombie action (no easy thing for a foe this overexposed and tired), and the interesting idea of being able to create an inoculation against the undead, raising the bizarre idea of maybe people and zombies could just coexist?

Unfortunately, the book's structure provides its biggest weakness: the move from being a direct continuation of the fall of Summerland to a much larger-scaled story involving travelling to and across California feels a little jarring, and the action in the latter half of the novel, including some very major character beats as they find things they've been looking for since the opening of the first book, feels very compressed. I get the impression, accurate or not, that this could have been a trilogy with the two halves of the novel each serving as its own book. Instead, compressing the two distinct stories into one novel makes things feel a bit too rushed, especially in the rear half.

Still, Deathless Divide (****) is a worthy follow-up to its forebear, being entertaining, well-written and thought-provoking whilst delivering good action. It just feels like the story could have been improved with a little bit more room to breathe.

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Tuesday 14 May 2024

Homeworld 3

Two hundred and thirty-five years have passed since the exiles returned to their homeworld, Hiigara. The Hiigaran Hegemony has since spread across the Inner Rim of the galaxy, defeating the Vaygr warlord Makaan and activating the long-lost Great Network of hyperspace gates to revolutionise galactic travel and trade. But the gates have now started going dark. A vast area of hyperspace dysfunction, the Anomaly, is growing. Karan S'jet, the ancient navigator who guided her people home, has vanished whilst investigating the phenomenon. Two decades later, her protégé, Imogen, is ordered to take control of the new Hiigaran Mothership, the Khar-Kushan, and complete Karan's work.

Few franchises have proven as stubbornly tenacious as Homeworld. The original game launched in 1999 and was a moderate hit, and was rapidly followed by a stand-alone expansion, Homeworld: Cataclysm in 2000, which also did reasonably well. Homeworld 2 sold very disappointingly in 2003 and had a mixed reaction from fans. Combined with complex rights issues, this basically halted the franchise in its tracks for over a decade, until Gearbox saved the IP rights from obscurity and released Homeworld Remastered in 2015. Blackbird Interactive, a company formed by much of the original development team of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, subsequently released the ground-based prequel game Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak in 2016. But what fans really wanted was another space game.

Eight years on, Blackbird have delivered the third numbered game in the series, the fifth mainline game overall and, thanks to the recent release of Homeworld Mobile and Homeworld: Vast Reaches (a VR game), the seventh title overall. Not bad for a series that has only ever sold modestly and remains obscure to the general games-playing audience.

As with its forebears, Homeworld 3 is a space-based, real-time strategy game. It takes advantage of its setting to operate in full 3D, with battles taking place in all three dimensions and both you and the enemy being able to launch attacks from above and below.

As usual, you have a huge mothership, in this game the Khar-Kushan, which operates as your mobile command centre and ship foundry. Resource gatherers collect resources, normally by mining asteroids or leftover salvage, which provide you with income to build more ships. Ships come in multiple classes, starting with fighters and bombers, and then moving up through corvettes, frigates, carriers, destroyers and battlecruisers.

Ships have specific roles and are best deployed as hard counters to specific enemy ship types: assault frigates chew up fighters, ion cannon frigates are excellent anti-capital ship vessels and minelayer frigates can assemble enormous minefields to disrupt enemy attacks. Bombers can be a relatively cheap way of engaging enemy capital ships without threatening your own, expensive capital vessels. You can put ships into different formations and vary their responses to enemy forces, from passively ignoring them to aggressively pursuing and shooting everything in sight. You can also assign ships to guard other vessels, such as sending a group of fighters to escort your resourcers as they head across the map to acquire more funds.

