Hailing all the way from Vancouver, Canada, come BBI. If you’re wondering what those B’s stand for, the answer is Blackbird. Say hello to Blackbird Interactive then, an independent studio who specialise in creating immersive, interactive games – or ‘experiences’ – as BBI bills them.
The company has grand ambitions, but is well aware that it will stand or fall by the proficiency of its software. Before it can conquer the world, first it needs to convince the world that it is a foe to be taken seriously.
If the firm’s debut release is anything to go by, that mission is very much on track. Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is BBI’s maiden offering, and it’s a cracker of a game. The prequel to the highly regarded Homeworld series marks BBI’s first foray into the interactive games market.
Aided by Gearbox Software, Blackbird Interactive have come up with the goods, creating a prequel that is a worthy continuation of the Homeworld legacy.
As an independent studio, BBI employs a small team of creatives whose remarkable team spirit and chemistry enables them to punch above their weight. They might not have the marketing muscle of bigger studios, but BBI’s compact size allows them to be more nimble than many of their competitors, dynamically responding to demands from publishing houses and gamers.
BBI’s work is characterised by stylish graphics and meticulous attention-to-detail. Pretty pixels alone can’t atone for a substandard game however, as any gamer will tell you. For this reason, BBI place a lot of emphasis on storytelling, striving to create engaging narratives that lure the player in and hook them on each revelatory scene and twist in the tale.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak might officially be BBI’s debut title, but it’s not their first foray into the world of gaming. In 2013, the Vancouver outfit released Hardware: Shipbreakers, a precursor to Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. This occurred prior to BBI joining forces with Gearbox Software however, whereupon the game was absorbed into the Homeworld universe and released under the Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak moniker.
Operating out of its headquarters in British Columbia, Blackbird Interactive has set its sights on making inroads into the lucrative video game market, with the bulk of its efforts focused on the Steam store. With recent promotions including 50% off all Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak packs via Steam, it’s clear that BBI see their future lying here.
Both Mac and PC players can access the game through Steam before downloading the title and playing live against one another.
Its portfolio might be limited to Deserts of Kharak as it stands, but behind the scenes BBI are beavering away on new projects – projects that have prompted the independent firm to seek out fresh talent who can support its vision. Promising designers, programmers and artists are invited to get in touch via the BBI website, outlining the skill set and attributes that they can bring.
With excellent amenities in the company’s Vancouver offices, including excellent amenities and a positive culture, it’s an opportunity that any creative with a passion for gaming should jump at. BBI’s Art Director is Brennan Massicotte, the man charged with bringing the Homeworld prequel to life. BBI’s art maestro confesses to having been a Homeworld obsessive ever he was a teenager when HW 1 was released.
Working in Photoshop, Massicotte sketches and brushes the visuals that will feature in BBI’s games, enhancing them with 3D pre-visualisation tools such as 3D Coat.
Blackbird Interactive’s other leading light is Rory McGuire, Head Game Designer. The experienced designer works closely with artists, programmers and producers to ensure that projects are delivered on time and to the highest possible standards.
McGuire cut his teeth modding various classic games including Quake 3 and Starcraft 1 before attracting the attention of BBI. He professes to having been emotionally moved by Homeworld as a player and to being hooked by the story. It’s evident that Blackbird’s Head Game Designer, like the rest of his team, views it an honour to mow be working on the Homeworld series.
Great games aren’t created in a vacuum. The blue sky ideas might be born within BBI’s Vancouver HQ, but once their projects near completion, the company is always keen to get hardcore players involved.
Interacting with devoted gamers is important to Blackbird Interactive, not only to build up a loyal community, but to reward its greatest admirers for their custom and feedback. Its July 4th ‘Play with the Devs Day’, in which players were invited to take on the team in a series of multiplayer custom Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak games, are just one example of this.
Understanding what makes BBI tick would be impossible without delving into Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. Players are invited to join the sultry and improbably named Rachel S’jet as she heads an expedition, comprising 13 missions in total, across the unforgiving desert. The planet may be doomed, but something strange is stirring in the southern sands of Kharak. A coalition is sent to investigate the anomaly, which lies deep in enemy-held territory.
The sequel to Homeworld and Homeworld 2 is a visually stunning treat that depicts shifting sands, rampaging troops and heavyweight cruisers in meticulous detail. This is a game you can lose yourself in for days as you battle through choppy dune seas, vast craters and canyons where enemy forces lurk with malevolent intent.
If you thought the desert was just sand mixed with more sand, think again. The topography in Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak is as diverse as the vehicles you’ll commandeer as you fight for your life and that of your comrades. The graphics may be jaw-droppingly gorgeous, but the Homeland prequel is much more than just a series of pretty dunes and femme fatales.
If the graphics are what lure you in, the tactics are what will keep you returning for more. There are many ways to play Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. Will you hold the high ground, set up ambushes on the dune lines or take to the air for a better view of the action? Every micro-decision matters in this game, and every moment can be the making or breaking of you. It’s a constant struggle to manage your dwindling resources, hunt down fresh supplies, maintain your fleet and keep marauding enemies at bay. This constant conflict is what makes the game so immersive and so addictive though.
How you choose to play is your prerogative; going solo can prove highly enjoyable, but it can’t match the thrill of multiplayer mode, teaming up with your mates to take on the might of online players who are all gunning for you. Do you have what it takes to survive the skirmishes and ascend to Fleet Captain? With danger lurking over every dune, you’ll need to keep your wits about you and watch your six.
BBI might be the new kids in town, but they’re old hands at creating games like Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak. With veteran designers and programmers from Homeworld and Company of Heroes in their midst, the Homeworld legacy is in safe hands.
For now, Blackbird Interactive appear focused on the Homeworld series, but expect new ventures and exciting new titles from the Vancouver gaming company in the near future.