Do you remember Homeworld? I sure do. I played the hell out of the original Homeworld, the Cataclysm expansion and Homeworld 2. The franchise is without doubt my favorite science fiction 3D real time strategy franchises set in space. But that’s a very limited niche, to be honest, and there hasn’t been many games in that particular genre since. One of the few games is Ancient Space, which looked very promising, but only received mixed reviews. Also, remastered versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were recently released in the Homeworld Remastered Collection, but I haven’t touched those - for once I’ll let a fond memory stay a fond memory. At least until the collection is on sale for 75% off.

Now there is another game in the works that fits the description: Shallow Space: Insurgency. The game has been Greenlit on Steam and it’s among the most popular projects on IndieDB. The developer, Special Circumstance Games, is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to get “a burst of funding to polish up the game, pay some of our contractors, and acquire the needed assets”. Unfortunately, the campaign doesn’t look too encouraging right now. Well over half way through their campaign, they have only raised 10% of the funds they are asking for, and with a fixed funding campaign, it’s unlikely that they will see any money coming in.

Compared to many other games that seek crowdfunding, Shallow Space: Insurgency actually has a playable demo available. It’s far from feature complete, but I hope it gives an idea of what kind of game it will be when it’s finally released.

Shallow Space: Insurgency screenshot.

In the demo you have control of two flotillas of different ships that you have to use to defend a space station against wave after wave of incoming enemy ships. Personally, I don’t like the “defend this object until reinforcements arrive”-scenarios, but it works great as a game demo. In the final game I hope there will be scenarios where there is more time to build a base, get defenses set up and then go for the hunt. Yes, I’m a turtler.

Given that this is only a game demo, and that Special Circumstance insists on calling it an alpha demo (the version I’m testing is 0.7.03D), I assume that a lot of things will change before the final release. But here are a couple of first impressions anyway:

Navigating in space can be hard. You have to move the camera, move your ships and find the enemy by traveling along three axis. Homeworld managed to handle this fairly well, and it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. Shallow Space: Insurgency, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to get it quite right just yet. An hour into the demo, I’m still struggling with moving the camera where I want it and to move my ships correctly in 3D space. I will probably get the hang of it in the end, but you can’t expect the player to be an hour in and still have problems with camera and unit movement. Special Circumstance should have a look at Homeworld and the way these problems were solved by Relic Entertainment back then. There’s no reason to reinvent something that another game is already doing well. An option to quickly zoom out to get a strategic view of the entire - or at least a large part of - the battlefield would probably help a lot.

Shallow Space: Insurgency lets you pause the game and give orders to your ships. When the game is then unpaused, the ships will carry out their orders. In my book, this is perhaps not true to the spirit of a “proper” real time strategy game. The way I see it, some of the point of an RTS is to make things a bit stressful at times. It’s one of the things that make an RTS different from a turn based game, where you normally have all the time in the world to make your move. Yes, I know that a lot of recent RTS games can be paused in the same way that Shallow Space: Insurgency allows, and I understand that if I don’t like the feature, then I don’t have to use it.

Shallow Space: Insurgency screenshot.

The graphics are beautiful, and that’s on my 4 year old system. I often found myself scouting the battle field for ships that were about to suffer a critical hull breach just to witness the massive explosion close up. The ship models are also very detailed with turrets rotating to get a better aim at their targets before they are discharged in a salvo. The audio ain’t too bad either, but I’m guessing this is one of the areas where Special Circumstance plan to use the money from the Indiegogo campaign.

There are a lot of small quirks that should be addressed before the final release, but I’m sure the developer is aware of them: A carrier auto-dock/undock option, selecting and giving orders to multiple flotillas at the same time, flotilla management, formations, etc. But those aside, Shallow Space: Insurgency has massive potential. It looks very, very promising from the standpoint of a veteran Homeworld player. Special Circumstance aim for a Q3 2015 release according to their IndieDB profile, but, based on the features they are looking to implement and the state of the demo, I very much doubt that will happen. Q3 2016 sounds like a more realistic goal to me, but it’s of course possible that the developer has a lot of features ready that are not in the demo. We’ll see.

I, for one, supported the Shallow Space: Insurgency Indiegogo campaign, and if you think any of this even looked remotely interesting, I hope you also have a few dollars to spare. Their $30 minimum pledge level (to get the game) is perhaps a bit steep for the causal strategy gamer, though. We are, after all, talking about a pre-ordering a game that might or might not be released. But that’s the chance you take with crowd funding.

UPDATE, 2014-04-25: The developer has been in touch to clarify that the Q3 2015 release is the Steam Early Access release, not the final release of the game. Also, they plan to add the carrier auto-dock/undock feature. Good times.

UPDATE, 2014-05-05: The Indiegogo campaign is now over, and as expected, it failed. Instead, it is now possible to pre-order the game directly from the Shallow Space website. Pricing starts at $14.99, which feels like a much better price point than the $30 minimum that was used during the indiegogo campaign.