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On that day, across the gulf of space, came an end to all our sanity and peace...
Allegiance is an innovative computer game that was first released by Microsoft in 2000. It failed to sell despite good reviews, and its source code has since been made available under a shared license. This allowed the die-hard fans the game quickly acquired to keep Allegiance alive. Today they still run the game's multi-player servers, operate a technical support forum, and continuously release new and updated content and code to keep the game running smoothly on modern computers. Allegiance can be downloaded for free from their site, where you will also find a detailed Wiki-fied gameplay guide. Which you will need.
Allegiance is a unique mix of Real Time Strategy and multiplayer Space Combat, with two teams competing to take control of the map by building space stations, mining asteroids for resources, and blasting the heck out of each other. Each team has a single commander who plays the game essentially as an RTS, building structures, investing in research, and setting the overall strategy. However, each space-ship under their command is flown by a human being who experiences the game as a first-person flight sim. Commanders can also jump into the action at any time, and players can become commanders if they successfully get the team to mutiny. This seemingly confusing structure works surprisingly well, with the game offering both fast-paced action and a lot of strategic depth.
A lot of the strategy comes from the fact that to win, players have to get organized and work together with their team. There are many non-combat roles that are absolutely essential, and the ability of each commander to get their team to co-operate and accomplish a range of complex goals will be infinitely more important to determining the victor than the ability of the pilots to play "Quake in space" (a phrase used by the game's community to describe what Allegiance is not). Allegiance really is a strategy game merged with first-person action, rather than an action game with elements of strategy added in.
(Not to be confused with the Star Wars novel Allegiance.)
Allegiance contains the following tropes:
- After the End: According to the back-story, the world will end in 2140 AD when an asteroid launched towards Lunar orbit for mining misses and hits the Earth. Oops! Humanity survives as by this point, a number of groups live on space stations and other planets, where (along with a couple alien races and a malevolent AI) they can now spend their time blowing each other up.
- AI Is a Crapshoot: One of the player-made factions is a race of machines that Turned Against Their Masters.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: It is difficult to accomplish, but a skilled team can capture enemy bases with special ships and equipment.
- Arbitrary Maximum Range: Applies to all weapons. The longest-range guns can damage objects several kilometres away, but these are rare. Bullets that can only reach 400 meters in the vacuum of space? Ah well.
- A somewhat interesting aspect of this is that projectiles in the game actually have lifespan limits, rather than range limits per se. Because projectiles inherit the speed of the ship firing them in addition to their inherent speed, the faster you go when firing, the further the projectile will reach before it expires. Veteran players know that when their ship is travelling at full speed, their missiles may reach noticeably further than they otherwise would, for example.
- Ascended Fanon: Because the game is now being constantly developed by fans, fan-made factions, items, and elements of the back-story become a part of the "official" game on a regular basis.
- Asteroid Miners, one of the few AI-controlled ship types in the game. (Presumably holding down a button while staring at an asteroid for minutes at a time would not make for thrilling game-play). Miners are usually the target of frequent enemy attacks, and as such must be constantly defended by the team.
- Asteroid Thicket: The game takes place across a map composed of asteroid-packed "sectors." Acceptable Break From Reality, however, because firstly, simulating an asteroid field of realistic size would lead to technical and gameplay difficulties; secondly, a large number of asteroids is needed because they are what's used to build bases and gather resources; and thirdly, it looks cool.
- Awesome but Impractical: One of the factions can build a capital ship equipped with a missile that destroys everything in the target sector -- and the sector the ship itself is in. Incredibly powerful, but very rarely used in actual gameplay: By the time you can afford it, you should easily be able to defeat the enemy through more conventional means.
- The aforementioned faction also get a special, unique tech base that allows for the research of interesting, often quite powerful extra equipment for all of the normal tech trees. The catch is, the team has to build, protect and gather enough money for the special base, plus what they need to build, research in and likely upgrade their regular base, all while trying to fight off the enemy as normal. A team that can pull this off gains a significant advantage that they really didn't need to win. Also, the aforementioned Action Bomb ship requires the team to buy a tech base, a shipyard (which is an Awesome but Impractical stalemate-breaker in and of itself), the special base, then no less than five different upgrades to the shipyard, then researching the ship itself, and then each one of these ships fielded costs an enormous amount of money just to launch.
- Bee People: The Omicron Hive, the latest player-made faction, is an insect-like alien race with a hive mentality.
- Bug War: Any battle involving the Omicron Hive.
- Cloning Blues: One of the factions in the game is a bunch of genetically-augmented clone soldiers, convinced of their absolute superiority over normal humans.
- Crew of One: A wealthy team can develop giant capital ships that look like they'd have room for a crew of hundreds -- but are flown and operated entirely by a single pilot. To be truly effective in combat, they do also require turret gunners -- up to four of them on the largest super-battleships. Probably an Acceptable Break From Reality, since the basic philosophy of the game is to have actual human players doing all the fighting, and in most cases it would be hard for a team to come up with hundreds of people to man its capital ships...
