Starcraft Evolution

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Mar 26, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 72 comments

In my post on Starcraft yesterday several people reacted as though I suggested that RTS games had all gotten too complex in absolute terms, or that they should not evolve. In my last paragraph I was pretty clear: Evolution is not bad. Complexity is not bad. It’s just that, after a certain point, it’s not for me. Everyone has a limit for how many variables they want to juggle. Certainly a game with twelve resources, two hundred units, and twenty races would have a learning curve like a sheer vertical wall, the top of which is obscured in clouds. Certainly a game with one resource, one race, and one unit would be mind numbing for just about everyone. In this continuum between the inscrutable and the inane is a sweet spot, the location of which is different for individual players.

The Zerg, intergalactic cockroaches, shortly before I begin yet another effort to drive the little buggers into total extinction.
The Zerg, intergalactic cockroaches, shortly before I begin yet another effort to drive the little buggers into total extinction.
McNutcase insightfully observed that Starcraft isn’t so much a “strategy” game as a “logistics” game. It’s true. A great number of mouse clicks are expended managing supply, moving units around, acquiring new resources, and planning your base to facilitate movement of troops out while (hopefully) impeding the movement of enemy troops in the opposite direction. This is the aspect of the game from which I derive nearly all of my enjoyment. For me, the actual combat is secondary. The game appeals to me inasmuch as it allows me to design a well-oiled machine that will begin by devouring vast quantities of resources and end by delivering large groups murderous vandals to the doorstep of my enemy. My goal is to design and optimize this machine as challenges present themselves. I’ve often thought that the process would be so much more fun if someone else could take the units and oversee their actions once they enter the field. I could be perfectly content managing supply lines, delivering troops, and erecting systems to bestow a gruesome demise on anyone that tries to enter the base while wearing the wrong color uniform. My ideal base is one where, once built, there is nothing left for me to do but watch the troops march out on their way to bloodshed and glory.

But there are other, more visceral reasons to play these games, and I wouldn’t dream of demanding someone else make due with a less robust experience just so that I can attempt to reduce the game to a shockingly destructive variant of Sim City. I don’t blame players who want more units, more weapons, and more powers. The first time your marines gun down a rushing line of filthy Zerglings, spilling their glistening, acrid innards onto the soil of a distant world, the satisfaction is real and palpable. But somewhere around your five thousandth dead Zergling you’re going to start to wish you had a more interesting way to bring about their deaths. If merciless conquest and destruction is your goal, then unit variety is the spice of death.

The part of the game I find most tedious is managing combat. I admit that this is an inversion of the intended experience – you’re supposed to endure the management aspects of the game so that you can more fully enjoy the violence that follows, the former being the price of admission of the latter. The idea that someone would thrive on supply duty and grow weary with combat is strange enough that I doubt it gets a lot of consideration when designing the game.

Still, I do hate directing my units, mostly because they are so astoundingly stupid. I don’t know what they have planned for SCII, but if I were to ask for special unit abilities to add to Starcraft, they would be something like this:

Demotion: The next time one of your Battlecruiser captains decides to break formation and chase a lone unit into the enemy base without orders, bust him down to SCV pilot and give command of the vessel to someone more responsible.

Court Martial: Use this ability whenever one of your siege tanks sees one Zergling fighting six marines and decides to drop the hammer – obliterating all six marines. Stick him in the brig for the duration and make an example of him.

Darwin Award: The next time an idiot SCV pilot builds a building and traps himself between that building and a wall / cliff / adjoining structure / pool of lava, let him know he’s staying there until he starves or is eaten by the Zerg. Hasn’t decades of brutal outer space warfare culled all the idiots from the species yet?


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72 thoughts on “Starcraft Evolution

  1. M says:

    That Court Martial option is pretty much required for most of the strategies I like to use…which unfortunately tend to lead to the siege tanks either destroying their own cover, other siege tanks, or the SCVs I have busy running around repairing everything that the heavy-hitting siege tanks have been damaging.

  2. Awetugiw says:

    The nice thing about Starcraft is that you can actually play a game where one person does all the logistics and another player does all the combat. The only thing you need is someone who is willing to play the combat side. But I guess there is not much Blizzard could do about that part.

    That option is one thing I really missed in Warcraft III. And pretty much all games after that.

  3. Greg says:

    Shamus, it’s a shame you never were allowed to go into the army. You would’ve made a hell of a logistics officer from the sounds of it. I love your ideas for unit abilities, though I was always a fan of the more medieval setting of the Warcraft world. Was able to wrap my head around it better. Dwarven riflemen and mortar teams is where it’s at! Gun the buggers down before they get close enough to take a swing!

  4. Phlux says:

    What I want is a game that explicitly separates the two parts of the game…base building and combat.

    I’d like to be given an initial budget for construction, a summary of estimated enemy force strength and a contingent of troops and vehicles.

    Then the combat would start, and I would proceed with resource gathering to build more units, extend my base if necessary, etc…

    This would give me all the time in the world to position my buildings, develop my defenses, etc…

    If the game wanted to make it challenging they would do so by restricting the buildings I could make, and limiting my initial budget.

    I think it would be fun.

  5. Brandon says:

    So, Shamus, what do you think of the Myth games, by Bungie? They were all about tactical combat and managing your existing troop supply without the resource building. There were still lots of great tactical decisions to be made, what with 3D terrain and all, but you never had to mine gold.

