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GameGuy: The “Real Time Strategy” Edition
By Mark H. Walker
one gave me a crystal ball, but I do have a couple of RTS titles worth of
experience. Perhaps enough to answer the question du jour: What’s the future of
I saw my good friend RTS the other day. He was hunched in front of his monitor
lassoing troops, building hundreds of tanks, and looking downright bored. You
know what I said?
need to get out more.
he does, RTS has a bright, bronzed skin, stud-muffin kind of future. If he doesn’t,
he’ll end up looking like the pasty-faced folks I saw at E3. Here’s why.
game developers are spending way too much time looking at themselves in the
mirror. To make their games better,
they study RTS titles past, present --and when they can get their hands on
them-- future. That’s fine, but it’s not the key to that stud-muffin destiny.
any publishers reading this please note that the following things are not, I
repeat (as the Hollywood military types say) NOT, innovation: Better graphics,
thousands of units, improved interface, more detail, lame-assed –“Well my
brother said he could write a little”—stories, and three hours of poorly acted
and its first cousin, inspiration, can be found anywhere --books, movies, Sarah
Michelle Gellar-- but perhaps the easiest inspiration can be found in other
gaming genres. The key to real-times strategy's future is the intelligent
cross-pollination of genres. Not only does cross-pollination breed good games,
but strong sales. It's not surprising, produce a RTS with strong role-playing
elements and you not only bag the strategy crowd, but role-players as well. No
news there, but it seems a difficult point for developers to grasp.
folks, like Sweden's Massive Entertainment, got the message. Their "Ground
Control" is THE FIRST RTS science fiction game to employ honest by-God
military tactics. (Gamer's note, baiting an AI opponent or swamping a defense
with Zerglings aren't tactics, merely gimmicks.) Massive dug deeply into
turn-based war gaming archives to pull out several features --such as differing
armor thickness on tank's front and sides, the ability to hide troops in tall
grass, and the importance of combined arms-- and inserted them into smack dab
into the middle of Ground Control. The result is an engaging game that
challenges the brain as well as the click-finger, and attracts RTS folks AND
genre-mixing RTS is Chris Taylor’s Dungeon
Siege. Hell, most people would argue if it even is an RTS or rather a
role-playing game. Any game that breeds THAT type of argument is also sure to
breed cross-genre sales. Role-playing gamers have long battled through the next
quest, level, or room, not because of cool spell affects, high polygon count or
3-D terrain, but because they care about the characters they control. Dungeon Siege provides eight of those
characters. Characters that battles RTS-like hordes of monsters. So, to
paraphrase the Osmonds, it’s a little bit RPG and a little bit RTS.
games are the third genre that has a lot to offer real-time strategy. Battlezone, Battlezone II, have shown
promise and solid sales. But not until Operation
Flashpoint did the action-strategy vein produce a blockbuster hit that
unleashed the forces of gaming (and the attendant developer's bucks). Make no
mistake, a real-time strategy title that puts gamers *in* the shoes of the
forces they command will one day make mega-bucks.
if genre inspired innovation is the wave of the future, what **won't** work in
the days to come? I think production-based RTS has reached its high-water mark.
Folks are tired of building factories. They want to fight. Even games with
production based systems --such as the Age
of Empires II: The Conquerors-- often downplay resource gathering.
Nauseating detail and battlefields choked with hundreds of units are also
passé. You think Warcraft III will
put hundreds of warriors on the field or concentrate on making the warriors you
control interesting? Both detail and tank hordes fall under the heading of
what-use-is-it-if-the-game-moves-to-quickly-to-enjoy-it? Of course everything
is going 3-D, but that's not innovation, merely the current price of admission
into the gaming world.
time strategy is at a crossroads. Those developers who back away from the
mirror and walk into the sunshine of genre-inspired innovation will become the
bronzed-gaming gods of the future, their titles bought by not only strategy
gamers, but action, role-playing, and wargaming aficionados as well. On the other hand, those churning out the
games whose claim to fame is "stunning 3-D graphics" or "control
thousands of uniquely animated units," are doomed to sink into the dusty
depths of discount bins, only sought by the pasty-faced, gaming hard core.
© Mark H. Walker, LLC 2001
H. Walker is a veteran interactive entertainment journalist who has written
over 40 books including his recently released Medal of Honor and Wizardry 8
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