- Deflector Shields: Not all ships have them, and those that do don't always use them, as they also make the ship easier to spot (see Stealth in Space below).
- Ensign Newbie: Defied; if you haven't been playing for quite a while and become fairly good at the game, attempting to take command on the main game will throw the lobby into a frenzy until you step down. Alternatively, they may just decide to watch you try playing against a real commander and fail (or possibly succeed). Playing with all newbie commanders is right out (unless it's late at night, and nobody cares). Also, good luck getting anyone with half a clue to join your team.
- Escape Pod: When a ship is killed, the pilot is ejected in one of these -- a tiny, unarmed, slow craft. The player has five minutes to make it back to a friendly base or ship before their oxygen runs out. Once they get home, they can get a new ship and re-join the fight; if their pod dies, they also get instantly re-spawned at base, but their Kill Bonus -- a damage bonus awarded to pilots who have shot down a lot of enemy ships -- gets re-set in this case. Still, sometimes it actually makes more sense to kill your own pod by ramming it into an enemy or flying through a mine-field, since getting back in the action as soon as possible is often more important. However, killing one's own pod is not easy, and rescuing friendly pods is a very important task that can often determine the course of the game.
- Escort Mission: A successful team will need to carry out plenty of these. Miners, constructors, bombers and other vessels must be defended by fighter and repair ships to reach their destinations safely, or any halfway-competent enemy team will shoot them out of the sky. Fortunately, many ships needing escort (including bombers) will have actual human pilots, thus avoiding Artificial Stupidity... although still subject to the occasional Idiot Ball. The Artificial Stupidity of AI-controlled miners and constructors can be mitigated by a competent commander keeping an eye on them and adjusting their orders as needed.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Some ships have the "jump drive" variety that lets them teleport to specially-built receivers. Also, the game's maps are made up of sectors connected by "alephs" -- a form of "shortcut drive."
- Gatling Good: Gatling guns are the armament of choice for many ships. In effect, though, it's just a cool name for yet another space-gun.
- Healing Shiv: The Nanite Gun, which is used just like any other weapon, but heals whatever its projectiles hit. Extremely important in a wide variety of situations; any ship that can use one is usually expected to be carrying one in cargo. If a player forgets to bring a Nanite Gun along, they can easily earn their team's wrath.
- Invisibility Cloak: Ships specifically designed for stealth can carry a cloaking device that reduces the ship's signature, making it harder for the enemy to spot (see Stealth in Space). These don't actually render the ship invisible -- the enemy just has to get much closer before its sensors can see the cloaked vessel. There is also a time limit on how long a ship can stay cloaked, depending on the technology available to the team. It adds a very interesting dynamic to play, as a game of cat-and-mouse develops between cloaked attack ships and defenders struggling to find them before they are in position to strike.
- Lead the Target: Easier with energy weapons and the Technoflux plasma guns, because the projectiles move faster and don't spread nearly as much.
- Mega Corp: One of the playable (human of course) factions, Gigacorp, is this in the backstory. This manifests itself in game as having a bunch of faction bonuses to making money, cheaper but flimsier bases, the highest-capacity miners in the game and the ability to, with enough money, construct bases whose main purpose is to generate... a lot more money.
- Old School Dogfighting: Averted. While the various fighters in the game don't really move the way spacecraft would move in Real Life, neither do they act like fighter planes. There is a sort of compromise between Rule of Fun and Newtonian Physics. This results in a somewhat unique kind of combat. (See also Space Friction below).
- Our Wormholes Are Different: For no clear reason, the game calls them "alephs."
- Ramming Always Works: Heavy and fast ships can ram enemy ships off-course, often inflicting massive damage in the process. This tactic does not always work, however -- it requires some skill to use it, and the ramming ship will often be destroyed or heavily damaged in the process.
- A common tactic is for players to ram friendly bombers as they approach an enemy building. Besides shortening the run, it allows the missiles to travel faster and further, possibly allowing the bomber to fire a missile somewhat earlier.
- Scary Dogmatic Aliens: One of the original factions of the game, the Rixian Unity, is a race of technologically advanced aliens desperate to convert humanity to their religious faith -- by any means necessary.
- Shoot the Medic First: Bombers are normally easy targets because they move so slowly due to their weight and that of their anti-base missiles, but are capable of destroying bases. They don't have a lot of hitpoints for their size. Therefore, any bomber sent by a non-clueless team will be surrounded by scouts with nanite guns. SHOOT THE %*#$&!@ NAN.
- Sink the Life Boats: This is discouraged, because if an enemy Escape Pod is killed, that pilot is instantly re-spawned back at base, and can re-join the battle. It is better to let their slow pod float back to base, because this gives you a period of time in which the enemy team has one fewer players doing anything useful. The best time to attack is when most of the enemy team is in pods -- you don't want to destroy these.