In terms of controls, there's a modern, WASD-based system which treats the camera like it's a first-person shooter, whilst a "classic" scheme perfectly recreates the interface from Homeworld Remastered (itself based on Homeworld 2's system, and mostly similar to the original game). The addition of the third axis can make using the interface slightly clunkier than in other strategy games, but there are a number of QOL options to make the controls more flexible. Selecting one of your formations and ctrl-boxing an enemy formation will make your ships target and destroy everything in that group rather than having to individually click enemy units, for example. The game also has time controls, for the first time in the franchise since Homeworld: Cataclysm, with you being able to slow down events by 25%, 50% or 75%. You can also pause completely and issue new orders before rejoining the fray. This is important in the most frantic and largest battles.

The game has three modes. The first is the story-based campaign, which follows up on the events of Homeworld 2 a hundred and twenty years later, with voice acting, cut scenes and dialogue explaining the plot. For the first time in the series, the cut scenes are pre-rendered in full 3D; the previous games were infamous for their minimalist, hand-drawn and originally black-and-white animated cut scenes. Deserts of Kharak began the process of "glowing up" these cut scenes into full colour and using rotoscoped animation, but Homeworld 3 goes full AAA with them. Well, AAA for 2007; the animation is surprisingly stiff in places and character facial expressions are sometimes cartoonishly exaggerated, which feels a bit off.

The story starts off very nicely, with a mystery unfolding over the fate of Karan and the nature of the Anomaly. Unfortunately, Imogen later develops the ability to talk to the main antagonist via a hyperspace connection, and she is a deeply underwhelming villain. The Taiidan Emperor, the Beast, Makaan and the Kiith Gaalsien, the villains of the prior games, were all worthy adversaries with some real menace and presence, but the Incarnate Queen is prone to histrionics and petulant fits which remove a lot of menace or tension. This is annoying as the story holds a lot of promise, and the way it is integrated into the mission design is often very good, such as having to defend a ship trapped in ice as it breaks free, or constructing an insane defence around a hyperspace gate to deal with an incoming enemy fleet of stupendous size (think of the battle for Zion's dock in The Matrix Revolutions). A mission where you have to guide your fleet through a colossal asteroid storm, navigating from safe zone to safe zone, is incredibly atmospheric. Another mission has you hiding like a submarine in an ice flow but surfacing to launch surprise attacks on passing enemies.

So the story goes off the boil, but the mission design remains extremely impressive, with some of the best missions in the entire franchise to be found here. It's not terribly long campaign. This is not unusual for Homeworld, which has always had controversy over its modest campaigns, but at just 12 story missions, Homeworld 3 is a startling four missions shorter than the original Homeworld. On normal difficulty, you'll probably put the story away in under 10 hours. For a full-priced release in 2024, this is eyebrow-raising in the extreme.

We have the standard multiplayer/skirmish mode as well, which is fine. More interesting, and possibly the ultimate test of the game's longevity, is the WarGames mode. This mode can be played solo or in co-op, and sees your fleet taking on escalating enemy forces whilst trying to complete objectives. As you go through the missions, you gain experience which allows you to build better fleets next time around. Failure is assumed; there's a roguelike element of learning from your failure, as experience remains in place and allows you to unlock new ships and options for the next run regardless of success. It's a pretty good mode and it has to be said the maps it uses are frequently gorgeous. Map design is in fact extremely strong through all of the game's modes.

The apparent killer feature of the game is, oddly for a space title, terrain. The story sees you investigating vast, ancient megastructures left behind by a long-extinct alien species known as the Progenitors, with battles taking place in close proximity to them. You can send fighters skimming along the surface of these structures or through tunnels in them to jump out and surprise enemies, and even use makeshift cover. This is a splendid idea, but after a while you kind of forget about these options. Your larger ships can't use terrain in this manner, so you usually end up forming a single large fleet and sending it around curb-stomping most opposition without too much trouble, without having to micromanage the terrain.

Homeworld 3 ends up as a reasonably worthy follow-up to the earlier games in the series and I ended up preferring it to Homeworld 2, at least in terms of gameplay. The story is one of the weaker in the series, replacing the epic themes and scope of the original games with something more rooted in a smaller number of individual characters. I am also not in love with the cliffhanger ending, which teases a sequel or later expansion that might never come.

