This Dumb Industry: Real Time With Pause

By Shamus
on Jun 21, 2016
Filed under:
Column

Oh boy, it’s a new turn-based strategy game! I love when…

Oh. It’s a real time strategy game. With pause. Well, let’s give it a try. I’ve said before that I dislike RTWP, and not just because it makes for an ugly acronym. To illustrate why, let’s play a few hours of the latest RTWP strategy game “Strawman Keep”, a 4X game all about building a fantasy empire with wizards and dragons and orcs and such. Maybe there’s a dash of steampunk tech for flavor? I dunno. Use your imagination.

(Since Strawman Keep doesn’t actually exist, I’m going to throw in some screenshots from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, a classic of the 4X genre. I played several hours of it as part of writing this column, and was reminded of just how good it was.)

Begin Game

This is Sid Meier`s Alpha Centauri, which is turn based. Which means that when I get this nice message I can read the whole thing, make a decision, and move to the next thing. Since this isn`t real time, I can read all the little quotes and details and appreciate the moment. I`m not going to get interrupted and this dialog isn`t interrupting anything else.

This is Sid Meier`s Alpha Centauri, which is turn based. Which means that when I get this nice message I can read the whole thing, make a decision, and move to the next thing. Since this isn`t real time, I can read all the little quotes and details and appreciate the moment. I`m not going to get interrupted and this dialog isn`t interrupting anything else.

Okay, we’re off and running. Except, I’m just sort of sitting here with nothing to do. We’re early in the game and there aren’t any decisions to make. If this was a turn-based game, I could just hammer the “next turn” button until something interesting happens. But now I just… wait? Maybe I should run solitaire or Triple Town in another window so I can play a game while waiting to play this one?

NOTICE: Your wizard has gained a level. What spell should he research next? Note that he’s going to stand around doing nothing until you pick for him, so be quick! Decide now! Time is passing!

Okay! Decision time. Finally. So I can put some points into snare spells, or I can go for area damage, or I could…

NOTICE: The Dwarves have completed the defense tower and are now standing around doing nothing while you pay them. What should they build next?

Hm. So which decision do I need to make first? I can pick a wizard research goal or I can give the dwarves something to do. Which decision is more important?

NOTICE: Your scouts have found an enemy encampment!

Shit. Is looking at the scouting info more important than making a decision about which decision I need to make with regards to the dwarves or… uh. What was the other thing the game asked me? Wait. Where did that notification go? Was it…

NOTICE: Your Archer has gained a level. What ability should she…

DO YOU MIND? I’M TRYING TO CONCENTRATE!

Now I have four decisions to make and a meta-decision about which decision is most important. Of course, some of the later notifications closed the earlier notifications. Or moved them. Or minimized them. So now I have to make a meta-decision, but first I need to go back and get a handle on everything that just happened and figure out what got closed.

This game really needs a simple remastered version that supports modern displays. It`s actually a pain in the ass to play because it doesn`t really work properly with ALT-Tab.

This game really needs a simple remastered version that supports modern displays. It`s actually a pain in the ass to play because it doesn`t really work properly with ALT-Tab.

I guess I just need to reflexively pause when a decision comes along? But then, why doesn’t the game just do that anyway? And while it’s doing that, why doesn’t it just skip all the waiting around between decisions? Why does this game need to be real-time? Why do I end up waiting for the computer? This is backwards!

And once I clear out this traffic jam of information I’ll just end up sitting around waiting again. Fine. I’ll just speed up the game until I get to the next decision.

Gameplay set to 2X speed.

Hm. Still nothing is happening.

Gameplay set to 4X speed.

No? Still nothing? Maybe faster.

Gameplay set to 8X speed.

Sigh.

Gameplay set to 16X speed.
NOTICE: Orcs have been spotted far away.
NOTICE: Orcs have been spotted close by.
NOTICE: Orcs are at the gates.
NOTICE: Orcs have breached your defenses.
NOTICE: Orcs have kidnapped the king.
NOTICE: Orcs are raiding the vault.
NOTICE: The dwarves have finished building another section of wall and need new orders.
NOTICE: Orcs are writing rude things on the walls of the castle.
NOTICE: Orcs are having a weenie roast on the burning remains of your village.

AH! Slow down! Normal speed! Normal speed! Pause! I have to tell my defenders to deal with this!

NOTICE: Too late. The orcs are gone. You’re screwed. You might as well re-load the game at this point.

Damn it.

Okay. Let’s reload and I’ll try this again. I’ll just tell my defenders to attack these guys and…

NOTICE: Your champion has been incapacitated. [GAME AUTO-PAUSED.]

Shit! My guy went down! I’d better pause! *Hits pause button, which now UN-pauses the game*

NOTICE: Your archer has been incapacitated.
NOTICE: Your rogue has been incapacitated.
NOTICE: The dwarves have completed building the moat and need new orders.

Damn it! Pause!

NOTICE: Okay, the game is paused now, but you’re basically boned.

Sigh.

(Later…)

I can’t build a dragon hatchery until my wizard unlocks level three fire spells. I wonder how far away that is…

Oh. My wizard is still sitting here doing nothing because an hour ago the “What should the Wizard do?” dialog got lost in the storm of popup notifications. So let me look at the tech tree and see how far off I am…

NOTICE: The dwarves have finished building a lamp-post and need new orders.

Arg. Okay, so I should just pause the game myself whenever I have to make a decision, unless that decision is one that comes with its own auto-pause, in which case I should be careful to NOT hit the pause button. However, this means that time stops while I’m reading all this crap in the menu. I actually WANT time to progress if nothing is happening, since that means I’ll spend less time waiting around.

This Just Doesn’t Work for Me

A tone-setting interlude like this really only works in turn-based. Sure, you CAN do it in real time by pausing, but it`s at odds with the overall pace of the game.

A tone-setting interlude like this really only works in turn-based. Sure, you CAN do it in real time by pausing, but it`s at odds with the overall pace of the game.

These games are about making decisions. The game presents you with choices, and then you weigh the pros and cons and decide what you want to do. If it’s turn-based, then each decision can be presented in an orderly way. The game looks at everything that happened in this turn, and can sort events so that you deal with “The Kingdom of Jerkassia has declared war on us” is delivered before stuff like “Dwarven building team #350 needs new orders.”

But this real time stuff creates this problem of “hurry up and wait”. I want to be engaged and informed, but instead I’m either bored or overwhelmed. If I’m making a decision, then any new notification is a distracting interruption, and if I’m not making a decision then I’m sitting around waiting for something to happen.

Real time makes a lot of sense when playing against humans. If this is a game about clicking fast and ordering units around using hotkeys, then I understand the need to keep the clock running. That makes a lot of sense in terms of a twenty-minute skirmish between human players. But in a ten-hour campaign of empire-building, this constant wrestling with the clock is maddening. I end up getting bored with nothing to do but wait, but trying to skip the boring stretches creates the risk that I’ll be overwhelmed in a surprise burst of activity.

RTWP supposedly has the advantage that it doesn’t get bogged down in combat in the late game. In Civ, as you steamroll the enemy nation the game has to stop so you can watch the animations as each one of your tank units blows away an enemy pikemen unit. Yes, that’s tedious. RTWP lets you ignore those fights and do something else while they happen in the background, but that doesn’t really address the root of the problem, which is that the interface has no idea what things will be important to you and which are trivial. In real time, you end up with your adviser voice incessantly chanting, “OUR UNITS ARE UNDER ATTACK!” and you don’t know if that’s just more tanks vs. pikemen, or if some of your guys have gotten themselves into a real scrape with something dangerous where you need to intervene. In any case, RTWP is just trading one time-sink for another. Instead of wasting your time with dozens of meaningless battles at the end of the game, it constantly wastes your time throughout. Rather than doing away with turns, it seems like a better solution would be to offer a player a single summary of all the “trivial fights” (however we decide to define those) rather than making them watch them all.

I like real-time games where I can push a button and make cool stuff happen: Shank a dude, push a dude off a ledge, shoot a dude, toss a dude out of a window, set a dude on fire, etc. Thats fun.

I like turn based games where I can compress months of activity into a single orderly turn that contains a number of interesting decisions presented in an orderly way.

But real-time with pause has the weaknesses of both and the advantages of neither. You don’t get the visceral thrill of real-time, but you don’t get the satisfaction of making orderly decisions. What is this supposed to simulate, anyway? A king that thinks at super-slow speeds and requires a week (seven seconds of game time) to make a simple decision?

This is not to say there’s no place for real time. Sim City and Roller Coaster Tycoon games are fine. They’re more about building and the simulation tends to run fine if you don’t pounce on every decision. In fact, the games don’t really directly prompt you for decisions. You don’t need to tell the police to chase criminals or manually shut down a ride when it malfunctions. Likewise, tower defense games make sense in real time.

I think a good rule of thumb is this: Is most of your contribution to the game going to take the form of decisions in response to popup notifications? Are you commanding forces that will STOP acting and begin drooling on themselves without direct orders? (Like researchers.) Are you playing AGAINST an aggressive enemy that gathers power while you dither around with interface screens? If so, then I don’t think real time is a good fit.

So that’s why I don’t like real-time with pause. I don’t get the appeal, and I actually find it to be really irritating on a moment-to-moment basis. I guess I’m in the minority on this. I never see a backlash from a community expressing frustration that an upcoming game is going to be RTWP. But for me it digs way down and sets of my atavistic dislike for nested problems.

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A Hundred!2020209Many comments. 169, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Mistwraithe says:

    I think it depends entirely on implementation, the type of game, and the expectation of players. I have certainly played some gone real-time with pause strategy games where it just didn’t work, and most of my favourite strategy games (including Alpha Centauri) are TBS.

    But conversely, I really can’t imagine how Crusader Kings 2 and in particular Europa Universalis 4 could be anywhere near as good WITHOUT RTWP. Seriously, there are periods where you don’t have all that much to do for the next 5-10 years and are happy zipping along at one of the top two speeds, then periods of intense action where you want to be at one of the slowest two speeds with periodic pauses.

    In these cases it is because there is an element of time realism. Battles take several days (to be truly realistic they should take much less but are stretched out so you can reinforce and react to them), while building ships and buildings, fabricating excuses to take adjacent provinces, etc take a year or more. Obviously managing both of these scales in a TBS game is difficult, you potentially end up having to wait 365 turns every time you want to build a building!

    I think its possible that you just haven’t found a game which does RTWP well (and to be fair earlier iterations of CK and EU did a worse job of managing notifications by default). However it is equally possible that the type of game which suits RTWP just doesn’t appeal to you. To each their own!

    • Daath says:

      I’m guessing a lot of this was inspired by Stellaris he played recently. Personally I’ve had no such issues as described here, as it’s not particularly hard to find a happy medium between reflexively pausing every time something happens, and running the game on faster speeds, not pausing, and getting overwhelmed when things get hectic. Space orcs won’t really be burning star castles down, either, unless one left the game on Fastest during wartime and went to make a cup of coffee or something, and that idle wizard will store research points for a while, so it literally doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have orders all the time. You could certainly make a RTWP game with such problems, but it’s not like turn-based strategy can’t have issues of its own. Of course, if clicking end turn button repeatedly is noticeably more interesting for him than maxing the speed and waiting, I suppose that problems in turn-based just don’t bother him that much (experience and familiarity with conventions being a great reducer of frustrations). Which is fine, as you said.

      And of course Stellaris could be described as being in public beta at the moment, and one of the lacking and occasionally wonky systems is the notifications. Combat notifications, for example, are mostly useless, because your raiding fleet killing random mining station #79, enemy attacking one of your lvl 6 starbases, and both of your main fleets engaging in battle all give identical notifications. If I could set “Own fleet engaging civilian target” to “No notification”, like in previous Paradox titles, I might actually pay attention to combat alerts, because most of them wouldn’t be irrelevant junk. On the other hand, proper fleet battles would go into “Pop-up & autopause” category. This is rather irritating to me, and no doubt even worse to someone who hasn’t developed intuitive feel for this kind of gameplay.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        He strikes me as the type that likes to fully consider his position and make the right actions when it comes to a game of this sort.

        I’ll bet a lot of RTWP games could be set up to have an alternate turn based mode using action points.

        That said, your point accumulation mechanic does seem like a good way to address a lot of that. Its like the game assumes that you’ve already got your units working on their next task and you just have to tell them what that task is.

        • Humanoid says:

          I thought MOO2 already solved the issue by being able to indefinitely roll through uneventful turns in the early game (particularly if selecting a pre-warp start). I suppose you could say it accomplishes the same general goal as RTWP but with the opposite approach: that of pause being the default state.

          I think this approach would work for Paradox Grand Strategies, since all it would take is to change the underlying assumption of the game always advancing but setting up auto-pause for set events to a system where it by default pauses for everything but with a simple “ignore once” or “ignore always” button on event prompts. If nothing else, I reckon a “advance by one day” function for these games would be nice to have for particularly hectic periods.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            Could just have the game speed up when there’s nothing for the player to do then slow down again when options become available. Similar to your idea, a softer version that helps maintain tension if said tension is supposed to be an intentional part of the design.

            Side note, I love that I can now highlight “MOO2” right click “Search Google” and the search results immediately tell me that it stands for “Master of Orion 2”. (I suspect that when you do it this way, Google looks at the metadata of the current page for additional context for your query. Because I’ve noticed the results for this type of search are especially good.)

            All these incremental improvements continuously impact how we talk.

            • Peter H. Coffin says:

              And what kind of things you’ve been tracked to have been interested in. Same search for me does turn up Master of Orion, but it’s the third hit, after two about MOOs (MUD(Multi User Dungeon) Object Oriented).

              (Seriously, if this and relevant ads for yacht brokers and PFDs instead of adverts for college loans and diapers is return for extensive web tracking and Google’s profiling, sign me up. I’d much rather have the tools work better for me and the annoyances be less annoying.)

        • Decius says:

          Stellaris research does work that way. If you don’t have a project at the end of the month, your research points go into a pool of stored research, and at the end of each month that you do have a project, a number of points up to what you earned that month are spent from storage.

          That could be duplicated for any number of things; the “double speed until you spend the backlog seems fair,, provided that the backlog is finite.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Oh christ, I just realized yet another piece of fiddly bullshit that system incentivizes. You can have a rare Genius researcher who gives +10% to whatever project they’re working on. The naive approach is to have one researcher working on Society research, and one working on Physics research, and juts put the genius on whichever you like more. But the fiddly optimal strategy is Month 1: Genius on Physics, no Society project (Society is banked), Month 2: Genius on Society (bank is spent, everything gets multiplied by Genius bonus), no Physics project. Not only does it let you get research slightly faster, it lets you keep one less researcher, freeing up the Leader slot for governance.

      • CrushU says:

        When it comes to Stellaris, it took me a bit to get used to everything, but the way it works… It’s ‘real time’ in that it advances the calendar automatically, but it struck me more as a turn-based game in general because stuff would only happen when the month rolls over. This gives you a window of time to do stuff in and get things done in real time if you felt like it, or you could pause for every notification. Combat and space movement are the only things that really leverage the realtime aspect… It’s sort of nice in that respect, as the granularity you get allows you to roll in, attack, blow up a few of the enemy, then retreat to repair and come back before the enemy has a chance to regroup.