  6. Matt` says:

    I could have done with that court martial ability in Age of Empires 2… damn onagers kept throwing rocks at every passing enemy, very often showering my other units liberally with flying masonry in doing so.

    But at least there was the “no attack” stance… that helped

  7. Joe says:

    I take visceral pleasure in Age of Empires (I-III) and Warcraft (I-II) in just mining the entire landscape. I as quickly as possible reduce my enemy to a manageable size, contain them, and then go about the destruction of all that is shiny and resourceful. Honestly at heart I’m fairly green, but seeing a devastated map and knowing that I DID THAT brings an awkward boost to my psyche.

    Edit (hehe, still love the feature): Brandon makes a good point. Myth was fantastic for strategic combat, really making one think how to use their ‘resources’ (read: limited troops) to maximum effect.

  8. Shamus says:

    Brandon: I tried the demo for Myth II back in the day. I saw there was no resource management and for me it was like going to the movie theater for the food.

  9. This is one of the reasons I love Alpha Centauri; by the time you’ve finished setting up your civilization to run a war and designed & built all the units necessary to correctly fight the war, the actual war is almost a formality. Either you built the right army, or you didn’t; there’s some tactical concerns too, but they really pale in comparison to the question of whether you’ve been a good manager.

  10. Tango says:

    Based on your description of what you want, have you tried any of the versions of Travian (US Servers)? Anything involving troops is building them, give them a target, wait for the report. It’s a simple browser game, but it sounds like what you’re looking for. My only advice is to find a server that is just starting, otherwise you’re going to get mined by the people who’ve been on the server since it started and that’s just no fun.

  11. Samuel Erikson says:

    I’m with Joe for Warcraft I & II. I never much cared about the enemy, so much as mining all possible gold, cutting down all the trees, and destroying anything I couldn’t have. Now I’m getting all nostalgic-like.

  12. Nathon says:

    I actually used to play Alpha Centauri like team melee with a bloodthirsty friend of mine. I’d do all the scientific research and pass it along to him. He’d then build a massive war machine to defend us both and conquer the world.

  13. Solka says:

    @ Jeremy Bowers

    What you are talking about, isn’t it what a war really is about?

    @ Shamus

    Ever tried “team play” in a Lan? At JrCollege, me and 7 other guys used the School’s computer to play games while we were all in the same room. 2v2v2v2, but all were “team” player (both player can control the same amount of unit)

    I chosed my teammate well, ’cause he is exactly like you. A logistic wizz, he delivered the units, while I absolutely Rock at managing my unit to harass the other players and conquer them (24 Upgraded Scouts harassment-squad FTW!), as long as they keep coming fresh and I don’t have to think too much about it. We totally owned the game, working as a true team.

    And I LOVE your 3 suggestions. But I hope you have notice that the supply depot are now burrowable, so your units won’t be trapped? (noticed how the crowd applauded at that new? :o) I think all of them were saying “FINALLY”)

  14. Binks says:

    I’m much the same way in my RPG playing. I believe the proper terminology is that people who would rather deal with the logistics than combat are Macro’ers, while combat people are Micro’ers. I would much rather simply develop an economy that’s far beyond my opponent then throw waves of troops at him until he can’t micro them to death any more, that’s how I like to play. One of my friends is the exact opposite, he plays the game for the combat and he loves countering and tricking opposing units. I’ve always found the two styles to be pretty equal. A good Macro’er can beat a decent Micro’er, and visa versa. It’s when you get one of those starcraft pros who can both macro and micro good that you’re in trouble :P.

  15. Deoxy says:

    Shamus – you like tower defense games, don’t you? :-)

    I actually, like both kinds of games (logistics and tactical), but I don’t like them TOGETHER so well. Being able to build construction sites in a battle-field relevant time-frame is just… well, silly.

    As far as which games are best, I’m always preferred Total Annihilation, for the simple reason that it had the best unit controls. You could set units on patrol (of several types), etc. Warcraft II, Starcraft, WCIII, they all seemed lacking after that…

    But they had other nifty things that I liked, too (better graphics, factions that were discrnably different from each other, among other things). Can somebody put those together, please?!?

    For the record, I’ve been playing RTS games since before they coined the name, all the way back to Dune II in the 80s (Command and Conquer was Dune II with a different story line and a bit better graphics – no, I am not exaggerating – and, referring to someone in the other thread, it had a mini-map, so that’s been around since the very, VERY beginning).

  16. Nazgul says:

    I watched about 5 minutes of the demo video yesterday, and to me it seemed that the units involved in combat were still staggeringly stupid. It was painful to watch as the friendly units kept bunching up, even as the narrator at one point tells us that it’s a mistake for the enemy units to do so.

    I liked the older Warcraft and Myth games quite a lot, but for some reason this one just does not appeal to me.

  17. DarthFrodo says:

    I’ve been replaying starcraft recently and I would love anyone of those three options. I derive immense satisfaction from eliminating stupid SCVs from the gene pool when they build themselves in.

  18. Shamus says:

    Deoxy: “Tower defense game” is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s a drug, not a game.

  19. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Shamus, this team play concept they speak of must be tried. I must destroy all and not have to worry about building things of my own.