The single-player campaign is also startlingly short. Yes, in 2003 you could get away with a single-player campaign that was 10 hours or less in a full-price game. But it's not 2003 any more. The multiplayer and skirmish modes are fine, but the WarGames mode is the game's secret sauce, being interesting and challenging with some stunning vistas and level design. That said, WarGames will probably, at best, double or triple the time investment of the campaign. I don't see it being something people will play for hundreds of hours on end. Although Homeworld 3 is obviously graphically far superior to 2017's Battlestar Galactica video game, Deadlock, that game did a much better job of combining a tense story campaign with dynamically-generated side-missions to create a much more engrossing campaign which gave the player more control of what was going on across not just a few hours but dozens of them.

Homeworld 3 (***½) should be of interest to established fans of the franchise and anyone who likes exploring the central core appeal of good science fiction, namely 1) the wonder of exploring the cold vastness of the cosmos and 2) having really big spaceships which explode in a cool manner. Whether the game is worth buying at full-price is a little bit questionable, given the extremely modest campaign length, but the WarGames mode is different and interesting, and is especially fun for co-op multiplayer. If you're a total newcomer to the franchise, you'll be better served by picking up a copy of Homeworld Remastered from Steam for a more modest price for a lot more content. The Homeworld franchise's return can be said to have been a success, but not an unqualified one.

The game is available now on PC.

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HOUSE OF THE DRAGON and RINGS OF POWER both get second season trailers

HBO and Amazon have dropped the trailers for their forthcoming sophomore seasons of their big fantasy shows at the same time.

Amazon opened proceedings by deploying Hot Elf Sauron:

The first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power can be best-summed as "okay but disappointing." Lots of potential, but mostly unrealised in the final product with some very strange plotting undercutting a killer premise and an apparent lack of trust in Tolkien's original story and timeline that makes you wonder why they bothered in the first place. Still, this might be worth watching for the insane Clark Kentness of nobody recognising Sauron because he's wearing a nice wig.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 2 hits Amazon on 29 August.

Not to be outdone, HBO dropped the trailer for their second season of Targaryen Royal Rumble a few hours later:

HBO know what their audience likes here: dragons, armies marching, some nice scenery and even some Stark teasing. Nice.

House of the Dragon Season 2 rolls onto the battlefield on 16 June.

Thursday 9 May 2024

Warner Brothers announce new LORD OF THE RINGS film for 2026

Warner Brothers has confirmed it is working on a new Middle-earth movie. Joining the six extant films (nine if you count the animated features from the 1970s and 1980s), the Amazon TV show and incoming animated feature War of the Rohirrim is Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum.

The new film will star and be directed by Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Peter Jackson's movie trilogy. Lord of the Rings and Hobbit co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens will work on the screenplay, whilst Peter Jackson will produce and consult. New Line will helm the film for Warner Brothers, as it did the previous trilogies, and Weta will again provide visual effects.

The film has a tentative release date of "2026," suggesting that Warner Brothers will get the wheels moving on it soon.

The attention this year is on a cinematic re-release for the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, overseen by Jackson, and animated film Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim. Directed by Kenji Kamiyama, the animated film is set 260 years before the original trilogy and tells the story of Helm Hammerhand, the Rohirrim king who defends his country from an army of Dunlendings. Brian Cox stars whilst Miranda Otto returns from the trilogy in the role of Éowyn, who is expected to provide voiceover narration. The movie is set for release on 13 December.

Amazon's wholly unrelated TV series The Rings of Power is expected to air its second season before the end of this year, after a mixed reception for its debut season.

Monday 6 May 2024

Franchise Familiariser: Homeworld

This week sees the release of Homeworld 3, the latest in the venerable 3D real-time strategy video game series. There's never been a better time to jump on board the franchise, which has now expanded to tabletop games, mobile games and other entry-points to the series.

But what if you want to know more? Whose homeworld? Time for a Franchise Familiariser!

The original box art from Homeworld, released in 1999.

