Homeworld is a real-time strategy video game developed by Relic Entertainment and published by Sierra Studios on September 28, 1999, for Microsoft Windows. Set in space, the science fiction game follows the Kushan exiles of the planet Kharak after their home planet is destroyed by the Taiidan Empire in retaliation for developing hyperspace jump technology. The survivors journey with their spacecraft-constructing mothership to reclaim their ancient homeworld of Hiigara from the Taiidan, encountering a variety of pirates, mercenaries, traders, and rebels along the way. In each of the game's levels, the player gathers resources, builds a fleet, and uses it to destroy enemy ships and accomplish mission objectives. The player's fleet carries over between levels, and can travel in a fully three-dimensional space within each level rather than being limited to a two-dimensional plane.
Homeworld was created over two years, and was the first game developed by Relic. Studio co-founders Alex Garden and Luke Moloney served as the director and lead programmer for the game, respectively. The initial concept for the game's story is credited to writer David J. Williams, while the script itself was written by Martin Cirulis and the background lore was written by author Arinn Dembo. The music of the game was written by composer Paul Ruskay as the first title from his Studio X Labs, with the exception of Samuel Barber's 1936 Adagio for Strings, considered the defining theme of the game, and a licensed track from English rock band Yes, "Homeworld (The Ladder)".
Homeworld is listed by review aggregator Metacritic as the highest rated computer game of 1999, and the fourth-highest on any platform for the year. Critics praised the game's graphics, unique gameplay elements, and multiplayer system, though opinions were divided on the game's plot and high difficulty. The game sold over 500,000 copies in its first 6 months, and received several awards and nominations for best strategy game of the year and best game of the year. A release of the game's source code in 2003 sparked unofficial ports to macOS and Linux, and three more games in the Homeworld series have been produced: Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000), Homeworld 2 (2003), and Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (2016). Gearbox Software purchased the rights to the series from then-owners THQ in 2013, and released a remastered collection of Homeworld and Homeworld 2 in 2015 for Windows and macOS which was also highly regarded.
Homeworld is a real-time strategy game set in space. Gameplay, as in most real-time strategy titles, is focused on gathering resources, building military forces, and using them to destroy enemy forces and accomplish an objective. The game includes both single-player and multiplayer modes; the single-player mode consists of one story-driven campaign, broken up into levels. In each level, the player has an objective to accomplish before they can end the level, though the ultimate objective of the mission can change as the level's story unfolds. Between each of the 16 levels is a hand-drawn, black-and-white cutscene with narrative voiceovers.
The central ship of the player's fleet is the mothership, a large base which can construct other ships; unlike other spacecraft, in the single-player campaign the mothership is unable to move. Present in each level are stationary rocks or dust clouds, which can be mined by specialized harvesting ships which then empty their loads at the mothership in the form of "resources", the game's only currency. Resources can be spent by the player on building new ships, which are constructed by the mothership. Buildable ships come in a variety of types, which are discovered over the course of the game. They include resource harvester ships, small fighter ships, frigates, destroyers, and heavy cruisers, as well as specialized ships such as research vessels and repair corvettes. Fighter ships need to return to the mothership periodically to refuel, while salvage corvettes can capture enemy ships and tow them to the mothership to become part of the player's fleet. In some levels, new ship types can be unlocked by capturing an enemy ship of that type, through research performed at the research vessel, or through plot elements. At the beginning of the campaign, the player may select between controlling the "Kushan" or "Taiidan" fleet; this affects the designs of the ships and changes some of the specialized ship options, but has no effect on the plot or gameplay.
Each level's playable area is a sphere, bisected by a circular plane. Ships can be directed to move anywhere in that sphere, either singularly or in groups. The game's camera can be set to follow any ship and view them from any angle, as well as display the ship's point of view. The player may also view the "Sensors Manager", wherein they can view the entire game map along with all visible ships. Ships can be grouped into formations, such as wedges or spheres, in order to provide tactical advantages during combat with enemy ships. Non-specialized ships are equipped with weapons to fire upon enemy ships, which include ballistic guns, beam weapons, and missiles. As a ship is damaged by weapons its health bar depletes, visual effects such as fire and smoke are added, and it can eventually explode.
