What does the future hold for the human race's existence on Earth? Ironically, in Earth 2160's vision of the future Earth doesn't really feature at all, because our home rock has been pulled too close to the sun and now looks crispier than burnt bacon.
Lucky Mars is there, really. In the latest instalment in Zuxxez's PC RTS the last remaining human factions have hopped off Earth and taken refuge on the Red Planet, terraforming it to make it habitable.
But of course, when you stick a bunch of humans together on a nice new planet, what do they invariably do? Start scrapping. It doesn't help when a mysterious alien race turns up and starts getting in on the act.
There is one good thing about conflict, though: it lets us indulge our RTS fantasies. Earth 2160 promises a number of improvements over its predecessors including a swanky new graphics engine and new gameplay features.
But what's the point in listening to us when Tim Wilson from Zuxxez Entertainment can tell you all about it?
Earth 2160 is the latest in a long-running RTS franchise. What changes will fans notice and in what ways did you want to drive the series forward?
Tim Wilson: The most obvious change will jump into the player's face as he or she sees the game for the first time: the quality of the graphics. The second noticeable feature will be the sheer range of possibilities the player has in research and construction of units. As the game continues more big changes will become apparent: a fourth faction and the use of Virtual Agents, for example.
In terms of the RTS genre as a whole, what new features are you adding and do you think Earth 2160 is an especially innovative title?
Tim Wilson: The first thing that comes to mind is, as Zuxxez have already claimed, a milestone in the quality of graphics used in the genre. They approach or equal those of the best first person shooters. Innovative? Yes! There is also trend in RTS titles to cut back on aspects like research, or fighting for and yielding resources. Earth 2160 has gone the other way in the complexity of these points and promises to give the player "the full program".
So just how 'classic' is Earth 2160's RTS action?
Tim Wilson: I can say in all confidence that we have neglected no aspect of RTS conventions. Whether the combat is OTT or not is an opinion that will come from the players. I believe we have reached a good balance.
Could you tell us about the storyline behind Earth 2160 and where the game begins?
Tim Wilson: The end of the year 2150: only a few thousand humans managed to escape planet Earth before it was drawn closer to the sun and became totally uninhabitable for man and beast. These last representatives of the human race, the three powerful nations ED, UCS and LC, made their way to Mars and independently transformed this hostile environment to support life. The year is now 2160 and it brings a few strange and totally unexpected events ending in a new threat and a fourth race getting involved in territorial disputes. The question Earth 2160 asks the player is: Will the surviving nations of Old Mother Earth continue their old war or work together to ensure that Homo Sapiens do not become totally extinct?
There are four playable factions in Earth 2160. Can you tell us about them and some of their distinct characteristics?
Tim Wilson: Firstly, The LC or Lunar Corporation: a matriarchal society that decided early, before the Earth's impending destruction, to move lock, stock and barrel to the Moon.
The Eurasian Dynasty, otherwise known as the ED, is a mix of peoples from the European continent and all of Asia who have their own huge struggles behind them and eventually formed this union of great nations.
The UCS "The United Civilized States" relied in the past on a lot of semi intelligent machines with the recognition and implementation of increased efficiency as part of their program. Unfortunately the human members of the UCS did not build in a learning limit to the electro-mechanical Men 'o War. On the way to Mars the machines found their makers inefficient and took steps to correct the situation permanently. No human member of the UCS ever saw the surface of Mars.
The fourth and final faction is a race of beings totally alien to mankind.
They are representatives of a criminal faction of their own race who, thousands of years ago were forced into a state of suspended animation and imprisoned on Mars. The terra forming activities of the planet's newcomers have now interrupted the technology keeping this alien race in a state of slumber. I think they probably got quite a surprise when they woke up and discovered the new neighbours.
Will each faction have its own campaign?
Tim Wilson: Each faction will have several.
What kind of interactions will the factions have? Will the player be able to form alliances or pacts?
Tim Wilson: Pacts and alliances are certainly possible among the humans. Exactly how this works with the UCS and "Aliens"... I'm not giving any tips.
Earth 2160 takes place on Mars and other planets. Could you tell us a little more about these other locations?
Tim Wilson: Mars and other planets and moons in what Mankind calls "our solar system."
There are of very different atmospheres and meteorological aspects to these heavenly bodies, and landscapes totally unknown to us. I am not at liberty to disclose too many details, but the player can expect a lot and I am sure Earth 2160 will exceed many expectations.