The Basics

Homeworld is a space opera saga spanning thousands of years in the history of the Hiigaran people. It tells the story of the exile of the Hiigarans to the desolate desert world of Kharak, their desperate battle for survival, the discovery of the great Hyperspace Core in the wreck of the ship that brought them to the planet, and their resulting battle to reclaim their original homeworld from the tyrannical Taiidan Empire. Subsequent entries in the series have expanded on the Hiigarans' return to galactic prominence and their survival in the face of new threats.

Almost all Homeworld video games are real-time strategy games set in a full 3D universe, allowing vertical movement and attacks to come from any direction. Each game features a series of missions, through which a narrative unfolds, as well as various multiplayer options. Many of the games are accompanied by manuals, PDFs and websites that further expand the franchise's background lore and storyline.

The video games have been developed by several companies, although the same core team including Rob Cunningham has made four of the five "main" games in the series, Homeworld (1999), Homeworld 2 (2003), Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (2016) and Homeworld 3 (2024), the first two at Relic Entertainment and the latter two at Blackbird Interactive. The remaining core game, Homeworld Cataclysm (2000), renamed Homeworld: Emergence in 2017, was made by Barking Dog Studios in consultation with Relic. The IP was originally owned by publishers Sierra (aka Vivendi), then sold to THQ and currently reside with Gearbox Software.

Both mobile and VR side-games have been developed, and Modiphius Entertainment have released a series of tabletop games based on the franchise.

Curiously, despite the franchise's age and well-developed lore, no comic books or novels have been written or set in the Homeworld universe.

The title card from my venerable History of Homeworld series.

The Canon

The Homeworld canon consists of seven video games, a remaster of two of those games, and a series of tabletop games.

The core canon consists of:
  • Homeworld (1999)
  • Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000), renamed Homeworld: Emergence in 2017
  • Homeworld 2 (2003)
  • Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (2016)
  • Homeworld 3 (2024)
In 2015, Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were re-released as Homeworld Remastered, a thorough remake of the first two games with updating for compatibility with modern systems.

The spin-off games consist of:
  • Homeworld Mobile (2022)
  • Homeworld: Vast Reaches (2024)
The spin-off tabletop games consist of:
  • Homeworld: Revelations (2022)
  • Homeworld: Fleet Command (2023)

Homeworld tells the story of the Kushan people as they leave their desert planet of Kharak and journey across the galaxy to locate their long-lost homeworld, Hiigara.

Homeworld: Cataclysm, set fifteen years later, tells the story of the conflict between the Hiigarans and the mysterious organism known only as "the Beast."

Homeworld 2, set one hundred years after Cataclysm, tells of the battle between the Hiigarans and the Vaygr warlord Makaan.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is set 106 years before the events of Homeworld and tells of the desert expedition sent to find the long-lost First City of Kharak. The game is notable for being the only one in the series set on a planetary surface rather than in deep space.

Homeworld 3 is set one century after Homeworld 2 and revolves around the arrival of the Anomaly, a mysterious force threatening the galaxy. Karan S'jet, a key protagonist of the first two games, vanishes whilst investigating the Anomaly, sparking the commissioning of a new mothership to track her down.

Homeworld Mobile is a game designed for mobile phones. Set fifteen years after Homeworld 2, it tells of a Hiigaran expedition beyond the Eye of Aarran, into the mysterious Nimbus Galaxy where new threats await.

Homeworld: Vast Reaches is a VR game set shortly after Homeworld, telling of the conflict between the Hiigarans and the treacherous Radaa.

Homeworld: Revelations is a tabletop roleplaying game published by Modiphius, using their 2d20 rules system. Players create characters and take part in narratives set during any part of the Homeworld timeline.

Homeworld: Fleet Command is a tabletop wargame/board game using large numbers of model spaceships, where players can re-enact battles from the video games or take part in new campaigns. 

The planet Kharak during the events of Deserts of Kharak.

The Backstory

For a more detailed summary, check out my History of Homeworld series.