When all mission objectives are completed, the player is given the option to make a hyperspace jump to end the level. This may be postponed in order to gather more resources or build more ships. When the hyperspace jump is initiated, all fighters return to the mothership while larger ships line up next to it, and blue rectangles pass over the ships and teleport them to the next level. The player retains their fleet between levels, and the difficulty of each mission is adjusted to a small extent based on how many ships are in the player's fleet at the beginning of each level. In multiplayer games, the objective is typically to destroy the enemy motherships, though other battle-oriented victory conditions are available. The mothership is capable of movement, and as there are no levels, the research done at the research vessel follows a technology tree with each upgrade or ship design taking a set amount of time, rather than also being dependent on a plot point. Multiple maps are available, as are options to turn off the need to research technologies or fuel consumption for smaller ships.
A century prior to the start of the game, the Kushan, humanoid inhabitants of the desert planet Kharak, discovered a spaceship buried in the sands, which holds a stone map marking Kharak and another planet across the galaxy labelled "Hiigara", meaning "home". The discovery united the clans of Kharak, who knew they were not indigenous to Kharak and craved to solve the mystery of how they came to this hostile planet. Together, they spent the next century developing and building a giant mothership that would carry 600,000 people to Hiigara, with neuroscientist Karan S'jet neurally wired into the ship as Fleet Command to replace an unsustainably large crew. The game opens with the maiden voyage of the mothership, testing the hyperspace drive which teleports the fleet to a new destination. Instead of the support ship that was expected to be there, the mothership finds a hostile alien fleet. After defeating them the mothership returns to Kharak, to discover that the planet has been razed by another alien fleet and that only the 600,000 migrants in suspended animation have survived. After capturing an enemy ship, the survivors discover that their planet was burned because their development of a hyperspace drive was in violation of a forgotten 4,000-year-old treaty between the interstellar Taiidan Empire and the Kushan, as part of the latter's exile to Kharak.
The nascent Kushan fleet sets out for Hiigara, intent on reclaiming their ancient homeworld, but not before decimating the fleet responsible for Kharak genocide. Their multi-stage journey across the galaxy takes them through asteroid fields, a giant nebula, and a ship graveyard. Along the way, they encounter several independent, mercenary, and pirate enemies in addition to Taiidan outposts. They also meet the Bentusi, a race of traders, who sell them advanced technology. After discovering that the Bentusi have given aid to the exiles, the Taiidan attempt to destroy them, but are stopped by the Kushan fleet. The Bentusi then reveal that the Kushan had once ruled their own empire, before being destroyed by the Taiidan and exiled from Hiigara. In gratitude for the Kushan's intervention, they promise to summon the Galactic Council to consider the Kushan's claim to Hiigara.
As their journey continues, the Kushan fleet gives sanctuary to the Taiidan rebel Captain Elson. With his help, they rally a rebellion to distract the Taiidan fleets. He aids them in penetrating the Hiigaran system blockade, and in engaging the central Taiidan fleet led by the Taiidan emperor. During the final battle, the emperor manages to knock S'jet into a coma, but the combined Kushan and rebel fleets defeat the Taiidan regardless. The Galactic Council arrives shortly thereafter and confirms the Kushan's claim to Hiigara, a lush world in contrast to the desert planet of Kharak. When the Kushan make landfall, the awakened Karan insists to be the last one to set foot on the planet.
Relic Entertainment was founded in Vancouver, Canada, on June 1, 1997, and began work on Homeworld as their first title. Relic co-founders Alex Garden and Luke Moloney served as the director and lead programmer for the game, respectively, while Erin Daly was the designer and Aaron Kambeitz the lead artist. Writer David J. Williams is credited with the original story concept, while the script itself was written by Martin Cirulis and the background lore was written by author Arinn Dembo. Cirulis and Dembo, credited jointly as "Marcus Skyler", were selected by the publisher, Sierra Studios, partway through development to expand the story concept of Relic and Williams. Sierra agreed to publish the game early in development based on, according to Garden, "two whiteboard presentations and no demo". The development of the game took over two years; the game systems were largely complete by the final eight months, which Relic spent polishing and improving the game, including adding the whole-map Sensors Manager view. The game was initially expected to be released at the end of 1998; Garden stated in a 1999 interview that the team found creating the core game itself much easier than getting it to the quality level they wanted, and that if they had known how difficult it was going to be they may have chosen not to do the project. Several ideas for the game, including ship customization, convoy routes, and different unit types for the Kushan and Taidann fleets were cut during development as they could not be done well enough for the project.
