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Video Game / Zero K

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Meet the Glaive.

You can Maek D-Fenz, or you can play the game.

Zero-K is a free, open-source Real-Time Strategy game developed for the Spring engine, and available for Windows and Linux. Originally called Complete Annihilation, it was a fork of the (at the time) Abandonware Balanced Annihilaton, which was itself forked from the permanently deceased Absolute Annihilation. The latter was a Spring port of the original Game Mod and unit pack of the same name, which was based on Uberhack, a rebalance of The Core Contingency, an official Expansion Pack of Total Annihilation.

The developers stated design goals are for the game, "to be dynamic, action-packed and hassle-free, full of clever strategies and constantly moving combat with games lasting an average 20-30 minutes." To this end, several important differences from the other TA-derived games have accumulated, including the exclusion of the metal-maker units, the inclusion of both artillery and assault units in almost every factory, a free factory for every player, and the removal of the Tech Tree altogether. Certain units also possess "Unit AI" that automates their combat behavior to a certain extent - raiders jink to avoid slow projectiles, skirmishers back away from enemies that try to close in, while construction and dedicated anti-air units try to avoid ground combat entirely.


The result is a game focused heavily on mobility and overarching strategy. Players are forced to take more and more ground to keep their economy expanding, with combat units that can be built from the first few seconds of the game. Units themselves can be relied upon to conduct themselves sensibly in combat without frenzied micromanagement, leaving players more time (and brainpower) to plan ahead. Turrets have a nasty tendency to be pounded flat from afar, or overrun completely, unless counter-attacks can be mounted with mobile units of their own. In general, if something hasn't blown up after two minutes in-game, you're doing it horribly wrong.

Many of the units in this game borrow their features (and names) from similar units in its predecessors, but the designers decided to break from Total Annihilation's meager storyline altogether, in the hopes of divorcing the game from its copyrighted roots. The replacement story, or what fragments of it have been decided on, consists of two eras - the PlanetWars, in which five barely-Cosmetically Different Sides repeatedly battle across the Milky Way, and the post-PlanetWars, in which humans have been wiped out and only their still-battling machines remain.


The game contains examples of:

