Strategy, Real Time Strategy has come into bloom over he last thirteen years.
What this is about.
Supreme Commander 2, details are out. (http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=214486)
And those details have brought the angry rantmoster that resides in the dired out plum that is my heart into full gear. Why? Because of the tendency of game developers to dumb their games down in order to make them more attractive to the "mass market".
I will start on how the whole idea of having an RTS game that works for the "mass market" is mind boggingly stupid, considering the mass market is populated by an audience that wouldn't touch RTS games if they used one of those Cargo-Work-Robots Sigourney Weaver used to bitchslap the Alien Queen.
My Second shot is aimed at the intended simplfication of RTS games in order to "appeal" to a broader audience.
The simplfifications range from dumbing down the Economy Management (Yes SupCom 2, i'm looking at you) towards outright getting rid of it (Hi there, DoW 2).
Economy management. What is that in RTS games?
The Economy consists of The Infrastructure you build up, aka your base (Factorys and things like that) and ressource gathering.
Managing the Intakte of Ressources and the spending of said ressources has always been a staple gameplay element, until recently. It seems any RTS that involves anything more than taking a flag to get ressources is considered bad by developers.
The game that truly startet it (and had succes) was Company of heroes. And it worked great for that game. It was a natural fit. The Theme of world war 2 hardly mixes well with you building a base and setting up mining operations or, god forbid, factorys and training camps for infantry.
No, the games economy was tailormade for the scenario an in itself plausible enough. Take that important location and you get more troops to throw at the enemy. Done Deal. Build that command bunker and request units of a certain type. Done deal. As i said: natural fit.
Another game that made an attempt to simplify the economy was Dawn of war, part one. Although taking strategic points aka flags (now seriously, they are ramming flags into the ground so ill call them flags from now on!) was an integral part of gameplay, it only made up half of the games Economy management aspect. The other Part was base infrastrcuture. Infrastructure being most important since whithout the tech buildings you are locked out from the kinky stuff and without the Production facilities you are left with no reinforcements should things take a turn for the worse. Having a healthy base was all important.
Then came Dawn of war 2. Reducing Economy mangement to basicly getting flags and placing one building besides a certain type of flag. The rest of the game consisted of you holding the hands of your troops, because whithout you they are lobotomized lemmings with a severe case of deathwish, but the Artificial Intelligence Rant comes later.
DoW 2 is devoid of EcoManagement, theres nothing to do but send your troops around to fight the troops of your opponent.
Call me names but i find that to be quite.. dull. Not having the ability to make succeful raids into an enemys Base of operations to deny him Tech, Ressources or Production is a grave sin in my book. I mean, where is the Strategy in DoW 2? When i look at DoW 2 all i see is a tactical combat game. No strategy needed, just good sense for tactical moves.
Excuse me oh wise one! What is strategy again?
Strategy is, in short, the masterplan. The Roadmap. The step by step guide to victory (or horrible defeat).
Strategy is overviewing the current situation and reviewing the past situation in order predict the situation that will be soon.
Strategy is placing ones Assets at the right spots in the right situations.
Strategy is a plan of actions designed to achieve a partciular goal.
Strategy is deciding when to fight, where to fight, under what conditions and with what assets.
Tactics are not Strategys.
Buying that factory in the beginning to later build that tank which will be used to destroy that vital target in the future is a strategy.
Telling the tank to drive around the pillbox through the woods to get behind the nemys tank is Tactics.
Tactics are concernded with the procedures of combat.
Dow 2 is about tactics. Dow 1 and Coh are about Tactics with a slight hint of strategy, since your toolbox has more to offer then "go shoot ppl".
The Evolution of degenration.
RTS games are not a novelty. They have been around for quite a time. C&C and Warcraft basicly startet it simply by being playable and decent (and the rts games before that... seriously it was horrible).
RTs went into full bloom around the time when new franchises startet in an attempt to overthrow Blizzard and Westwood.
1997-8 can be considered the birth year of a new RTS generation filled with new ideas, boldly going where no RTS went before.
1997 - Dark Reign http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Reign:_The_Future_of_War
A Game as ambitous as it was ugly. At the time, the ai was remarkable and the customisation of unit behavours was a big selling point. The Idea of a fog of war thats affected by terrain was new back then and has not beein done correctly up to this date. However in the end sloppy execution let Dark Reign to failtopia. The game had edges, rough edges and could not live up to the promises. Perhaps it wasn't the time for such a game, perhaps technology wasn't ready.
