Dedicated modders are keeping the 15 year old game alive
“Star Wars: Empire at War” and the expansion pack “Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption,” were released by Petroglyph Games in 2005 and 2006, respectively. These are large strategy games based in the Star Wars universe where using massive fleets, invasion armies, assassins and money-making schemes are the norm.
The first game “Star Wars: Empire at War,” focuses on the Rebel Alliance defeating the empire and vice versa. This goes through the years leading up to the battle of Endor.
The expansion pack “Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption” adds a lot of new content and follows the crime lord Tyber Zann as he attempts to bring the Zann Consortium back to its former glory. This campaign focuses on the events right after the battle for Yavin IV and the destruction of the first Death Star.
These two real-time-strategy (RTS) games are still making a mark on the gaming community. This is not because the base games are the greatest ever, although the gameplay is unique. No, the reason these two Star Wars games are sticking around is because of a dedicated group of unofficial developers called modders.
This group of people have the know-how and drive to recreate these games into, essentially, new versions of themselves, with many new functions to them. These massive mods are called overhauls and they are, arguably, the pinnacle of the modding communities’ abilities in any form.
One of the most popular “Empire at War” mods on the Steam Workshop, is “Awakening of the Rebellion (AOTR)” by Steiner Modding Group. This mod takes place before the battle of Endor and into the years of the New Republic (what the rebels transform into). It uses the assets from “Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption” and turns them into a modern-day RTS.
This massive overhaul adds many new worlds, multiple unique factions, tons of ground and space forces to choose from, many new game mechanics and an improved artificial intelligence. This makes the gameplay feel more dynamic and intense.
All this including graphical updates to the game on an engine that is nearing fifteen years old. The team members who are creating this mod have their tasks and responsibilities to make sure the work is done but they do it at their own paces.
“The code people are like the glue that sticks all the pieces together. We have the art department, animations, we have audio and then general game design and things like that. Art and audio people do their thing and do as much as they can. The code people create the framework that the audio and art go into,” says Mr. President (online alias), one of the modders who is the lead audio engineer for the “Awakening of the Rebellion” mod.
“When you have a model, it gets rigged up and textured and everything like that, but its health, its shields and all of its stats and whatnot, are done by the code people. It must fit into our design framework which is something we agree on at the beginning of every update cycle, so we have a plan,” they said.
Update to version 2.8
One of the largest and most worked on updates for this mod was the recent ground combat update for version 2.8. For the longest time, the “Empire at War” games and their mods were loved for their space combat. Now, because of this update for “Awakening of the Rebellion,” the ground battles have gotten their time to shine.
This update has vastly improved the gameplay for planetary ground battles, which have generally been looked at as substandard. About half of the improvements made to ground combat seem to stem from the artificial intelligence being worked on.
From being able to determine if it should protect its base or go on an all-out assault to destroy the player, the AI is much better at determining what to do in a scenario.
In response to a question about an Imperial Juggernaut tank not attacking my troops, Mr. President said, “the juggernauts directive for the AI is it is trying to protect its base. If it [the AI] is constantly pulling troops from the base it’s going to go, ‘Hmm maybe, we should pop back into the base.’” Thus, preventing me from using my landing craft to blow the tank to kingdom come.
The awareness of the AI helps make ground battles feel more dynamic than they have in the past. What also helps to make ground combat more engaging is the wide assortment of infantry, speeders, hover tanks, walkers and aircrafts at the disposal of both the player as well as the AI.
Each unit has been reworked to fit a role and to behave a certain way. This has been one of the goals the Steiner Modding team has set for themselves, for the future of “Awakening of the Rebellion.”
“To make things more interesting,” says Mr. President, “we have to make all unit types viable. No matter what. The first thing to do was to diversify squads (infantry). So, you know, you can have a squad that is suppression unit. They have a couple heavy MGs (machine guns) and rifles in there. But if a tank were to roll around, that has good anti-infantry capability, that squad is not going to hold up. So, you need another squad that has rocket launchers and stuff like that.”
Before this, infantry units were separated only by the amount of money it cost to get them and were not too different.
The mod team has even specialized the type of heavy weaponry that is useful for situations. One example of this is how rockets work. The types of rockets are separated between dumb-fire, which are powerful but have a hard time hitting moving targets, and smart-fire rockets that can track targets and have a longer range but deal less damage.
Other features added are weightier feeling vehicles that move realistically, different types of planetary militias that behave in a variety of ways, et cetera.
While ground combat is only one part of “Awakening of the Rebellion,” what has gone into it shows the dedication the modding team has. Space battles have also been continuing to improve as well, with more units and different tactics needing to be employed every step of the way.
The Steiner Modding group is only one of a few modding teams working on projects for “Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption.” However, their mod “Awakening of the Rebellion” is one of the best on the Steam Workshop.