Inside the Box: Homeworld

Inside the Box serves as a forum for individuals involved in the production of Gearbox Software content to share personal motives, methods, process and results. Gearbox Software projects are created by a diverse range of individuals spanning a spectrum of different backgrounds, interests, objectives and world views. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Gearbox Software or any of its individual members outside of the author.

Hi! I’m Brian Burleson, the producer whose goal it is to preserve the heritage of the classic Homeworld series while also bringing it to the modern era.

Where do I begin? Well, one day I was in (Gearbox Chief Creative Officer) Brian Martel’s office talking about the existential nature of the Twinkie resurrection when he asked me what I thought about Homeworld. My response was something along the lines of, “I remember playing that when I was younger, loved it back in the day, way ahead of its time.” His response made me do a Scooby-Doo double take. THQ was putting the franchise up for auction and we were considering bidding on it.

How ridiculously awesome was that?

This (and other images in the article below) are among the really awesome things we found while digging around the old source for the game! Not sure if these have ever been released, so enjoy!

Over the next couple of weeks we spent a good deal of time talking about all of the amazing things we could do and how we might be able to do them. The opportunity to bring Relic’s amazing set of games out of limbo helped build internal support. We were determined to win the auction and started planning next steps for that eventuality.

In a nuthsell, those plans were (and remain) to:

  • Preserve and assemble the purest possible form of the Homeworld and Homeworld 2 for digital release.
  • Create HD versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2 that can take advantage of modern technological advances that weren’t available at the time of their original releases.

All the while, the clock was ticking. Fast forward to the day of the auction. I wasn’t there, but I conjured images of a guy at a podium talking faster than John Moschitta selling Micro Machines while taking bids from all the eager bidders. Sadly, from what I heard afterwards, in place of a guy with an epic 80’s mustache, it was a just a bunch of lawyers trying to do their best to make sure that THQ’s assets were sold and transferred as cleanly as possible… Over the phone… Maybe next time…

Once the bidding finished, it turned out that… we’d won!

Imagine the insane excitement of that revelation. It was like Christmas Eve, and we’d totally just peeked in the closet and saw that we are getting that sweet Schwinn Bike in the morning. Wow. However, we still had to wait for the legal paperwork to be done and the transfer of ownership to be complete before we could get our hands on the source code and content. So, actually, it was more like THE LONGEST Christmas Eve in history. Ugh.

But still! OMG Schwinn Bike!

As we waited for our sweet ride, a lot of exciting things happened. After the initial annoucement, many former Homeworld developers reached out to us, the mod community surged with a renewed interest, and many fans showed their support by sending us stories of how Homeworld affected their lives. Inside Gearbox, we started to cement the team that would be working on it to make sure we could start running on the right foot.

When all the paperwork cleared and the source code was delivered we finally were able to unwrap what had eluded us for so long only to find that… the bike had one pedal, needed a new chain and overall was just missing parts. Granted, we knew this bike was 10-15 years old and hadn’t been touched by the original owner in quite some time, but still!

That’s when the real work started, and boy howdy, did all of those people who reached out to us at the beginning come in handy!

Over the course of a couple of months we were able to find the missing pieces and started to get the bike, erm, game, working again. (I’ll drop the bike metaphor now.)

As Martel mentioned during our panel at PAX Australia, it’s been a struggle to get all of the original tools working again. Just for comparison, the source drop we got from the purchase of the Homeworld property was 16.8 gigs. The sum of all the additional missing source we got from friends who had worked on the games originally was about 39 gigs. The two have almost zero overlap!

For example, Homeworld 2 was largely developed in a heavily customized version Maya 3. (Something we still haven’t located.) This means that if we wanted to update Homeworld 2 content for an HD version, we needed to turn to different tools.

Fortunately, over the past many years, fan-made mods, such as Homeworld 2 Complex, have been keeping the flame alive and have archived all of the existing tools that were released or created. Our sweet bike didn’t really come with assembly directions, but thankfully fans had done a really great job making some incredible mod tools! (Sorry for dropping a bike reference again, it just made too much sense!)

These tools and the folks behind them have been incredibly helpful as we come to understand the underlying systems that power Homeworld and begin work on some of the new tools needed for some of the HD features we are thinking about. Creating new tools is never easy, especially when you didn’t create the underlying formats / systems that they feed into, but thanks to the dedication of the community we have a really great understanding of what works and doesn’t work.

A big part of this re-release is bringing it to modern computers and finding ways to introduce an entirely new generation of gamers to the awesomeness that is classic Homeworld and Homeworld HD. We are currently still figuring out all the ways we can do this and are really eager to hear your input on what you want to see.

The spirit of the team working on this at Gearbox is very focused on not re-inventing Homeworld. A great Guidestone was given to us that we are destined to follow. Along the way, the journey might be fraught with peril, but there are a lot of good people who are determined to go down this path, as well as a lot of friends who we are encountering along the way who are our Bentusi.

I’ve been lurking in the forums for a while, waiting for an announcement to be made so that I could jump in. That time is now. Expect to see me and other Gearbox people working on Homeworld to be posting more often as we bring these awesome games to this new generation.

This is Brian signing off. I’ll be in our forums under the handle BurlesonGBX — feel free to shoot me a Private Message there or, if you’d rather, e-mail your suggestions (be they for Homeworld or what you want to see here on Inside the Box in the future) to [email protected]