        My actual problem with Stellaris is that the UI is annoyingly poor. I keep having an energy credit problem, because I have too many spaceports, because it didn’t tell me that those cost energy; Indeed, I still don’t know how much each one costs. Worse, I can’t scrap spaceports that I don’t need anymore.

        I have actually fought and won a war; one of my Federation allies declared the war, so I said ‘Alright’ and rolled over there and… Basically steamrolled them. So I found myself curious as to how you hadn’t been able to do that. I was technologically ahead and also had a way bigger fleet. There are different empires… The one we steamrolled ended up giving up and declaring themselves a vassal of our Federation. There’s some Fallen Empires as Josh mentioned that you really don’t want to tangle with. Then there’s the ‘Endgame’ problem, the Unbidden in my game that warp in from another galaxy and start destroying everything… But when you blow up their ships you can research their weapons and turn them against their owners. So I’m currently doing that.

        Another problem I have with the game is that the game is about building political alliances and having a galaxy-spanning Federation… But there’s no way to coordinate that. The AI basically does its own thing, and I can’t A) Tell it where I’m planning to attack so it can help me, or B) Get told where it’s planning to attack so I can back them up. Because of this, despite three large powers (one of them me) and about four smaller ones being in a Federation, it feels like I’m the only one fighting the Unbidden, who are basically a Fallen Empire in power level. Maybe there’s a button I’m missing that tells my AI buddies to come HELP ME YOU DIPSHITS. So maybe it’s an extension of that UI problem.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          You can sort of give the hint to the AI about your objectives through wargoals and rivalries. Also the AT should know the player knows best in the war and should tag along with your doomstack.

          There is a button somewhere on the spaceport screen where you can see the effects of the modules. I think the upkeep can be seen there.

          Yes Stellaris’s interface is kind of poor which I attribute to Paradox wanting to make the game seem more approachable to new players who seemingly start glazing over once the tutorial starts explaining what all the mapmodes do (when you will be using only one MOST of the time (but other are usefull from time to time)).

        • GloatingSwine says:

          The AI’s behaviour in an alliance war is to pick one of your fleets and stack all its fleets onto it and follow you around like a clingy puppy.

          It will especially do this if it declared the war and your empire is nowhere near the enemy with no way to get there.

        • Veylon says:

          Maybe the worst thing about the UI is the lack of helpful reports and overlays, something pretty much all previous Paradox games had.

          For instance, to build bases to collect resources, you have to manually look at each and every star system to see if there’s a white number over it. There ought to be a Resource Overlay that turns systems bright colors if there are uncollected resources available. There ought to be a sortable Resource Report that lists all of the resources in your empire. Making you dig through an entire empire’s worth of minutiae to find a relevant piece of information is a shocking oversight from Paradox.

          • Ateius says:

            You can turn on an alternate interface mode which constantly displays all system resources, showing green for worked and white for unworked. It’s the check box at the end of the menu bar in the bottom right.

            Not that this is a good replacement for a ledger like in every other game they make, but it’s better than mousing over every system manually.

            • 4th Dimension says:

              Yup Ledger is another casulty of their drive to make Stellaris look more approachable and it really is necessary for all kind of things that are simply much better in tabular form.

              For example for finding where is the closest star with some sort of resource.
              Comparing tech levels of other empires.
              Comparing military power.
              Etc.

      • Mistwraithe says:

        Stellaris could well be the problem. I haven’t purchased it because the initial reviews confirmed my pre-release thoughts that the game would require multiple DLC releases before it was any good. Paradox know how to do good RTWP, but it is just economics that a completely new RTWP game in a different genre and a fairly different interface was likely to be released in a fairly unpolished state. I suspect it will take them a good year or two to get it to CK2/EU4 level.

    • Greg says:

      There is another key design feature that all Paradox GSGs have that works best with RTWP rather than TB play: a large “player count”. I can’t see how Turn Based strategy would work in a game with over 50 other players (human or AI) as opposed to 5-15 in e.g. Civ. As the number of players increases, turn order becomes a bigger strategic and tactical issue. Thus making turns automatic and simultaneous is the answer, and the human player gets to control the rate at which turns are taken.

      I’d also like to point out that most non military decisions are designed so that a few “missed” turns (days, hours, what have you) are either irrelevant or nearly so. For example: income and manpower are calculated monthly in EU4, so you generally have an ~30 day window to make decisions affecting them. In addition, in EU4, CK2, Victoria 2, HOI 4, and Stellaris each have mechanics that allow research to be stored up to a point so you have a buffer in which to make decisions.

  2. Another Scott says:

    NOTICE: fun has been spotted far away

  3. Infinitron says:

    You’re not reading the right forums, Shamus. Or even PC Gamer: http://www.pcgamer.com/why-i-hate-pausable-real-time-rpg-combat/

    • Tizzy says:

      I always think of Baldur’s Gate when RTWP comes up. It worked for me in that game. Then again, it was another era, still close to the DOS dark ages where having games that didn’t crash was seen as a bonus rather than a must, so the bar on usability was pretty low.

      I haven’t played it since those days. I know some of the interface has not aged well. It still seems to make sense for that game, where the fights range from straightforward to tricky. Antique technology or not, pause triggers were customizable, with a lot of options, and you could pause manually as well. Or not use pause at all. Then again, the game is very different from the 4X types Shamus is describing. The issues are not the same.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Baldurs gate had one of the most baffling design decisions Ive ever seen:Going into the inventory unpaused the game,but going to the map screen paused it.The best decision the enhanced edition did was to reverse that.

        • IFS says:

          Fortunately the second game fixed this as well, the reason it was in place in BG1 iirc was to keep you from changing your armor mid-combat and in BG2 they smartened up and just made it impossible to change armor in combat while still leaving the game paused in your inventory screen.

      • shpelley says:

        Baldur’s Gate works because of the scale of your interactions. You generally keep your party together and everything revolves around what they are doing. You are always looking at your party, and the AI controls are basic but good enough to handle the “keep attacking with your melee weapon until they are dead” and “keep walking over here while I do this other thing.” 4X games are both bigger in scope and scale and more precise in individual decision-making generally.

        It also helps in a combat system where you often-times miss with repeated melee attacks, and spells are very finite and require you to micromanage them anyway, giving you clear times when you want to keep going and when you want to pause and make decisions.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          Pillars of Eternity does a good job of expanding on that though you kind of have to break it in to get the most of it. I like all the options you have for deciding when the game autopauses (in fact, you want a more turn based experience, you can disable all the other auto pause settings and just autopause every X number of seconds.)

        • Humanoid says:

          I went from thinking RTWP the ideal CRPG system during the BG2 era, to thinking “eh, it plays okay” for DA1, to “I can’t stand this” for Pillars of Eternity. Of course, my changing preference from large-scale party-based combat to low-combat solo character-based RPGs have had a hand in it too, and the end result is that what I want in an RPG today is more or less completely the opposite of what I wanted fifteen years ago.

          On the other hand, I still absolutely adore new XCOM, so maybe the main point I want to make is that I really want some clear separation in the genres, instead of having them mashed together in a compromise dish.

          Um, to get back on topic, RTWP sucks. For RPGs.

          • Merlin says:

            I mostly tolerated RTWP in Planescape and Icewind Dale 2, but it’s worth keeping in mind how much has changed in the game systems between then and now. As shpelley mentioned, for 2E-styled games, most of your party members don’t really have any options beyond “smack thing.” So you only had 2 or 3 units with any amount of actual complexity, and spell slots were so limited that you weren’t actually forced to make a lot of decisions during combat. Icewind Dale 2 was 3E, but even that was mostly the same, with casters having more spell slots but everybody else basically just being a sack of hammers. RTWP still sucks, but it’s manageable once you realize that half or more of your party can just be on perpetual auto-pilot.

            Where it goes from annoying to trash heap is when you get into modern games like Dragon Age that up the complexity across the board. When every party member has a dozen+ unique abilities AND those abilities are gated both by stamina/mana and individual cooldowns, then you can screw right off. If you go on autopilot, key abilities are going to be unavailable in a pinch because the AI spammed them on cooldown. So instead you’re incentivized to constantly pause and micromanage while using AI settings smart enough to do something but dumb enough to not do anything that might be important.

            • Andy_Panthro says:

              This is exactly why I hate the combat in Pillars of Eternity. There’s just too much complexity for me. When I heard it was RTwP, I assumed it would be like BG2 (which I really like), where it’s only magic users that have multiple choices about how to approach an encounter and other classes might only have two or three choices at best. But this meant that each encounter was very manageable to me, especially when combat is the part of an RPG that interests me the least.

              And Pillars really seems to have FAR too much combat (and loads of extra fights if you want them!).

              • Thomas says:

                I also did not enjoy the RTwP in Pillars of Eternity or Planescape or Dragon Age 1. I didn’t particularly like it in Baldur’s gate either but I never got far with it.

                The only time it’s ever really been actively enjoyed by me is in the Knights of the Old Republic games and that’s because it’s _ultra_ simple. The default in those games is do nothing, or just control your own character. Taking actions is the rarity.

                KOTOR got it to the point where it didn’t really feel like Real Time with Pause to me, it felt like a normal turn-based system with some clever window dressing.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              You’ve explained what always bothered me about RTWP that I could never put my finger on. Thanks!

      • Muspel says:

        I like the idea of the combat in Baldur’s Gate, but in practice, it always felt very clunky and not very fun. I feel the same way about its various successors and derivatives, like Pillars of Eternity.

        In fact, I had basically decided that it just wasn’t for me until I tried out a game called Aarklash: Legacy. The story is basically incomprehensible nonsense, so I’d recommend skipping the cutscenes, but it makes RTWP combat a lot of fun, by giving the enemies a lot of abilities and mechanics that you need to actually react to via positioning or your own abilities. In a lot of ways, it felt like fighting a raid boss in an MMO, except that instead of controlling a single character via hotbar combat, you control a whole squad in more of an RTS/MOBA style interface, with the ability to pause and order around your team whenever enemies do something major.

        For instance, an enemy might target a party member with a lance-style projectile, and you can pause, move that party member out to the side, and then the projectile will only hit them and not any other nearby members. Or you could send someone to stun/interrupt the cast.

        Or an enemy might target a party member with a meteor, and you’d need to group everyone up to split the damage.

        I highly recommend the game, is what I’m saying. Sadly, it’s not all that long.

  4. ehlijen says:

    Choosing the wrong time system (RT, TB, RTwithPause, something else entirely) can really break a game.

    Turn base allows for the most depth per action. Real time without pause allows for the most exciting, fast paced multiplayer. Realtime with pause is a good compromise if you want more depth than pure realtime but not enough to require TB, and it still delivers more dynamic gameplay footage for demos than TB.

    I love turn based games, but I’ve also liked well implemented RT and RTWP games. It all comes down to properly harnessing the strengths of the system. XCOM EU offers great TB play, Fallout Tactics does not. Starcraft offers great RT play, Fallout Tactics does not (it was an option). Battlefleet Gothic: Armada offers good RTW(sort of)P, Star Wars: Rebellion did not.

    • Bubble181 says:

      …I was just going to list SW: Rebellion as an example of RTWP done well, so….uhhh whu?

      • Daimbert says:

        I actually DID list it … although again I think it doesn’t work as pause because you can’t issue orders while paused, unless I’m misremembering.

        • ehlijen says:

          You can’t. but the lowest speed was slow enough to count, I’d say. Similarly, BFG:Armada doesn’t really pause, it just hits bullet time, but it’s slow enough to give more complex orders.

          And yes, I saw you talk about Rebellion and responded below.

          • Tyber says:

            I picked up Starwars Rebellion on GoG a while back, having not played it for many years, during which I’ve got used to Paradox RTWP (via CK2 and EU4). I found Rebellion almost unplayably stressful, and the interface really doesn’t help with keeping on top of things. And the fact that the AI arrives at one of your planets sees it can’t bomb it and hypers out faster than you can open and close the notification is particularly annoying.

            • ehlijen says:

              Yes, the only ways to actually engage the AI in a space battle are:
              -attack one of its planets with trivial fighter garrison but no ships
              -be weak enough to convince the autoresolve algorithm that the AI should win, in which case it will try to win and if you pick manual battle to resolve, you get a chance to play well enough to still win (but it’ll be hard). The threshold in which this is possible is fairly narrow.
              -have an interdictor cruiser (unlocked about 25-30% through the research tree, sucks at everything but preventing the enemy from fleeing).

              Otherwise, the AI will always flee without giving you a chance to try to win.

    • Humanoid says:

      And of course Arcanum demonstrates how a fair compromise is one that disappoints everybody.

      • IFS says:

        Arcanum’s combat is just bad in general though, its just fortunate that the game’s writing and setting make up for it (it also helps that a lot of combat is avoidable).

  5. CliveHowlitzer says:

    I hate it in my RPGs…at least sometimes. I remember not hating it in Dragon Age but that was because I could carefully program my idiot AI allies to do the things I wanted them to do(Mostly).

    Then I hated it a lot in Pillars of Eternity because I had to pause every split second to tell my companions to do everything when turn based would have been vastly more satisfying.

    But then I don’t mind it at all in Crusader Kings 2 or Stellaris because it seems to be implemented in such a way that it always just works well.

    I suppose it really just boils down on a case by case basis but in general my first reaction when I see real time with pause is “Ugh”

    • Zekiel says:

      It’s funny. I’m playing Pillars of Eternity at the moment and I love it. Even though I have to pause every few seconds to tell my men what to do (there is AI now – introduced in a patch – but I don’t really use it cos I like to be in full control).

      But then, maybe I’d love the game even more if it was turn-based combat? I don’t know. This is a Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor, and I’m so used to RTWP from Baldur’s Gate that it would feel odd to me to do anything else.

      The main argument of why RTWP is (sometimes) better than turn-based, is that if you’ve got an easy fight, its a lot quicker to just auto-attack with everyone (and not pause) than it would be to issues orders one-at-a-time in turned-based. I absolutely adored Temple of Elemental Evil’s turn-based combat… except when I got a random encounter against some rats I vastly overlevelled and it still took 5 minutes to resolve.

      • ehlijen says:

        The thing is, I think Baldur’s Gate should have been turn based as well. It was based on second ed DnD, with all its counter intuitive weirdness (lower Armour is better!) and at high levels a fairly complex spell rock-paper-scissors element. The manual covered most but not all of the rules, and it was quite thick.
        The TT game is turn based, and it wasn’t unheard of for rules questions to come up even in experienced groups. Turning this complex game into realtime, even with pause, was…not ideal, I would say.
        Baldur’s Gate lived off the story (at least 2 did) and the characters, not the combat.

        • shpelley says:

          You can, however, turn Baldur’s Gate into a turn-based game by just setting the game to auto-pause on every turn if I’m not mistaken.

          • krellen says:

            It’s not really a turn-based game that way. Not in a way that means anything to anyone that actually wants turn-based gameplay.

