Tuesday, September 14, 2004

ATFW Retro: UFS Vanguard

The following preview was originally posted in November 1999. I visited Red Storm in October of that year, and I was really looking forward to Vanguard. I found out for certain the next year at E3 that Vanguard would never come to be. This is one of the few previews of the game that ever surfaced in Vanguard's short lifetime.

The preview starts in a fictional mode and segues into a more standard format.

I've also posted the media given to me by Red Storm.


I recently attended a top secret command briefing with United Forces specialist Juan Benito on board his flagship, Red Storm. Juan shared highly classified information regarding the United Forces on-going struggle against the Hierarchy of Man (HOM), as well as giving me a good look at the ships and weapons I'll have at my disposal when I take command of my own United Forces Starship next summer. I've smuggled these documents and information back to our flagship, ATFW, for potential UFS captains.

Just the Facts
The year is 2512, and a large portion of our galaxy has been colonized by the human race. The Allied Cultures and its military branch, the United Forces, find themselves at odds with another government, the Hierarchy of Man (HOM, Hierarchy). While the AC is a democratic conglomeration of independent human governments (i.e. the UN with teeth), HOM is a quasi-fascist, religiously fanatical government bent on conquering the galaxy and destroying those who do not share their beliefs. HOM also has a very collective mindset; add that to their fanaticism and willingness to go all lengths to spread their ideology, and it's clear that both the AC and the player face a very dangerous foe.

Over the course of the game, the player will function as captain of three different starships, beginning with the Gladiator Class Frigate, then the Guardian Class Heavy Cruiser, and, finally, the Warrior Class Dreadnaught. Each ship promotion brings an increase in size, power, and weaponry. At the beginning of each mission, the player will receive a briefing from Rear Admiral Josef Kolenko. Once the player's orders are received, the command officers may give advice pertaining to the mission. Your bridge crew consists of First Officer Commander Mercedes Chen, Tactical Officer Lieutenant Commander Fletcher Tarrant, Engineering Officer Lieutenant Commander Dorian Lucas, Navigation Officer Lieutenant Cassandra Eden, Communications Officer Ensign Julian Santiago, and Marine Officer Major Raja Chandra. Each officer has a unique personality and strengths and are also invulnerable throughout the game. You'll need to depend on them to ensure that your missions are successful.

The game, while following a very strong plot line spread out over four episodes and twenty missions, will also have "bubbles of non-linearity" where the player will have more freedom to explore the system. The non-linear experiences (i.e. reconnaissance, feint attack on a enemy base, etc.) can also result in making the primary event mission easier to achieve success. This game is definitely not nearly as open as Elite, but you also have more opportunity to explore than in Independence War.

What Does This Button Do?

Put your joystick away for Vanguard. All movement and orders are orchestrated through the use of the mouse and keyboard. Since the player is not actually firing the weapons or steering the ship (this is a starship captain sim and not a fighter sim), the mouse-keyboard combo is basically a necessity.

The game is split into three main interfaces-the Tactical, Navigation, and Engineering Interfaces. Each interface plays a distinct role, and all three are critical to ensuring that your commands, tactics, and strategies are a success. The Tactical Interface (TI) is used during starship combat, while the Navigation Interface (NI) is used for strategic reconnaissance. The Engineering Interface (EI), which is optional, allows you to tweak ship systems' power levels and to conduct repairs.

Blow It Up

The main focus of the TI is your starship. You have a 360-degree field of vision from a third person perspective. You may survey the field of battle while your ship is centered and prioritize targets. Once you're ready to take on a HOM ship or two, you may switch to Advanced Targeting Mode by clicking on any ship in the area. ATM will focus the viewscreen on a chosen enemy to easily allow you to target subsystems, to watch as the ship disintegrates, and to even watch the destruction of the ship. One of the visual benefits of using the ATM is the use of multitexturing, which basically drops three layers of skins on the ship. As the ship takes damage, a deeper layer will be exposed. Also, debris is belched from the ship once it's damaged. Instead of simply dissipating after a few minutes, debris may stay in the same general area of space for the duration of the game. Massive chunks of debris may even cause catastrophic damage to your ship, so it's something you'll definitely have to keep an eye on during battle.

To actually reign destruction on your enemy, you'll have to set weapons as hot. As captain, you have the ability to set your targets (it is possible to fire at multiple targets), but the player will not actually fire weapons as in a first-person space-sim (unless you're up to firing each weapon manual to keep up with an enemy ship that is using its full crew to fire back at you). In general, you'll need to place your faith in your crew to actually make the shots. Weapons available include standard laser cannons, railguns, warheads, mines, and the directed energy projector (DEP), a weapon that allows you to drop enemy shields from a distance.