Relic did not specifically set out to create a real-time strategy game; Garden and Relic were primarily focused on making a game with exciting large-scale space battles, and chose the genre in order to support that. As a result, they did not try to make innovative gameplay changes in the real-time strategy genre, but instead worked on making implementing the genre in a fully 3D space to make the space battles they envisioned. Garden told Computer Games Magazine in 1998 that "there's no sort of design philosophy behind it. The fact that it's real-time strategy was almost a fluke." The original Star Wars film trilogy was one of the games primary inspirations, along with the 1970s television series Battlestar Galactica: in a 1998 interview with PC Zone, Garden stated that his original concept for the game was "a 3D game that looked like you were watching Star Wars but had a storyline like Battlestar Galactica". He drew further inspiration from correcting what he felt were the limitations of the first-person space flight game Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. He felt that having the player control a ship from a cockpit view detracted from the feeling of the overall battles, and so chose to have the player control a whole fleet from an external view.
The focus on the combat drove several other areas of focus for the development team: according to Garden, Relic spent considerable effort on making high-quality ship models, computer-controlled flight tactics, and maneuvers like immelmann turns because "everyone is going to zoom right in on the first battle, just to watch". They felt that the advanced unit-level maneuvers in the context of large fleet-wide battles would increase immersion in the game for players, and create a "Star Wars feeling" to the battles. The working title for the game was Spaghetti Ball, chosen for Garden's early vision of the battles in the game as a mass of tangled flight paths as ships maneuvered around each other, contained within a larger sphere of available space.
The sound design, audio production, and music composition for the game was contracted to composer Paul Ruskay and Studio X Labs, which he founded in February 1999 after starting on Homeworld in October 1998. In addition to his original music compositions, Ruskay used a recording of the 1936 piece for string orchestra by Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings, in an early scene in the game when the player finds the destruction of Kharak. The piece, in turn, became a central theme on the soundtrack. The closing song of the game, "Homeworld (The Ladder)", was licensed from English rock band Yes. The soundtrack was released in a 13-track album that was bundled with the Game of the Year Edition of Homeworld in May 2000, and again in a 37-track Homeworld Remastered Original Soundtrack digital album alongside the Homeworld Remastered Collection in March 2015.
Homeworld was highly regarded by critics upon release; it is listed by review aggregator Metacritic as the highest rated computer game of 1999, and the fourth-highest on any platform for the year. The graphics were highly praised; Michael Ryan of GameSpot claimed it had "some of the most impressive graphics ever", while Jason Levine of Computer Games Magazine said that "no game—ever—has made space itself look like this". Eurogamer's review praised the "big, brash and colourful" backgrounds, which was echoed by Levine and John Keefer of GameSpy. Multiple reviewers, such as Vincent Lopez of IGN, also praised the detail and variety of the spaceships, and Jason Samuel of GamePro noted that Relic was able to use their graphics engine to create the game's intricate cutscenes rather than relying on prerecorded videos. Greg Fortune of Computer Gaming World added that the rotatable camera was one of the "real joys of the game", allowing the player to view the action from any angle or ship's viewpoint and "creating an impressively sweeping cinematic feel". The sound and music were also lauded; Levine claimed the sound was "on par with the graphics", praising how it changed when the player zoomed into or away from a battle, while Eurogamer and Lopez applauded the "atmospheric" soundtrack for creating the mood of the game.
The gameplay advances were also highly praised by critics: Lopez claimed that "Relic not only tackled space, but may have just changed strategy games forever." Reviewers praised the full 3D nature of the game as elevating it from its otherwise standard real-time strategy gameplay systems; Levine said that the 3D was what made the game unique, and Ryan explicitly termed the base gameplay as "fairly similar to any tried-and-true real-time strategy game" but said that the 3D elements and connected mission structure turned it into a "different breed" of game. Fortune, however, focused instead on the difficulty of the missions themselves, praising the challenge and variety of tactics needed to complete the game and lauding it for having "some of the best fleet battles ever seen in a computer game". Levine, Ryan, Keefer, and Lopez all noted the connected mission structure as an innovation in the genre: by limiting the resources to build ships and pulling the same fleet through the missions, Homeworld converted what would usually be a set of disconnected missions into "chapters" of a continuous game. They felt this connected the player to their fleet as more than disposable units, and added a level of strategy to the game. Keefer and Levine did note, however, that this added a great deal of difficulty to the game, especially for more casual players, as the player could make decisions in earlier levels that rendered later ones very difficult to complete without an explicit difficulty level to counteract it. Ryan and Keefer also considered the 3D movement disorienting at first, though Levine and Samuel said the controls were "as easy as possible".
