“To the last man and the last round!” Or Why I Fail At Real Time Strategy Games

Posted: May 9, 2011 by CptToffer in Features
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m not a bad gamer. Not by a long shot. When it comes to first person shooters I’ve pulled off some insane shit over the years. I’ve made that last second kill in deathmatch, grabbed the last point in a game of capture the flag, and literally been the last man standing. This is usually a mix of my own skill and that of the people I’m fighting with. I’m responsible for me. I kill the enemy. We win. As that annoying meerkat from the idiot box says “Simples” I also tend to be not be too bad at other game genres. While there are dozens to chose from, I can hold my own in racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure games. However when it comes to Real Time Strategy games or RTS as they shall be known from here, I’m hopeless. Utterly Utterly hopeless.

As I’ve already mentioned I’m not a bad gamer. I can hold my own quite comfortably. So why do I fail at every hurdle of the RTS genre? If anything it should be easier than some of the other titles out there? Shouldn’t it? You generally have a clear layout and scope of the land, so you can see what’s going on. I know that many RTS games have a fog of war scenario (where the battlefield that has not been explored is covered up until explored by your faithful units) but this can be turned off, and you can still see what’s going on regardless. If you’re about to be attacked there is generally a few seconds warning – something you don’t always get in first person shooters and other titles. Chances are if a group of tanks or men are heading in your direction, they aren’t coming over for tea and biscuits. They’re coming to shoot and they shoot to kill!

So if it’s not the change of layout, then perhaps it’s the interface. RTS games generally involve a lot of micromanagement. You have to order units here, there and everywhere. The majority of RTS games require some sort of resource gathering. You also have to consider base defences, build orders, army size, capturing and securing areas of the map. And that’s all before considering how to attack the enemy and the possibility of learning and using secondary functions for your units. That’s a lot of stuff to remember when it’s all ‘real time’ and when the opposition is probably doing the same only twice as fast. Compare that to other genres and we may be on to something. First person shooters are fairly self explanatory. Point gun at opposition. No.. no the other end, that’s it, and click the mouse button. Sure there is an element of movement, and tactics to it, but they generally flow with the shooting, and there is a strong likely hood of certain clashing points between teams you can ensure you’ll probably know which way you are going. Puzzle games generally have one goal and on occasions are joined with a particular feature or theme. The games that spring to mind are Bookworm adventures and Portal. Easy to pick up, hard to master but keep with a theme so the player doesn’t get overwhelmed. Sports games are generally the same and even action games or Role playing games don’t make things too complicated, as complications mean less fun. Considering that the last Red Alert game’s expansion pack (Red Alert 3: Uprising) brought one army to having 25 units and 13 structures. Each unit would likely have a secondary function as well, and that’s just for the allied side. If you multiply that by the three armies then you have 75 units and 39 structures, and while some may be similar, they are all going to have different secondary aspects. So clearly this is the issue right? This is why I suck!

I wish this was my army. But it's not.

Well no, not exactly. First of all I’ve selected a specific game, which doesn’t account for the all the RTS games that don’t have such a large unit count. Secondly the micromanagement isn’t a problem for me. My actual job involves more micromanagement then any RTS game has ever thrown at me, and believe me when I say it’s a lot more difficult and pressure filled then a game. So really a game’s not going to be able to rock my micromanagement skills.

So maybe it’s the actual gameplay. Let’s face it RTS games aren’t easy. The micromanagement does make it tricky, as well as knowing what units to use where. Combine that with what technology path to follow and you’ll be screwed harder then a group of Sherman’s looking down the barrel of some Anti-Tank guns. If you pick all the right options then you’ll generally be on the path to success. But do unit choices and tech paths really have that much impact? Well let’s be honest, if you’re playing Dawn Of War and you just churn out countless groups of Imperial Guardsmen, then when the Necrons turn up with a fully awakened monolith you’re for all intense and purposes totally and utterly fucked. Make no mistake about it, unit selection and knowing where to stick your resources counts for a lot. However it’s generally not that difficult to choose the right option. Generally the more expensive the unit, the more interesting thing they do. It doesn’t cost eight hundred combined requestion and power to build a Baneblade tank because it’s the worst unit going. That thing will cut through an army like a knife through tin foil. Tactics can play a large part of proceedings also, but the general concept behind most games is to kill the opposing team. The more units you have, the easier it will be to do that in most cases.

So what is it then? I mean we’ve covered pretty much all aspects of the game so what’s the problem?

Well as it turns out the problem is me. It’s nothing to do with the game, it’s how I play them. For a start I’m what they call a ‘Turtler’ This particular way of playing RTS games relies heavily on my ability to keep the money coming in and the enemy staying out, which I can assure you does not happen that often. I like building a base and having it appear as the most fortified bastion of hope and justice on the map is exactly what I want from my army. There are multiple problems with turtling and without going into too much detail generally your resource supply gets cut off, meaning I can’t rebuild any base defences that get destroyed, or I focus on the choke points around the map, and once they punch through I’m pretty screwed. The final problem is that in the wonderful world of RTS games there are generally more than one type of enemy to deal with. Trying to fund defences that cover land, air and sea, can be difficult at best.

“So build some units” I hear you cry! “Is this guy some sort of idiot?” Well no, I’m not an idiot. However I do have a rather large problem with RTS units, and it’s here that I think the real problem behind my RTS affliction lies. It’s my motto for RTS games. “No man gets left behind” I can hear the collective sighs around the internet upon reading this. You’re probably wondering what I’m going on about. The fact is, that unlike any other game characters the only one I feel any emotional attachment to is the units within RTS games. In a topic I hope to explore further in a future post, I literally cannot bring myself to sacrifice any unit for the greater good (Got the Tau reference in there)

I don't care how long it takes. No-one get's left behind!

I once played a game of Command and Conquer Generals that lasted for four hours. Now it wasn’t because the fighting was so fierce, or because it was an epic clash of the titans. The thing was; the opposing team seemed to focus on a band of marines that were holding a town to the west of the map, that had a couple of oil derricks that I had captured. Now he was clearly after the oil derricks and didn’t really care that my men were nearby. They were more of an inconvenience then anything else. I was raking in a lot of extra cash from that group of oil derricks, enough to easily build an army of tanks and planes and literally march across the map and wipe the floor with him. However I didn’t. I spent two hours reinforcing that town to the point where my base looked poor and sparse in comparison. Whatever illness I’ve got that allows me to totally take leave of my senses must of rubbed off on this poor bastard because he seemed to ignore my base and make it his personal mission to try and wipe out that tiny little town. The end result was that I actually had to evacuate the marines after he launched a nuke at the town. I actually got a group of Chinooks, the unit that was funding my war effort, to go pick them up just before it hit. I must have lost around twenty buildings in that attack, but it didn’t matter, because those marines were alive, and if they hadn’t done an awesome job too. I didn’t even send them in to the final attack on his base, I literally left them at the homestead, shacked up in a small building, protecting nothing, but earning a well deserved rest. That’s my problem with RTS games. No-one’s expendable for the cause. We either all go home to our loved ones, or we all die trying.

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