Searching For The Young Strategy Rebels

By Alec Meer on April 14th, 2008 at 12:36 pm.

Presumably because I’m still heavily damaged by a weekend of hard boozing and harder dancing in the company of those elements of RPS who enjoy fun, the loose connection between my brain and my typing fingers has dribbled out some stream of conciousness about RTS.

That strategy is on my/RPS’ radar so much at the moment is probably an inevitable result of an Autumn and Winter spent happily gorging on first-person shooters, followed by the early months of 2008 being distinctly short on big-name games. In the sudden absence of fast action snacks, we turned to our long-lasting strategy game rations for survival. It seems to be a trend within the microcosm of PC gamers I know. Where not so long ago there was this daily pile-on into Team Fortress 2 servers, now my taskbar fills with instant messages about playing Dawn of War or World In Conflict. And it’s been ace, not just for the actual playing, but also the post-match analysis, which reaches the sort of insane blow-by-blow detail that would be reason enough for the rest of the world to demand that all PC gamers be rounded up and executed for the good of humanity.

Soulstorm’s a game that score 6s and 7s, and yet we keep playing it, keep talking about it. Couple that with the slightly surprising success of Sins of a Solar Empire, and clearly strategy is on a lot of folks’ brains. Looking at the months ahead in the release schedules, RTS also offers the most obvious talking points, outside of Fallout 3. Starcraft 2, Empire: Total War, Red Alert 3 and Dawn of War 2 loom, versus what’s a comparatively weak FPS hand – Project Origin? Tiberium? They’ll probably be fine, but I can’t see ‘em being RPS’ most-read posts, somehow.

Tellingly, the PC-specific FPS is conspicuous by its general absence of late. Crysis and UT3 (if you excuse its presence on PS3), the most definably PC of late 2007’s many shooters, were somewhat lost to the multi-format thunder of Call of Duty 4, Bioshock and The Orange Box. Outside of Stalker Clear Sky, It’s hard to see that trend changing, which means strategy is something for PC gamers to cling to as a genre that’s palpably theirs, something meatier and deeper alongside the MMORPGs and match-three casual games that increasingly characterise the PC.

But will it stay ‘ours’? There’ve been renewed efforts to realise strategy on console of late – notably C&C3, and upcoming rethinks of Supreme Commander, World in Conflict and Civilization. Mouse – gamepad has historically been an awkward transition, but sooner or later someone’s surely going to nail it. We can be confident in a sustained, healthy dribble of SOASEs and Armageddon Empireses, but in parallel to that I’m absolutely convinced the Team Fortress 2 of RTS is coming, and soon.

I don’t know what it’ll be or who’ll make it, but there’s a desperate need for it. Much as I enjoyed the mammoth five-man bouts of Soulstorm we waged over the weekend, I was bothered by the frustrations of just how well you had to know your side and each unit within it, the need for all those minute tech upgrades, the ease with which one player could gain the upper hand, the intense stat discussion all across the fan-forums. I’m fine playing with chums I know are around my skill level, but it’s very rare that, outside of nosing at the multiplayer modes for a review, I’d dare venture online to play randoms. I know how quickly and brutally I’d be destroyed. I wouldn’t have fun.

To put it another way, I’m scared. I am, it’s true, a lily-livered wimp with a yellow streak as wide as a rainforest, but I can’t imagine I’m alone in this. (As a games journalist, I’m also worried about the growing divide between what my necessarily omnivore nature picks up on, and that extra degree of numbers and imbalances and hotkeys the dedicated RTS fan sees.) World in Conflict makes some decent strides in terms of ripping out the knotted mess of wires and circuitry that make most RTSes so inaccessible to a rank newcomer and to less frenzied players, but it’s hardly a level playing field.