Prequel game Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak sets the initial scene. The desert planet of Kharak is home to the Kushan, a humanoid species divided into several large, distinct family-clan structures, the kiithid. Most of the clans are united in the Coalition of the Northern Kiithid. Some years before the start of the game, it was discovered that the planet Kharak is dying. The small seas are drying up, the amount of fertile land is dropping dangerously and the planet will not be able to support life for more than another three centuries or so. The Kushan have launched satellites and even people into orbit, but are a long way from being able to evacuate the planet, and there is nowhere to evacuate to.

A malfunctioning satellite uncovers an unidentified but incredibly powerful energy signal coming from deep within the Great Banded Desert, a vast, borderline uninhabitable region on the equator. The Coalition launches an expedition to find the source of the signal, but they are attacked by the Gaalsien, an exiled kiith who inhabit the deep desert and have gained access to advanced technology from an unknown source. The Gaalsien are religious fanatics, believing that the pursuit of high technology and space travel will bring about a prophecy that will destroy the Kushan people. The Coalition desert carrier Kapisi breaks through the Gaalsien lines and discovers that there are myriad wrecked starships across the desert, some having apparently materialised in solid rock. The Gaalsien have ransacked these ships to gain access to new technology. The Kapisi refits with some of this new tech itself. Eventually it defeats the Gaalsien flagship and finds the source of the signal: a wrecked spacecraft known as the Khar-Toba. According to legend, Khar-Toba was the First City of Kharak, and the explorers find a vast city buried under the sands, centred on the ship.

In the succeeding decades, Khar-Toba is thoroughly explored and excavated. Two objects of immense interest are found. The first is a technological object generating the energy signature, apparently a quantum waveform generator capable of faster-than-light travel: the Hyperspace Core. The second is a map, made of stone that is not native of Kharak: the Guidestone. The Guidestone's three-dimensional coordinates pinpoint the location of a spot near the Galactic Core known only as Hiigara, the ancient word for "Home." This confirms the xenogenesis theory, that the Kushan are not native to Kharak, as they share no DNA or other genetic similarities with the planet's few native animal species. The Kushan instead came to Kharak some three thousand years ago, fell into a dark age of primitive barbarism, and then climbed back out to a level of technological development.

With the impending extinction of all life on Kharak, the Kushan agree to band together as never before and build an immense starship. This vessel and a support fleet will travel to Hiigara and reconnoitre the situation before returning to begin a mass evacuation. The vessel - known only as "the Mothership" when a more aesthetically pleasing name cannot be decided upon by all the parties involved - and its support structures take almost sixty years to build. More than 600,000 people are chosen to accompany the vessel and its crew of 50,000 in tightly-packed cryosleep chambers. Karan S'jet was chosen to undergo the dangerous neurosurgery required to merge with the Mothership's central processor to become Fleet Command.

Unfortunately, when the Mothership launches and tests the Hyperspace Core, the hyperspace interdiction field it was generating around the Kharakian system - causing interloper ships to materialise in solid rock or crash instead - vanished. A sensor network monitoring the field reported this development to its superiors. By the time the Mothership returned from its hyperspace test flight, it found Kharak burning in space, having been hit by multiple weapons of mass destruction. More than 300 million people had been killed. The Mothership returned in time to capture one of the attacking ships. Interrogating its crew, the Kushan learned that they came from the Taiidan Empire, a vast space confederation spanning much of the galaxy. The Kushan people, known to the Taiidan as "The Exiles," had been banished to Kharak more than three millennia ago with the agreement to never develop hyperspace technology or leave Kharak. Breaking that agreement - which the Kushan had no knowledge of - led to the destruction of Kharak.

The Mothership and its fleet were grossly outnumbered and outgunned but possessed one advantage: the Hyperspace Core they possessed was at least an orders magnitude more powerful than the drives used by the Taiidan. The Mothership and its fleet could jump thousands of light-years at a time, as opposed to the dozens of the Taiidan ship, allowing them to simply outrun the Taiidan border fleets all the way to Hiigara.