            • Phill says:

              Although one of the later games based on the same engine was properly turn based: “Pool of Radiance : The Ruins of Myth Drannor”. And for me it was all the better for it, although that seems to be a minority opinion, but then turn-based strategy gaming is something of a minority interest compared to real time ‘strategy’ gaming anyway.

              Personally I really dislike the combat in Baldur’s gate. It ruins what would otherwise be a good game for me.

              • Humanoid says:

                PoR2 wasn’t made with the Infinity Engine, it was something the developers made in-house. Which would explain the bugginess I suppose.

                • Phill says:

                  You learn something new every day.

                  It also explains why PoR2 supported much bigger map areas than the previous D&D games. Since it was the first one of the 2nd edition AD&D games I played, I was seriously disappointed when I went back to Baldur’s Gate / Icewing Dale and found the world chopped up into tiny map pieces. It felt so artificial.

            • Matt Downie says:

              BG essentially use D&D turn-based mechanics with an artificial real-time element, didn’t it?

              But it occurs to me that there are two kinds of turn-based strategy. In type one, you give all the orders, then you hit next turn, and they play out. In type two, you give orders and they’re carried out immediately. Type one tends to be used for games with a multiplayer focus – everyone decides at the same time what they’re going to do, and then the turn plays out when everyone’s ready. Type two tends to be more responsive and satisfying for single-player games.

              Turn-based BG would be the first kind, whereas tabletop D&D is the second kind.

              • Humanoid says:

                It’s weird to think about in hindsight – why would Bioware take the D&D licence and go out of their way to essentially do a homebrew conversion of the rules to real-time? Probably had something to do with the popularity of RTSes at the time, in the wake of Command and Conquer.

                I think it’s been established that Bioware wrote the Infinity Engine with the intention of hopping onto that RTS bandwagon, and perhaps there’s an argument that the creation of the RTWP subgenre was an accident. Even if not technically accurate, it’s still a fun argument to make. (As is the argument that the great schism is fundamentally a disagreement about self-raising flour)

                • Naota says:

                  I think it’s simpler than this – real-time fantasy combat is flashy and action-driven, and it’s something only capable of being done on a computer. You can see dozens of games come out around the same period as Baldur’s Gate that are real-time adaptations of tabletop systems because their creators were convinced that this way was the future. No more grids, no more turns or initiative orders, just what you see in front of you! Finally we can cast off the abstraction of the “end turn” button and let the fantasy become real!

                  …unfortunately, they almost universally found themselves with systems intended for calculated turn-based play bolted awkwardly onto this real-time frame, resulting in games like Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, where maybe one in three abilities has any purpose, and combat consists of running in circles while ability cooldowns refresh, and perpetually avoiding instant death to chain-stunning enemies. Then there’s pausing every attack so that a surprise ganking by four Nosferatu with assault rifles two miles off in a dark alley doesn’t completely wipe your group…

                • ehlijen says:

                  The big competitor in fantasy RPG for BG at the time, I believe, was Diablo, which was about as realtime as you could possibly get.

                  I believe Bioware was trying to not appear to slow and stuffy in comparison, no matter what that did to the gameplay.

              • Phill says:

                As a curiosity, one of my favourite game (Combat Mission) actually does both of those in real time, rather than turn based. Kind of.

                There is a real time mode, where you give orders and they are acted on immediately (or as soon as you unpause, if you happened to pause first). And there is ‘WeGo’ mode which is in essence a turn-based mode. Everyone gives their orders for the next minute and hits ‘go’, but the results are played out in one minute of real-time simulation where you are unable to change your orders (and have to helplessly watch your units wandering towards their doom due to something you couldn’t see when you gave the orders, but which popped in to view a few seconds in to the turn). Despite being fundamentally a real-time engine which just limits you to only giving orders once per minute, it can equally be viewed as a purely turn based game that just happens to give you a beautifully detailed movie to watch of just how dumb your decisions were. It tends to appeal to players who like turn-based wargaming.

                One other thing about it: because it is more simulation than game, it is much, much slower than your typical RTS even when played in real-time mode. You can easily have several hours of game time (real time) to advance a kilometer in one of the WW2 games, and even when playing without pauses your actions per minute are pretty much irrelevant since, as in real life, the battle space tends to evolve rather slowly the great majority of the time.

                It sits in a rather unique place between real-time and turn-based, and even if you could reasonably describe it as turn-based with pauses, it has pretty much nothing in common with the kinds of games Shamus is talking about here.

                • Charnel Mouse says:

                  Combat Mission also had the advantage that you could be rather vague in your orders, and the troops would usually figure out the details, or adjust them to some extent if the circumstances changed. You didn’t have to micromanage too much, which I suspect is part of the problem with RTWP: micromanagement tasks often arrive in groups.

      • GloatingSwine says:

        They have added a few fundamental AI scripts to PoE which mean that eg. Eder won’t stand around like a total potato because the closest enemy is half an inch out of sword range and he hasn’t been explicitly told to take a step closer.

      • Humanoid says:

        The proper solution for something like that though isn’t necessarily to make the tedious encounter quicker to breeze though. Rather, the question that should be asked is how that encounter is allowed to happen in the first place.

        That’s right, obviously the rats would surrender at the outset.

        • CliveHowlitzer says:

          Thank you! This is something I always think about when people bring that up. If an encounter is so easy as to be brainless, why is it in the game? Let us make every encounter matter and make every encounter interesting. At least as much as you can, obviously you can’t always nail every single one.

          I thought Divinity: Original Sin did a pretty good job of making combat pretty damn interesting for every encounter all the way through.

        • tmtvl says:

          As much as I dislike the Mother series of jRPGs, the way they handle low level encounters (you just get the EXP and money from way underlevelled encounters without fighting them) is pretty good.

  6. RCN says:

    I really like Strategy. It is, easily, my favorite game genre, despite the myriad of different ways this genre can take forms.

    However, I feel always more and more that I prefer my strategy games to be about decision-making, strategy and planning than about how gosh-darned fast I am at doing all the shortcuts and clicking 500 times a minute.

    For instance, I haven’t fallen in love with this trend that RTS have to be 5-10 minute matches, just to be like Starcraft. If you can’t click at least 200 times a minute, you shouldn’t even TRY to play the game, you have to GIT GOOD!

    My favorite strategy games have been those where you make decisions that pay off in the long time. And by long-time I mean at least 5-10 minutes down the road. In Starcraft long-term decision making is thinking 20 seconds ahead and taking all these decisions at the same time and instantly.

    Two of my all-time favorites, for instance, are Supreme Commander (the spiritual successor of Total Annihilation) and Sins of a Solar Empire (like Galactic Civilizations, but on a smaller scale and in Real Time), as well as Heroes of Might & Magic (unlike most fans, I think every installation has its pros and cons, but at least it is a franchise where each game feels different).

    Supreme Commander and Sins of a Solar Empire are RTS games where your APM don’t really matter that much. Positioning and planning triumph over your capacity to make 500 clicks per minute every time… and they accomplish this by allowing the player to lay off some of his decision making on the game itself. Units in SupCom, for instance, are perfectly capable of running and gunning, and therefore there is virtually no-need for the Starcraft practice of stutter-attacking where you send an attack command and, as soon as the attack is resolved, you send a move command and, as soon as the units are capable of attacking again, you send an attack command. I feel the need for a commander to need to micromanage his troops to such a degree absurd at best. You ought to have better things to do than that. Also, both SupCom and SoaSE allows you to queue an impressive amount of orders, while Starcraft artificially blocks you at, for instance, only 5 units queue at a time in the barracks. If you fail to re-queue at the barracks every time until you get the amount you actually want you might as well just concede the game. I just find it a shame that you can’t automate some of the decision makings of your fleets in SoaSE, since focus-firing is so important in that game, but at least the ships are smart enough to keep their distance or getting close according to their roles and clearing out an entire gravity well without you needing to explicitly command them to individually attack every single structure in it.

    I don’t like when a strategy game has dumbed-down UI and unit AI just to give emphasis to a player’s twitch-skills, is what I am saying.

    In general, I’ve come to accept that the moments of calm in real-time with pause are for you to make plans. I fell in love with StarDrive and found it a shame that the developer couldn’t take it to fruition (he took out the real-time aspect of the game and turned it into a turn-based game… which essentially killed the game’s identity and made it a bad Galactic Civilizations knock-off). The idea of having ship-design where it mattered where you place the ship components was incredible and added another layer to long-term planning.

    So in that sentiment I’m really excited for Stellaris. So far the gameplay I’ve seem of it makes me want to play the game so much.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Stutterstepping is one of those things which should technically be fixed as a bug but people have adapted to it as a “skill” so it stayed in and they’d cry if it got taken out (like, eg. wave dashing got taken out of smash between Melee and Brawl, and people hated it because the game was “less skilful” now).

      Also: If you’re queueing constructions in an RTS you’re generally playing the game wrong (because you pay for the whole queue upfront and you could have used those resources to increase your income by building more resource collection and still have only just enough to build a new marine every time you have 50 minerals).

      • Awetugiw says:

        SupCom, and several other games like it, solve that by having queued orders only require resources for the unit/structure that is currently being built. This makes queuing much more viable, and as a bonus it allows for infinite production queues (which would be… rather hard if you had to pay upfront).

        • Veylon says:

          And that’s another gripe of mine with Stellaris: you are always waiting for minerals to rebuild so you can add items to your shopping lists. This wasn’t so bad in CK2 where you only had maybe a half-dozen personal provinces (conveniently accessible in your outliner!), but in this game you can easily have those half-dozen planets plus star stations plus construction ships and finding any of them when you want to can be a chore.

          I don’t doubt that SupCom does it well because it borrows the nanostalling from Total Annihilation.

          • RCN says:

            Well, that’s also the reason why SupCom 2 was such a failure. They did away with the nanolathe real-time economy in order to implement Starcraft’s instant-cost economy, for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON WHATSOEVER.

            When a market is dominated by a player, you don’t get your slice by copying the winner (seriously, WHY ARE PEOPLE STILL TRYING TO CREATE WOW-KILLERS?), you do it by precisely offering something different. It simply feels like they were copying Starcraft for the sake of copying Starcraft and thus pissing off majorly the entire (and LOYAL) fanbase they had.

            Planetary Annihilation at least had the sense to continue with the trend of making economy more dynamic and automating stuff that the player shouldn’t waste time mulling over (“would you like to have your engineers build metal extractors over your whole planet? Over your whole side of your planet?” “When, in the entirety of the strategy genre history, has the answer to this question ever been ‘no’?”) Too bad that the lack of budget made the game so… streamlined? Soulless? I dunno. It is just that at the same time that I can’t stop drooling over their procedural planet generator, pathfinding code and orbital mechanics, I also can’t care less about the unit design, animation design and the game feel. People make light of how similar the factions in SupCom were, but each certainly had a different feel to them and enabled different strategies, there’s no such feeling of diversity and choice in Planetary Annihilation…

      • Mephane says:

        See also: Last-Hitting in MOBAs. What afaik began with an engine limitation (WC3 engine could only credit a kill on last hit) took an odd turn and became a game mechanic considered by many to be a core component of the entire genre (as opposed to one of many possible implementations of kill credit). Despite its apparent awkwardness, it is widely regarded as a skill to master, not a terrible legacy to be shed for good.

        At last, Heroes Of The Storm finally got rid of Last-Hitting, but I have no idea whether the game is just an outlier or started an actual trend.

        • RCN says:

          I don’t find last-hitting as odd and weird, though it certainly could be made less counter-intuitive.

          The outdated mechanic that really puts me off though is denying. It is extremely counter intuitive (what? I have to kill my own guys?) and ridiculously anti-fun, as once one character gets ahead in a lane he can effectively make his opposing laner completely irrelevant for the rest of the game by simply always denying his kills. If his attacks are more powerful, there’s absolutely nothing stopping him from doing so. It is one of a few reasons I favor league of legends over DOTA2 when I play MOBAs. RIOT certainly actually cares about making creating gameplay that’s the least bit intuitive and sensible, and have you know what is going on. DOTA couldn’t care less about new players or toxic gameplay experiences (or game experience itself, as there’s basically no effort to punish toxic players…)

    • Humanoid says:

      My gaming tastes may have changed an awful lot in the last 20-25 years, but what definitively hasn’t changed is that I’ve always hated RTSes. I can definitely see the argument of why the “faster is better” trend is a bad one though.

      Fighting games – another genre I have no particular love for – went through the same evolution no? (Though the evolution was probably mostly Street Fighter 2 continually adding suffixes like ‘Hyper’ and ‘Turbo’ throughout the years)

      • GloatingSwine says:

        Fighting games didn’t really get faster, they just got increasingly silly names.

        (SSF2 Turbo had a speed select but the standard speed was the same as before)

      • CliveHowlitzer says:

        As a member of the FGC I can tell you that a lot of fighting games have been going through the opposite growth. They’ve been getting slower and simpler compared to older titles. It is like we are going in reverse. The most recent Street Fighter V is probably the most simple one of them all.

        This doesn’t apply to all of them of course.

        In other genres, you are definitely right about speed. Games get faster and faster all the time. Companies assume that most people have the attention span of a goldfish.

    • Ysen says:

      I also hate the micromanagement aspect of RTS games – I pretty much only play them in single player specifically so I can pause if things get too hectic or I need to check what a unit ability does or something. It’s a nice release valve for when you’re learning and you don’t remember what all the stuff does, or you feel like the UI isn’t working as well as it should, or you just want to take it easy and blow stuff up instead of clicking everywhere frantically for 40 minutes.

      I can’t stand Starcraft II because I feel like I’m fighting the interface rather than my opponent. The UI is deliberately designed to limit your ability to manage your troops and base so that everything requires more clicks and more keypresses.

  7. MrGuy says:

    I think the problem is focus. Are the designers designing something that can generally be handled (even by a non-expert player) in real time, and so pause mode will be an occasionally used “zoom in” for a very unusual situation that requires micromanagement? Or are they designing something where it’s expected most of the user’s gameplay will be done during pauses, and the “real time” bit is mostly just to show you how things “turned out” from those decisions (e.g. Cities:Skylines)?

    The problem comes up when the game designer can’t be bothered to “pace” the game well. For “low pause” games, the flow of events should be rapid and engaging, yet managable, meaning “speeding up” the game will be rare, but also most situations should be able to dealt with without needing to resort to pause. For “frequent pause-and-zoom” games, everything should be sufficiently autonomous and able to take care of itself optimally to the degree that a “missed prompt” doesn’t wreck the game, minor situations are well handled without player intervention, and major events should be automatically detected. Both can work.

    But sometimes the pause button is a lazy way out for a designer who can’t be bothered to think about pacing. “OK, so, in our RTS, sometimes nothing will happen for a long time, but then something super important happens or a lot of stuff happens at once, and there’s no rhyme or reason to when that will happen. Eh, just throw in a pause button and let the player sort it out.”