Homeworld's single-player plot received mixed reviews; Lopez claimed it would keep players "rapt with attention", Samuel summized it as a "superb story", and Levine said that it was "the first computer game to capture the grandeur and epic feel of the Star Wars movies". The Eurogamer review, however, considered it only "(mostly) engaging", and Keefer said that "although the story line is fluid and intriguing", for each mission "the overall theme is the same: Kill the enemy", while Ryan criticized the length for such a "meager single-player game". The multiplayer gameplay was praised, especially against human opponents: Levine stated that "multiplayer in Homeworld is a joy", while the Eurogamer review called it the game's strongest part. The Eurogamer review, along with Samuel, also called the multiplayer mode more difficult and engaging than the single-player game.
Homeworld was released to strong sales and won multiple awards; it sold more than 250,000 copies in its initial weeks, and over 500,000 in its first six months. In the United States alone, the game's sales surpassed 95,000 copies by the end of 1999. It received a "Silver" sales award from the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), indicating sales of at least 100,000 copies in the United Kingdom.
Homeworld won Best Strategy Game at the 1999 Game Critics Awards prior to release, and was nominated for Computer Game of the Year and Computer Strategy Game of the Year at the 2000 Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Interactive Achievement Awards. It was awarded Game of the Year by IGN and PC Gamer, won Strategy Game of the Year by Computer Gaming World and was nominated for the same by Computer Games Magazine, and won Best Original Storyline and Best Original Score at the 2000 Eurogamer Gaming Globes awards. Maximum PC claimed in 2003 that Homeworld "did what no game had successfully done before: create a truly three-dimensional space-combat strategy game". HardwareMAG similarly claimed the "revolutionary" and "ground-breaking" status of the game in the real-time strategy genre in 2004, as did Computer Gaming World in 2003.
Homeworld inspired a series of real-time strategy games in the same universe, beginning in September 2000 when Sierra Studios released a stand-alone expansion by Barking Dog Studios, Homeworld: Cataclysm. Taking place 15 years after the events of Homeworld, the story centers on Kiith Somtaaw—a Hiigaran clan—and its struggles to protect Hiigara from a parasitic entity known as the Beast. A full sequel, Homeworld 2, was developed by Relic Entertainment and released by Sierra in late 2003. The game, set a century after the original Homeworld, pits the Hiigarans against a powerful, nomadic raider race called the Vaygr. A fourth game in the series, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, was developed by Blackbird Interactive and published by Gearbox Software in 2016. A prequel to the series, it is set on the planet of Kharak instead of in space, and features a war between Kushan clans during the discovery of the buried spaceship from Homeworld. Additionally, in 2003 Relic released the source code for Homeworld under license to members of the Relic Developer Network. The source code became the base of several source ports to alternative platforms, such as Linux.
In 2004, Relic Entertainment was bought by THQ, which confirmed in 2007 that it had acquired the rights to the series from Relic and Sierra. No further game in the series was made before THQ declared bankruptcy in 2013; on April 22, 2013, Gearbox Software announced that they had bought the rights to the series at auction for US$1.35 million. On July 19, 2013, Gearbox announced the production of remakes of Homeworld and Homeworld 2 as Homeworld HD, later renamed Homeworld Remastered Collection. The following month, collection producer Brian Burleson stated that Gearbox had purchased the property with the express purpose of making a collection including the original and remastered versions of the game. He also noted that neither game had code in a releasable or playable state when purchased, and they ended up recreating many of the original development tools with the assistance of the Homeworld mod community. A later posting by a developer at Gearbox further praised the mod community for their assistance in getting the original code to be playable on modern computers. The stand-alone expansion Homeworld: Cataclysm was not announced for a remake, despite the outspoken interest of Gearbox, as they were unable to find the original source code for the game.