So what will be the great equaliser? Perhaps a class system of sorts – Tanks Guy, Anti-Tanks Guy, Planes Guy, placed into a many-playered co-op structure. Give people just a couple of things to worry about rather than the whole gamut (again WiC plays with some of those ideas), plus the presence of comrades makes the whole affair a little less threatening. The most enjoyable of our DOW bouts saw a couple of us teamed up against a phalanx of angry AI; it’s perhaps less of a challenge, but the sense of shared excitement amplifies every skirmish into something that much more thrilling.

I dunno what will happen, but I just get this itch at the back of my brain whenever I play an RTS, this feeling that, much as I enjoy it and certainly don’t want it to be replaced by some Nu-RTS, it’s high-time for an optional alternative. Videogames are getting so hard these days, to coin a phrase. TF2 and Battlefield Heroes are the apparent vanguard of a new trend in accessbility and all-welcoming entertainment, and I simply can’t believe there isn’t someone out there applying the same values to an RTS. Someone’s gonna come up with something that lets everyone playing have a great time, whether they win or lose.

However good is turns out to be, Starcraft 2 is certainly not going to be that something.

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102 Comments »

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  1. Will Tomas says:

    The obvious platform for an accessible console RTS would be the Wii – it does away with the need for moving a cursor with the joystick or other equally silly concepts. Arguably Pro Evo for the Wii shows some of the kind of thing you could do. Whethe anyone’s going to bother to develop an RTS for the Wii with enough depth to get good scores is another matter.

  2. Janek says:

    It’s an interesting one. Personally I suspect that the answer already lies in the past: the original Ground Control.

    Strip out the abstract base-building/point-capturing/reinforcement pool nonsense entirely, and all you’re left with is pure, distilled strategy and tactics. With a relatively limited selection of units, pretty much following classic Rock Paper Shotgun Scissors balance, I can’t really see anything particularly intimidating about it.

    Obviously you do miss out on the actual base-building bit, but frankly that’s usually rubbish anyway, and results in nutters using spreadsheets to learn how to optimally build stuff to chuck out the maximum DPS in the shortest time.

    (Basically I just want another proper Ground Control)

  3. AndrewC says:

    Well that leads in to big old discussions of fun vs challenge and ‘sim’ vs ‘arcade’ gameplay. Or how about the impossibility of true simulation of reality in an objective-based game-space (or given current input technology). Or how about whether it is the reflection of reality that provides the thrill of games, or the differences from reality.

    All very entertaining debates, but academic, abstract and probably intractable too.

    So i’ll just say that i’m terrified of RTSs too for the very reasons you’ve given – the surface complexity, the vertical learning curve, and the horrifyingly anal tactics of the obsessed players, with build lists broken down by the second. I just don’t like Eve-l games, which makes me a: a well balanced human being and b: a pussy.

  4. drunkymonkey says:

    I can relate to the online RTS gaming thing. I’m crap at RTS, it’s true, but I’m never going to get better if I get trashed within three minutes of each game. It’s just too unpredictable when you play online, and of course with it being only the two of you, you’re not going to get any triumphs like you might in an FPS server where 20 people are playing.

    (despite this, I’m looking forward to SC2, perhaps even more than Empire, which is more about flanking than knowing your side, I guess)

  5. madness says:

    EndWar? Also, Tower Defense games are basically simplified RTSes.

    I don’t think RTS will never get super-simple, because stripping it down to the fundamental interaction (your little guys shooting other little guys) isn’t very satisfying by itself, unlike shooting/jumping/punching etc. Without some complexity it wouldn’t be interesting.

  6. Butler` says:

    Implementing gesture-based commands into the user interface could go a long way in a casual/accessible RTS.

    But tbh, it doesn’t get much more casual/accessible than C&C3.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Forget strategy games, what about football? All those funny men running about in different clothes. Fighting over that round thing, no idea what it’s called, for some reason they can only touch it with their feet and faces. Then theres those other two guys with magic gloves who pick up the ball. But why don’t they just pick it up over on the other side. What about that whistly bastard in black? Why do they listen to him? If they win enough scores does the player get to be him?

