All the genres of yesteryear are coming back to life. We've got CRPGs, point-and-click adventures, and, uh, retro LCD games. Yet RTS games—the only noble genre that lets you send entire battalions charging directly into enemy fire because it's easier than coming up with an actual plan—still feel like they're out in the cold. But hey, maybe not for long, because a new one called ZeroSpace hits Kickstarter today and it's got some very lofty goals indeed.
The first game from Starlance Studios, ZeroSpace bills itself as a "a cinematic RTS with an epic sci-fi story where your decisions determine the fate of the galaxy," and looks like it's going for a novel mix of RTS and cinematic, BioWare-style RPG.
The game's single-player campaign mode will feature all that factional stuff you'd expect from an RTS—four main and six "mercenary" factions, with the latter featuring units but no structures—alongside "branching narratives and RPG elements similar to games like Mass Effect or Baldur’s Gate". That means stuff like interactive dialogues, "40 side story arcs" and even loyalty missions for the hero units.
So good luck navigating that moral minefield. Neither ZeroSpace's Kickstarter nor its press release say anything about getting the bad ending because your strategy entailed feeding thousands of troops into a meat grinder, but I kind of hope it does. Call that the renegade playthrough.
But, lest you fear all this 'plot' and 'narrative' stuff is going to distract from the proper business of developing an inscrutable strategic meta, ZeroSpace is very keen to emphasise its RTS bonafides. Starlance promises all sorts of moving parts: the aforementioned factions plus 14 hero units that provide for "nearly limitless combinations" in combat. "Historically, RTSs have constrained players to a set of rigid tools the developer has constructed, but ZeroSpace's mix-and-match system for Factions, Mercenaries and Heroes brings near limitless levels of player expression," says lead campaign designer Grant Purtle.
Where will you be expressing yourself? Across "three main gameplay modes": Campaign, PvE Co-op, and Versus. All pretty standard for an RTS, but tucked away in the Kickstarter description is the promise of "A truly unique cooperative multiplayer mode that includes a shared, persistent galaxy for an entirely new massively multiplayer experience." A video explains that co-op is tied to a "persistent galactic map" that aims at "rewarding progression" and "supporting guild play" and "allowing for players to create their own missions to share with the world".
The game has also enlisted a bunch of StarCraft pros and their esoteric nicknames to work on the game. Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn is on board as lead balance designer, Paulo "Catz" Vicarra heads up design on the game's versus mode, and Jared "PiG" Krensel is on board to offer design feedback.
The game has apparently been in the making for a few years now, and is hitting Kickstarter in an attempt to get it over the finish line (the "Risks and Challenges" section says it might have to seek publisher backing if it doesn't hit all its stretch goals). I'll be honest, it sounds very ambitious to me, to the extent that I worry it'll be able to fulfil all its goals when push comes to shove, but I do like the ideas. Combining a BioWare-esque RPG with an RTS sounds like something I'd like to play, and, well, maybe Starlance will manage it. Sometimes ambitious indies do pull off miracles.