  • Artificial Brilliance: As applied to the units, which automatically micro themselves to gain an advantage - longer ranged units will move away from enemies to keep them away while they shoot them ("kite"); slow moving projectiles will be fired to intercept enemies, who in turn will, if faster moving, zig-zag to mislead and avoid this damage while closing distance; slow-firing powerful weapons will co-ordinate with allied units to avoid overkilling enemies, and so on.
  • Beam Spam: Toad, Detriment, and Scorpion never stop shooting lasers when a target is near.
  • Beehive Barrier: Shields are composed of tessellated hexagons that fade from blue to red as their charge depletes.
  • Character Customization: After unlocking commander parts, your commander can be fitted with different modules that are added to it at level of in-game upgrade. There are 5 upgrade levels, and upgrading to each one requires resources, so a player without these commander upgrades can develop a unit advantage to counter it.
  • Colour Coded Armies: Type I, as seen above. In a curious variation, the colors aren't consistent - each player sees their forces as green, their allies as shades of blue and teal, and enemies as reds and yellows.
  • Command & Conquer Economy: Partially justified in that you are using metal and energy in the form of nanotech. How you got them from the stores, however...
  • Crippling Overspecialization: "Nerf weaknesses, buff strengths" is the developers' mantra when it comes to rebalancing units between releases.
    • All factories' dedicated anti-air units are utterly incapable of engaging ground targets.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Consciously averted, as all factories have the same types of unit (constructor, raider, riot, skirmisher, anti-air, etc.) are placed in the same spots on each factory's UI and bound to the same hotkeys, even if it means having empty spots when a particular factory doens't have that type.
  • Death from Above:
    • The Zenith superweapon drops swarms of meteors on its targets.
    • The Airplane and Gunship Factories’ Modus operandi.
    • To a lesser extent, the Tremor is a heavy vehicle mounting what can only be described as a gatling mortar.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jugglenaut got demoted from from a strider and then renamed and later got its old name back under the Jumpbot factory.
  • Do Not Run with a Gun: Fencers have to stop moving to deploy their fire. This was apparently implemented because a rolling mass of trucks firing long-ranged, high-rate-of-fire, homing missiles was too much to bear, but at the same time the developers didn't want to Nerf the Rover Factory's only anti-air unit.
  • Easy Communication: Though your army is composed of radio-capable Mecha-Mooks, so it's justified.
  • Easy Logistics: As long as a unit is active, it can use the materials collected anywhere else in the game. Partially averted by certain heavier defense structures; to fire, they need to be connected to an energy grid that's producing at least 50 energy. Taking out the nearby pylons or fusion generators can render the heavy base defenses inoperative, and is often easier than taking out the guns themselves.
  • Enemy-Detecting Radar: Radar towers, naturally. Advanced radar towers, with a much greater range and less "radar wobble" exist, but it's generally more worthwhile to simply build more radar towers further forward.
  • Energy Weapon: Every single (non-missile) weapon in the game is a kind of these.
    • Disintegrator Ray: Disintegrator guns available to the Ultimatum anti-strider stealth strider and as a Commander weapon. Not only does the projectile deal massive damage, it passes through the target, continuing to deal damage if it's big enough.
    • Plasma Cannon: One of the most common weapons in the game - if it looks and sounds like it fires actual bullets, it's one of these, much like in Total Annihilation. These range from the iny EMG (Energy Machine Gun) used by Glaive raider bot, through tank and artillery cannons, all the way up to the Big Bertha strategic artillery.
  • EMP: A number of weapons disrupt their targets in addition to (or instead of) dealing damage. All of them also deal bonus damage to shields they impact.
    • Paralysis, often caused by lightning weapons, will briefly disable a target that takes more Paralysis damage than it has current hit points. Or not so briefly - the maximum duration depends on the weapon, even as long as 30s or more on dedicated stun weapons like the Shockley EMP missile, Imp EMP crawling bomb or Widow cloaked scout/stunner.
    • Disarm, functioning similar to Paralysis but only disabling weapons limited to only a few sources - Cutter picket ships, Racketeer disarming artillery bots, Thunderbird lightning bombers.
    • Slow, which reduces all of a unit's speed (movement, turning, aiming, firing, building, cooldowns, etc) by up to 50%. Comes in many varieties - the Cyclops heavy tank has a secondary slow beam to keep its victims in place, the Outlaw riot bot pulses a slow field with minimum damage, the Harpy gunship fires slowing missiles, the Buoy skirmisher amphbot fires a disruptor bolt that deals damage and slow, as does the Moderator skirmisher jumpbot's disruptor beam...
  • Faction Calculus / A Commander Is You: While the game doesn't have factions in the traditional sense, each of the factories has its own complete set of units that could be considered one. These also match up pretty well in pairs:
    • Bots: Cloakbots are Spammer Subversives, full of cheap fast units and namesake cloaking devices, including the game's only unit able to fight while cloaked. Even their dedicated assault unit is, compared to other factories' equivalents, small, cheap and reliant on disabling enemies to offset its medium toughness. Meanwhile, Shieldbots are Balanced Powerhouse, equipped with regenerating shields that would be perfect for hit and run if it wasn't for the short ranges and low speeds, instead reliant on hard to kill blobs of Thugs protecting fragile Rogues and powerful but shield-consuming Felons.
    • Vehicles: Rovers are Spammer Subversives, too fragile to prevail in a straight out shootout but able to quickly relocate to strike where the enemy is weakest, while also sporting some of the game's best mobile artillery and the game's only mind control unit - the Rangers to the Cloakbots' Guerillas. Tanks are, unsurprisingly, Elitist Powerhouses, with very expensive and slow-moving units that have tremendous firepower or durability, able to quite simply drive through enemy defenses in a pinch.
    • All-Terrain: While both are very much Gimmick armies, the Spiders are Powerhouse (with slow, expensive units with unmatched firepower, capped by literal crawling bunkers), while Jumpbots are Subversive (reliant on unconventional weapon and unit types, with a unique riot-raider in the Pyro and two different durable mechs meant to jump on top of enemies and deal damage in melee).
    • Aircraft: Gunships are Powerhouse, much less mobile than their opposite but able to stay in range and keep dealing damage (both through mechanics and durability) and a mixture of units from cheap to elite, while Airplanes are Guerillas, forced to do strafing runs to attack ground targets and fielding no less than four different types of highly specialized and highly effective bombers.
    • Amphibious: A bit of a tricky situation, as while Hovercraft are clearly Glass Cannon Ranger Subversives, Amphbots are Powerhouse only in comparison - they have quite some Subversive qualities like the unit-throwing Lobster and the underwater regeneration, and they become truly Subversive once fighting on open water, able to move slowly but somewhat safely underwater and pop out to shoot at the expensive, powerful and long-ranged Ships, the true Powerhouse of the seas.
    • Striders do not function like normal factories, and are in fact a collection of very expensive, very powerful endgame units.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: A common low-level weapon, available in constant beam (Lotus light turret, Mace riot hovercraft, Locust raider gunship), short duration beam followed by longer recharge (Stringer heavy turret, Grizzly heavy amphbot, Detriment ultimate strider's head weapon) and rapid firing laser bolts (Bandit raider bot, Raptor air superiority fighter, Razor anti-air bunker, many others) varieties.
  • Gatling Good: The Starfire is a stationary turret with a rapid-firing rotary EMG, short-ranged but powerful. The Stinger heavy laser turret rotates its barrels between shots, while the Tremor is a kind of highly inaccurate but very rapid-firing three-barreled rotary artillery.
  • Glass Cannon: Quite a few units do this, some more than others. Of particular note:
    • The Ultimatum has a disintegration gun that can vaporize a heavy tank in one blast, as well as a cloaking device to get it close enough to use it. It isn't much in the defense department, though.
    • The Lance is a hovercraft armed with a tachyon accelerator that does a number on anything it hits, and has excellent range. On the flip side, it is very unmaneuverable, and a bomber less than half its cost can one-shot it easily.
  • Grey Goo: Puppies can replicate themselves by consuming wreckages.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: The aptly-named Lobster Amphbot is a rather unusual artillery pieces, catapulting every nearby unit towards a target area. Friendlies are protected form taking damage on impact, while enemies... aren't. Best combined to launch short-ranged units like the Scallop or crawling bombs at the enemy.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: Raiders do this automatically when facing skirmishers.
  • Hover Tank: The Hovercraft Platform exists to build these. They're slower overall than the comparable Rovers, but are able to cross water just as easily as land.
  • Humongous Mecha: Given the scale of the units, anything with legs is at least a Mini-Mecha, but the Strider Hub takes the cake with the Dante, Merlin, Paladin, Funnelweb and Detriment.
  • Kill It with Fire: The mentioned Dante, Firewalker, Inferno, Kodachi, Phonix, Pyro, and Wurm. Pretty much any unit that has a weapon that does Afterburn damage.
  • Kill Sat: The Starlight, a planet-terraforming laser that generally spells the end of the game for its unfortunate targets.
  • Lightning Gun: See Shock And Awe.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Recluses fire clusters of three rockets that turn and spread out randomly as they fly. Large groups of them produce a veritable hail of rockets that make closing the range gap with anything a very difficult prospect. Defenders, Rogues, Ronins, and Fencers massacre in groups. Merlin massacres by itself.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Jugglenaut (not a typo) can barely move, but in addition to heavy laser cannons, it has three gravity guns to keep you there.
  • Mind Control: The rather interestingly-named Dominatrix.