    My point is that anything can be complex if you don’t know the rules. Its a learning curve, you’re brought up on platform games, weaned on puzzle games, teeth with sports games and eat strategy out of a newspaper standing outside an off license. You really think TF2 is simplistic? Have you read the guides or statistical breakdowns of all the weapons and their chance to crit? Watched the youtube videos of how to get to such and such an exact point on the map? No you’ve just been brought up on shooters and you know the rules already. Yes strategy lacks an easy entry hole, but what about the covert strategy in games? Arranging formations in Pro Evo or deciding when to use which power up, thats the first step.

    Also, stop going on about the PC dying. There have been console strategy games since Famicom Wars (Advance Wars) on the nes in 1988.

  8. AndrewC says:

    Too much of a generalisation, Madness. if you had one little guy who you really liked, as opposed to a collection of hitpoints, you could be invested in a simple 2d, horizontally scrolling game where you order him into a series of one-on-one rock paper scissors-like battles, with you being sure to change his approach and guns depending on which enemy you come come across next. you’ll feel worried as you order him in, and elated when he wins. That would still be an RTS, right?

  9. Alec Meer says:

    Jonathan, you’re putting words into my mouth. I make no mention of the PC dying, only changing, while I call TF2 accessible, not simplistic. Yeah, the TF2 stat-fiends exist in droves, but the game’s built in such a way that those guys’ advanced knowledge doesn’t preclude a relatively novice player from dropping into a random server and achieving /something/.

  10. Seniath says:

    I’m fine playing with chums I know are around my skill level, but it’s very rare that, outside of nosing at the multiplayer modes for a review, I’d dare venture online to play randoms. I know how quickly and brutally I’d be destroyed. I wouldn’t have fun.

    Aye, this is very much how I feel about playing RTSs online. Shooters are fine, as you don’t have to invest much time in them for it to actually be fun. You can log on, shoot some people, get shot at and then quit. RTSs, on the other hand, usually have quite a run up to the actual fun part. And if that fun just consists of rushed after 10 minutes of base building well, then, it’s not really fun is it?

    I’m not really sure of the point I’m trying to make, but there’s one there somewhere…

    (Oh, also the online lobbies in DoW make me sorry to be a human, but that’s another topic)

  11. Ian says:

    I just don’t think the single-player modes in RTS’ prepare you for multiplayer as well as other genres do. In any reasonably complex game there’s going to be a leap between beating the AI and beating a person but in RTS games it just seems so much more different.

    It could be, of course, that I’m just plain shit at strategy games.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Reply to Alec Meer
    “Outside of Stalker Clear Sky, It’s hard to see that trend changing, which means strategy is something for PC gamers to cling to as a genre that’s palpably theirs, something meatier and deeper alongside the MMORPGs and match-three casual games that increasingly characterise the PC.”
    That doesn’t sound defeatist to you?

    Also you are a professional games reviewer. You really think you’re approaching TF2 with the same level of noobyness of a casual player? My point is that TF2 is complex and doesn’t even offer a tutorial. A real novice to the genre would be as hosed going into a TF2 server as a novice playing a quickmatch of Company of Heroes.

  13. Matt Dovey says:

    The answer to all your worries for the RTS already exists, and has done for many years: The Glorious Achievement of the Reverend and His Chums, the inimitable Cannon Fodder. Just a few guys, guns and grenades, and the shadow of that graveyard always lurking in your mind. Perfect.

    A lot of online gaming is ruined for me by people who have more time and more OCD-like tendencies than myself. Part of the solution will be faster, rapid-fire games; that way the sting of losing isn’t so bad when you’re not as invested, but you can still maintain the sense of achievement through unbroken runs. Luck must necessarily play a part in such a setup, which may discourage those OTT hardcore gamers who prefer everything to be calculable, but honestly, I wouldn’t miss them.

  14. Butler` says:

    @Alec, surely that’s just the nature of the game? TF2 being a team thing, and RTS games usually being a 1v1 (or occasionally 2v2) affair.