The journey of the Mothership from Kharak to Hiigara is covered in the original Homeworld, and sees the Kushan learn that they are the descendants of an ancient interstellar empire which grew too greedy and powerful, and was overthrown by a coalition of other races including the Taiidan and the incredibly powerful Bentusi, an "unbound" species of traders who have merged with their ships to live forever in space. The Bentusi do not hold the descendants responsible for the crimes of their ancestors, especially as the Taiidan Empire itself has become morally corrupt, brutal and tyrannical. The use of forbidden weapons of mass destruction spurs a civil war within the Empire, and censure by the Galactic Council. Eventually, aided by the Bentusi and the Taiidan Republican movement, the Mothership makes it to Hiigara. Its fleet destroys the Taiidan flagship and kills the Taiidan Emperor. The Empire collapses, with warlords and the new Republican government vying for power. The 650,000 survivors of Kharak reoccupy Hiigara, becoming known as the Hiigaran people once more. Karan S'jet survives extraction from the Mothership but with a mysterious side-effect: she no longer ages.

Fifteen years later, as depicted in Homeworld: Cataclysm (aka Homeworld: Emergence) a ship of the mining Kiith Somtaaw becomes embroiled in a secretive conflict. A million-year-old starship from another galaxy is discovered, harbouring a lifeform known as the Beast. Capable of subverting both biological and technological systems, the Beast takes over several Hiigaran and Taiidan fleets and destroys multiple Bentusi vessels (who are very susceptible to its influence), forcing many others to fleet. The Somtaaw make several technological breakthroughs and finally destroy the Beast with their advanced weaponry. The conflict is covered up to prevent mass panic, with the Somtaaw instead honoured for helping defeat an unspecified Taiidan warlord plot against Hiigara.

In the following decades, the Hiigaran people discover that the mysterious and ancient Progenitors, who existed more than ten thousand years ago before vanishing overnight, leaving behind many obscure ruins, built three great hyperspace cores, capable of jumping clear across the galaxy. The Bentusi discovered one, whilst the ancient Hiigarans discovered the second. The third remains missing.

One hundred years later, in Homeworld 2, the Vaygr, an obscure species from the remote eastern reaches of the galaxy, suddenly invaded the rest of civilised space. The Vaygr quickly overran frontier settlements from numerous species, apparently jumping far beyond the abilities of their opponents. Karan S'jet realised that the Vaygr and their charismatic warlord, Makaan, had discovered the third great core. Makaan was now on a crusade to unite the three cores, which according to ancient, garbled history, would open the way to Sajuuk, one of the most famed Progenitors (and a key character in Hiigaran mythology). A new Mothership, the Pride of Hiigara, was constructed in record time.

In the Vaygr War, Hiigara came under siege but the Pride of Hiigara scoured the galaxy for clues on how to defeat Makaan. Eventually, in the ancient starship graveyard at Karos, it discovered a Progenitor Dreadnought. Making use of its power, the Hiigarans were able to destroy several Vaygr fleets. During one battle with Progenitor drones, the Bentusi flagship, the Great Harbour Ship Bentus, self-destructed to destroy the hardy foes. The Pride recovered the Bentusi core and pursued Makaan to Balcora Gate, a great hyperspace entry point to the black hole cluster at the centre of the galaxy. There the Pride finally destroyed Makaan, seized the third core and was able to reactivate Sajuuk, now revealed to be a Progenitor flagship vessel. Karan S'jet took command of the Sajuuk and raced back to Hiigara to destroy the last Vaygr forces threatening the homeworld, including the use of Progenitor planet-killing weaponry uncovered by Makaan.

Making full use of the Sajuuk's power and the three united cores, Karan S'jet discovered the Eye of Aarran, a vast hyperspace gateway. Unlocking the gate revealed the existence of an entire network of gates floating in the space between stars, linking all of the galactic sectors together with instantaneous travel. A new golden age of interstellar trade and diplomacy began. Or so it appears...