Since we are at Technology and not being Ready...
September 30, 1997. Total annhilation came into this world, set on annihilating our self respect by choking our expensive PCs to death with an iron will and System requirements that were of the charts.
However it rewarded the player with what amounts to one of the biggest Wars of attrition you can fight in an RTS. Oh yes im no stranger to the epic struggles for Metal spots and wreckage fields.
Totala featured 3d units and terrain and was the first game to actualy include what is now called a physics engine. Tanks moved slower when driving uphill and huge units lacked agility as they fought their own ineartia. Bullets would only damage things if they actualy HIT them, unlike Dark Reigh or Starcraft, both featuring combat mechanics that would not require projectiles to actualy hit their targets in order to damage them (when you are in range and fired upon, its auto hit, theres no chance to miss).
Yes indeed, dodging that Big Bearths fire was possible and much needed.
Totala also featured one of the best Economy mechanics ever, with an basicly unending income that was direclty linked to map control and the clever mechanic that was wreckage and recycling of said wreckage which could give the underdog the chance to make a comeback.
Totala sold 1.5 Million copys, is still played today, fathered a community that made a 3d engine remake named Spring which has devloped into the first open source RTS engine ever (and a good one at that!).
And still manages to kill even todays PC's, if you let it try.
On a side note, it also featured a modern controlsheme, involving the shift key and the ability to queue orders which is something no RTS should ever fckn miss!
1998 Star Craft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarCraft
Totaly not hitting my nerve, this game has devolped into a pheomenom. For reasons i still am not able to grasp. Me just coming back from Totala, playing Starcraft seemed like a trip into the long forgotten past.
And i do not mean graphics.
Im reffering to the controlsheme. The lack of self awarenes in units, resulting in what amounts to me giving them orders for every single step of the way.
No, starcraft never made it into my heart, it was antiquated and no engaging story can help me when a game devlopes into a chore.
It did however made it into the hearts of millions of other people, namely the nation of korea. Oh yes im aware of the massive fanbase and im not here to tell you that your favorite game is bad. Its just bad by MY standards and that should not mean much to you after all.
I'm pretty sure Starcraft 2 will hold high the flag of being a controlsheme nightmare with lobotimzed units.
Units, the story of the wheel
The Wheel, it has been invented about six THOUSAND years ago and it has become quite the mainstay of civilisation. Imagine a world without wheels. Exactly, not possible. The wheel has been perfected for 6k Years and i'd say the thing is rolling quite nicely now. But then how is it possible that there are People who are dead set in RE-INVENTING it?
That concept of re-inventing something that works just perfectly fine has always been a part of game developement.
The RTS genre for example has seen quite share of Wheeldrama when it comes to control shemes and unit behaviour.
The shock that was Starcraft and later Warcraft3 still is with me. After several games of selecting an unlimited number of units with one drag of the mouse we were catapulted back into the bloody stone age. Only a limited number of units per selection brought back the memorys of Dune 2, although SC was a step up from the one unit at a time sheme of that one desert themed nightmare. But still, after being pampered by Games like Dark Reign and Totala which heralded the revolution of RTS games the controls of Starcraft hit me like an axe.
Then, again after 4 years of RTS with a proper, modern controlsheme warcraft 3 gave us a kick in the crotch and send us right back to those dreadful days, bu with more holding your units hands. From what i have heard and seen so far Starcraft 2 will continue this clusterfuck of gamedesign. This is a bullet i will doge though. Thanks to youtube i can watch someone else strain his nerves with that game and still keep in touch with the story, which probably will turn out to be interesting enough to warrant me sitting through that youtube session.
Starcaft also is a prime example of a common misconception about RTStrategy games.
Strategy implies that I am the Supreme Commander. The Big Boss. The guy first place in the chain of command. I overview the chaos of the battlefield, I make the plans, I connect the dots. I decide who goes where to do what.
I however do not deicide HOW they do it.
I say: "Go there and shoot this!" and i expect of my units the proper reaction, that being them going there and shooting things.
Its NOT my job as supreme commander to tell people HOW to do their jobs. The how is their job.
I expect my units to react intelligently. Why do ihave to tell them to use their special ability? I want them to use it on their own when its opportune.