Weapons packages will also be available to the player. Much like Starfleet Command, you'll be able to preset weapon packages and bring them to bear on your enemies either through hotkeys or mouseclicks. Weapons have different effects, so you might want to put together one package to heavily damage the shield while another to cause hull damage once the shields are down. You will also have defensive weapons in your arsenal to help protect your ship against bombardment.

One of the more revolutionary features of Vanguard is the way shields operate. Instead of just pumping more energy to the shields to keep them at 100%, you'll have to keep a close eye on the rate the shields absorb and dissipate energy. If the shields absorb too much energy, the ship will basically implode and you'll be out of the game. If you allow the shields to fall, only a thin hull will separate your ship from enemy fire. Laser cannons, although otherwise weak weapons, can be used by your enemy to add to your shield energy. Large stars also can cause your shield rate to greatly increase. Needless to say, shield management is a very important aspect of starship combat.

I Wanna Fly Away. . . .

In the NI, the player is able to scope the scene and to basically get a strategic feel for the area. the player can cruise behind a star to both absorb energy for shields and to escape sensors while the damage control teams work on the ship. Sensors cannot pass through bodies such as planets, but keep in mind your sensors will also be blinded.

Not all of the action occurs in space. As captain, you'll have three shuttles available for planetary landings. Twenty team members are allotted per shuttle, and there are six crew types as well as twenty variants of equipment to send on missions. You may also send select officers on missions; experience points are awarded to those who take part in missions and survive. The officers are more capable as they gain experience points. However, these same officers are also very mortal (as are all of your ship crew besides the six chief command officers), so you could possibly lose a valuable officer during a conflict, as well. If you lose too many crew members, it's game over, but you will be able to replenish your ranks at starbases throughout the galaxy.

While your crew members are on the ground, don't assume you'll just kick back in your comfy captain's chair and down a cold brew. You will be required to monitor them and to assist them in a any manner they may need. For example, you may have to blast an enemy base from space in order for your crew to meet mission objectives. Or you may need to send additional equipment or other specialists planetside to complete a mission.

I'm an Engineer, Too

Getting cozy with the SI, while optional, could definitely make the difference from being a good starship captain or a great one. The ship can actually run itself and your damage repair teams will automatically prioritize systems during battles, however getting your hands dirty can make your ship much more efficient. Not only can you set damage repair priorities, you can also tweak the power settings for all of your systems, from sensors to weapons.

The player will also have the ability to use stances, which are energy configuration presets. Obviously, you'll want to allocate more power to different systems depending on the situation. A stance will bump weapons to a high level during a red alert and give more power to sensors during a yellow alert, for example. The game will ship with preset stances but will also allow the player to set their own.

How Does It Handle?
While not employing Newtonian physics (which I'll fully admit somewhat bummed me out just a bit), Juan assured me that the capital ships in Vanguard would handle as a capital ship should-meaning slow turns and bulky motion. The faster-than-light drive (FTL), called Nova, takes approximately 25 seconds to charge, and you have to be sure you're clear from gravity wells to enter hyperspace. This means no quick get-away if you're getting slammed.

And in the Other Corner. . .
Although there was no running demo available, Juan shared some ship specifications and diagrams. By far the most frightening ship I've ever seen in my gaming experiences would have to be the HOM Missionary Class Capital Carrier. This monster is over 5000m wide and 2000m long and has three bays for launching multiple HOM capital ships. If such a ship sounds like a challenge to you, rest assured that you will have to take one of these out during the game, although it will be crippled in the mission (thankfully). The HOM ships are generally larger than UF ships and more numerous, thanks to their efficient cloning factories, but are also less technologically sophisticated than their UF counterparts.

You'll have an opportunity to upgrade your ships during the duration of the game at starbases. You'll have to make choices about which systems to bolster, since you're only three upgrade slots per ship. The Swordsman Class Repair ships are also available to dock and resupply your ships periodically.

As most games offer these days, both a mission editor, Genesis, and multiplayer support will be included. Genesis will be unsupported and will most likely not allow for graphics manipulation, but players will be able to create new campaigns and build on the rich universe. Multiplayer will support up to eight players and will be client-server based.

Will Vanguard become a highly successful attempt at the starship captain game? With a strong plotline, a solid design with some innovative features, and great ships and weapons, It's quite possible it will be. I'll definitely be looking for this game when it hits store shelves (August 2000).


Links to media:

ACN Gladiator
ACN Guardian
ACN Patriot
ACN Swordsman
ACN Defender
ACN Warrior
HOM Missionary
HOM Tormentor
HOM Tyrant


Brian Rubin said...

Aaww, I remember this one, it looked like it would've been really cool. Ah well, I suppose we still have the Battlecruiser games, Independence War 1 and 2, and Starshatter if we want to be the Captain rather than a pilot.

Nick Kal said...

I think Nexus - The Jubiter Incindent, works like Vanguard. Although I prefer, the Starfleet Command series.