  20. Burning says:

    I’ve never played Starcraft, and I’m not really hep to the whole RTS scene. I just want to say that the “continuum between the inscrutable and the inane” is possibly my new favorite phrase.

  21. Roleplay says:

    Damn, tower defense. Didn’t you know these sorts of games were spawned by a Starcraft map?

  22. GreyDuck says:

    Dammit. Now I want to go play Age II again.

    I was never particularly good at Starcraft, or the other Blizzard RTS-ish games, but for some reason I can kick all kinds of ass at the AoE games.

    Hmm. My laptop is certainly powerful enough…

  23. Roxysteve says:

    I enjoy the logistics of RTS games (my favourite type BTW)about as much as getting an income tax refund as a result of filing – I do it for the payoff, not for the sake of it. For this long-time serious wargamer (anyone else remember SPI?) the point is the battle to come.

    Nor do I require a huge inventory of units to choose from. I’m quite happy to live with fewer units and accept the shorcomings of them as part of the job to be done.

    My wish list (for, say, Tiberian Sun derived RTS games which I have a soft spot for) would be more and bigger battlefields with better geography, and the ability to instruct the units on how I want them to do their job.

    No, I don’t want to spend time doing stupid digital paperwork like I have to in SM’s Civilization but I would like to tell all the rocket/grenade turrets at the get-go that when a mixed bag of scum comes a-knockin’ at the gates of the base, shoot the tanks first, then the guy with the poxy rifle instead of the other way round. That way the other guy has to work to get inside. I would like to tell my tanks not to bother shooting massed ranks of infantry when they can drive or walk over them for a much higher kill-count, and to shoot at the units that can do them the most damage as a priority rathert than whatever idiocy the AI supplies them with.

    But the biggest challenge facing any RTS game designer (other than making the interface a thing of beauty to use) is to avoid Wonkhammer 401K syndrome, where adding one type of unit suddenly makes the game unwinnable for the other guy. I’m thinking here of the Atreides ornithopter in Emperor:Battle for Dune, or the Sardukar, both of which will eventually be unstoppable in any conflict where cost is no object. The overwhelming win should be the result of tactics rather than access to units per se. In my opinion, for the greatest satisfaction of me.

    But even this unit over-spiffiness-for-the-cost problem could be negated with the ability to tell missile equipped troop types “look, don’t shoot at ground targets when there are aircraft attacking us, and don’t all pick the same bloody aircraft to shoot at, dimwits” or to instruct the spice harvesters to run over any Sardukar that are trying to mess with the harvesting instead of just sitting there getting shot to bits.

    I’ve used Emperor:Battle for Dune as my example, but I’m sure you guys can make my case in any RTS you favour yourselves.

    Interesting thread.


  24. Segev Stormlord says:

    I haven’t read the whole article, nor all the comments yet, so I appologize if I’m repeating something already stated (I’ll read the whole thing later, when I’m not about to run out the door), but it sounds like you, Shamus, would have a blast in team play of Starcraft. One of the options in multiplayer (either vs. players or machines) is to have a “team”, where both of you pick a race, and you both can control each others’ units and have pooled resources. You’d want to team up with somebody who views it as “enduring” the management to get to the fighting, so you could concentrate on the part you like (building the war machine) while he concentrated on the part he likes (using said machine to crush the hopes and dreams of your foes).

  25. wererogue says:

    I don’t mind base management, or combat – what turns me off a strategy game is factories (I realise that knocks out a ton of games).

    I don’t like the unit escalation form of strategy game. I love games like Ground Control, Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy, XCom, even Syndicate – where you set out your units at the start of a level, and then use them to accomplish an objective. You know, strategically.

    The idea that the enemy has this building that continually produces trained people out of nowhere, and that the only way to beat this strategy is to continually “build” my own troops is one of the few that completely breaks suspension of disbelief for me.

    That said, I can forgive starcraft – because when playing the Zerg, I’m *breeding* units – and that’s ok.

  26. Tarous Zars says:

    To date Myth is still my favorite game. It has a great physics engine that allows for a lot of randomness which you don’t find in other games. Sometimes your artillery will throw a dud, which can seriously ruin your strategy. You have to adapt to the changes on the field and you have to do it quickly because you have a very limited supply of units.

    As for Starcraft, my buddies and I still get together every once in a while to have a lan game. Most of the things I wish they would change in the game are regarding AI. I agree with you unit abilities. Nothing is more frustrating than spending a ton of cash on a Battlecruiser, turning your back for 2 seconds, and realizing he just chased a lone mutalisk across the map into the middle of the zerg base.

  27. Cutahlion says:

    In order to play with one person managing resources and another managing combat in Starcraft, do a Team Melee game. This lets all players on a team control the same faction and manage each other’s units and/or divvy up the duties. It also allows for more advanced tactics. Plus, you get up to four different players per team, so you can have a team, for example, of two Terran, one Zerg, and one Protoss. So you get a Terran Command Center, two SCVs, a Drone, and a Probe (or whatever the Protoss builder’s called). Which means you can build every unit and building. Not that makes things interesting. Plus you get 200 pop per teammate.

    In Age of Empires II, you can essentially do the same thing, but with only one “race” per team, by making you and your teammate the same color while setting up. This can be quite nice.