- However, pilots earn a "Kill Bonus" to their damage depending on how many ships they've shot down, and only killing their Escape Pod will reset this bonus. Sometimes it's worth it, but sometimes it's still better to let the enemy keep their large bonus if it means they'll be out of the action for a couple of minutes.
- Space Fighter: The game offers many different kinds of Space Fighters, from the light Scouts (which aren't really meant to fight... most of the time) to the fast, heavy Interceptors. The roles these Space Fighters play depend on what type they are, and what the team's priorities are at the given moment. Stealth Fighters will try to take out the enemy's economy, Scouts will try to avoid combat while spying on the enemy, or use their Healing Shivs to support the team, Interceptors will defend against enemy attacks, or soften up the enemy's defence in preparation for counter-attacks... No game of Allegiance can possibly be won with Space Fighters alone, however, and players are discouraged from engaging in pointless fighter-to-fighter combat when there's more important work to be done.
- Space Friction: Present, though not nearly as much as in many other games. Inertia is important, moving ships take time to stop, and the larger and heavier ones may not stop nearly quickly enough to save their pilot. Also, pointing your ship in a new direction will not instantly change your direction of movement -- your ship will be facing one way, and headed in another for a time before Space Friction finally lets you change your heading. The heavier your ship (or its cargo!), the more gradual the turn will be. This can be a bad thing (if you need to change course quickly), or a good thing (if you need to fire at an enemy without heading towards them).
- Space Is Noisy: Not very loud, perhaps, but noisy nonetheless. You can hear nearby ships shooting guns and firing boosters, and these sounds can be an important part of overall situational awareness. Ships moving using normal engines produce a faint whisper that is only audible if you are very close to them. Curiously, you can hear ships even when your sensors have not yet detected them, for instance, if you happen to zoom in on their location on the command map. Hearing the boosters of an incoming enemy ship long before it shows up on the sensors of your own nearly-blind interceptor can save the cautious pilot.
- Stealth in Space: Used in a very creative way, but without any justification. Every ship (and object) in the game has a "signature" that indicates how easy it is for the enemy to spot it. Different ship types also have different sensor ranges. By avoiding enemy ships with good sensors, and minimizing one's signature (which requires un-mounting useful but noisy devices from one's ship), it is possible to remain quite stealthy, which is essential in many situations.
- Stock Scream: The Wilhelm Scream can be heard in the in-base ambient sound effects for the Omicron Hive, the latest player-made faction. Presumably, some unfortunate human found its way into the hive...
- Tech Tree: Allegiance has a very extensive and complicated one, because it is a strategy game as much as a space sim. A team will start off flying one or two very basic ship types, but many different kinds of ships, weapons, and ship-mounted equipment can be researched over time -- if the commander knows what they're doing. The tree is divided into several branches, accessing each of which requires the construction of a special base -- which (along with the mining ships that pay for the research) is sure to become a primary target for enemy attacks.
- Teleporters and Transporters: Some ships can teleport, a process the game calls "ripcording" (from the idea that the pilot is "pulling a rip-cord" to escape a dangerous situation). A special teleport receiver has to be built first, and ships can only teleport to such receivers. Teleportation is also implied to explain how pilots can instantly move from one base to another while docked, and how the pilot in a rescued Escape Pod gets instantly sent back to base.
- The Mutiny: What happens to incompetent or unpopular team commanders, and also what keeps them from abusing their power.
- Too Good to Last: Averted -- the game is so good, that it has lasted for ten years thanks to its fans despite Microsoft dropping all support for it soon after its original commercial release.
- Two-D Space: Averted. Space is very much 3D. Ships can manoeuvre to attack from above or below, asteroids and other points of interest are widely scattered across the Y-axis, and hiding stealth ships and probes above or below where the enemy would look for them is an important tactic.
- Useless Useful Stealth: Stealth is difficult to use effectively, but very powerful in the right hands. With good timing and situational awareness, ships designed for stealth can be powerful weapons, and even normally noisy ships can be made stealthier and greatly benefit from it. However, this requires un-mounting useful devices like shields and missiles from the ship, and these take time to re-mount should they be needed. Ships specifically designed for stealth are also somewhat challenging to fly, and require a well-planned attack launched at the right moment from a considerable distance. If done badly, attempts at stealth may well end up being worse than useless.
- You Require More Vespene Gas: The game has one resource, Helium-3, which is equivalent to "gold." Building stations, conducting research, and purchasing certain advanced ships requires He-3, which is harvested by AI mining ships from special asteroids. Arguably, the game also has a second resource, equivalent to "lumber" -- the asteroids themselves. Every new base needs to be built on an asteroid, which is consumed in the process. Some advanced bases require specific kinds of asteroid, which will get increasingly hard to find and secure as the battle goes on.
- Interestingly, "population" can also be said to be a resource in the game -- but in the case of Allegiance, your "population" is made up of Real Life human beings. With the exception of a very few (non-combat) drones, every ship you field will need an actual human pilot. The game automatically tries to maintain balance in numbers and skill between the competing teams, but having a particularly good player on your team can make all the difference.