    Surely a novice player could add /something/ in an 8v8 RTS match (in a game built for large team play).

    @Ian, again C&C3, if you work your way through the Skirmish difficulty levels, that will prepare you 110% for online play. You learn the UI, the ins and outs of units, map intricacies, specific strategies etc etc etc.

  15. Fraser says:

    I also cast a vote for Advance Wars being closest to the game series you’re trying to describe. In fact Battalion Wars is nearly the exact game you’re describing: a simplified console RTS, unthreatening and decidedly not suited to spreadsheet maniacs, with a focus on action satisfaction more than Warhammer-esque strategic masterminding. The only thing keeping it from being the obvious answer is that it’s not quite good enough, unlike Advance Wars. But if you ever get to review Battalion Wars 3, you might want to have a think about whether it deserves to be called the TF2 of RTS.

  16. Ian says:

    I actually got on surprisingly well with the first 1/4 or so of C&C3, though I don’t know how I’d have got on in the latter stages as I was just playing it on the PC at my friend’s house.

    I should have stressed that while I follow the progress of interesting ones and will sporadically go through a strategy game phase, I’m no RTS maniac and I don’t try to play them all online so I’m not commenting on that from shed loads of experience.

    And while C&C may be an example that disproves my theory, is it indicative of the genre and I’ve missed that or is it more of an exception-that-proves-the-rule (if that even makes any sense) affair? And that’s a genuine question rather than a loaded one.

  17. madness says:

    AndrewC – well, that sounds quite like Diablo, and that was pretty popular (although I didn’t see the fun in it). And Cannon Fodder is a very good counter-example, so I admit I’m wrong, the basic interaction of RTS games does work.

    What you described is not really an RTS though – no strategy, no choices between long term investment and short term influence etc. Nor is Cannon Fodder really, but the boundary between strategy and tactics isn’t a very interesting argument to get into when fun/not fun is the important point.

  18. AndrewC says:

    We are dealing with personal preference here, but if the alternative is the micromanagement and spreadsheet style gaming of where a lot of RTSs have ended up, i’ll go with cannon fodder. That other alternative doesn’t feel like strategy to me, but number crunching and list following. maximum efficiency = minimum fun, but that’s me.

    Edit: No, balls. That’s me being diplomatic. What i really think is that the micromanagers are high functioning autistics whose idea of fun, as much as they can have one, is OCC neatness and control. This is to go utterly against the idea of multiplayer which is the chaos and unpredictability other humans bring. But that would be just what i think.

  19. Fraser says:

    @Jonathan: there’s a different type of mastery between RTS and FPS. You get better at an FPS by playing; you get better at an RTS by studying (in some form). So yes, Alec could absolutely have noob anxiety about online RTS despite playing many hours. I know I would.

    @Ian: Yeah, “exception that proves the rule” is a nonsensical saying. The word “prove” used to mean “test”, as in through scientific study; the exception that proves the rule was the exception that puts the rule to the test. But as the meaning of the word changed to “show to be correct”, the saying got flipped on its head. It’s still a fun thing to say, but logically it’s madness.

  20. Chaz says:

    I seem to remember “Z” by the Bitmap Bros being quite pickup and play with a sort of TF2 cartoon like feel to it.

  21. Alec Meer says:

    Butler – yeah, that’s why I reference some sort of integral co-op play being a possible future. In a straight 8 player FFA match, though, I think the novice is still gonna get stomped on pretty hard.

    (I should perhaps have noted that my idea of a novice player in the kind of sense I’m talking about isn’t someone completely new to the genre or to gaming, but rather that breed of player – which includes myself, games journalist or not – who finds that the gulf between an RTS’ singleplayer mode and the online experience is off-puttingly vast. I.e. the same sort of guy who played Half-Life to death but finds Counter-Strike an ordeal. And that’s a gap TF2 does a good job of filling, whilst at the same time offering an extra layer of tactical and statistical thinking for the more hardcore player.)