Earth 2160 allows players to give their units more specific orders than other RTS games. Can you tell us more about this?
Tim Wilson: This goes back to an earlier question: Earth is one of the very few titles, which has not been "stripped" of possible functions, story, graphics, gameplay or dialogues. If there are more orders to give, there are more ways of influencing the outcome of your story.
Earth 2160 uses a Modular Unit construction system for both your units and your bases. First of all, could you explain how this works with reference to your units?
Tim Wilson: Start with a basic selection of chassis, add to that engines and other drives, armour with varying characteristics to counter certain weapons and fit it with weapons with for a specific purpose. This is where it starts. Keep research going to expand on these possibilities, to develop new materials, and tactical possibilities follow.
What tactical opportunities do these custom units offer the player?
Tim Wilson: Build what you need to get a job done or a battle won, but new strategies will always present themselves, waiting to be taken by the master tactician.
Similarly, your base is constructed with Modular Units. Can you explain how this works and what kind of bases players can build?
Tim Wilson: Power plants will be needed; various types of resource can be gathered in different ways. Hangers, barracks, research centres, defensive weapons must be researched to meet the next threat to your existence. It works the same way as unit research and is just about as unlimited.
What resources can be gathered in Earth 2160, and how do they affect your units and base?
Tim Wilson: Basic recourses are metals, silica and water. Metals can be mined, or recycled. Water can be gained from all three of its physical forms. Factions only have access to two of the resources apart from the alien race, who have access to them all.
Alongside the standard units Earth 2160 features several Virtual Agents who specialise in unique areas. Can you tell us more about these guys and how they'll affect the game?
Tim Wilson: You can use Virtual Agents to spy out enemy movements and then plan your defence or counter attack accordingly. Several Agents are excellent tacticians and others specialise in industrial espionage. They can be hired and fired, paired up or split, but they are always very mercenary, selling their services to the highest bidder. The biggest effect they have is to boost the tactical possibilities of the game even further.
One really cool thing about Earth 2160 is the first-person view mode. How will this work and in what ways can you use it practically within the game?
Tim Wilson: First-person works by hitting a key. The player can move freely and shoot. Practical use and tactics could be one and the same here. Gamers - think about it! It is one of the ideas that came from the fan community.
We know Earth 2160 features a map editor. How advanced is this and what will players be able to do with it?
Tim Wilson: When the player has finished playing with the editor, he will realise that the only limits to creating a map or world are in his own powers of imagination. For the online gamer, creating a map for multiplayer might mean building in a few tactical advantages for himself. Terra Forming is designing your own environment. Hills and valleys, flora and fauna, can be determined without repetition. The colours of the sky and the amount of moons seen in the evening are all at the players' hands. There is also a video function. If the player is taking the role of God in the editor, he can also make the film!
How easy is the video function to use and do you think a whole culture of Earth 2160 movie-making will spring up?
Tim Wilson: It might take a moment to learn, but Reality Pump would not have allowed it if it were difficult to use. The second part of your question I will discuss with you at the first Earth Oscar Awards! I'll leave that to the fans and freaks, but yeah, that would be great, and it's sure to be encouraged.
Multiplayer is an important part of the Earth 2160 experience. How many players can join in and what new features have you added to the multiplayer component?
Tim Wilson: There can be up to eight players in an MP match and it is possible to join as an observer. The players can save a MP game and move on to another game if they wish, or just come back to it later.
We know you're really pleased with some of the visual effects in Earth 2160. Can you tell us what cool things and effects players will witness?
Tim Wilson: Landing on an untouched planet or moon and witnessing a deep orange sun, setting in a toxic green sky, and then watching it being reflected in a moving pool of liquid mercury. Perhaps the idea of searing explosions with dangerous flying debris is more attractive to some. Basics have not been neglected either, like finding a way of using the landscape to help wipe out an enemy unit. Low-tech idea, but great graphics!
What's in the future for the Earth series? Do you have plans for expansion packs for 2160?
Tim Wilson: There is nothing definite as far as plans are concerned, but there are a lot of ideas cruising the corridors of Reality Pump and Zuxxez. But for the moment, we have a huge game to finish first.
Earth 2160, which will be published by Deep Silver, will be available on PC from May