Cold Takes/1 - Why Zero-K

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Cold Take #1 - Why Zero-K?

Posted 2 December 2023

This is the first in a new series of design blogs about Zero-K. We aim to release one every two weeks, when there isn't a patch, and by 'we' I mean me, GoogleFrog (others might contribute later). Expect posts about Zero-K development, design, history, and whatever else comes to mind.

To start us off, why is Zero-K even called Zero-K? It started around 2009 when a mod called Complete Annihilation wanted to throw off the shadow of being "just another alphabet soup mod", the term for games on the Spring Engine that traces themselves back to Total Annihilation. The mod split off from Balanced Annihilation a few years earlier, which forked off Absolute Annihilation, which was based on Uberhack and subsequently ported to Spring. For those of you aware of BAR (Beyond All Reason), it is based on Balanced Annihilation and had the working name BA Reloaded.

Complete Annihilation.

Zero-K was picked after much discussion, deliberation, argument, and finally, a vote. We had a site at the time, called CaGov, where developers could create polls and vote on things. We voted on things from whether taking damage should decloak (it does) and whether all bombers should be replaced with laser bombers (only Thunderbird was replaced). The simple version of the Zero-K name is that it won, beating a few other proposals, the only other of which I can remember is Robocracy.

Edit: Longtime developer Sprung remembers "Ecce Machina" and the related name "why oh why is Deus Ex already taken". MidKnight remember "Open Conflict", because it's open source.

There were a few arguments in favour of Zero-K. The more narratively inclined like the idea of robots fighting pointlessly over the scraps of a universe approaching heat death, or zero degrees kelvin. That paid off in the lore for the campaign over a decade later (any more would be spoilers). We also coveted 0 A.D.'s alphabetically superior position on various lists, and thought we could force the shortening 0K. That did not work out.

Most of all, we wanted a unique name that would stand out and win at page rank, as search was all the rage in the late 2000s. We at least won that battle, defeating a book about cryogenics and a brand of dangerously cold single-use towelettes. The towelette company even sent us a sample after a Twitter interaction; the book still makes it to the image search preview in DuckDuckGo.

DuckDuckGo results.

We may have been a bit too clever with the name. Zero-K stepped out of the shadow of Total Annihilation only a few years before Planetary Annihilation embraced it. Nostalgia aside, the latter is still a more descriptive name, and such names are common for strategy games. Think of all the names to do with armies or conquest. War, command, force, settle, empire, company, division, legion... the list goes on. Generic names indicate genre, which we gave up in favour of being unique. Maybe that sums up Zero-K.

Arguably the best aspect of the name revealed itself years after the decision was made - puns about low temperature - which far outweighs any downside. Zero-K: Nothing is cooler.