    Jonathan – if you want to call that defeatism rather than ‘the case’, that’s your prerogative. Where you’re misreading me is that I don’t for one second believe that less PC-exclusive high-budget shooters means that platform is dying. MMOs and casual and indie development are taking it to whole new, very profitable places.

  22. Garth says:

    “Watched the youtube videos of how to get to such and such an exact point on the map? No you’ve just been brought up on shooters and you know the rules already. Yes strategy lacks an easy entry hole, but what about the covert strategy in games?”

    The difference is that you can kill someone in an FPS – say you do badly, like three kills and ten deaths, but you can clearly remember those kills. You feel exalted when you finally kill that guy who’s being getting you over and over. In RTS’, there’s no equivalent. You either win, or you don’t. There are no small victories, unless you manage a crazy last-stand defense that takes longer than usual to win.

    And in an FPS by that time you’d probably have killed that guy who’s ‘owning’ you another twenty times.

  23. Butler` says:

    @Ian: Yeah I use C&C3 as an example because it is so seminal in terms of RTS development (its spiritual predecessor Dune 2 practically gave birth to the modern RTS genre as we know it).

    I still disagree that a given RTS game’s single player doesn’t set you up for multiplayer in some form or another. Why? Skirmish mode is practically a simulation of multiplayer.

    Whether you actually take to/enjoy the multiplayer component of an RTS is another issue entirely.

    I’d also label Counter-Strike as relatively accessible (in terms of game design), there’s an awful lot of clever touches to help you learn the ropes. And yes, I do appreciate that there is a high skill ceiling and that can make things difficult, but you can still play a valid role in a team.

    I feel slightly argumentative/pedantic here, so if I come across that way, apologies in advance – it’s certainly not my goal :p

  24. Cyrenic says:

    It’s funny TF2 gets mentioned as a kind of anti-RTS, as it suffers from one of RTS’s greatest flaws, although mostly on the 5 point capture and hold maps. Usually, at some point in the match, it’s clear who is going to win and one side is going to spend quite a while just losing. Several of my friends cited that as one of the primary reasons they don’t play TF2 anymore.

  25. Ben Hazell says:

    Man, I wish my friends wanted to play Dawn of War… bloody CoD4 dragging them off.

    And then GTA IV multiplayer. Watch other games stumble to a halt next month.

  26. Alec Meer says:

    I’ll admit that TF2 today isn’t as accessible as it was on launch. But it did at least bring some new/scared people into the fold over the first couple of months.

  27. PleasingFungus says:

    AndrewC: (re: the side-scroller) That sounds like a simplified, real-time Fire Emblem to me, and Fire Emblem is excellent.

    Cyrenic: Yeah, that’s the dichotomy between momentum and reversibility, to coin a lexicon – between a game in which it’s clear who’s going to win far before they do, as mentioned, and one in which the losing player may at any moment turn the entire game around, somewhat more like Starcraft, perhaps. They both have their flaws, but I think I prefer the former, provided a resign button, so that things needn’t drag out unnecessarily. Supreme Commander was like that to some degree, and had the best resign button of any game I’ve played – select all, self-destruct.

    But I’m probably wrong and certainly rambling.

    Butler': The problem being that a CPU plays nothing like a human; there’s a very, very sharp difficulty curve in the transition between offline skirmish and online skirmish, at the very least.

  28. Malibu Stacey says:

    Cyrenic says:
    It’s funny TF2 gets mentioned as a kind of anti-RTS, as it suffers from one of RTS’s greatest flaws, although mostly on the 5 point capture and hold maps. Usually, at some point in the match, it’s clear who is going to win and one side is going to spend quite a while just losing. Several of my friends cited that as one of the primary reasons they don’t play TF2 anymore.