    In Shamus’ example, he should be able to set a “research goal” for his wizard up the tree somewhere, and the wizard should auto-research towards the goal without handholding (and the game should pause when he runs out of stuff to research). Minor combat should be auto-handled in an optimal way – your armored platoon shouldn’t be able to get ganked by two scraggly rogues because you didn’t stop them to say “Simon says use your swords.” When a neighbor declares war on you, the game should automatically stop to let you marshall your forces, then limit how fast you can zoom time until combat operations are over.

    • Ysen says:

      Yes, this!

      I think a lot of the complaints Shamus has about RTWP are more a result of poor design than an inherent part of RTWP. Accidentally unpausing due to inconsistent autopause behaviour is the most obvious example. It can be fixed by allowing the player to set what events should pause the game and by ignoring the unpause command for a brief time when the game autopauses (the same way modern web browsers don’t let you click the “open” button briefly after the download window pops up, to prevent accidental malware downloads).

  8. Daimbert says:

    I found that Star Wars: Rebellion’s RT system worked pretty well (although I seem to recall that actually PAUSING the game meant that you couldn’t give orders, making it not a RTWP game, I guess). What I typically did was give a bunch of orders, crank up the speed, and then when the event came in — and events were displayed on the side indicating that you had one, not as a pop-up showing each event — if it was something I cared about I’d slow the game down to the slowest setting, clear out all the events, make all the decisions, and then crank up the speed again. For battles, if there was EVER an engagement the game would stop and ask you want you wanted to do, which was either take direct command of the battle, retreat, or let the computer simulate the results. The latter option worked out not too badly, except in later games I tended to pack my fleets with bombers for planetary bombardment instead of fighters and instead use anti-fighter capital ships to deal with fighters, and the computer wasn’t smart enough to dock the bombers and instead would toss them against the fighters, meaning that I suffered a lot of losses when I shouldn’t have.

    This way, you avoided the “Hit next turn over and over again” weakness of TB, but also didn’t often get overwhelmed like you can with strict RT. Of course, having only one other faction to deal with probably helps with that, too [grin].

    • ehlijen says:

      I found that while the game separated the messages into categories rather well (manufacturing, battle, diplomacy etc), it still had no clue how to prioritise trivial from important. My housemate will in fact kill me if she ever hears the phrase ‘R2 indicates a manufacturing message has been recieved’ again, just to let me know that one of the 30 Sullustan regiments for the garrisons that I’d told the computer to handle building had been built.
      Throw in all the ‘an enemy agent has been foiled’ messages just because the AI slammed another probe droid into my planetary shields somewhere (or was it Darth Vader failing to assassinate Mon Mothma? No way to tell!), and figuring out what’s important is very hard. And for good measure, have some ‘Research on ? is making progress, ?? out of ??? completed, next unlock: ????’ inbox fillers that challenge the very notion that message should contain information.

      It honestly would have been a better game with TB and a ‘skip turns until event’ button like MoO2 had.

      • Daimbert says:

        Most of the time, if I got a message that I wasn’t expecting I would quickly click on the category to see what it was without slowing down, and then deciding if I needed to look further. Usually, not reacting for a couple of days in game-time wouldn’t be disastrous.

        • ehlijen says:

          That’s fine for messages you can easily identify from looking at the headline. But too often you needed to open them to see what vague and little info was inside to, for example, tell the difference between a:
          ‘negotiations are going well, we’ve made unspecified progress towards something meaningful’
          and a:
          ‘negotiations failed to progress’

          And there was no easy way to tell why either would have occurred. Did the character just fail their diplomacy roll? Was the effort cancelled out by enemy diplomacy? (And there is no message for ‘we’re loosing this negotiation’ if the enemy is in fact outdoing you.) How likely is a ’70’ in diplomacy to succeed anyway? Is it %, if so are there modifiers? If not, why are ratings over 100 possible? If yes, what are they?

          From reading Shamus’ strawman, I’d say obscured mechanics and uninformative messages would only aggravate him further.

          • Daimbert says:

            At this point, though, we’re veering away from talking about how Rebellion implemented it’s RT system and more into an assessment of it as an overall game. And I like a lot of the things Rebellion did that it’s done so much better than a lot of other games, even if I concede that, for example, making it clearer how each rating impacts so you can decide, for example, if you want to try to build someone’s skill instead of always relying on the same characters is worthwhile. How it integrated the characters into the game, for example, is better than most games and is something that I wish Empire at War had done better, and that had been expanded on.

            Rebellion is also probably the only RTS and almost the only game that I find addictive to the point that I completely forget what time it is while playing, and a large part of that is due to the RT system it uses, where there’s almost always something happening that you’re waiting for, but you don’t have to wait all that long for any one thing to happen.

            Onto the specific comments here, like in some of the other games mentioned in the comments to this post most of the events and things that happened weren’t so urgent that you typically NEEDED to slow everything down to react to them. This then let you open some of those to see what they were if they might be important without slowing the game down, and then only slowing down when it WAS important or if you had too many backed up to do that with. About the only ones that mattered were combats — which the game paused to let you react to — and planetary bombardments which, yeah, could be really annoying if you were running on fast speed and they happened. Sabotage missions, as well, were things that you might want to stop and take a look at, but again often weren’t urgent (unlike bombardments, which were).

            Damn it, you’re making me want to play this game again, and I have Bloodlines to play [grin].

            • ehlijen says:

              Fair enough the obscure mechanics aren’t an issue with RTWP. The vague messages, however, are. The game was terrible at telling you what was happening, and the RT element meant that trying to come to the aid of a planet that was under attack was literally impossible. As in, it was something the timing structure of the game does not allow for. Either you have sufficient defences in place, or the planet is instantly bombed to rubble/invaded, because neither takes time to accomplish.

              And on top of that, it takes two mouse clicks to a small button to change speed, instead of just hitting say spacebar, and only one kind of event auto pauses the game (space battles, which are probably going to be trivial or utter defeat for the player unless they have an interdictor, as the AI will instantly flee the moment it doesn’t see itself winning). Actually slowing down to react was fiddly.

              • Daimbert says:

                Well, some of these are still game issues rather than its RTWPish implementation, but to address them:

                1) I agree that there should have been a quick, one click way to go to the slowest speed so that you aren’t fumbling with it if something happens that you didn’t expect.

                2) The messages could have had more detail, but to me it wasn’t that big a deal because it was easy to decide to slow down when either a) you had too many messages and needed to clear them out, b) you got a message that you were expecting that requires you to definitely do something that would take more than a quick “Read the message and click ‘Yes'” (diplomacy missions, for example, could be handled at speed because you just had to click to continue or not and if you missed it they kept doing it) or c) when you received a message that you weren’t expecting. Doing that, the game still moved fast enough for things to generally work and not cause problems, except for …

                3) When your planet was bombarded/invaded. The thing is, that this would be faster than, say, you could get fleets there seems to be both realistic for the setting — given how inspired it was by the EU — and deliberate. Sure, you generally couldn’t move fast enough to stop them from doing it if you didn’t have a strong enough defense there, but that seems intentional and encourages you to, for example, build enough planetary shields to repel bombardments. Also, bombarding and invading a planet — especially one where your popular support was low — was supposed to impact popular support on that planet. Thus, you could bombard to reduce defenses, at the risk of making the planet not support you and thus making it harder for you when you took over. In practice, it seemed to me that in general the way it worked was that when the computer bombarded a planet, support for you decreased, but when you bombarded a planet … support for you generally decreased. Additionally, as a gameplay mechanic the “hop into a system, bombard, hop to the next system, bombard” strategy was a bit too powerful; again, the only way to stop that was to have enough defenses to chase them away. This was especially bad if you played as the Rebellion because the Empire starts with multiple ships that can do a lot of damage with bombardment, and so even if you’re on easy and kicking them out of most sectors they’ll just pop an ISD/VSD over and wipe out your infrastructure.

                If the popular support had worked properly, I think the last one would have been mitigated because hopefully there the AI wouldn’t have adopted the strategy as much, or at least it would have hurt them a lot if they did. But that’s gameplay, not RTWP really.

  9. Daimbert says:

    I have a bias against RT strategy games because what I REALLY want are hotseat games, and they don’t work with RTSes. That being said, there aren’t very many of those any more either, which is a real shame, in my opinion.

    Note that I play hotseat games against myself, so that I can technically build a story out of it if I want to, and also so that I don’t have to worry much about difficulty levels. That pretty much requires hotseat …

  10. Colin says:

    Talking about Paradox games…

    I would go so far as to say that not only is there not a backlash to their use of RTWP, but that there would be a massive backlash against them abandoning it in their games, to the point where it simply isn’t going to happen.

    Paradox games occupy a a niche within the already niche strategy market, and many of the features that you find frustrating are exactly the ones that have differentiated them from Civ clones and captured the market they currently enjoy. I don’t think these points are lost on the company or it’s fans, among whom some use the nicknames “map-staring-simulators” or more crudely “autism simulators”.

    I hesitate to use the patronising “you aren’t playing it properly”, in favour of saying that they’re probably just not your thing.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    *sigh*You went too far into the strawman territory.This is like complaining about modern fps games because “Why cant I turn with the mouse?Why must I use the arrow keys instead?Why is fire on ctrl and not the space bar?I should be able to rebind these!”

    I guess I just need to reflexively pause when a decision comes along? But then, why doesn’t the game just do that anyway?

    They do.Even back in the day of baldurs gate there were auto pause options that were by default almost all on.Now those options are even more granulated,so you get to pause for more specific notifications than in earlier games.

    And while it’s doing that, why doesn’t it just skip all the waiting around between decisions?

    What waiting?Even in the slowest ones the wait between the turns is a couple of seconds at most.But in stuff like xcom overview map,there is no wait between the time intervals.And you can boost the speed up quite a lot.

    Why does this game need to be real-time?

    Why does this game need to be in third person?Why does any game need anything?Why did your game need to have randomly generated levels?

    Basically,there is no need when it comes to design choices like this.Its developer preference.

    Why do I end up waiting for the computer?

    Most real time with pause games(in fact,all that I know of)move both you and your opponent simultaneously.So you dont end up waiting for the computer.

    unless that decision is one that comes with its own auto-pause, in which case I should be careful to NOT hit the pause button.

    Im not sure about stellaris,but Ive seen a few games where the pause button is disabled for a second or so after the auto pause,so this problem has also been solved.Its just not implemented often,which is a problem with the developers,not the system itself.

    • ehlijen says:

      “Why does this game need to be in third person?Why does any game need anything?Why did your game need to have randomly generated levels?

      Basically,there is no need when it comes to design choices like this.Its developer preference.”

      I disagree. In a well crafted game, there will be a reason for all these choices, be they technical, budget or thematic. In fact, not understanding which options to chose and just picking some at random is why so many games fall so short of what they could have been.

    • krellen says:

      Stellaris (and all Paradox titles, really) definitely has the problem of reflexively unpausing the autopause. There’s no input delay in it.

      • Jsor says:

        Yeah, but in RTWP, even if you’re on speed 5, 99% of the time nothing TOO bad happens if you accidentally unpause for half a second. You usually catch it pretty quickly. It’s much, much less damning than that “shit… I totally forgot to do that thing I meant to do and wasted an entire turn” problem a lot of TBS games have.

        Tactical strategy games like X-Com and Fire Emblem in a more limited scope have this problem less because there’s a small, pretty finite number of things to do each turn. But in Civ it can really be a problem even if for only a single turn you meant to switch your production or move a unit you had on “don’t bother me” stance and forgot.

        It’s really rare in an RTWP game that accidentally unpausing for just a second screws you.

        • krellen says:

          “Screws” you, no. Really, really frustrates you, yes.

          I have a temperament similar to (though obviously not identical to) Shamus’s, and one thing that still gets me even after 1000 (a thousand, not a typo) hours of Crusader Kings is the information glut that can happen. Things come in spurts – you tend to have a lot of information coming in during a war, for example, and even that brief second lurch unpaused could bring up another notification (or four) that needs attention. So you get bombarded by a flurry of information, try to stem it with a pause, which unpauses the auto-pause, which brings in more information, etc. etc.

          I usually have to take a break after a flurry of pop-ups because I’m just mentally exhausted.

    • Felblood says:

      I don’t think this is so much a matter of a “Strawman” as Shamus encountering the worst example of a given genre in a while, and needing to vent a bit, without naming the name. I get that Shamus has just impuned the honor of an entire genre, and that’s bound to make your Troll Sense tingle.

      –but, if you want to talk about attacking positions that nobody actually made…

      A good auto-pause function can, and as the oft-cited example of Baldurs Gate shows, often does turn RTWP games into something playable. Arguing, that many of these games do have them, is not a saving grace for those that do not. In fact, it’s a damning indictment of the supposedly professional developers who still haven’t caught up with 1998 design trends. A reliable, predictable, customizable auto-pause function is essential.

      I love me some Baldur’s Gate, and Crusader Kings, and UFO:Afterlight, but there are plenty of RTWP games that suck, like UFO:Aftermath. The existence of these good games does not disprove the existence of a multitude of bad ones. Likewise, some internet pundit hating on the bad ones should not prevent us for enjoying the good ones.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        And there are plenty of fps games that dont let you bind crouch to the ctrl key.But you dont see people saying “Man,fps are bullshit!I have to interlock my fingers to press C because it wont let me bind crouch to something more sensible”.

        • Felblood says:

          I get that Shamus has just impuned the honor of an entire genre, and that’s bound to make your Troll Sense tingle.

          –but, if you want to talk about attacking positions that nobody actually made…

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Also,like Ive mentioned in the previous thread,there really needs to be a distinction between games that have discrete turns,but you can play them in fast succession,and games that are actually real time,but you can issue orders while paused.The difference between stellaris and homeworld,between kotor and mass effect.Both of those are technically real time with pause,even though only the second group actually has real time progression.

  13. Christopher says:

    I figured this was going to be a Dragon Age Origins-style thing, this is another real-time with pause entirely.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    RTWP supposedly has the advantage that it doesn’t get bogged down in combat in the late game. In Civ, as you steamroll the enemy nation the game has to stop so you can watch the animations as each one of your tank units blows away an enemy pikemen unit.

    Whoever thought of this excuse needs to die in a fire because it has influenced developers so much that they are constantly breaking stuff that dont need fixing.You want to play with smaller number of units?Fine,play xcom,or kings bounty.You want to play civ without the end game slog?Fine,play on smaller maps.You dont want to watch the animations for 500 pikemen?Then turn them off.All the modern tbs games have the option to turn off the movement/combat animations.If its still tedious for you,then stop trying to play this genre,its not your thing.

    Or,to put it more bluntly:STOP FUCKING UP MASTER OF ORION!

    Real time with pause does not solve the problems of turn based games,it solves the problems of (some) real time games.Thats why its called real time with pause and not turn based with fast forward.

  15. Robyrt says:

    Like a lot of other things, this comes down to implementation. Stellaris has a fairly annoying form of RTWP where you really should be on max speed unless you are at war, but you should respond to each alert by manually pressing Pause and dealing with it immediately because a lot of things won’t start unless you explicitly tell them to.

