A little while back, Fishlabs announced that they were working on a new title in the Galaxy on Fire space exploration series of games, and that it would take a bit of a new direction, as a strategy MMO rather than as an action title. Last week at GDC, I got to sit down with the company and see the new game, and I can say it was very impressive indeed. Fans who just wanted to play another version of the same game may be a bit disappointed, but Alliances represents a great new direction for the series, and has provided a good chance for Fishlabs to use this great engine they've built to show off their talent in another genre.
I'm not sure quite what this genre is called: I guess "strategy MMO" is closest, but Alliances falls in line with quite a few other games, where players build up buildings (in this case on a rotatable planet) to gather resources like metal, gas and crystals, and then use those resources to build units that can go out and conquer more planets. Evony is probably the biggest of these kinds of games, but I've played quite a bit of Lord of Ultima and TribalWars as well.
The one big advantage Fishlabs has here, of course, is their engine, which runs beautiful graphics on the iPad or the iPhone. As you might imagine, this means the planets that you'll be building on are gorgeous, and spin around in full motion, even with various animations and touches for each type of building and resource. Zooming out from your own planet, the galaxy map is also very impressive. You can see other players around you, and once you've assembled some units, you can send them out to spy on other settlements, or send them out into battle.
Galaxy on Fire has a big, rich setting already, and while Fishlabs says the two games won't tie together directly (so you won't see Galaxy on Fire's hero as a unit), all of the ships from the action title can be seen in the strategy title, in full graphical closeup fidelity. In addition to browsing through and building your ships, when you send them out into battle, Fishlabs has created a "battle report" that lets you see the action. You can simply see the results of a battle, or you can load up a replay that shows you, from a ship bridge styled after whatever faction you're aligned to, the full battle with all of the ships involved flying back and forth through space. It's very impressive -- you're not directly controlling any of it, but it is cool to watch the battle play out to see what happened.
Fishlabs says the Galaxy on Fire series has done very well for them, but at this point the budget for a main series game is "easily in the seven-digit" range, and so putting a new one of those together is a task that can take up to three to five years. Alliances should be done much quicker for them -- they're expecting to see a release sometime later on this year, around September or October. They're hoping it will monetize a little better for them as well: The game will be free to play, with some in-app purchases offering extra resources or units.
Alliances will be an iOS exclusive to start, though Fishlabs says it is talking to partners about a PC version eventually. The company has released Galaxy on Fire on the Mac App Store, and says "that was a good deal" for them. But for now, the emphasis with Alliance will be on iOS. Fishlabs is hoping to give Galaxy on Fire fans a new taste of the setting, and hopefully pull in some new players to the series as well.