Released digitally on February 25, 2015, for Windows computers by Gearbox and on August 6, 2015, for macOS by Aspyr Media, the collection includes the original and remastered versions of the two games. A retail edition of the PC version of the game was released by Ubisoft on May 7, 2015. In addition to compatibility fixes for modern computers, the "classic" version of Homeworld removes local multiplayer and the licensed Yes song; the "remastered" version adds a new game engine for the two games, and upgraded visuals, graphical effects, models, and sound. It also initially removed some functionality not present in Homeworld 2, such as the fuel system, ballistic projectile modeling, and tactical ship formations; some of these were restored in a 2016 patch.
As of February 2017, Steam Spy estimates that over 700,000 copies of the Homeworld Remastered Collection have been sold on the Steam distribution platform. The remastered version was warmly received by critics; reviewers such as IGN's Dan Stapleton and Game Informer's Daniel Tack praised the story as still "fantastic" and "emotional", while Kevin VanOrd of GameSpot claimed that the gameplay was still entertaining 16 years later, and Tom Senior of PC Gamer applauded Gearbox's visual updates to the game. Reviewers were more mixed on the gameplay changes included as part of the upgrade to a new game engine; VanOrd noted that some of the changes did not fit with the original game, while Tack made note of several bugs due to the gameplay modifications. Overall, the updated game was highly praised, however, with Senior concluding bluntly that "Homeworld is simply incredible and everyone should play it."
Narrator: 100 years ago, a satellite detected an object under the sands of the Great Desert. An expedition was sent. An ancient starship, buried in the sand. Deep inside the ruin was a single stone that would change the course of our history forever. On the stone was etched a galactic map and a single word more ancient than the clans themselves: Hiigara. Our home. [...] The greatest of these was made by the scientist Karan Sjet who had herself permanently integrated into the colony ship as its living core. She is now Fleet Command.
Fleet Intelligence: The Cryo Trays are under attack. Defend them. These ships are different from those we encountered at the Khar-Selim. It is likely they were involved in the destruction of Kharak. Capture at least one vessel of interrogation and destroy the rest. Enemy units neutralized. Begin salvaging the cryo trays. Fleet Command: Those trays contain all that remain of our people. Without them, we will become extinct.
Fleet Intelligence: From the interrogation we learned that a frontier fleet patrolling the border of a vast interstellar empire was dispatched to destroy our planet. The captain claimed our planet violated a 4000 year old treaty forbidding us to develop hyperspace technology. Extermination of our planet was the consequence.
Taiidan Emperor: Our spies believe that the Bentusi have interfered. They must not be allowed to bring this matter to the Council and gain support for the Exiles.
Bentusi: In the First Time, a terrible war brought with it the collapse of your ancient empire. So vicious were your enemies that all would have been slaughtered were it not for the collective outcry for mercy. In an effort to soothe relations, the conquerors spared the lives of the defeated. All survivors were sent into exile. [...] Your progress is becoming known among the Inner Rim worlds and elsewhere. Many cultures have prophesized your return. Reach your Homeworld. Establish your claim. We will summon the Council.
Captain Elson: Attention Kushan Mothership! This is Captain Elson of the Taiidan Elite Guard Destroyer Kapella. We wish to defect and need assistance. In return we are prepared to help you. Please respond. Fleet Intelligence: This could be a trap but the Kapella is clearly damaged. Engage the pursuing fleet and draw it away from the defecting ship.
Captain Elson: Help me get access to the Rebellion's communication network. I will allow you a way through the defenses surrounding your Homeworld.
Taiidan Emperor: Karan. You have taken one step too close to me. [...] Fleet Intelligence: We've lost Karan. Fleet command is gone. Emergency biotech teams are working to keep her alive. [...] Fleet Command: Fleet Command back online. The Emperor is gone.
Narrator: The Galactic Council recognized our claim to this world. The sacrifice of thousands has left a trail of destruction behind us, like a path across the galaxy … to Hiigara, our Homeworld. So much destruction, so many lives lost, for this place. A place of wonder to those who knew only the sands of Kharak. [...] No longer Fleet Command, Karan Sjet survived extraction from the Mothership’s core. She insisted that she would be the last person to disembark and set foot on the Homeworld.
Even though Homeworld was a relatively difficult game and was a true "genre-buster" by fusing various kinds of gameplay together, it still went on to sell over 500,000 units within six months of its release.
Gearbox COO Brian Martel says that a re-release of Homeworld: Cataclysm depends on "finding the original source code."