    Paradox’s other games have an excellent form of RTWP where you can configure which alerts pause, which are popups vs. small notifications vs. hidden, and most things are on such a huge time scale that losing a couple days really doesn’t matter. For instance, it takes my army a couple weeks to find and kill the enemy army in Crusader Kings 2, but it takes my castle two years to finish building an upgrade, and it takes my son 15 years to grow to adulthood. If I miss the “You can buy an upgrade!” or “Your child needs a tutor!” notification for a couple weeks while I’m micromanaging my battles, it will have zero effect on my success or failure.

    • Humanoid says:

      Yet the most important autopause event of all – the day before your child turns 16 – isn’t there. Granted that’s gamey as hell, but then so is the education system. Actually it also really annoyed me in the first place that it’s impossible for any autopause to be set around education.

  16. Da Mage says:

    This is why I like the Total War games so much. Strategic empire building decisions are made in turn based gameplay, with plenty of time to work through all your alerts. Then when you come to a battle, everything changes to a real-time battlefield for the fun. But a real-time battle only lasts 20mins, and there will be few ‘pivotal’ moment where you really need to be thinking hard.

    What makes this work is that at the start of the game you’ll want to play out battle as your armies are small and you want to conserve men, but in the late game you can auto-resolve the battles and quickly take over other empires.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      For me TW games don’t work exactly because they try to appear vaguely realistic and then stunt the movement speed of all units on the strategic map simply because the turns need to fit both the hectic and peacefull times and thus are too long for operational level troop commanding. It can get especially ridiculous when you realize that it would take you DECADES to move your Roman Middle Eastern army from Levant to let’s say Gaul. Which is ridiculous.

      On the other hand RTWP offers a solution. You can vary the scope yourself and slow down to daily level during war and speed up to season or year level during peace when you are mostly doing building construction which takes months. And it allows for more sensible unit speeds and strategies and expansion.
      Real Time tactical battles would be an odd fit to RTWP strategic map so it’s not all powerful.

  17. Bubble181 says:

    As others have said, it all depends on implementation. In some cases it’s just a bad way to circumvent crappy AI, but in other cases it allows more strategic depth when necessary or quick resolution when it isn’t. In KOTOR, it’s useful to pause and think in some combats, but you can easily play most combats in RT without any issue (and you can do both. The game that doesn’t allow you to set your own auto-pause options is either ancient, badly made, or a strawman). In Star Wars: Rebellion, you’ve got a TB game, but with hundreds of turns that progress automatically…Giving you the option to play at a low speed (a day/turns takes minutes) or high speed (several days a second) depending on what you’re planning or waiting for. A couple of things (like being attacked) are auto-pauze until resolved. Others can be set to be so. Otherwise, you can let a bunch of small notifications build up and collectively treat them at the end of the week or so.
    Total War is yet another combination of both that works fairly well…
    Cities: Skyline is real time with pauze to build and zone and whatever and really wouldn’t work properly any other way….
    Anyway, personally, I do tend to be a fan, but it really does depend. Some games don’t work very well, or make bad use of it. But looking at the example, it seems like you’re not using the options and functions available to their fullest in games that *would* work well with it.

  18. Alex says:

    I think the article overstates the difference between waiting at high speeds for something to happen in Paradox Grand Strategy Titles and mindlessly ending a 100 consecutive turns in Sid Meier’s Titles. Both are equally boring and time consuming.

    Also both are probably a sign that you are playing the respective game wrong on its own terms. You could always find yourself something to do. Which in Civ V will probably be some micromanagement task and in a Paradox game will be a stategical decision about who to attack and how to go about it politically.

    In defense of the Paradox model, finding yourself something to do without being prompted for it is part of the games’ DNA. It’s what the player signed up for. And if you want to do something, in most cases you can do it immediately, in a way you probably could not, were it turn based.

    In contrast, Civ V has a massive gap between the amount of handholding it does on easier levels, were you literally only have to do something if prompted and expecting you to do more than that, things the game never taught you to do, on higher difficulties.

  19. 4th Dimension says:

    Aghhh, where to start. First unfortunatelly I’m going to be THE GUY that ignores that the article is obviously talking about a straw man to ease the argument and not be bogged down fighting the fans, and I’m going to take this article as to refer to RTWP strategy games of which Paradox titles are most prominent to my mind.

    The problem is two fold. On one hand Stellaris for example probably has the poorest implementation of RTWP of Paradox games but more on that in a moment. And the other problem is that simply due to lack of previous exposure or because the genre simply does not suit you you are not getting the trick or beats of the game. And that is understandable not every genre is for everybody. I for example absolutely hate horror but that is me.

    RTWP games live and die based on how well the pausing and speeding up is implemented. Previous Paradox games solved your problem of inundating you with popups too quickly by allowing you to FINE TUNE in EXCRUCIATING detail what should happen with each of hundreds of different types of messages. You could set for each and every one of them weather it should pop up a message and pause the game automatically or pop the message up without pausing or pop a notification or maybe only display the event in the Log at the bottom of the screen. I for myself tended to setting all relevant messages to Pause and popup (maybe except for the minor ones like other nations setting up trade agreements with third ones). So any time construction, research or movement completed a popup would happen and the game would pause. Same for the events and battles. This way I can speed past the uneventfull bits at high speed and automatically slowing down for important stuff.
    Unfortunately Stellaris completely lacks this feature which I think they did not include (along with not including map modes and the Ledger) apparently because they did not want to scare away new players with apparent complexity. Unfortunately Paradox games NEED complicated interfaces simply because there are SOO MANY systems running under the hood. So Stellaris in many ways is not a good representative of the proper RTWP games.

    As for why not turn based or why not Turn Based and what possible benefits does RTWP offer over TB or RT. The main benefit is scalable timescales. Choosing RT or TB inevitably locks you down to single timescale. You are either passing years with end turns and are dealing in strategy or in the case of RT are dealing with operational or tactical level, but you can not simply add the other to either of them (TW games are a sort of an exception, although they also show a problem with TB where it forces unrealistic unit speeds on the strategic map). And that simply can not do for example when dealing with a strategy game set in a period centuries long. Or in a global strategy game that deals with a modern war years long.
    RTWP offers you the ability to (in case of for example a WWII strategy game) deal with tactical HOURLY considerations during your summer offensive by slowing down the time to proper level. Also proper interface should allow you to monitor the pace of a dozen of battles across a wide front dozens of provinces wide, and if problems start at any point you can allways pause and study the problem carefully (the effects influencing the battle, positioning, forces involved etc.) in order to arrive at a optimum response. On the other hand during winter months or during prewar while you are mostly moving your troops into the position or are dealing with weeks, months or years long project you can speed things up knowing you set the messages up properly so they notify you AND PAUSE if something important happens.
    Now someone might argue, but why not then make short turns so you can mash the end turn button during those boring periods? You can not. Mostly because the computer must play it’ turns so turns are never as quick as RTWP can be and again due to the turns nature everything is expressed in them and as such you will always be wasting time checking if everything is in place and going as it should. And if you make a mistake you won’t get the option of pausing as soon as you realize it. You will have to stay there hopeless as the Orcs do exactly what you described to your city because honor bounds you to waiting for them to end with their traditional pillaging festival.
    Also the granularity of RTWP allows you to do something as soon as the enemy starts to move. Not after it has done what he wanted to do.

    This of course is not to say TB and RT have no place and RTWP is some sort of strategy game mesiah. They are simply different solutions for different problems. There are a lot of marvelous TB strategy games dealing with both the strategic and tactical concerns. Same with the RTS. But both can not properly deal with the scalability of time needed by some games. This is where RTWP comes into play.

    Also let me add another log to the bonfire roasting some RPG’s RTWP implementation. It seems in some of those games RTWP is there to excuse dumb stupid companion AI. And it does not work well since as soon as you let go of your minions they are bound to do something even more dumb. Yes I’m looking straight at you Dragon Age: Inquisition Dragon fights.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Oh and YES in RTWP strategy games fingers should be hovering over time pause and speed buttons so you are ready to act. It’s simply how the genre is played, you are supposed to pause while making decisions. Also always use the keyboard. Trying to pause with the mouse puts one at a severe disadvantage.

    • CraigM says:

      Being the big Paradox fan that I am, I felt obliged to point out the benefits of RTWP. However you very nicely summed up my thoughts on the subject, almost as if you scooped them out of my head!

      So instead I will heartily endorse your statement. RTWP can be done wrong, but Paradox games like EU IV do them very very right.

      Stellaris I can not speak to.

      But I consider the ability to alter time passage a strength. You can create a 5-10 year plan of diplomatic maneuvers, and to push time forward faster while relationships are formed, then slow down once it comes time to spring your holy war which castrates the Holy Roman Empire by forcing them to become Protestant, making the weak and easily beatable Savoy the Emperor.

  20. The Other Matt K says:

    I had never thought too hard about the pros and cons of RTWP, until I played Pillars of Eternity and found that it made the game almost unplayable. Either I constantly am pausing and giving commands and tweaking previous commands and measuring positioning to make sure the combat goes properly – and thus takes forever – or I let it move at a reasonable speed and hope my characters don’t accidently blow themselves up with their own spells while I was blinking.

    It wasn’t the only flaw in the game, but it definitely caused frustrations – and meant that when other issues developed (with the story and other mechanics), I was much less forgiving than if I had been enjoying the combat rather than feeling burdened by it.

    • Humanoid says:

      When I finally get around to playing PoE past the first town, it will be on “story” level difficulty, NPCs with 100% autonomy, and no pausing. If only combat was all just auto-resolved through dialogue checks…

  21. SlothfulCobra says:

    I definitely don’t like Real Time with Pause in strategy games, because it leads to me fretting about a million moment to moment things that don’t really affect much. I remember playing the Total War demos and ending up sending a million orders in a couple minutes because I wasn’t sure about things. It’s terrible when it’s adding real-time worrying to things.

    On the other hand, I love it with other games, where it’s coming more from the real-time end rather than the turn-based end. I love the way that Mass Effect plays where you get to strategize in between bursts of shooting and punching, and Superhot is fun too. It’s great for giving a little serene moments of thinking to what would normally be frantic action.

  22. Silfir says:

    I actually have no trouble finding something to do or have a look at while playing Stellaris on Normal speed. Check the progress of the science ships, see which planets need something built or populations rearranged, look at how your territory has been expanding, rank and plan future expansion or military/diplomatic action.

    But to be playable at faster speeds, it needs sensible auto-pause, and it doesn’t have it. Nor does it have the customization options for notifications or auto-pause that were in previous titles using the engine, which means you can’t fix it yourself.

    I actually have a similar issue with Total War games that lack sensible auto-resolve, which end up wasting my time with battles that ought to be simple affairs, but that I can’t trust the AI to not completely screw up. Both the loading times and the time spent fighting the actual battle just kill my enjoyment. The last TW game I played that had a sensible auto-resolve is the first Medieval: Total War.

    I think it’s important not to conflate poorly executed real-time pausable strategy with the rest of them, similar to how there are Total War games with usable auto-resolve and not.

    • Humanoid says:

      I also ended up playing Stellaris with normal speed at all times. I solved the boredom issue by watching old episodes of Spoiler Warning at the same time.

    • Bubble181 says:

      This is the reason I play all TWs with combat difficulty turned all the way down and strategy difficulty all the way up. I like the strategy TB play…I’m not a huge fan of the tactical RT play. Auto-resolve should be competent, dammit.

  23. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I disagree, and I’m willing to argue about it until you regret ever starting this blog.

    (Note: I played Stellaris, so I can only draw on the RTWP/TB/RTS games I’ve actually played here)

    The problem here is that all of your supporting evidence isn’t about why RTWP doesn’t work, it’s about why the game you’re playing has a lousy interface.

    I guess I just need to reflexively pause when a decision comes along? But then, why doesn’t the game just do that anyway?

    Well, it should. A RTWP game should not only have autopause, but an options menu that gives the player control over what triggers it. And all the ones I’ve played have had them where they’ve felt even remotely necessary.

    And while it’s doing that, why doesn’t it just skip all the waiting around between decisions?

    This one is the biggie, because it involves core gameplay goals. Skipping “all the waiting between decisions” requires the game to be strictly and neatly divided into “waiting time” and “decisions”. How would you do that in, for example, Starcraft? In Starcraft, everything is going on at once and reducing it to a sequence of turn-based evens would fundamentally change the aesthetics of the game’s play.

    And Starcraft is the right place to be starting this conversation, because the impetuous for RTWP is someone saying “Man, I love Starcraft, but I wish it could be even bigger. Except that gets really hard to manage sometimes, so I wish I could just pause the game and issue some orders when I’m getting overwhelmed.” Alternatively, it’s the Total War series where they wanted to simulate medieval battles in a way that isn’t friendly to the abstractions that making it turn-based would require.

    Making a game turn-based is inherently limiting in a lot of ways, and if real-time is much friendlier to your design goals, then it’s where you should start. From there, adding a pause button is a very mechanically and technically simple way to solve a lot of problems.

    Hm. Still nothing is happening.
    No? Still nothing? Maybe faster.
    Sigh.

    If your game is running at 8x speed and nothing is happening, then the problem isn’t RTWP, the problem is that your game isn’t giving the player anything to do. Late game this definitely shouldn’t be a problem- you should have far more to manage than you have time to do it- and early game you should have some scouting and exploring to do.

    This would still be a problem in either RT or TB. In RT you just wouldn’t be able to speed it up, and in TB you’d be hitting the “end turn” button over and over, possibly with needing to issue a lot of uninteresting busywork orders over and over.

    Point is, the solution here is to just not make your early game pointless wait time. That’s trivially simple to fix.

    Shit! My guy went down! I’d better pause! *Hits pause button, which now UN-pauses the game*

    Again, interface issue. You shouldn’t be accidentally unpausing the game. When the game autopauses should be very predictable (and customizable). It should also lock you out from unpausing it for just long enough to make sure that you see it before hitting the pause button yourself.

    Oh. My wizard is still sitting here doing nothing because an hour ago the “What should the Wizard do?” dialog got lost in the storm of popup notifications. So let me look at the tech tree and see how far off I am…

    This *might* be a problem with the interface, if it make keeping track of all of your units and what goals you’re working toward difficult. But it might also be that you’re just having problems keeping up with the amount of stuff you have to manage, which is something I’ll address next.

    Moreover, even in a TB game I wouldn’t want the game pestering me to that degree. I always have some units, somewhere, sitting around guarding something or waiting on resources. I wouldn’t want to be bothered every turn with “Your wizard isn’t doing anything. Your wizard isn’t doing anything. Your wizard isn’t doing anything.”

    These games are about making decisions.

    And here is the other biggie. These games aren’t strictly about making decisions. They’re about empire building. That’s a very important aesthetic for the genre. The games are aimed at people who want to have a large, complex network of bases, armies, technologies, and resources to manage.

    I think during the Diecast you mentioned that you didn’t like your empire getting too large, which is a fundamental disconnect from how these games are really meant to be played. What you’re really complaining about here is the amount of information you’re meant to process and the number of low-level decisions you’re asked to make, but those are fundamentally part of what the game’s target audience often wants from it.