The Homeworld galaxy - what we call M51a - during the events of Homeworld and Homeworld 2.

The Setting

The Homeworld saga takes place in M51a, what we call the Whirlpool Galaxy, located 23.5 million light-years from Earth. Although the Homeworld series mostly revolves around humanoid or human-looking species, it has nothing to do with Earth at all, and Earth does not appear or is even mentioned. Some fan theories suggest that the mysterious Progenitors may be humans from Earth, or our descendants in a distant future, but there is little corroborating evidence.

The following are key factors in the setting:

The Progenitors
A mysterious, ancient civilisation who dominated the galaxy more than ten thousand years ago before vanishing overnight. The vast mega-structures in the Karos Graveyard and the derelict at Tanis are remnants of their civilisation. They had total mastery of hyperspace and built the Three, the great hyperspace cores allowing for Far Jumping. They also built the Great Hyperspace Gate Network. Only one Progenitor name has survived through history, Sajuuk, who built the ship of the same name and the Cores. Sajuuk became a religious figure to the Hiigaran people.

The Bentusi
Oldest of the known races, the Bentusi arose to become a spacefaring civilisation some millennia after the fall of the Progenitors. The Bentusi found the First Core and used it to become dominant in matters of trade. A peaceful species, the Bentusi founded the Galactic Council as a forum for interstellar diplomacy. They later forsook their homeworld and merged with their ships, becoming creatures of space: the "Unbound." The Bentusi were adversely affected by the Beast War, most fleeing the galaxy, leaving behind only their Great Harbour Ship, the Bentus. The Bentus was destroyed during the Vaygr War. The First Core was claimed by the Hiigarans.

The Hiigarans (aka Kushan)
The Hiigarans area a humanoid species who act as the primary protagonists of the Homeworld series. The Hiigarans established a galactic empire some four thousand years ago, but became rivals of the Taiidan, whom they believed had corrupted the Galactic Council into always taking their side. Discovering the Second Core in secret, the Hiigarans used it to launch a military attack on the Taiidan homeworld, crippling their fleets. The Bentusi forced the Hiigarans to surrender, but they (apparently) destroyed the Core rather than surrender it. In secret, the Hiigarans took the Core with them to Kharak, but forgot about it when their high-tech civilisation collapsed. The survivors took three millennia to rebuild a technology base and rediscover the Core, and then used it to return Hiigara. Only 650,000 Hiigarans survived the annihilation of Kharak by the Taiidan to repopulated their homeworld, but by over a century later the population had boomed to the hundreds of millions thanks to a high birth rate, genetic engineering and adopting outcasts from other species.

The Taiidan
A humanoid, space-faring species who established an empire to rival Hiigara some four thousand years ago. After the Hiigarans were exiled to Kharak, the Taiidan Empire became the premiere force in the galaxy. However, over the millennia they came more decadent and corrupt. The Empire's attack on Kharak using banned weapons of mass destruction spurred civil war and rebellion. The Taiidan subsequently splintered into independent warlord kingdoms and a democratic Taiidan Republic, allied to Hiigara. The primary antagonists of Homeworld, and play a supporting role in Homeworld: Cataclysm.

The Turanic Raiders
Pirates of the Outer Rim, employed by the Taiidan Empire as mercenaries. The Turanic Raiders aided the Empire in its attack on Kharak. Minor antagonists in Homeworld and Homeworld: Cataclysm.

The Kadeshi
Inhabitants of the Great Nebula. A splinter-group of Hiigarans/Kushan whose ships did not make it to Kharak, instead foundering inside the Nebula. The Kadeshi are fiercely insular and xenophobic. Minor antagonists in Homeworld.

The Beast
A powerful and hostile biotech organism of unknown origin. The Beast was discovered by extragalactic explorers who endured unusually long exposure to hyperspace on their way to the galaxy. The Beast was discovered and inadvertently released by Hiigarans of Kiith Somtaaw, but with the help of the Bentusi they were able to overcome and defeat the Beast. The primary antagonist of Homeworld: Cataclysm.