DoW 2 and Coh are prime examples of that, nothing gets done unless youre holding the hand of your units because they are incapable of accomplishing anything on their own.
I understand that programming smart AI's is (one of) the holy grail(s) of programming but shouldn't you people at least give it a try?
Im playing a strategy game after all. Telling units how to do their jobs... Its not my job!
Speaking of units (we now get to the source of my current anger):
"If I start the game and in the first 60 seconds I build a tank, I want that tank to be able to deliver the killing blow to my opponent 35 minutes to 90 minutes later."
proclaims GPG's Chris Taylor proudly in an interview with gamespot UK.
His vision for Supreme commander 2 is as follows:
SupCom 2 should be like starcaft.
A dumbed down economy ensures that it does not require brains to decide whether you can afford the time and ressources to attempt to get more ressources.
In Supreme commander (and im talking about Forged alliance here, since i consider it the game Surpeme commander wanted to be) had a sepcial economy. One that could grow exponentialy over the course of the game and everything was tailored towards and around that.
The Tech tiers for example. The game features 4 Tiers of technology, each with a new set of bigger units. And more costly units.
A game with good players could escalate from t1, where both people basicly spam hoardes (and i mean hoardes, think triple digit here) cheap ass Tanks and small Mechs to t3, where giant (in both looks and cost compared to t1) engines of of destruction are send out to battle.
A t3 Titan bot was several times the size and bulk of that t1 MechMarine bot. Its Ant and Godzilla. A t3 unit basicly can eat infinite hoards of t1 units which leads many people to the wrong conclusion that t1(and t2) is obsolote. While it is true that t1 is obolete when it came to fighting t3 units, the low cost spam units still were an important asset for raids and suprise attacks, chaning t1/2's roles from mainstay map control towards low cost harrasment.
This concept of escalation in unit power and cost is deeply woven into the games economy itself, as you simply cannot afford t3 units without an equaly advanced economy, if you tried you would be overrun by the t1 swarm.
Its a balancing act of building more tanks vs expanding your economy and required a good sense for STRATEGY. That is what makes Supreme commander good.
The concept of a unit fullfilling the same role until the game ends seems backwater in comparision.
When my income grows, i want to be able to buy me bigger and more badass units.
I do not WANT to have that tank around in endgame. I want a BETTER tank. A BIGGER tank. A MORE POWERFULL tank.
I want to be REWARDED for managing my economy better than my oppoent, rewared with bigger units.
"It wasn't always fun to deal with a crashing mass infrastructure in SupCom, but that challenge was half the game. Even Chris sounds upset about it: "The nerd in me died a little bit," he confesses, "but said, 'That's OK Chris, because more people are going to have fun with the combat aspect of the game, and not get bogged down in the economic management."
The artice goes on, completely reminding me of what i heard when DoW 2 was announced. Yes, focus on combat. So i can expect to having to hold hands with my units AGAIN?! Whats wrong with Ecomangement, thats half the fun in good RTS games. Its what can make for a awesome gameplay mechanic.
Dammit Chris, you blokes almost got it right with Forged Alliance, why drop the ball now? FA and Supcom did not fail because they were bad games, or to complex. They failed because noone heard of them. Your Advertising simply sucked balls.
"We're going away from iconographic units to a living, breathing RTS game... Square Enix has this unbelievable resumé for creating stories and characters, and they're experts at this."
Chris went on saying the above.
I am now shivering in fear of angsty teenage anime inspired teenage fucktwads emoing across the screen.
WTF, living breathing RTS? I want an apocalyptic war of attrition on my scrren not a bloody Frankencraft! i'm playing multiplayer with other people and we don't give a rats rotten ass about story. We want a challenging and rewarding RTS experience!
I fear that GPG now attempts to try beating Starcraft 2 at its own game. Starcraft 2 is exactly what Chris has in mind for Supcom 2.
Starcraft 2, in my book, sucks. And if Supcom 2 follows that unholy route of gamedevelopemnt, it will suck too.
This concludes todays lenghty rant, if you managed to stay with me until now i applaud you.
As a reward look here:
The single most awesome Tactical combat game to date. And don't forget Groundcrontrol 2.
http://wz2100.net/ Warzone 2100, probably one of the best RTS ever, truly deserving the S in RTS.
If you havent played these games, i cannot take your opinion or mere existence seriously. You fail.