    My brother and I are like some of the people here. I’m a macro-manager: I build a machine which cranks out units that I almost literally just fling at the enemy until the game ends. My brother likes to turtle his base, then ignore it while running around with a few of the more advanced units being all tricky and stuff. So we’d make a pretty good team, me with the base and large-scale army management, him controlling the special units.

    I would like to second (or third, or whatever) Roxysteve’s wish for priorities and instructions for units. I hate having to micromanage my units so that they shoot the dangerous stuff first and don’t all waste their shots on the same enemy! (My brother, on the other hand…)

    I’d like to point out the difference between strategy and tactics. From, the first definition of strategy is “the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.”

    “”Synonyms 1. In military usage, a distinction is made between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, of all of a nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Tactics deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat.

    Therefore what Shamus (and I, to some extent) like is, in fact strategy. I’m afraid those talking about preferring the games where you have only a few units that you must carefully direct are actually talking about tactics. So I guess RTSes are RTSes after all.

  28. John Lopez says:

    The blinding stupidity of units in RTS games means you have to not only manage your economy, but micromanage your troops and fight the AI and pathfinding every step of the way.

    I’m with you: give me a game with the economic building, and leave the battles at home. It is for this reason I enjoy games that have “allow computer to resolve this battle” options such as Sword of the Stars has. I know I take a hit to the effectiveness of my units when I do this, but it makes the rest of the game more enjoyable by far.

  29. Turms says:

    I did hammer Dune II in the olden days… Ah, the pleasure of ambushing enemy Harvester and the panic at the words of ‘Worm Signs!’ Gah! Where is that damn Carryall!?

    The hectic pace of RTS isn’t for me, though. I much prefer the Shogun Total War style: turn-based mangement/strategy, real-time tactical combat. Especially Rome Total Realism is my cup of tea, with its attendant ‘rpg-ish’ elements of personalized family members/governors/generals who gain traits.

    And guess what? It comes with a (albeit poor) automatic combat resolution option. Have you ever given a Total War series a try, Shamus?

  30. bargamer says:

    Shamus, I think you’re a Zerg player. I am too. If you’ve massed enough units of a winning combination, you usually win 90% of the time. How you mass those units is all about resource management. I don’t like to micro, I don’t even know how to “dance” my units. So what I do is, just make a buncha units, and let them duke it out.

  31. JohnW says:

    Total War = best games ever. Well, not counting X-Com.

    Although I can’t get Medieval 2 to play on my PC anymore, dagnabbit!

  32. The Werebear says:

    Gotta second the Total War Series. I can handle all the individual elements of an RTS, provided they remain separate. Total War does that.

    Nothing quite beats the satisfaction of having the assault you have been planning for forty years go off perfectly, resulting in all of your foe’s armies being crushed turn one, their major production centers besieged turn two, and their faction utterly destroyed within 10 turns after that.

    And if you don’t want to, you never have to play an actual battle. You can simply build armies, manage supplies, construction, and diplomacy, and let the computer handle actually fighting individual battles for you. Though, it does tend to place undue emphasis on numbers over quality in autodecisions. Amazing games.

  33. Dillon says:

    I watched about 5 minutes of the demo video yesterday, and to me it seemed that the units involved in combat were still staggeringly stupid. It was painful to watch as the friendly units kept bunching up, even as the narrator at one point tells us that it's a mistake for the enemy units to do so.

    The demo was more to show off the unit abilities than to actually show how a game would go, so a lot of unit actions were setup to show the unit abilities in a more obvious way rather than to show how they would more likely be used.

    (In the banshee example, the marines were probably programmed to bunch up to show the area effect attack much more clearly, and to show that cloaking would allow banshees to wipe out large groups of units that might otherwise have been able to kill them off. It would have been harder ot see these effects with more equally matched groups of banshees and marines.)

  34. Deoxy says:

    Hmm, I think I’ll have to look into Total War.

    And it’s nice to hear that another poster here is as old as I am… Multiple palaces for the win! :-)

  35. Vegedus says:

    Personally, I do enjoy combat, but do not enjoy combat management, which as far as I can tell, isn’t too different from you. Flying in 10 carriers and releasing all their interceptors in a swarm of death is one of the main reasons I play the game. Constantly directing those carriers so they priotice the ranged units, is less epic.

    The thing you talk about with making someone else drive the warmaschine is quite doable if you know someone with the opposite tastes of yourself. Play with that person as an ally in multiplayer, decide before starting the game who handles what, and turn on the “share bases” option and voila.

  36. guy says:

    um, the zerg to need micro. otherwise tanks+firebats+marines/high templar will coat the ground in blood.

  37. Roy says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets annoyed with the unit AI in games. The ability to give units certain attitudes would be of tremendous benefit. For example, I actually want my units to focus their fire at the high threat targets first- concentrate fire to take down units quickly, and move on to the next unit, rather than each unit firing at a seperate enemy. But, when you’ve got ranged units ignoring other ranged units in favor of low-damage melee units? Ugh. Or ignoring the defensive structures that are crushing the ground units in favor of attacking scouts? I’d also like to see units move as a group- just because my arbiter is faster than my carriers doesn’t mean I want it to get to a checkpoint faster than the carriers. What I want is the carriers to cluster tightly around the arbiter and move as a collective unit, to maintain the benefit of the cloaking field. Dur.