The Radaa
Duplicitous interstellar traders who are instrumental to Hiigara rebuilding its technology base after the reoccupation of the planet, but later turn on the Hiigarans. The primary antagonists of Homeworld: Vast Reaches.

The Vaygr
A species of raiders and warriors from the galactic east, divided into warring factions and groups. United the warleader Makaan after he discovered the Third Core, but defeated by Karan S'jet during the Vaygr War. The primary antagonists of Homeworld 2.

The Keepers
AI-controlled spacecraft and artefacts left behind by the Progenitors, and almost impervious to harm. They seem to be in perfect working order despite the passage of at least ten millennia. Minor antagonists in Homeworld 2, after a brief appearance in Homeworld.

The Nimbus Galaxy
Another galaxy, located an unknown distance from the Whirlpool Galaxy and only accessible via the Eye of Aarran gate network. This galaxy is home to the Tanoch Empire, the Yaot Federation, the Amassari Remain, the Iyatequa Traders and the Cangacian pirates. The main location for Homeworld Mobile.

The Anomaly
An unidentified phenomenon which appears to be destroying the Great Hyperspace Gate Network; its appearance sparks the events of Homeworld 3.

The artwork of British SF artist Chris Foss and his contemporary Peter Elson was a key influence on Homeworld.

Behind the Scenes

Work on Homeworld began in 1997 as the first project at Relic Entertainment, a new video game studio based in Canada. The original idea was to create a video game inspired by the art of pioneering science fiction artists Peter Elson and Chris Foss, and using a similar premise to the 1970s show Battlestar Galactica (a remake of which began airing shortly after the release of Homeworld 2).

Homeworld was released in late 1999 and was an immediate hit. Publishers Sierra (later Vivendi) were keen on a sequel, but Relic were contracted by Microsoft to make a new game for much more money, which became Impossible Creatures. Sierra instead commissioned Barking Dog Studios to make an expansion, Homeworld: Cataclysm, but the expansion ended up becoming a larger and more original game, so they released it as a stand-alone title in late 2000.

Relic released Homeworld 2 in 2003, but the game did disappointingly. Budget limitations meant the original concept, of "Dust Wars" fought amidst vast space derelicts, was dropped in favour of a linear campaign similar to the original game. Shortly after release, Relic were acquired by THQ and put to work on Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, which was released to enormous success in 2004. The company then made the similarly successful World War II historical RTS Company of Heroes (2006).

After the release of Company of Heroes, many of the founder and original team at Relic left to found Blackbird Interactive in 2007. The company began work on Hardspace: Shipbreakers, a "spiritual predecessor" to Homeworld revolving around exploring wrecked spaceships on a desert planet.

Also in 2007, THQ bought the Homeworld IP from Vivendi, leading to speculation that Relic would make a new game, but with the original development team now at Blackbird, there was limited interest in pursuing the project. Relic instead made Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (2009) and Company of Heroes 2 (2013). In 2013 THQ collapsed and Relic was acquired by Sega; Sega refused to buy the Homeworld IP, which was instead acquired by Gearbox.

Gearbox and Blackbird Interactive entered discussions on a collaboration, which resulted in Hardspace: Shipbreakers becoming an official Homeworld prequel game, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, released to a solid reception in 2016. The two companies also collaborated on Homeworld Remastered (2015), a thorough revamping of the original games.

In 2019 Gearbox and Blackbird used crowdfunding platform Fig to fund early development of Homeworld 3, the first mainline new entry in the series for over twenty years. Increased awareness of the franchise also led to Modiphius Entertainment creating spin-off products, namely the tabletop roleplaying game Homeworld: Revelations and tabletop wargame Homeworld: Fleet Command. Gearbox also expanded the video game franchise with Homeworld Mobile, developed by Stratosphere Games, and Homeworld: Vast Reaches, a VR title from FarBridge.

Homeworld 3 is due for release on 13 May 2024.

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