  • No Recycling: Averted, and, moreover, an important game mechanic. Reclaiming a wreck refunds up to 40% of its Metal cost, which means that in an even unit trade, the player that subsequently secures the wreckage will be almost completely reimbursed for the cost of their units.
  • Real-Time Strategy
  • Recursive Ammo: The Badger is an artillery vehicle that fires mines, which in turh fire clusters of tiny homing missiles when triggered.
  • Spider Tank: The Spider Factory. Its units are capable of scaling any surface that isn't another unit, which can give them a significant range advantage, thanks to the extra height.
  • Shock and Awe: The Paladin, Blitz, Scorpion, and Knight units are armed with Lightning Guns that shock and stun targets. Also available as an upgrade for Commanders.
  • Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: Present across nearly all of the factories, between Raider (medium damage high mobility but fragile), Skirmisher (low damage, medium speed but high range, generally cannot hit the evasive Raiders) and Riot (high damage high durability but slow, but able to rapidly engage and kill Skirmishers that stray into range) - Skirmishers can out-range and kill Riot safely, but Raiders can close range and kill them, unless protected by Riot in turn. Each of the factories has their own spin on the three, sometimes having role overlap or multiple examples of each. This is further expanded upon by Assault (similar to Riot, but trading damage and anti-Raider flexibility for massive durability), Artillery (generally anti-structure) and Anti-Air (self-explanatory), as well as more unique or hybrid types.
  • Tank Goodness: The aptly-named Tank Foundry, whose gameplay revolves around the careful preservation of your big, expensive war machines.
  • Tech Tree: Averted. Which mobile units you can build depends upon which of the eleven factories you picked, but there are no prerequisites for any of them, nor is there any restriction on building more factories. Likewise, any structure can be built by any constructor from the outset.
  • Theme Naming: Most of the factories.
    • Cloakbots have various fantasy names, with a mixture of critters, weapons and occupations.
    • Shieldbots have criminal names such as Thug and Outlaw.
    • Hovercraft are named after bladed tools and medieval weapons.
    • Airplanes are named after birds.
    • Spiders are named after kinds of spiders and other arthropods.
    • Tanks are all over the place but the heavier ones have names of hulking fantasy monsters.
    • Amphbots are named after various amphibious and aquatic animals.
  • Throwing Your Shield Always Works: That is exactly what the Felon believes. It throws its own and its allies' shields with its shield gun. It works as it is the only skirmishing riot outside the strider class allowing it to kill many units at a time before they have a chance to close in and attack itself or its allies.
  • Transforming Mecha: Commanders are able to permanently morph into larger units by spending metal on upgrades.
  • Unlockable Content / Double Unlock: Upon first creating an account, you only have one type of commander, and several Superweapons and other advanced structures are unavailable for construction. As you play games, your account gains levels and experience. The experience can be exchanged for this content, but each item also has an account level requirement. Thankfully, the basic commander is fairly robust, the unlocked commander parts are only useful if you spend in-game resources to upgrade the commander in that game, and the missing buildings and units won't likely come up in newbie 1v1 games. The experience and level required for all the unlockables is also low enough that it isn't hard to get everything within a few hours of playing. However, It can still be annoying if you want to jump into team games or use the cool superweapons right off the bat.
  • Walking Tank: The Shield Bot Factory churns these out. They're the slower and tougher of the two main Bot groups, with shield generators on several of their units.
    • Special mention goes to the Crab spiderbot, a slow-moving and expensive behemoth armed with a powerful and deceptively flexible cannon. Once stationary, the Crab closes its legs and takes greatly reduced damage from all attacks.
  • We Cannot Go On Without You: Averted by default, unlike its predecessor. While the loss of the commander is often a major blow, due to the various upgrades it may have had before being destroyed, it doesn't immediately end the game for that player. This was done to prevent all-in rushes against the commander from being the main strategy. Can be played straight with a pre-game setting, though.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Like its predecessors, there are two resources: Metal and Energy. Metal can only be acquired from metal deposits, whereas Energy-producing structures can be built anywhere. Unlike said predecessors, which all required the construction and careful balance of dedicated and fragile buildings to convert excess Energy into Metal, all excess Energy is automatically spent to "overdrive" metal extractors, with diminishing returns and the requirement to maintain an energy grid to maximize output.
  • Zerg Rush: Massed raiders are often seen in games with large maps and few players, as they're the only units that are fast enough to respond to enemy raids over a large front.

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