  38. Cuthalion says:

    um, the zerg to need micro. otherwise tanks+firebats+marines/high templar will coat the ground in blood.

    If you’re using Zerglings, yes, but by the time they have tanks, I hope you aren’t. Fact is, it takes a lot of tanks to stop 150 hydralisks. And if that happens, it’s time for guardians or something.


    I’m going to second Vegedus here: I wouldn’t bother harvesting resources if there was no violent payoff. I want to see the combat taking place (in my favor) in front of me. I want to manage the tactics a bit (flanking, etc.). What I don’t want is to have to tell individual units to attack specific individual enemies instead of whatever they’re shooting at now. And I want the option of manually casting Psionic Storm, but I DON’T want my High Templars to be useless when I’m not controlling them one by one.

    I play Starcraft instead of Sim City because of the fighting. (And because it’s easier.) I don’t want the fighting to be like playing Sim City.

  39. Very minor Starcraft point–I’ve never had much of a problem with siege tanks being stupid.
    The way to use siege tanks if at all possible is to have at least half a dozen of them in a slightly open, staggered formation, and keep most of them in siege mode at any given time. Leapfrog ’em one or two at a time towards the enemy bases. Any support units you have around (e.g. to clear away enemy air units) will be fine as long as they stay close, because if you have a formation of siege tanks in siege mode nothing, but nothing, gets close enough to melee with your units. Problem doesn’t come up.

    The story of Starcraft is about wimpy humans with kludgy technology and one-shot tricks being able to hold their own against the Protoss’ elegant, powerful technology amost entirely due to the brutal bashing power of siege tanks in siege mode and the ability of battlecruisers’ special weapon to say “Bang! You’re dead!” to practically anything.

  40. Mark says:

    All the aspects of RTS are interesting to me, and even the combination of them is good. The problem is, the timer inexorably ticking down and and the issues constantly arising that need my immediate attention really diminish the enjoyment. I like to take my time when playing a tactical game. In a real-time game, it doesn’t matter how good my strategy is if my opponent can set up a bad but adequate one faster – and they always can.

    I also don’t care for the “fog of war” that most games implement. They make me extremely paranoid. The knowledge that I can’t know how much my enemy knows and I can’t see the enemy unless they’re close enough to kill me is just too stressful. Real wars have intelligence reports that you don’t need to send out and manually coordinate an entire armored division to learn.

    That’s a big part of why I liked Globulation2. I can just say “I need to know what’s going on over here” and it’ll get done, rather than clearing out the queue that I established that’ll keep pumping out soldiers and sending them to the front, build a recon guy, fill the queue back up with soldiers, set ’em up so they’ll automatically head for the front, select the recon guy (unless I accidentally sent him to the front, in which case he’s dead now and start over from Step 1), guide him through the mountains over to that area, and hope that the enemy unit that marches onto the minimap while I’m doing that is harmless.

  41. Andy P says:

    Total War = perfect.


  42. Joe says:

    Just a side note, if anyone knows how to get Myth/Myth 2 running on a modern day pc with xp, could you please email me how? jkpolk at gmail dot com please please please

  43. Phlux says:

    Wererogue: Also, when you’re playing starcraft as Protoss you’re not “building” or “training” zealots, you’re teleporting them from another planet.

  44. thebigkr says:

    I’ll address each ‘unit special abilty (AI WITH IQ!!! ZOMG!)’ on its own in my own satirical and hilarious way.

    Demotion-instead of SCV, i say just bust ’em straight down to civilian, i.e. useless sack of meat. The SCV you mentioned that would wall itself in with a supply depot? yeah, i’m going to bet those were all former battlecruiser captains, once again proving their ineptitude.

    Court Martial-in the case of the siege tank, well, there is no overkill. Technically, all the Terrans are convicts anyways, so dropping a siege shell or two on them is technically doing some good in the universe. As to their punishment, I say eye for an eye. Next time its ganged up on by zerglings, have your other tanks open fire and shoot to kill.

    Darwin Award-actually, the supply depots in SC2 can apparently be sunk into the ground. pretty nifty, imho. But, with idiot units that wander/chase enemy units straight into enemy defenses, consider them ‘scouts’. for scv’s that build themselves into a corner… do siege tanks have an ‘attack ground’ option?

  45. Lord ZYRK says:

    What you’re looking for Shamus is like some people did with TIE Fighter and a friend: pilot|co-pilot. One flies the ship and fires, one controls everything else, like the shields.

  46. Tuck says:

    Have you played Serf City (AKA The Settlers), Shamus? That game is all about resource production and management. Eventually you have to send your knights out to do battle, but you don’t do anything with combat beyond choosing a target enemy building within range.

    But it does have a complicated resource interaction system — you need woodcutters to cut the trees to get logs for the sawmill to cut planks for the builder to build more buildings, but you will also need a stonecutter for some buildings. And once you get into mining you’ll need food for the miners so you’ll need fishermen or farmers and mills, bakers, butchers, etc etc.

  47. Nutter says:

    I do prefer the games that allow you to break apart the combat and management. The X-com series of games for example.

    I enjoy both aspects in many games, but what bugs me in some is that trying to keep an eye on both at times is the most difficult part of the job.