    I like real-time games where I can push a button and make cool stuff happen: Shank a dude, push a dude off a ledge, shoot a dude, toss a dude out of a window, set a dude on fire, etc. Thats fun.

    I like turn based games where I can compress months of activity into a single orderly turn that contains a number of interesting decisions presented in an orderly way.

    But real-time with pause has the weaknesses of both and the advantages of neither.

    RTWP can do both of those things. Your shanking can be done in real time, and then it can pause to give you an orderly list of decisions. You could actually described Superhot as RTWP, and that game is all about making cool stuff happen. Your problem is that the games that RTWP is generally used for aren’t designed for either of those things, and moreover they’re at odds with what those games are designed for. A game like Medieval: Total War isn’t reducible to a series of orderly decisions, not even on the turn-based campaign map. It certainly isn’t about pushing dudes off ledges.

    RTWP is used because it solves problems that both turn-based and real-time systems have for certain styles of games, and it’s mostly the core elements of those games (nitty gritty tactical detail and empire management) that you’re complaining about. Not liking those kinds of games is fine, but you’re blaming the entirely wrong thing for why you’re not having fun.

    What is this supposed to simulate, anyway? A king that thinks at super-slow speeds and requires a week (seven seconds of game time) to make a simple decision?

    The game is simulating hundreds of years passing in fewer hours. Pausing the game is what allows your king to *not* take a week to make a simple decision.

    But in a ten-hour campaign of empire-building, this constant wrestling with the clock is maddening. I end up getting bored with nothing to do but wait, but trying to skip the boring stretches creates the risk that I’ll be overwhelmed in a surprise burst of activity.

    I’ve had this exact same problem in turn-based systems, where I need to burn through 20 turns before anything interesting happens, but I have to keep checking every turn to make sure something didn’t happen that I need to address. This isn’t a problem with RTWP, it’s a problem with pacing and how information is presented to the player.

    RTWP supposedly has the advantage that it doesn’t get bogged down in combat in the late game.

    RTWP will always allow a greater amount of detail to happen in the same amount of the player’s time as a turn-based system, simply because it allows things to happen in parallel and can let the player watch over all of it from above and decide how much of that detail he wants to worry about, while a turn-based system needs to draw the line at some point and abstract the rest away. If you RTWP game is constantly bombarding the players with notifications about every little thing then it’s poorly designed. If it doesn’t provide a quick way to get the lay of the land and figure out what needs a closer look it’s poorly designed.

    More importantly, it’s not going to fix a game that’s become a slog because there are genuinely too many uninteresting or repetitive things that demand player attention. If marching an end-game army across the map to roll over smaller opponents can’t be done quickly by sacrificing tactical finesse for speed, then, no, RTWP isn’t going to save you time. But if you can just select the entire army at once and say “march over here and attack anything inbetween” the way you can do in Starcraft then late-game combat will become much less bogged down.

    RTWP is just trading one time-sink for another.

    RTWP allows the player to spend his time on the things that *he* has determined are important, rather than having the game pick for him. That’s a good trade, even if the total time spent remains constant.

    From this article, the real impressing I’m getting is Stellaris isn’t very well designed. As I understand it, Paradox is a turn-based game developer, and RTWP is a fundamentally different approach than turn-based. If they did something akin to taking the campaign map from Medival: Total War and make it run in real-time then, yes, it would be a bit of a mess. RTWP isn’t going to solve the game’s problems there because it’s still fundamentally designed as a turn-based game, with the inherent slowness that involves. Making turns really short and having them auto-progress isn’t going to solve that.

    What RTWP does is allow you to approach how you manage your armies differently in the first place. I’m not sure exactly how Stellaris does it, but the impressing I’m getting isn’t of a game that can be played in real time but paused when it becomes too much, but of a turn-based game that gives you the option of having the “end turn” button pushed automatically every few seconds.

    • Silfir says:

      I’d say you’re spot on – Stellaris does have most or all of the issues Shamus describes in Strawman Keep, because it doesn’t have customization options for auto-pause.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Moreover, even in a TB game I wouldn’t want the game pestering me to that degree. I always have some units, somewhere, sitting around guarding something or waiting on resources. I wouldn’t want to be bothered every turn with “Your wizard isn’t doing anything. Your wizard isn’t doing anything. Your wizard isn’t doing anything.”

      It’s funny that, in a defense of RTWP based on “Those are just UI problems”, you bring up this, which is a solved UI problem. You can absolutely do this kind of prompting. By default, Civ 5 would pester you to give all your units orders every turn, but each unit had a “Sleep” button which made them stop moving, and stop asking for new orders.

      • Bloodsqurriel says:

        You could just as easily lose track of a sleeping unit that way as Shamus did his wizard. It’s a solution to being pestered, but its not a solution to having more things around than you can manage. A RTWP system could just as easily give you periodic reminders of inactive units, after all.

      • tmtvl says:

        In an even better TBS you can queue orders, and set up conditional actions (move here but stop if you find something interesting; wait until the resources are available and then build the thing; wait 5 turns then summon a demon;…).

    • CraigM says:

      A good post overall, with one quibble.

      From this article, the real impressing I’m getting is Stellaris isn’t very well designed. As I understand it, Paradox is a turn-based game developer, and RTWP is a fundamentally different approach than turn-based.

      Paradox is a RTWP designer. All their core games use the same engine, built for RTWP. The games also let you muck about with the message settings so you can set what is important to you. You want the game to pause every time count Archibald from the country Unimportantistan sneezes? You could do that. Or you could turn it off, and have the game only pause when you manually do so.

      So many of Shamus’ complaints are solved problems in other Paradox games, they just require a certain amount of player effort to set up the way you want, which may take a dozen or more so hours for you to even know what you really want.

    • Sashas says:

      There are a lot of interesting ideas here. I want to point out one in particular where I think you and Shamus (and I) have fundamentally different things we want out of our games. You wrote:

      Late game this definitely shouldn’t be a problem- you should have far more to manage than you have time to do it– and early game you should have some scouting and exploring to do.

      (Emphasis mine.) I play turn-based games specifically because I find my personal speed limitations incredibly frustrating. I want to be able to stand up from my computer to take a phone call, sit back down an hour later, and slide right into the game where I left off. Similarly, I do not want to ever have to decide whether to control this army or this other army. I want to control both. (Ok, I can imagine games where I would enjoy making the trade-off between controlling one or the other, but not on the basis of lack of time to make the clicks.) I want to play my strategy games in a way that is essentially always on pause.

      Another way to look at this is for me to point out that I find deciding when to pause to be an un-fun (actually really stressful) decision. I play EU4, a fantastic game with tons of support for auto-pause, and there are still many situations (e.g. naval combat) where I have to ride the pause button myself if I don’t want to get wrecked.

      I think this is a flaw in the game’s design. It’s a great game, but it would be even better if I never had to take manual control of when to pause. I enjoy watching my empire run in real time, but when I want to do that, I want to do that with a drink in one hand and a sandwich in the other, not with one hand hovering over the keyboard.

  24. kdansky says:

    Half the issue is the utterly idiotic convention that both PAUSE and UNPAUSE are on the same button. I found that really dumb in Baldur’s Gate 1, and that’s nearly two decades ago, and yet UI designers still have not fixed it. Just put PAUSE in spacebar, and put UNPAUSE on Enter, and we’re mostly done.

    But yes, Real Time With Pause is ridiculously clunky compared to turn-based.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its a good convention because thats the button you will be pressing most.Having to go all over the keyboard constantly would be very tedious.The real solution,implemented by many modern rtwp games,is to have a slight delay after pausing in which you cannot unpause.

      • Mephane says:

        Just make it optional, and both configurable. Which is actually a good answer for many input and UI questions where there is simply no perfect solution, but lots of different personal preferences.

  25. Kelerak says:

    Do we count FTL where RTWP is a base mechanic, even though it’s only really used for the combat?

  26. evileeyore says:

    Shamus, I completely agree with everything you wrote in this article. It completely encapsulates everything I hate about RTWP games.

  27. TMC_Sherpa says:

    Excellent, let’s talk about time in Stellaris.

    The clock is a date

    Build time is in days
    Anomaly research is in days
    Colonies and initial spaceport construction are in months.
    Regular research is in points unless it’s currently being researched then it switches to months?
    Population growth is in points per month with a total that you need before the pop is ready??
    The pop is at 33.6 and growing at 1.4 but it needs to be at 56.6 before it’s done so
    subtract and then divide and it’s 14 months and change? No change? So 15 then. Right.

    Can we get rid of points and pop algebra and just tell me how long it will take?

    • Ninety-Three says:

      There’s something you can mouse over to show how many months until a pop grows.

    • Ardyvee says:

      Research is calculated in points (like in CIV) and if you mouse-over you are given an estimate of how long it will take. At the end of every month, it calculates how many points you generated, and attributes it to the current research (or banks it for late use).

      It does a poor time explaining it (it could definitely use an option to show just time instead of points, for those that prefer one or the other), which is something that I’ve found happens a lot in Paradox games (and gets better as the game gets patched).

  28. Ninety-Three says:

    So because this article is really about Stellaris, I’m here to complain about another part of Stellaris. A lot of Stellaris’ problems could be solved with a configurable “Pause when X happens” screen, but some of its designs are too fiddly even for that.

    For instance, when your population increases, you get to work an extra tile, which means you’ll want to build something there to increase production. But it takes three months to build even a basic building, so that’s three months of income you’re missing out on, more if it’s an advanced building. So you have to be constantly monitoring your colonies: “Okay, I see Earth is going to get a new pop in 15 months, I should build a mine soon, but I don’t want to build it just yet because then it’d be a wasted investment standing idle for a few months. So in three months I need to check back in on Earth and build a mine, that’ll take six months, then six months later it will finish and I can start upgrading it to a tier 2 mine which takes another six months, so that I’ll have a building ready to go as soon as my pop spawns. Wait, I can assign a governor that makes buildings upgrade 20% faster, so really it’ll take five months…”

    Special complaint for the fact that governors can teleport between worlds and only need to be there at the start of a project, so you want to hire one “Buildings cost less to build” governor, and then whenever you have a new building, you assign them to that world, buy the building at 20% off, then shuttle the governor back to whereever you really wanted them governing. And you do that every time you build something. Then you have a different governor you have to use to get 20% off all terrain clearing, and a third governor who you want to grind XP on so you move him to each colony the month before its pop grows so he can grab all the XP…

    Playing Stellaris optimally is really damn fiddly.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      You really arent supposed to worry about playing that optimally. For example +2 minerals that building would make in two months (2*2) isn’t really going to bankrupt you.

  29. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    On your last picture

    A tone-setting interlude like this really only works in turn-based. Sure, you CAN do it in real time by pausing, but it`s at odds with the overall pace of the game.

    I can’t tell if you’re serious or if this is a wonderful bit of self-aware humor from you.

    Seriously I don’t know. This isn’t a passive aggressive rhetorical dig.

    • Shamus says:

      It was serious. When I play RTWP, a pause feels like I’ve stopped playing the game. Like, the game has stopped happening.

      I shouldn’t have said it ONLY works in TB. It just feels more natural to the more deliberate, thoughtful pace of the game. In real-time, stopping to read a few paragraphs feels like a break in the flow, like bringing up the weapon select wheel in an action game. It’s not someplace you want to linger.

      In RTWP, I always have this nagging feeling when I’m reading: “I should un-pause the game so the action rolls forward to my next decision, otherwise when I stop reading this I’ll have nothing to do again.”

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Understood. I don’t play enough of this kind of strategy game so at first blush I didn’t see the connection between a cutscene and these action mechanics so I thought you might be making a joke.

        But your explanation makes sense.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Pausing to read those paragraphs is an actual thing you are supposed to be doing. Especially if they are supposed to inform your future decisions. After all your ruler didn’t take months to read a report.

      • stratigo says:

        This is… well… umm… okay.

        Why do you feel this? I can tell you that of the reasons to not like Paradox style grand strategy, this is by far the weirdest I’ve seen. I can’t even imagine the headspace you have to be in that pausing to read and make important decisions causes one angst over the game not playing any more. That’s literally the point of having a pause. It’s the reason the games auto pause.

        • MichaelGC says:

          I reckon ‘angst’ is probably overcooking it, but the point is that he doesn’t enjoy the pause aspect. So it’s a bit like me saying I don’t like seafood paella because it has seafood in it – finding out that it’s supposed to have seafood in it isn’t going to change things for me!

        • Cuthalion says:

          I’ll hazard a guess:

          When a game pauses automatically, that tells you the pause itself and what you’re doing while the game is paused is actually part of the game.

          When a game prompts you without pausing, that tells you that you should be able to answer without pausing. If you have to manually pause it, that is telling the game to stop instead of doing what it would normally do. It feels like you’re having to put the game on hold instead of playing it.

          The crucial distinction is the default behavior, which indicates what’s supposed to happen normally.

  30. Phrozenflame500 says:

    Yeah, most of the other RTwP games of the same vein of Stellaris (EU4, CK2) have message settings so you can set what pauses the game and what doesn’t. Stellaris kinda sucks in that it has no message settings to adjust.

    I dunno, I prefer RTwP over most turn-based (although it depends) and nearly all stock real-time strategy games. So maybe I’m just used to it by now.

  31. Trix2000 says:

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned already (I don’t have time at the moment to read all the comments), but I think one of the big advantages RTWP has is that it allows a more elegant way to handle simultaneous turns/play.

    Regular turn-based usually requires alternating actions between the two (or more) sides, which works in its own way but provides a very different feel and strategy (also lots of opportunities for cheese when the enemy can do literally almost NOTHING on your turn). I like it in several contexts, but I can’t help but find it weird and less immersive in others. Not to mention the period when you’re waiting on opponents to take turns can get boring, unless it somehow stays really short.

    Real time with pause, however, doesn’t have this problem – it’s everyone’s turn all the time.

    There are examples out there of simultaneous turn-based games, but I don’t recall any that really felt like they did a great job with it. It’s hard to reconcile the planning and discrete actions of turn-based with the unpredictable element of “what is my opponent going to try to do?” Can result in things like armies running past each other because they happened to be one tile offset from each other while moving. I’ve yet to see an example that pulled this off as well as RTWP.

    My impression is that good RTWP should have good auto-pause controls anyways, and also a lot of potential actions to take so you aren’t sitting around (even if it’s just moving ships). Any popup worth reading or major decision should pause (and I debate that this takes away from the point of the system), with the real time dedicated to things like troop movement, positioning, and managing combat.

    Though that’s making me think that RTWP wasn’t the best idea for Stellaris, since the focus seems to be less on fighting/tactics/movement and more on empire management. Correct me if I’m wrong on that.

    A semi-similar game that I thought did RTWP well (and I may catch a little flak for liking it) was Stardrive, though this probably has to do with the fact that there’s a lot of ship logistics – both in managing the empire and fighting/defending yourself. Also the combat was very position-based (as weapons and shields had arcs/areas of effect), which wouldn’t work so well in a turn-based situation (except maybe if combat was separated from the real world, but that’s not as organic as being able to bring whatever ships in/out of the fight you want/have).