    That’s endemic of many objective based teamplay FPS. Examples are myriad in the pantheon of Half-Life mods (Natural Selection, Day of Defeat, Science & Industry, Team Fortress Classic to an extent) and commecially released games such as Savage: Battle for Newerth, Battlefield 2, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory etc.

  29. Lou says:

    @Ian: Yeah, “exception that proves the rule” is a nonsensical saying. The word “prove” used to mean “test”, as in through scientific study; the exception that proves the rule was the exception that puts the rule to the test. But as the meaning of the word changed to “show to be correct”, the saying got flipped on its head. It’s still a fun thing to say, but logically it’s madness.

    Excuse my pedantry, but that’s wrong. :-)

    The idiom (just as the German one which is identical) is coming from the jurisprudence: Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis.

    The correct use of it is not nonsensical at all. The existence of an explicit exception confirms the existence of a (possibly unwritten) rule. A sign “closed on Mondays” would be an example.

  30. Butler` says:

    I’d disagree (in my experience) when it comes to WC3’s ‘Insane’, C&C3’s ‘Brutal’ etc. They can all teach you an awful lot and set you up well for online play.

    AT LEAST as well as any FPS.

  31. BrokenSymmetry says:

    At least for RTS games it’s considered standard to have a skirmish mode, against the AI on multiplayer maps. There are still very few FPS games that include this crucial feature for easier entrance into the multiplayer world. The only FPSs I can recall in recent years that had bots are PDZ, Shadowrun, Quake Wars, and UT3.

  32. Grant Gould says:

    The way RTS is going these days it’s only a matter of time before players just email damage-per-second-per-resource-point spreadsheets to each other and the results are processed by an Excel macro. (And frankly a good design of that game could be really cool in a mathy way — lay out a strategy in advance, see the results, and so forth, sparing one all of the tiresome click-upgrade-at-exactly-the-right-instant stuff that turned Starcraft into Dragon’s Lair over a few years. But what it isn’t, emphatically, is RTS.)

    To re-create RTS you need to burn it to the ground. Building and unit upgrades need to be largely automatic or completely absent. Myth was one of the tightest strategy games ever, and was astonishingly popular for its time — but by today’s standards it was very, very simple. I think it was also the last RTS that I really enjoyed playing online for an extended period of time.

    Unit micromanagement needs to go out the window — no units with special powers that they only use on your command. A big part of what makes RTSes inaccessible to amateur players is the huge and unbalancing effect of being able to micromanage a couple more units than your opponent. This is what happened to Starcraft fairly early on — the players who could micromanage 10% more psi-storms than their opponents simply dominated everyone else out of contention. Improving unit AI has ameliorated this somewhat, but only somewhat.

    (Might there be a place for an RTS where one faction is micromanagement-oriented and otherwise nerfed? The obsessive players could all crowd in there and the game might stay fun for everyone else. Has anyone tried this?)

    I see consoles as a potential salvation here, really. Limiting the interface to a console controller will make many of the really bad ideas that have come to dominate RTS much more obviously awful. But interface design has a long way to go before that’s practical at all, I’m afraid.

  33. Pod says:

    Someone here offered an example of a simple RTS which would involve “simple” rock paper scissors design. In my mind, hard-counters are things that make RTS games inaccesable.

    Take Sins, as an example. If you didn’t refer to their little chart of numbers, you wouldn’t have a clue why ship X hurts ship Y more than it does ship Z. Why? WHY?!

    They’re all ships… right? Made out of metal….right? So why doesn’t my big fat laser-ship shoot them all the same? Because of some defined coefficient? Well bollocks to that.

    Also, I’d vote Cannon Fodder as being a great introduction to RTS games. It was definatley real-time, and strategy was definately involved — how many guys you bothered to use, how many missiles/grenades you gave him (incase he died), when to use them etc etc.

    also, is Jonathan Nash? His posts sounded a bit like him.

  34. madness says:

    Grant – TA doesn’t have building or unit upgrades, and the only special-attack units are the commander and nuke launchers.

    edit: although, you do have to micro-manage your artillery a bit if you don’t have the auto-targeter building. And you might want to control the metal makers occasionally or help out the dubious pathfinding. It’s still very light on micro compared to Starcraft or Company of Heroes.