    If you don’t focus on building enough you start to fall behind and then when the rush comes it’s curtains as you simply havn’t got the infrastructure to cope.

    But to get the most of your limit troops you have to be there in the thick of it, commanding every unit to do exactly what is needed.

    With the X-Com series you got to do your management part and then focus on the combat. Although with this style of game the management side is usually simpler (or at least feels that way to me) and thus more play by numbers when you’ve got the system figured out simply because you have time to sit and think about what you’re doing rather than trying to rapidly slap everything you need together in order to surive the next wave.

  48. FlameKiller says:

    I play AoE 2 and 3 and i hate it when the archers i have guarding the wall see a enemy scout and rush out the gate to attack and i have to gather them all before the enemy attacks and finds i have no archers guarding the wall.

    It is also annoying when i tell my soldiers to march through the new hole in the wall and they insist that the wall down by the towers is better and it is in truth at full health and they would all die.

    but i love the enemies dumbness. he sends troops out the gate as i attack and i march through with out a tip to the doorman.

    i admit i always play normal level difficulty. always against a computer. i once chalenged my brother and it was a stalemate. his stone hogging ment he had at least 12 castles and numerus towers. and he walled off his base with towers and castles at reaguler itervuls. but i had a larger army then him so i could beat his attacks.

  49. RedClyde says:

    “What I want is a game that explicitly separates the two parts of the game…base building and combat.”

    Have you ever tried Stronghold 2? There’s a free base building mode with no combat (unless you want to – you can choose to have your city attacked) as well as the normal campaign mode.

  50. Silfir says:

    Total War is absolutely awesome, only Medieval 2 does nothing Rome or Medieval 1 didn’t already do, and it’s a perfect example for needlessly complicated graphics. The only thing Medieval 2 managed to do for me was to make me play the first one again, without all that hanging. (Rome and especially Medieval 2 somehow thought having an awesome-looking strategy map was more important than making it work properly on less than modern machines – in Rome on minimum settings, the strategy map is actually more demanding than a battle!)

    I might reinstall Medieval 2 now that I have a new graphics card… But somehow I don’t feel like it. The risk style map in Medieval 1 meant that you had a reasonable amount of field battles; you only had to assault castles if you really wanted that province badly and quickly. In Medieval 2, 90% of your battles are assaults, mainly because the AI, despite having armies four times the size of yours, leaves their castles defended with a single unit of peasants (It might have gotten better – I haven’t checked back on their patching process. Quick hint: Having more megabytes of patches than a CD-ROM can sustain is not good customer service, it is a sign of having sold a POORLY-MADE, HALF-WORKING, TAKING-A-SHIT-ON-YO-CUSTOMER product!).

    What also was better in Medieval 1 was the automatic resolve option. If you chose it, you knew seeing the result “Well, I could have done it a bit better, but in exchange for saving the twenty minutes it would have taken me it’s fine”. In Rome and Medieval 2, I always felt the game really wanted to punish me for not fighting the battles myself (“I had eight units of knights fighting six units of peasants and I suffered a crushing defeat? What the EFF?”). Which is a crying shame, because it destroyed the game’s chance of being the compelling stand-alone turn-based strategy it was back in Medieval 1 times (seriously – I preferred automatically resolving at least most of my battles simply because I enjoyed the turn-based aspect so much I didn’t want it to be interrupted by twenty minute battles all the time).

    If you like having to fight every single battle apart from the really, really foolproof ones (like having two stacks of Heavy Janissary infantry duke it out with a lone stack of brigands – don’t bring family members with you, they’ll manage to be among your thirty casualties with ease), having all your leaders killed off by inquisitors on a weekly basis, having to micromanage an additional kind of agent every round, and having your reinforcement stack of twenty knights randomly turn rebel on you unless backed by one of your soon-to-be executed family members, take Medieval 2. If you want the same game without most of the annoying stuff just mentioned and with legions instead of knights, take Rome. If you want the best Total War game so far, go back and play the first Medieval.

    Seriously, the only reason I would play Medieval 2 is because of the hotseat option.

  51. Takkelmaggot says:

    As I read this post, the memory of Settlers swelled within me- it was so much fun ordering those guys around, building logistical networks, and absorbing the bad guys through the construction of superior fortifications. Good times. I can’t imagine that Shamus hasn’t played and enjoyed that game already, though.

    It also brings back memories of the good ol’ days of CivII, once I really got it. You can get the rhythm of building and expanding attuned to a point where any protracted conflict is a forgone conclusion.

  52. Gaping_MAW says:

    Ah Shamus, if you like the heavy end of resource management/base building (the macro).. try supreme commander. It is far less about the micro than about the economy. You’ll need a pretty decent rig to run that though.

    Having said that, if combat is the bit you don’t enjoy.. then the kind of game you are asking for boils down to ‘build order and build order efficiency, and there is a skill ceiling encountered a lot earlier if combat micro doesn’t play a part in differentiating players. Low Skill ceilings = boredom :)

  53. Rich says:

    Joe’s got a good point about Age II. My friends and I still play a weekly game of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (essentially Age II with airplanes and ranged infantry), and at least one of us usually ends up running traders back and forth to finance the other players’ armies (the other guys use their own resources on the static defenses to keep out those pesky “other” uniforms). It’s a pretty good way to play the game, especially if everyone’s playing a different civ to get the different team bonuses into play. We usually rotate who gets to do the “rich man’s war” and who gets to play the “poor man’s fight” to keep things interesting.