    I guess my point is that I don’t think there’s a problem with RTWP so long as it’s used appropriately. Stellaris does not sound like a game that’s pulled this off well.

  32. Dragmire says:

    The only RTS with pause that I remember playing was Legion Arena. You and the AI opponent had an army made up of units(units in this case being a group of soldiers of varying quantity) at opposite sides of the field and you needed to maneuver in the best tactical way to defeat the enemy. Pausing was necessary to issue quite a few orders at the same time especially considering how slow most units were. Timing a skirmish right meant tweaking many orders to get it perfect.

    … I miss my naked fanatics, they feared nothing and always fought to the last man. Good times.

    Damn, can’t find a good screenshot of them. Alright, use your imagination everyone. An army of crazy sword wielding Celtic men, wearing only boots, a cape and warpaint.

  33. Rayen says:

    Almost completely off topic. Do you main with university on SMAC? Or jump between? I play with just about every faction except believers and the two alien ones in Crossfire.

    Also how do you feel about RTS in general? Starcraft and Age of Empires both play really well by compressing all the interfaces down in the bottom menu screen, but units will still drool on themselves without direct orders.

  34. Genericide says:

    I’m in agreement, I could never get into the real-time pause games much. Granted, I play a limited number of strategy games, but I do play a lot of RPGs. It’s particularly bugged me in JRPGs, as the weird hybrid action-movement-turn-based systems (on various points of the spectrum, not all quite RTwP) outnumber traditional turn-based even there lately. Some are better than others, but they always try to appeal to both action and strategy and make an awkward compromise. Maybe I’m biased, because I’ve never agreed with the assertion that turn-based RPG combat is flawed and needs to change. But no matter how good these RTwP systems are, I always feel like they’d be improved if they went action or turn-based all the way.

  35. Cuthalion says:

    Thank you for this. It’s always therapeutic to read you criticizing real-time with pause, because I Hate It So Much.

    I couldn’t get very far in Baldur’s Gate II because I didn’t have all the DnD spells memorized, and trying to manage casters in RTWP was not a good match.

    The RTWP is probably a reason I haven’t really gotten back to Pillars of Eternity.

    But I love the turn-based combat in Divinity: Original Sin.

    And I love the real-time play in Starcraft and Age of Empires II.

    I definitely feel that thing you mention (in a comment?) where you feel like the game is stopping when you pause, whereas in turn-based it feels like you are still playing when you pause.

    Edit: The other thing, for me, is that the RTWP games I’ve played have tried to keep all the complexity of a turn-based game while asking you to make those decisions more quickly or leave it to the AI (who will either suck or waste your expendable resources and limited spells). Games built to be real-time ask you to make more zoomed-out decisions (unless you’re a pro who micromanages competitively, but that is just not for me). Turn-based games ask you to make more zoomed-in decisions. Both of these are manageable. RTWP asks you to make zoomed-in decisions that require more thinking, analyzing, and reading (or memorizing of every ability ahead of time) as if they were the more abstract, zoomed-out decisions that you could handle in real-time.

    I can real-time a single character in an RPG or a single army (which is basically a single character) in an RTS, but I can’t real-time multiple characters.

  36. Endymion says:

    I feel there is really one game that has done this well. AI war fleet command. The hard part is figuring out why it seems to work in that game, so here are a few things I think helped it.

    First, the game revolves around you attacking. The evil galaxy controlling AI is busy doing other shit and doesn’t see you as a threat, so it’ll just sit idly by doing very little until you decide which planet of theirs you want the resources from and when you want to take it. So the gameplay there is entirely on your schedule.

    Second, when it does actually attack you’re given a 3+ minute warning with a little timer and knowledge of where you’re going to be attacked and by roughly how much. For the bigger threats its often 15 or 30 minute warnings. So you have time to decide if you need to call back an attack to reinforce a planet or if you need to quickly build a bunch of turrets or whatever.

    Third, the game heavily discourages unit micromanagement. Really heavily. For the most part your fleet is a blob that you order around as a blob. There are plenty of opportunities to do micromanagement things, like sending a small raiding party to blow up 5 specific buildings and then retreat, but even that would be like and extra 6 clicks in 2 minutes to get perfect.

    Fourth, and most importantly I think, the enemy techs up as a result of what you do instead of as a result of time. (Similarly, your tech progress is based on capturing enemy planets.) As such the decision of not making a decision isn’t really punished. To such an extent that I often don’t pause when I’m thinking about things.

    So while the lack of the AI attacking much and the warnings when it does stop you from being screwed over by inaction in the short term, the tech system being based on capturing things stops you from being screwed over by inaction in the long term. Which I think is one of the big keys to getting real time with pause right: you shouldn’t be significantly punished for taking a break to think.

    Really at the end of the day the main use of the pause button in the game is either for reading lore when it comes up or for pee breaks.

  37. Max says:

    RTWP strategy games have never hooked me, for this exact reason. If the point of the game is strategy, why is the game itself trying to sabotage my decision making by putting a clock on it? I always find them too stressful to bother with, which is the exact opposite of what I want when I try to create an empire from nothing.

    However, the genre of games that REALLY cheeses my onions is the RTWP RPG genre. I absolutely cannot stand “pause and play” combat, especially when I’m supposed to be controlling a party. I always end up reacting too late to what’s going on, which generally results in having everyone running in circles chugging health potions while the super-coordinated AI decimates me. It was irritating in KOTOR, stopped me halfway through in Dragon Age, and killed my interest in Pillars of Eternity within an hour.

    Like Shamus said, it combines the absolute worst parts of real time and turn based combat, with none of their advantages. It’s hard to make a plan, because the situation is constantly changing, and the game doesn’t give you any time to stop and think. In turn based combat, you can form a plan, and revise it if necessary. And in real time, you have the visceral fun of executing the actions yourself, reacting on the fly. It just feels unfair when I’m busy dealing with the enemy frontline, and then the game goes “Oops, looks like you should have been paying more attention to the enemy archers, because they just killed your mage and healer. Good luck!” Of course, after the mage and healer cast their spells, they spent several “turns” just standing around picking their noses, because the game thinks that I’m hitting the pause button after every single animation, and WHY DOESN’T IT JUST DO THAT FOR ME?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      If the point of the game is strategy, why is the game itself trying to sabotage my decision making by putting a clock on it?

      Ok,this is my pet peeve.People should realize that strategy games come from real world strategy which consists of two things:planning stuff ahead of time,before you ever engage the enemy,and more importantly,tweaking all those stuff in real time once your and enemys troops are fighting each other.Strategy does not mean taking your time to carefully consider every single outcome every time your opponent moves and turn based strategies are not the only real strategies.

      So please,stop with this.If you enjoy taking your time to consider all the options,thats fine,I do too.But stop acting like thats the only real way to do so.Stop acting like turn based strategies are somehow superior,smarter and more skillful.

      However, the genre of games that REALLY cheeses my onions is the RTWP RPG genre.

      As for this,do you have the same problem with mass effect as with those other games?Because if not,your problem isnt with rtwp,its with the attempt of translating turns from pen&paper games onto the computer,which I dont think ever shouldve been attempted.

  38. Miguk says:

    I think the real issue is that real time works best in games where the situation is always gradually evolving, like Sim City, Tropico, or Railroad Tycoon. It also helps that the people in Tropico act independently of the player and don’t need to be constantly micromanaged.

  39. Mephane says:

    Mostly unrelated to the question of turn-based vs RTWP, I have a number of pet peeves withwith RTS and 4X games in general which generally put me off the genres entirely. I am sure someone will point out at least one game each that has solved at least one point, but I am curious whether I am alone with regarding these things as problematic in the first place:

    1. I have to redo the same thing again and again.

    For example, I may build a defensive structure with walls and towers, position archers strategically etc. – then an attack damages or destroys part of the structure, kills some of the soldiers, and I have to manually check up on all these things and manually send workers to rebuild and repair, order replacements for lost units, then position those replacements again etc.

    So what I would wish all RTS would do is instead of you building something once, you should actually order how things should be. “I want a wall from here to there, towers here, here and here, archers here, here and here.” And then your workers and troops should make it happen, and if things get damaged or destroyed, they should rebuild autonomously.

    2. Extreme micro-management, especially special abilities.

    These should not be usable manually, but only automatically. Just having an option for automatic use typically means the decision-making for when to automatically use is an afterthought, and not micro-managing them manually all the time puts you at a severe disadvantage.

    One thing I know some RTS have solved, but still hasn’t become the default and is still somehow a thing: mixed speed groups of units seperating because the faster units move ahead and the slower units get left behind, unless you micromanage the movement of the different unit types all the time.

    3. “Weird” player skills and meta-tactics.

    Some of the skills they typically ask of the player have little to do with thinking and strategy, but supreme reflexes, muscle memory, a high tolerance of awkwardness, and the nerve to not get annoyed by these things. The stutter-stepping mentioned above. The very notion of APM. Focus fire for the win. Zerg rush.

    4. Limited zoom

    Many of these games are just too far zoomed in, and won’t let you zoom out (but always zoom in to admire the not so detailed models and washed-out textures close-up.) The very edge of the screen becomes your foe and if you have a widescreen aspect ratio, going up/down means you can see less further ahead than going right/left. (I am also looking at you, Good Robot.)

    While some RTS (e.g. Supreme Commander) bask in their free and limitless zoom, many seem to be actually designed around the camera being glued just so closely as if panning the camera around all the time is a desirable player skill and not an annoyance. I still remember a particularly bad offender here: Universe at War – Earth Assault. I really wanted to love the game, with my favourite faction being the “gray aliens” and their giant walking bases, but the game wouldn’t let you zoom out much so you had these giant robots obstructing most of the screen all the time.

    5. Bad sense of scale.

    Yes, it is a cool idea to have your behemoth spaceship fire bombardments from above. It is not so good an idea to have the spaceship actually appear on the screen at like 100th its actual size, hovering 10m above the ground. I just can’t take this seriously. The scale of buildings, units and landscape may not need to be 100% true to reality, but should be at least believable.

    6. Real-time without pause.

    Of course the decision between real-time or turn-based should be based on the core design of the game. Civilization makes the most sense turn-based, Dawn Of War (please be good DoW 3) makes more sense in real-time.

    But for eff’s sake, let me a) pause the game and b) interact and issue commands when the game is paused. Some RTS have made it so pause doesn’t even let you move the camera, let alone check out anything or give orders. Bad RTWP may be bad, but Real-time where you can only interact in real-time misses the point of strategy in my view: that we are interacting with a time-compressed simulation. In reality, a commander wouldn’t have to do multiple split-second decisions simultaneously unless they are personally involved in an exchange of fire.

    I understand that this basically means I can never play these games in multi-player, but I have no intention of doing so; I am too bad at these games anyway, so I would usually only play against easy AI anyway. That said…

    7. Cheating AI

    Be it that your AI has knowledge a human player could never have, or has extra starting resources, faster queues – the rules are the rules and should be the same for everyone. Difficulty settings shouldn’t be about arbitrarily handicapping either the AI or the player, or just modifying starting conditions. Difficulty should be a question of how aggressive and clever the AI behaves. I know that is orders of magnitude harder to implement than, like, tweaking the starting resources, but cheating AI just feels cheap, regardless whether you play on easy or on hard.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      1. I have to redo the same thing again and again.

      Some rts have workers that automatically repair buildings.Thing is,repair usually costs resources AND your workers can repair even when under attack,so automatically having buildings regenerate health is usually avoided because either the defenses will screw your economy,or they will become too powerful.

      2. Extreme micro-management, especially special abilities.

      Plenty of modern games have gone the autocasting route,so this isnt a problem now as it was before.Still,there are some abilities that you would like to manually target,so this is always optional instead of always on.But stuff like healing is almost always better left on automatic.

      As for defaulting speed to the slowest unit,its still best when its left as an “move as group” option,because sometimes you do want the faster ones to reach the goal early.

      3. “Weird” player skills and meta-tactics.

      This is true for any game.Unless you simulate reality 100% accurately(which you will never do),therell always be ways to “game the system”.This isnt always a bad thing however.For exaple,we wouldnt have Josh jumping on monsters heads if it were.

      4. Limited zoom

      Universe at War – Earth Assault.

      While Im with you on the limited zoom thing,at least in that game it is justified because of the consoles it was designed for.Maybe a remaster today could remove that from the game.

      5. Bad sense of scale.

      Again,this is the problem of the medium.Thats why you have new york that can be traversed in 10 minutes on foot and other silly stuff like that.Besides,imagine how clunky and resource intensive(not to mention boring)it would be if you had to scale battlecruisers flying over the marines in starcraft.Fun>realism.In every game.

      6. Real-time without pause.

      Agree.The only time it is justified is if the game is focused on multiplayer,like starcraft 2.

      7. Cheating AI

      This is tough to not do however,because of how good you would need to make ai in order for it to be competitive.

      I have to add a gripe of my own here:Weird hotkeys.Specifically,not using the standard set for all the units/buildings,but having build be b on one building and g on another.

      Also tied to this,not allowing units to be in multiple groups.If I want to have that marine alone in group 1,together with flamers in group 2,and together with the whole attacking army in group 0,then allow me to do so.

      • Mephane says:

        I have to add a gripe of my own here:Weird hotkeys.Specifically,not using the standard set for all the units/buildings,but having build be b on one building and g on another.

        I agree this can be terrible in any game, I don’t usually feel this in strategy games because I rarely ever use hotkeys at all. Yes, I am the the equivalent of what in an MMO you would call a “keyboard” turner do most things with the mouse and use the keyboard only for rudimentary things (pause, unpause, selected numbered groups of units).

        Also tied to this,not allowing units to be in multiple groups.If I want to have that marine alone in group 1,together with flamers in group 2,and together with the whole attacking army in group 0,then allow me to do so.

        I can understand this gripe, I must admit I have never been competent enough to properly utilizes this, so such limitations never affects me personally. But it should totally be an option, yes.

    • Phill says:

      7. Cheating AI

      Be it that your AI has knowledge a human player could never have, or has extra starting resources, faster queues – the rules are the rules and should be the same for everyone. Difficulty settings shouldn’t be about arbitrarily handicapping either the AI or the player, or just modifying starting conditions. Difficulty should be a question of how aggressive and clever the AI behaves. I know that is orders of magnitude harder to implement than, like, tweaking the starting resources, but cheating AI just feels cheap, regardless whether you play on easy or on hard.

      But realistically you are never going to make an AI be event slightly competitive with a skilled human player, so this basically amounts to saying “games should only have AI difficulties of “ludicriously easy”, “easy” and “somewhat challenging to a new player”, and anything above that is non-existent because no-one has the several person-years of programming effort to spare to get an AI up to “almost competitive with a below average human” level.

      People *will* want a more difficult AI challenge than that. And in the great majority of games that is only going to be done by handicapping humans / giving the AI advantages.

    • djw says:

      If you can make a competitive AI that doesn’t break the rules, then you can probably make an AI that can just write the game for you.

      • Mephane says:

        This is just nonsense. There is so much going on behind the scenes of a game (or any piece of software for that matter) that an AI to play it proficiently is orders of magnitude less complex than an AI capable of actually creating the game.

