Real-Time Strategy Games and Supreme Commander
The Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre in video games was established many years ago. One of the first RTS games I can remember playing (on my Atari 800XL) was The Ancient Art of War, which was very simple and great fun. The basic premise of these games has not changed much except in the scale and types of units available; all of which leads to a much more complicated game.
Almost all RTS games are military based, but designed in many flavors such as middle age warfare, mythological warfare, present day warfare, science fiction warfare, etc. The basic premise of an RTS game is that you build military units (tanks, swordsmen, bombers, goblin hordes, knights, nukes) and then send them off “strategically” to defeat your enemy. The catch is that you usually need to harvest some type of resource in order to build your military units; like farm the land to feed your soldiers, or create and store energy from the natural resources available to build your battle droids. The object of the game is to balance the care and feeding the creation of units while using them offensively and defensively such that you win more battles than you lose; usually until your opponent surrenders, or you completely obliterate them.
A great example of current generation RTS games is Supreme Commander. Supreme Commander delivers a science-fiction based world where three factions are pitted against each other, each with unique land, air and sea based military units. The game promises incredible graphics for realism and global management of the battlefield. I’ve been looking forward to this game thinking that it might be a strategy game I would find fun and do away with many of the shortcomings I usually find in all RTS games.
I’ve been playing with the demo version of the game for the last couple weeks and I have to admit, I’m having a lot of fun, however, many of my pet peeves with RTS games were quickly substantiated.
The first problem with this game, and all RTS games in my humble opinion, is that too much weight is still placed on the micro management of building units. You spend most of your time watching your “energy” and “mass” production (which is how Supreme Commander has implemented resources) in order to create units, and very little time if left for planning military strikes and defenses. The little global strategy that exists is tough to mind and manage when you have to assign a new engineer to patrol the forests for natural resources because some enemy scout took him out when you were not looking.
Which brings me to another pet peeve, things happen that you don’t see; it happens and you don’t know how, why or when it happened. There is not a good implementation of feedback to the commander (you) that someone is under attack, and where it is taking place. That makes part of the “strategy” of the game running around the theater of war checking in on every little patrol, which to me, takes away from the overall strategy of the game. You become both the CEO and the manager of the mailroom.
Now, my understanding is that some people really like this. I was reading that games like Starcraft (one of the most popular RTS games ever) are commended for their requirement to micro-manage everything on the playing field. So, I guess if you like that, you will like Supreme Commander, too.
Many factors that would make this more of a strategy game are not there, or do not matter. Tactics like flanking, surprise, terrain, time of day, playing a units advantage against another’s disadvantage all really don’t matter nearly as much as shear number of units that you can produce. The winner is the best micro-manager who can produce tons of units, whatever they may be.
The graphics are amazing; the battles look very real. But it is too bad you can’t ever watch them because you are off to micro manage something else. The camera is difficult to use as well. There is a replay feature in the full game; it might be fun to play a game not worrying about watching anything and then replay it on the big screen to watch all of the action. But, the system requirements for the game are quite hefty and even my gaming rig had slow frame rates in the bigger battles. (rumor has it that you really need a dual core CPU to run the game smoothly)
I’m not sure if I’m an RTS game fan or not. I think I’m either looking for something much simpler, or I’m looking for something that let’s you play the strategy part without having to micro manage. I’m not sure how a game like that might work, but someone will sooner or later think outside the box of the RTS genre. I would start with a game designed around building or buying your army as the beginning phase of the game, then enter a new phase where you don’t have to bother with that and you can concentrate on winning a war with what you got. (perhaps one exists that I’m not aware of) Or, just let the computer deal out equal resources to each side and you can choose what you want to do with it.
The saving grace of Supreme Commander was the “pause” feature, where you can pause the game, but still manage your units. Without that feature, I would have been very frustrated. Of course, this would never work in an online multiplayer game. Thus, this game would be for me and me alone, even though I’m primarily looking for a game where I can hang out online with friends to play.
The full game has varied environments, campaigns, you can play all three factions, and you can play multiplayer online. (plus the replay feature) There is also a lot of downloadable content. I am actually strangely addicted to the demo, enough that I took a look at the current price, $40. I could buy this game… a manual would be nice as the in-game help sucks, say, compared to the Civopedia in Civilization III. If you are a fan of RTS games as you know them, you may absolutely love this game; I just haven’t made up my mind yet.
Lastly, I think I could have enjoyed this game a ton more if I were sitting on my couch, having a beer and playing using my remote Phantom keyboard/mouse while watching on a 50” LCD and 5.1 stereo home theater. (unfortunately, right now I only own the beer)
My current system specs: AMD Athlon XP 2500+ Barton, 1GB RAM, nVidia 7600 GT.