Real Time Strategy

With the release of Supreme Commander and Command & Conquer 3, I’m being reminded that real-time strategy is my favorite genre, by leaps and bounds. There have been many games which have caught my attention, which I have had some fun playing. But I’ve played at least an hour’s worth of Supreme Commander every day for the past week and a half, as well as spending considerable time researching the mod interface.

And I want to design a real time strategy game. Well, no, I want to design many real time strategy games, just to see how they play out. I don’t want to make the perfect game, I just want to explore the space. And it’s unfortunate, because RTS engines are bitches to write. You really wouldn’t think so, but there’s a lot of little things that get in the way. As one example (and there are several), pathfinding is one of those things where you know exactly what to expect, but is incredibly, incredibly hard to get right in code. It’s not that hard to write a pathfinding engine, but it is hard to write one that works like you’d expect. Supreme Commander, state-of-the-art, still doesn’t get it right.

SC has inspired me though. I realized that I don’t really like the action part of those games. I like the real-time nature, I like the pressure, but I don’t like playing individual units. I’m interested in terrain fortification, army composition, the information game, large-scale tactics, and economics. I’m not very good at any of that, but SC has got me learning.

SC is still broken. It quite successfully took the micromanagement out of battles, but unfortunately it forgot to take the micromanagement out of base-building. You can tell a 100 unit land army to attack, and your heavy tanks will automatically go out front, your artillery in back, and your anti-air supporting from various positions, but you still have to tell each of your construction units to build mass extractors on every deposit! Of course I want to build a mass extractor there, stupid! I want to see a game that focuses on eliminating the micro there, too. And I would see one if SC weren’t so hard to mod (the lua code is buggy, undocumented, and silently ignores every error, making it very very hard to debug and experiment).

Okay, enough ranting about SC. It’s a really great game, and I’m just ranting in an uncanny valley because I see so much potential. Its release has opened up a world of possibilities for RTSs that I hadn’t even noticed before.

How can I explore the RTS space without writing an RTS engine? Galactic Flotsam is one way, and there may be many similar approaches. I just watched an episode of Star Trek TNG called “Unnatural Selection”, which got me reading about viruses. I was thinking a game based around cells and reproduction could make an interesting RTS. You could, say, have twelve different players (3 human 9 AI) with your goal simply to maintain a large population. You could manually tweak your DNA, preferring different resources, becoming a parasite, becoming larger or smaller, in addition to being able to generally influence the travelling direction of your cells. It would be an easy engine to write, and would have RTS-like game dynamics (except with a prototype object model rather than a class object model—Javascript instead of Java).

Or I could pick up one of the partial RTS engines that I’ve written over the years. But those are small-scale, good for C&C work-alikes. If I want to make a “serious” (that is, copying the state-of-the-art) RTS, modding SC might be my best bet after all. Realistic, army-based games are interesting to me, but abstract strategy is interesting to me too. I’ve never cared much about context.


1 thought on “Real Time Strategy

  1. Hello Luke,

    Google helped me find I was looking for documentation of the Supreme Commander blueprint files, especially how transports work. I’m using this to populate unit information at the Supreme Commander Wiki at Would you be interested in bringing your knowledge and skill over to that wiki? If you’re interested, feel free to join in and start editing. If you’ve got questions, please post them at my user talk page, -Bob

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