  35. Incognito_gbg says:

    The ones who will create the accessible RTS are the ones who takes a step back and look what games like Populous and Mega lo Mania did 10-15 years ago – realtime strategygames without direct control over the units – which lead to RTS without micromanagement. Every developer seems to think that basebuilding is the thing to remove, when micromanagement of the units really is the stressful and complex aspect of the genre.

  36. Incognito_gbg says:

    “Also, I’d vote Cannon Fodder as being a great introduction to RTS games. It was definatley real-time, and strategy was definately involved — how many guys you bothered to use, how many missiles/grenades you gave him (incase he died), when to use them etc etc.”

    That is tactics – not strategy.

  37. AndrewC says:

    Well, Pod, if an enemy has a long pointy stick the player will intuitively know that his short sword isn’t going to be much use. With sins, or other sci fi oriented stuff, you don’t have any frame of reference for what the tech is for unless you learn the fiction about different types of energy weapons vs different types of energy shields or you learn the stats.

    It seems, from the responses, that it is that the high level tactics simply destroy the low level tactics – people that know the micromanagement render the noob stuff obsolete – as opposed to most FPSs where you do, on the whole, have the same guns and, technically, the same chances. It’s a skill game as opposed to a rote learning test.

    Would something like the Trials 2 approach work (and i’m aware drawing lessons from different genres can be a wobbly strategy)? where the controls are simple but the level design itself regulates the skill sets. ie, the high level skill of driving up vertical walls is sort of meaningless if you are competing on an easy level of gentle slopes? At least then the noob knows roughly what to do and so isn’t defeated by something they don’t even understand, which is usually a guaranteed turn off.

  38. Grant Gould says:

    madness —

    TA is a great example of a fairly light RTS. The vast proliferation of units probably scared a lot of lower-level players off, but TA is in many ways a good example of what ought to become.

    (The other place TA needed micromanagement was in its naval combat, but it’s pretty clear that nobody’s got naval unit AI right yet so I can hardly hold that against an older game.)

  39. Grant Gould says:

    A thought experiment — imagine an RTS in which as soon as any technique became common in online play, some sort of mechanism was introduced to make that technique available at the press of a button to all players. For instance, once someone “solved” build order, the designers instantly add some sort of smart-build-queue mechanism where you can click the “build an optimal starting base” button and it queues up things accordingly. When someone invents another targeting-defeating-unit-movement techniques, all the units get it. And so forth.

    I think such a game wouldn’t drive off the hardcore players — if anything the improvement in the level of play would keep them interested — while keeping new players abreast of the “latest and greatest” strategy and keeping their game activity in the playing of strategy rather than the mixing of recipes.

    (I think Masters of Orion 3 turned everyone off of the idea of the game assisting the player to avoid micromanagement — it was such a dramatic failure in its one innovative feature that nobody else has much tried it. But turn-based is particularly sensitive to imperfect play in a way that real-time isn’t.)

  40. madness says:

    Grant – I don’t know about “ought to become,” I think both schools of design have merit. I wish there were more TA-like games but that doesn’t mean I don’t want Dawn of War 2.
    It seems like there won’t be many micro-light RTSes though, considering even Chris Taylor increased the micromanagement for Supreme Commander.

    p.s. no-one mentioned Defcon yet. Now that’s a nice simple RTS, how well you manage the units is much less important than persuading your mates to attack each other.

  41. Cyrenic says:

    @Grant

    Guild Wars did something similar. Near the end of the beta they solicited top level guilds to give them character skill builds and then made some of those preset skill builds for when the game first released.

  42. SwiftRanger says:

    @Grant Could: SupCom: Forged Alliance has a build template system and you can easily share those templates with other online players during a game. But you mean a general, automated system I presume.

