While talking to my friend the other night about my stance on turn base strategy games, he mentioned the same exact problem I have with real time strategy games, which was reassuring to hear that it’s not just me that has a problem with RTS games. Consider this a follow up to the “No more turns” entry and my attack on the RTS genre.I’ve been playing the RTS genre since Command and Conquer and got into the genre with Starcraft. Over the past 3 years my interest has started to dwindle for the genre, and I know that if people from QT3 are reading this entry I’m going to piss off the RTS nuts, well here goes 🙂
The biggest difference in my opinion between RTS games in the 90s opposed to ones in recent years, is that games today focus more on the multiplayer angle instead of single as in the 90s. I think StarCraft with Battle.net really set the stage for online matches in RTS games and started the trend. I miss the days of having unique challenging levels to play instead of the usual rush the AI base or defend the hill sections. The most recent examples in my opinion of having excellent single player functionality are WarCraft 3 and Rise of Nations. Warcraft 3 went for a very cinematic experience with unique missions ,such as having the hero burn down an entire human village. Even the hold the fort style missions had a cinematic touch , such as the final mission where you must defend the world tree while the burning legion storms across the land.
On the other side there is Rise of Nations that went for an almost TBS like style to their RTS. The single player campaign was a map of the world and each turn you can move an army icon to another space. Landing on an enemy territory started a RTS battle , while not as cinematic it does provide a way of making battles fit into the scope of things. This technique has been attempted in games such as Dawn of War and the Battle for Middle Earth series, but I feel that Rise of Nations did it best. Now it’s time to talk about my real beef with the genre.
There are three words that make me sick when I hear them mentioned in a RTS or TBS game (for those that read “no more turns” you know where I’m getting at) “build order lists”. For people who don’t play strategy titles, build order lists refers to playing the game by following a set of instructions as opposed to playing the game on your own. In Age of Empires 3, I remember reading second by second lists of how to survive rushing (I’ll explain that next) or how to build a stable economy. To me this zaps the fun and game play of any game, and devolves the game into who can follow their shopping list first. In a few paragraphs I’ll go into what steps I feel need to be taken to get rid of this, now it’s time to charge.
Rushing is a statement as old as the genre itself, it is part of the 3 overall strategies of any RTS game. They are turtling, booming, and of course rushing, turtling is building up nothing but defenses and draining the opponents economy by trying to get rid of them and then taking him out. Booming is focusing on your economy and research and fighting with higher quality units to win. Rushing is ignoring your economy to build up a huge weak force and swarming the enemy base before units and defenses can be built. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of the first two as it is abit too much for this thread but instead on rushing. The problem with rushing is that it figures right back into build order lists, as the best rushing comes from them and the only dependable defense against them are build order lists. In recent year I’ve seen RTS games provide a basic set of defenses to discourage base rushing which is a good step forward. Recently I’ve witness the zenith of my problem with the RTS genre with a game called Supreme Commander.
Supreme Commander talked alot of talk in previews, massive armies to lead, epic size maps, super units the size of buildings and I was looking forward to it. Playing the game however is far different then what previews suggested, the entire game is about carefully balancing your economy by building resource and power generators. Unit AI is as dumb as dirt and unless your watching them 24/7 they will get themselves killed. This a game where you can spend upwards of 20 minutes just assembling your base before any combat will begin. The game uses a queued system to allow you to plan your moves out in advance, allowing players to plan out every move for 30 minutes within seconds. Obviously this game is the epitome of build order list and eventually I got to the point that I gave up even trying to play the game as it felt too scripted and rigid to play.
Speed has become another issue to me with RTS games, I was never fast at keyboard commands and since StarCraft it has almost become required to master hot keys of all those unit powers to have a chance online. If there is one thing I hate more then build order lists, is having to find my healer unit in a crowd to click on the heal button before everyone dies. Micromanagement should not dictate the winner of the match,and unit AI should be made smart enough that I can leave them alone without worrying about them getting themselves killed. I want to focus on tactics and strategy , not on my ability to baby sit what are supposed to be highly trained military personale . So that leaves us with what the solution is, and I’ve been thinking about a few myself.
I have two big ideas for the genre, one on the single player side and one for multi player. For single player I want to go back to the cinematic style and focus on a game built up for single player only. This title takes place on another planet during a period similar to either late 1800s or early 1900s of our history. You follow a person across eighty years as he rises to become the greatest military strategist on the planet. In the process he basically controls the evolution of the planet as just like in real life, winners writes the history and each conflict will effect subsequent conflicts. The player chooses after talking to the various leaders who he/she will support and will lead their armies into battle. By keeping this offline means there can be radically different sides , and each conflict sees the player leading a different army. The story of the game is the main character is writing a biography of his life and each chapter is another conflict that he lived through, and I’ve got a few of their stories almost done now. The ending of the game will be different depending on whose side you choose in each conflict, and I’m going to make sure that for the most part there aren’t alot of good/evil fights but stay in the grey. I’m still not sure of how I want the personal aspect of the game to play, originally I thought you could have the character run around before battles but the more I think about it would become annoying fast.
Next is a game built for multi player only, and for those that read my entry on the CCG genre know what’s coming. This is my toy box game idea, where players create their own side out of a collection of units, and buildings. Taking a cue from the CCG genre the whole concept of armor and health will be straight forward, units will have anywhere from 1 to 3 points of health and that’s it. The difference is that there are few situations where a character will always be hit. In most RTS games ranged units have an advantage as they can whittle down an attacking army , here there is a huge chance in a 1 to 1 situation for the range unit to miss, and only by either having overwhelming force or attacking the flank will a range unit be able to quickly kill the enemy. One aspect I would love to see that I’m thinking about adding here, are stealth units that can be told to perform certain tasks and can not be readily seen by the enemy’s radar. Each part of your side costs points and taking a cue from Armageddon Empires the better the unit the more points it cost, limiting your self to either a diverse group of units and researches or a select group of powerhouses. Buildings will provide numerous benefits depending on which ones you have , including providing armaments to help your characters survive.
Obviously I’m not going to go into perfect detail here, just enough to wet your appetites 🙂 I think we need RTS games that get away from the rush centric professional gaming competition scene that has develop over the years. I don’t want to have to follow a list of directions to have a chance at winning a match. Also as I mentioned in another entry there needs to be some form of customization present in strategy titles. I loved the idea in Age of Empires 3, but I want to see it developed further. Personality I believe the old additive that if a game is developed for both single and multi player , something is going to be left on the cutting room floor as opposed to if the game was focused on one or the other. Right now I have no idea where I stand with Starcraft 2, I can just sense the Korean gamers already have their rush strategies ready and I know the second I go online I’m going to get wiped out. Possibly by some kind of new “super zergling rush”.