    As far as the “dumb unit AI” goes, I wholeheartedly agree. I always micromanage my troops’ stances because of it. A team win is always nice, but I don’t consider it a personal victory on top of it unless I’ve got the least loss ratio (preferrably with the best kill ratio, but that’s pretty rare).

  54. Matt P says:

    “I don't mind base management, or combat – what turns me off a strategy game is factories (I realise that knocks out a ton of games).

    I don't like the unit escalation form of strategy game. I love games like Ground Control, Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy, XCom, even Syndicate – where you set out your units at the start of a level, and then use them to accomplish an objective. You know, strategically.

    The idea that the enemy has this building that continually produces trained people out of nowhere, and that the only way to beat this strategy is to continually “build” my own troops is one of the few that completely breaks suspension of disbelief for me.

    That said, I can forgive starcraft – because when playing the Zerg, I'm *breeding* units – and that's ok.”
    This is exactly my feeling. My one problem with suspension of disbelief in games leaves me with very few RTS titles to play. Fortunately they’re all good. Total War, X-Com, Ground Control, Defcon…

  55. Chris Arndt says:

    Star Wars Rebellion is my first and favorite RTS game and it doesn’t have any of that 2d battlefield stuff.

    Ahem. That looks wrong.

    But it allows me to skip battles especially if I know I cannot win.

    I have always wanted to play more games like SWR, only set in different universes with different genres. I love the space battle RTS that isn’t a more or less flat playing field. The problem with the CUBE in SWR is mostly that in order to effectively manage your ships, task forces, and fighter squadrons you need to memorize all the various controls for command and flight coordination.

    But ultimately I never saw a fancy strategy that could compensate for having an inferior fleet.

    Which brings me to Star Trek Armada, which I will tell you about tomorrow.

  56. guy says:

    do not play supreme commander unless you have hours to burn and lots of patience for making the inaccurate attack buildings you need to win the game.

  57. Eric Meyer says:

    You should check out Harvest: Massive Encounter, Shamus. Especially the “Wave” gametype. You can take as long as you like to harvest resources and build the ultimate base defense and then unleash wave after wave of bad guys to see if your plan survives contact with the enemy.

  58. Takkelmaggot says:

    It can be overdone, though. I’m sure some folks remember Total Annihilation: Kingdoms (TA:K) from days of yore. The biggest problem was that defensive tactics generally trumped offensive ones. Secure a few mana wells with power stones, put up your walls, build some long range artillery, and you were secure indefinitely.

  59. The Werebear says:

    @ Silfir

    Look up the Lands to Conquer Mod. It slows the building time on most buildings, and boosts the price. But the diplomacy system is much more stable (other factions don’t break alliance to team up with their mortal enemies to kill you for no reason), the auto resolve works, and your troops go rebel far less. Not to mention it reduces the power of cavalry from “Overbearing and unstoppable” to “Very powerful, but needs support”

  60. Winter says:


    If you’re referring to what i think then i believe that option is also in WC3. You can’t do it in ladder, though, which is kind of a shame.

    For me, i really liked Kohan–not Kohan 2, as i never played it. It’s just a shame the Kohan community killed itself, because it was such a good game.

  61. Mark says:

    It saddens me that even almost a decade after I played my last RTS, the AI of one’s own units in more current games still has not gotten better and that they still suffer from the same problems.

    I can still remember the last time I tried to play AoE, or was it AoE 2? I had built up my village, and had a bunch of archers, men-at-arms, and knights prepared for an attack on a neighboring village. I led them to a clearing that had a clear lane of advance through a wood to the enemy’s village, grouped them, and gave them the attack order with the target being the aforementioned village. I made sure that they all started walking in approximately the correct direction. I figured I had a moment or two before they made contact, and scrolled across the map to deal with a mine (?) that had just run out and had left several workers standing around aimlessly.

    Maybe I took longer than I thought, but the next thing I hear is “we’re under attack!”. I scroll back over to the enemy village. My archers are IN the village engaging in furious hand-to-hand combat with the enemy soldiers, the last of my men-at-arms is dying outside the village to the enemy’s missile fire, and my knights were nowhere to be seen. I eventually found them taking the long way around the woods…

    Yeah, that was it for me.

  62. captain says:

    Ever tried the Earth-series? Good strategy and logistics simulation. Up to the decision on how many resources/Units/etc. can be spared for a specific battlefield.
    Time to burn needed.

    Total War is good, very good. However in order to really have a good game you need days to spend. I liked Rome, because I´m a sucker for ancient military history. And that game is based on fairly decent facts (or very fact-like fiction).

    Some very good tactical-strategic-logistic mix I really enjoyed was the Battle Isle Series. I think it´s by the same guys who did the Settlers. However it´s not RTS.

    Homeworld is good too, but its very quick-paced.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the court-martial rule. However sometimes there may be the need to redirect an artillery strike on to ones own lines; or very, very close.

    In stead of Court-martial at least give me a good batch of orders I can assign to my units. Like with Sudden Strike, Blitzkrieg (try the Kursk-Addon for realism), Ground Contol and Homeworld.