    Anyway, someone should really do a decent followup to KKnD. If you want a no-nonsense, funny, “just blow the crap out of everything” RTS that’s still my top pick (KKnD2 missed the mark a bit).

  43. Harry says:

    Have you seen Warcraft III’s ladder system where you can play online and be matched with people of roughly the same skill level?

  44. Fat Zombie says:

    GARTH:

    “The difference is that you can kill someone in an FPS – say you do badly, like three kills and ten deaths, but you can clearly remember those kills. You feel exalted when you finally kill that guy who’s being getting you over and over. In RTS’, there’s no equivalent. You either win, or you don’t. There are no small victories, unless you manage a crazy last-stand defense that takes longer than usual to win.”

    This is a good point and, for me, one of the major turnoffs of RTS for me. I happen to be fairly rubbish at RTS, and probably average at FPS, too; I die a lot in each. What, however, makes the losses in FPS games more bearable is the short time it takes to get back up and fighting again; the fact that, whilst you might lose the match, you’ll still enjoy the individual battles.

    And to Cyrenic’s point on this:

    “It’s funny TF2 gets mentioned as a kind of anti-RTS, as it suffers from one of RTS’s greatest flaws, although mostly on the 5 point capture and hold maps. Usually, at some point in the match, it’s clear who is going to win and one side is going to spend quite a while just losing.”

    To that, I’d reiterate my point; whilst you might lose the overall match, there’s enough joy to be had in winning the small battles (I.E, fragging the opponents) that the wound of losing a match is ameliorated somewhat.

    I’d actually like to say that in certain circumstances, this problem is solved in one particular RTS, World in Conflict, in online matches at least.
    In a game where you only control a small batch of units; even when your side is on the losing path, you can still have small victories; using your Hinds to convert a tank convoy to shrapnel with AGMs, or sniping an infantry unit out of existence. That kind of experience, rather than the traditional long-haul battle of RTS where any loss is usually hard to ignore and very disheartening, is much preferable.

  45. mister k says:

    Surely Total War is the best at avoiding micro managment- you do have to command your units, but there are no special abilities to manage, and no moving individual units out of the way. Decisions actually feel like tactics- it’s the only rts i have ever played where it feels like you can have strategy similar to something you might meet in real life, rather than an ability to control several hundred individual units and abilities at once WHILE base managing.

    Simplifying control while maintaining some level of complexity is where it’s at. As far as I can see, total war is the one to beat.

  46. polysynchronicity says:

    I’m suprised that Multiwinia, by Introversion Software hasn’t shown up in this discussion yet. If it stays anything close to the original game, it promises to be very accessible and very fun.

    Think about it – very little micro, very few unit types. Sounds like a recipe for casual success to me.

  47. Riotpoll says:

    @Cyrenic

    They also did this at least one more time, that I recall. The skill bars were much better the second time around! (as they designed by decent pvpers).

    I find playing against hard AI with friends on RTS much more fun than against them.

  48. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Hrm, I suppose Total Annihilation deserves a mention here.

    One of the somewhat unique things about TA is that it’s really easy to rebuild your army and base after a battle, partially due to the way the game handles resources. Because of this, matches stay more competitive than in most RTSs. Also, TA removes a lot of the more tedious micromanagement aspects of the RTS. It was never the “TF2″ of the genre, but it was certainly way ahead of its time.

  49. Fat Zombie says:

    I’m not too sure, Zeno. I’ve found that in TA, whilst micromanagement is very minimal, the skills and knowledge needed in things such as base-building were very high; the battle could potentially be decided by whether you built powerbases/mexes or factories first, and the resource management is terribly hard to get right. (At least, I always found it that way)

  50. Dylan says:

    Pax Galaxia has been my RTS of choice for a while now. Sessions are short so you get to learn from post-match analysis several times per hour.

    Something along those lines, but with a richer theme and a bit more player investment could be good stuff. It probably should borrow from Kohan too – to keep micro out of the picture.