    • Mephane says:

      Last week I bought Stellaris. I did it on a whim; ever since its release it was on my radar, for no particular reason it was the only strategy/4X/etc game in recent times that somehow seemed to appeal to me for no particular reason. It just felt that I might like this one.

      And yes, it turned out I absolutely love the game. Funny enough I was not really surprised by this, because somehow it is these “lingering on my mind, bought on a whim” games which almost always end up with me loving it (another good example of that effect was KSP). So let’s check up on my gripes in particular with regards to Stellaris:

      1. I have to redo the same thing again and again.

      While this is the technically same here as everywhere, the game does not rely a lot of these elements. For example, where you place buildings (I usually think of them as buildings but I am sure they represent cities) on a planet is only a question of the underlying resource (for maximum building efficiency, put mines on mineral icons, put power plants on voltage icons etc), but their actual location only matters when you put it next to the capital city for a small increase in output – and that decision happens when you establish the colony and strategically land the ship in a place surrounded by as many mineral/energy/food icons as possible. But you don’t even lose buildings on a planet all the time, battles take place primarily between fleets in space, not between fleets and stationary buildings.

      2. Extreme micro-management, especially special abilities.

      Somehow Stellars got just the right amound of micro-managing. It always feels like I am in control, but never like I have to babysit my ships as if they don’t have competent captains. I especially like how command queues work. If I have to mop up the remaining forces of an nearly-defeated enemy, I can just order a fleet to behave aggressively, then set it on a route across several systems, and they go and slaughter everything. (For the record, I tend to play more peacefully, but when someone declares war on me, I am a bit like The Culture: go in with massive overkill, annihilating the enemy forces entirely and sending quite stern counter-demands, liberating systems, forbidding atrocities etc.)

      3. “Weird” player skills and meta-tactics.

      A lot of the particular gripes of this type disappear because you don’t micro-manage the battles. When engaged, fleets operate mostly autonomously, the only major decisions you make personally are which direction to send them and when to retreat. Stutter-step is not only not a thing, it is literally impossible in Stellaris. APM is irrelevant because you can pause at any time (and I never play multiplayer). I am sure there are weird tactics on other levels, but they aren’t so in-your-face as I have not yet really discovered any. I heard there was a “spam corvettes only” metagame at some point but that was fixed in one of the early patches, which makes me all warm and fuzzy thinking the devs also dislike such things.

      4. Limited zoom

      No such thing in Stellaris. You can zoom out to see the entire galaxy (or system) and zoom in to see a ship up close. Also no weird effects like how some games override the camera angle when you zoom in or out.

      One minus point however for the camera on the galaxy view snapping back to the original horizontal rotation the moment you release RMB. I find this baffling, as the camera handling is otherwise perfect.

      5. Bad sense of scale.

      As many space games, the scale between stars, planets, ships and the distances look completely unrealistic. But! It quickly becomes obvious here that what I am looking is not a rendition of what is actually happening, but essentially a “war room projection”, in other words, a fancy map. When I realized this after a day, everything clicked into place. Since 1 second (or was it 2?) real time is 1 day in the game, this means systems are not tiny – it takes even fast ships several days to fly from one planet to the next, lasers are fired at distances of millions of kilometers, missiles and torpedoes travel for days before hitting the target or being shot down by point defense. That at first glance everything looks small is just because the 3D objects are exaggerated in their size, for better viewing; time and space actually seem quite realistic within a star system!

      The galaxy itself, well, sure it is not realistically sized, and at the biggest setting it contains only 1000 stars, but for the purpose of the game this a) works b) a realistic galaxy wouldn’t. Plus, it is shaped like an an actual galaxy, you can even choose between the basic types elliptic, spiral (2 or 4 arms) and ring, which goes to show the devs didn’t just forget to read the wikipedia article on galaxies and randomly put stars into a rectangular box and called it a day, they put some serious thought into this and it pays off.

      Also bonus points for separating system and galaxy view. I’ve seen screenshots of (iirc) GalCiv III where you have hexagons for systems and you see miniature planets symbolically inside the hexes, that looks too much like a board game, or like a “space reskin” of an originally ground-based game. Stellaris instead has been build from the ground up with the concepts of a galaxy and star systems. Me gusta.

      Now the only thing missing is binary, trinary etc. systems; in reality they are so common that single stars may be the exception, not the norm, so I like my space games to represent that face. The good news is that the game doesn’t seem to technically prohibit it, maybe some future DLC will bring actual multiple-star systems.

      6. Real-time without pause.

      Stellaris is real-time with pause and turns. You read that right. Basically, the game runs in real-time, you can pause at any moment, but many elements actually behave in a turn-based-manner, with the smallest unit being a day, but the most prominent unit being a month. This gives the game a sort of background rhythm which I really like; I usually prefer RTWP and don’t like turn-based at all, Stellaris has found my new personal sweet spot for that.

      My only gripe here is everyone’s gripe: too many things where the game should automatically pause but doesn’t or should not automaticallyy unpause but does (or better: let me control in the game settings how to behave for each event type). For example when at the end of the month some research is complete, I definitely always want to pause and assign a new job before attending to other matters, but the game just chugs along and instead keeps warning you that a scientist has not been assigned a new task.

      7. Cheating AI

      I can’t say for sure yet, but it seems the AI does not cheat, at least on normal difficulty. Never seen it ninja-grab a good system they have never explored, or coming up with magical resources out of nowhere (the latter becomes apparently when you want to issue a trade deal, you can’t ask them for more minerals than they actually possess). As for the classic “AI has a head start” thing, this is an option you can choose at the start of a game, I always set it to 0, but you can totally have a game where all AI start with more resources and tech than you if you want it for a bigger challenge.

      I don’t know what the difficulty levels actually do, because I only play on normal and have no intention so far to go any higher; it is conceivable that they may cheat on higher difficulties, but on normal everything so far seems fair.

      8. This point wasn’t part of my original post but in hindsight it totally should have been.

      Procedural generation. Stellaris does it all the way. The systems, the galaxy, the individual species and civilizations. I love it. I haven’t yet dared to play a game where my own civilization is procedural, but I never play the stock civilizations and always create my own. Imagine how boring this game would be with just a set of premade species and a couple of handmade maps.

      9. This point was also missing and Stellaris reminded me that many games do it wrong.

      The thing I am talking about is how to actually control the camera. I mentioned how I like the free camera and inrestricted zoom but did not mention how you steer it. Every strategy game does seem to have their own flavour of best practices mixed with horrible ideas bordering on torture (and often with some crucial aspects not configurable or bindable to different keys).

      But Stellaris, wow. I genuinely have no idea whether you can actually rebind any keys here. Everything worked right of the box, untuitively. Hold RMB to rotate the camera, behaves exactly as expected. Scroll mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Even the speed at which zoom happens is just right. WASD to move the view up/down/left/right. WASD! And also, the speed feels just right, I don’t even know whether it can be adjusted because if it can, the default is already perfect.

      How many strategy games require you to move the mouse to the edge of the screen, shift your hand position to the arrow keys, or hold an often awkward button to then move the view with the mouse (having to frequently lift the mouse to reposition it in order to be able to move the camera further). But in Stellaris, I can simultaneously move the camera, change the zoom and rotate it easily, with no awkward finger acrobatics and without needing a manual.

      This game has genuinely spoilt me. I will from now on hate the camera controls in any RTS or 4X game that doesn’t do it exactly as Stellaris.

  40. D-Frame says:

    Even though it’s not exactly a strategy game, this reminds me of the debate regarding Jagged Alliance – Back In Action. All the fans of the old-school turn-based Jagged Alliance titles hated it for being RTWP, but I simply loved this concept. In the classic JA games, during enemy turns some guy would walk right up to one of your mercs from several meters away, while the merc just stands there with his weapon ready, waiting patiently to be stabbed to death. Ridiculously unrealistic. Real-life military operations are all about constantly monitoring and re-assessing the situation and changing orders accordingly, which is exactly what you do in Back In Action.

    • DeadlyDark says:

      The thing is, JA BiA combat system is pale compared to the Brigade E5 and 7.62. And these two games while being highly niche (and I love them for that), they were soooooo realistic in their depiction of the combat. I mean, they were meticulously about every action, with every millisecond. Need to reload, but you’re breathless – and the reload took more time. Or, you’re very stressed – well, shots will be fired faster, but less accurate. And you have 3 types of how do you shoot (from hip, without long aiming, with long aiming to the particular target) from 6-7 different positions. These two games was very simulatory in their depiction of the combat (I won’t talk about inventory system, good AI, guns with many-many characteristics, accuracy-distance charts and attachments, it all was simulated top notch), and that was great with these games. BiA in comparison don’t hold water even closely – less characteristics, less movement/aiming options etc. And in the end, it doesn’t felt that good, as it was in E5.

      But, E5/7.62 shows that RTwP is great if you make very realistic game about small squads of soldiers, because it brings realism of the highest level, that you can’t achieve with another methods. I love JA2, but E5/7.62 is much more ambitious and realistic in their depiction of the combat, and I never saw anything even closely similar ever since.

      I’m not sure if works as well on strategic or 4X level, though.

  41. natureguy85 says:

    Do you hate RTwP in all game types or just for strategy games like this? KotOR and Dragon Age are RTwP games, are they not? Or does it matter that they are, as I once read it, “turn based under the hood?”

  42. stratigo says:

    Strawman indeed.

    All paradox games, even stellaris, pause at major events. Stellaris messed up the pause when you go past events, but any time you’re called to make a very serious decision… the game pauses. Soooo…. yeah. Shamus is tilting at windmills with the hate he lays on a game that does what he wants it to do.

    • MichaelGC says:

      There’s quite a bit more to what he’s saying than that! I like it just fine myself, having sunk enough hours into the EU games to get used to the rhythm, and to even enjoy the good half-hour or more it takes to set up the auto-pause rules just right!

      But I can certainly see why Shamus doesn’t like it – as he says, for him it means alternating between being bored and overwhelmed. That’s not tilting at a windmill, its saying how RTWP game systems make him feel.

      For me, sometimes those periods of boredom are just what you need, after a long war that you weren’t ready for and which Austria managed to join, because Austria always manages to join; the blighters; and you can just sit back and watch the numbers which had shrunk too small grow larger again, and listen to the music, and think about perhaps building a proper fleet, and then you don’t for some reason.

      Or … similar! As I say, that’s how it works for me. Anyway, I thought this was a wonderful article with some great comments, so full marks all round.

    • Shamus says:

      But Stellaris doesn’t pause at “important” events.

      Research done and need to pick a new one? No pause.
      Planet done building and needs new orders? No pause.
      Ships done building and both the ship and the spaceport need orders? No pause.
      One of the above happens while you already have a different thing open, so that it needs to jump in front of your dialog with a new one? No pause.
      A science vessel finished doing a thing and is going back to their previous task, requiring nothing from you? PAUSE.

      Stellaris is ass-backwards.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        That cant be right…When I come home,Im going to check the options menu first thing!Well ok,Ill have a shower and a lunch first,but AFTER THAT,Im checking the options menu.Because if you are correct,stellaris has actually gone backwards in its ui.Because even bg1 had options to stop for everything.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Oh wow,thats shitty design.It not only doesnt autopause on most things,it doesnt even allow you to toggle when to autopause.This is something that was done by the first xcom,20 years ago.You REALLY shouldnt judge the genre by stellaris.

      • Ardyvee says:

        I find it odd that you put research up there. Personally, I find that research can just wait – I have more important things right now to do. This is even more true because the game goes out of its way to not penalize you (too much*) for not deciding what to research right now. Research is only calculated at the end of the month (ala Civ’s end of turn), and points are stored to be used later (at a certain rate), so any time you might have lost should be recovered.

        * at least, it seems to be designed such that you can miss a month or two and finish your research in about the same month you would have if you had selected it immediately, though I wonder how long you can wait until your finish month will be significantly much later.

      • stratigo says:

        Stellaris did, charitably, screw up the pauses. They use a different scheme then other paradox games, which leaves me, personally, confused on how autopausing interacts with manual pausing. But I slam the spacebar for everything anyways.

        Research not pausing isn’t a huge issue, cause research points get banked for quite a while. Build queues finishing up might be interesting to pause on. I’m not sure it that’d work out, I guess I am familiar enough with Paradox games that I notice the indicators for empty queues immediately.

        Science ships are one of the most key things to pause on though. They always give new information you have to be cognitive of. Whether they find or finish an anomaly, or do a system survey.

        • Mephane says:

          I often send science ships now on a multi-system journey, and once in a while add new systems at the end of the command queue, so they rarely ever sit idle. The only problem is when they do stumble about a special “research project”; unlike anomalies, which you can just tell it to investigate immediately and then continue on its old course, you can either order it to do the project by adding that to the end of the queue (at which points years may have passed and the ship is not even in the same system any more), or I order it to do the project immediately, which clears the command queue and I have to set it up again.

  43. Zak McKracken says:

    I haven’t played Stellaris or anzysignificant amount of RTWP strategy games. I got on pretty well with the RTWP combat in Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinternights, although it could become messy in NWN multiplayer (if one player paused, another coult unpause, so if two players want to pause at almost the same time, it’ll keep going…)
    It would seem to me that the concept can be appropriate if you want to avoid most of the urgency of realtime strategy but the way your game works, you’d be pressing the “next turn” button a couple of times between events (because your game doesn’t want to cut up time into to large chunks because it wants to represent very short-term and long-term things at the same time.)

    Much of the complaint in the post seem to be related to problems with implementation, not the concept itself. A well-implemented RTWP strategy game should auto-pause for relevant events (allow the player to choose which ones?), potentially including at least parts of the user interface (like, while picking something for your researchers to do from a list…), and it needs something to prevent inadvertent un-pausing after auto-pause. Like, maybe using different keys to pause and unpause? It should also offer an overview of past events and choices which need to be made etc., in case the player missed something.

    None of this seems like an unsolvable problem to me, although I think it may be harder to get it right than for either turn-based or realtime games, if only because there are fewer examples to copy or learn from.

  44. Fictional Skill says:

    This is honestly kind of why I never really enjoyed the combat in Dragon Age: Origins or Pillars of Eternity. Both seemed to require me to constantly pause the game every few seconds and I couldn’t help but feel like “Why the hell isn’t this turn based?”

  45. j7n says:

    Since Transport Tycoon Deluxe, where some orders could be issued while paused, but construction was not possible, I’ve grown accustomed to playing games with one finger on the pause button all the time. Baldur’s Gate worked very well for me too.

    However, the interface of Crusader Kings 2 has confusing feedback regarding game speed. Unlike in TTD or Heroes, the world continues to animate at a constant rate and only one tiny icon indicates the game speed. It used to happen that I paused and unpaused a few times in a row because I thought the game was running, when I saw motion in my peripheral vision while reading a pop-up, when it was in fact paused. I found it essential to tediously set every pop-up to pause the game without exceptions.

    I wouldn’t describe CK as real-time at all. The level of abstraction is high and animations do not sync up with actions. Armies jump and teleport and do not do damage when their weapon comes into contact with the target.

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