    There´s no need for a fancy special chart of orders. Give me offensive-defensive mode; defend, hold, evade, assault and press attack orders; add basic formations (Ground Control, Blitzkrieg); give me decent automatic target/weapon selection (Blitzkrieg). Now I can call it STRATEGY-game.

    If you really really want to spoil me give me joint weapons operation modes (to some extent realised in Homeworld).

    Oh yeah, nearly forgot: Hearts of Iron 2. This is politics, strategy and logistics. Pure. Complicated. Love it.

  63. Jay says:

    Did noone mention Command and Conquer? My type of game. I liked Nod, especially in the 2nd one, as you could turtle in your little invisible base and build up an unstappable army of. . .whatever, all the while raining rockets down on your enemy.

    Homeworld was good, because not only was resource management vital, but deciding what to build and how many, even how you directed your troops, came back to haunt you, since you had a persistent army. If you were lazy and ineficcient you had a much tougher time in later levels.

    Anyone play Mechcommander, or it’s sequel? chose weapon loads for your mechs, match them with appropriate pilots with matching skills, and then the rest of the game was controlling a handful of units. No reenforcements. No resource gathering. Too fun.


  64. Kaiten says:

    try the “Total Wars” series… the game have a decent individual AI system on all entities in the combat field

  65. ArchU says:

    Dark Reign was always the most complex and difficult strategy game I’d played. The learning curve was quite steep since there were all manner of options for unit control and terrain elevations had a major impact on unit movement – but it was fun! Shame it was a generation behind the times graphically. A 3D engine would have gone a long way in enhancing it, especially considering the terrain elevations.

    I totally and completely agree with Darwin Awards as unit options. That was always the major flaw in the system of using construction units as opposed to the Dune 2-styled Construction Yard…

  66. Bearmug says:

    I would suggest another skill

    “Chewing out by sarge” or “Latrine digging duty” For all the ranged idiots that overkill one target with 99 more incoming (10 siege tanks shooting at same zergling for example).

  67. Ezra says:

    For producing a well-oiled machine, my favorite was Majesty. You rule a kingdom full of heroes, but don’t control them directly; instead, you entice them this way and that with your control of the economy and with rewards for beating up your opponents. Also with Lightning Bolts.

  68. Lupis42 says:

    Shamus… I know commenting on year+ old posts probably isn’t the most effective method of reaching you, but have you looked at a game called “Defense Grid: The Awakening” ever? It is tower defense, but with pretties that even old machines should be able to handle, and some amusing voiceover, and the ability to set aliens on fire by the hundreds. Basically, it’s the part of an RTS where you build the base defenses within budget, and watch them unleash fire, flame, lasers, burning meteors, explosions, and even the occasional not-actually-flame-based death. The more invaders you kill, the more money you get.

  69. LOL. I also find the AI irritating most of the time, even when teaming with them in multiplayer battle.

  70. Philadelphus says:

    Certainly a game with one resource, one race, and one unit would be mind numbing for just about everyone.

    I know, I know, commenting on years-old posts and all that, but this phrase struck me and reminded me of a game called Eufloria (there’s also Eufloria HD, a remastered version with some improvements on Steam). It’s actually pretty close to what you described here, with there being only a total of four different ‘units’ in the game (one of which you can’t control directly, and two of which are very limited [and one of those is non-combat]).

    It’s a rather…different…setting, where you control mobile space-faring seedlings (the most plentiful and main unit) moving between 2D asteroids to claim them for your own. Seedlings can be used to plant trees that grow and produce more seedlings or uncontrollable kamikaze defense seedlings over time, asteroids have different characteristics that affect the attack power, HP, and speed of the seedlings born from them, and in between battles it’s remarkably chill with clouds of ever-moving seedlings orbiting your asteroids and a laid-back minimalist soundtrack. That’s not the greatest description, but it really is a rather different setting for an RTS.

    It’s basically RTS boiled down to almost the bare minimum, and while it can sometimes get a little dull waiting for your seedling army to grow large enough to assault a powerful neighbor, it can still be surprisingly challenging and tricky, especially in the later campaign levels (thankfully, you can also adjust the speed to three different levels to speed through the slow parts).

    I feel that my experience with RTS’s has been somewhat similar to yours: Age of Empires II was the first computer game I’d say I ever really seriously got into, but over time I find them less and less interesting due to the real-time management of so much complexity. I still enjoy Eufloria, though, for the way it captures the spirit and uses the most basic tropes of an RTS without loads and loads of complexity to go along with it. Obviously your mileage may vary, but I figured I’d point it out. Cheers!

  71. Mentor397 says:

    I know I’m a few years late, but as I still play StarCraft from time to time, I totally agree with the SCV one. I mean, I agree with the rest, but the SCV one is the one that annoys me the most. I have the most fun in a StarCraft game playing my own game, typically against AI players, since real people tend to stomp the floor against me. I tend to have a single SCV, or possibly two, building and repairing. I tend to think of him as Ratchet, from early Transformers. Heck, a SCV even looks like Ratchet from early Transformers.

    If I have a build order, it’s because of that SCV, and it annoys me to no end to find out that the barracks I wanted him to build can’t be built because the idiot trapped himself behind some supply depots. Honestly, I think that’s the only reason they allowed them to go underground in SCII.

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