Real time strategy games -- why not?

I frankly don’t care if I “excel” at them or not. I play play games for the sheer enjoyment of playing them.

I like Real-time games. And I like Strategy games. But somewhere in the mix between them the RTS genre seems to drain all the fun out of the concept.

I like strategy and battles. I love strategy and battles. But I hate base management. Plain and simple. Base management in an RTS is like planning grand strategy with a chess clock ticking away. I want time to think about my moves. Do I want to build that, or should I build that instead. In an RTS I don’t have time to think about what I want to do because when I stop to think the other guy (or the ai) is building units en masse and ends up overwhelming me.

I prefer to outhink my opponents rather than outpacing them.

And to answer Gene, I play games for fun in my spare time. I do not generally try to excel at them, since that would be work. It’s like sports. You can do it for fun up to a certain skill level but after that it requires work and lots and lots of practice (and time) to improve. Of course it can be still fun work, but it is still work.

You need autistic space-mutant levels of concentration. Using AOM as the example, you should be building vilalgers and sending them to work virtually all fucking game. Against a good player, forgetting to churn out the econ bastards for longer than a minute is a death sentence.

The metagame of rushing is annoying. Basically, rushes defeat power econ, mixed defeats rushing, and power econ defeates mixed.

They’re fun and all; after a bit of playing, a decent gamer can always have a fun game against friend. Online, though, it’s just teeth grinding; I swear I’ve lost games because I got to the classical age 30 seconds late.

I dont think RTS games are really strategy games, thats the main reason I dont like them. I feel they are action games. Some of them are fun, but I like strategy games better than action games.


Too much saminess. I sometimes feel as though I’m playing the same game over and over again.

I guess what I want is a “dynamic” game, with a huge, continuous world to conquer or defend, the freedom to do it as I please and an enemy who responds intelligently. A sequel to Warzone 2100, in a sense. (I wish Pumpkin Studos was still around to make it.)


I think this is part of how I feel about RTS games–too many of them are simply about building and rushing. To get off-track somewhat, a larger problem with RTS games is that they’re such a popular and competitive kind of game, yet the only thing RTS developers seem to be able to do is add more and more layers of complexity to their latest games in hopes that their game will turn out to be “the next Starcraft” (or whatever).

The end result is a popular but crowded genre with very little ease of entry for beginners…which just helps deliver prospective PC game players into the hands of those darned video game consoles.

It’s interesting to match wits and skills with someone else for whom the game is second nature. Naturally the more complex they are the more time and effort is required to attain that level of familiarity with the mechanics, but the payoff can be exponentially bigger because with a good design mildly more complex means so much more is possible strategicly and tacticly. Action Chess!

I hardcored AoC for maybe 6 months and loved it. got really wraped up in the whole “competitive gaming” stuff and really working to get to a high level of play et etc. but i also had a busted leg and nothing much better to do. I finally quit AoC once i got near that high level and realized there was nothing new to do, it had been “broken”.

Then once aom came out i no longer had a busted leg or the time to waste so as to become competitve at it. and aom is only fun in competitive games. I never even played the sp side of aom. I doubt i will ever buy a rts in the aom genre ever again. the design is just too flawed, so that there is very little creativity or actual strategy and victory is rewarded to micromanaging and to he who dumped the most hours into practicing the same mindless tasks…

I really find it hard to enjoy the WarCraft type harvest, build and rush RTS games these days… Often they become more about memorising a specific build order and then executing it as fast as possible and less about the actual strategies of battle (or maybe they do require their own strategy - but if so then it’s not one I am interesting in). What I look for is being able to put my strategic and tactical knowledge to the test in proper battles between opposing armies, not creating farms and barracks and then sending out groups of 12 men to rush at the enemy base. I want to feel like I’m actually a general.

When I think RTS I think Shogun or Medieval: Total War… That’s what I want. Are there any other RTS games that have tactical battles comparable to the Total War series? Because I’ve discovered that they suit me perfectly and I much prefer them to the generic Warcraft or C&C games.[/b]

All the reasons that have been listed here is a prime reason why single-play is still important in these games. That is also one of the reasons why I believe WarCraft III is a mediocre game. They have designed it from the ground up as a multiplay game.

They’re definitely strategy games: the tradeoffs between unit types and production strategies are fiendish. It’s just tied to the heart-attack clickclickclick realtime nature.

It’s interesting how much this sentiment is applied to real-time strategy games and not to first-person shooters or role-playing games. It’s now being mentioned about massively multiplayer games.

Are the mechanics and exploration aspects of the average FPS that much more interesting?

This is an interesting point, and a valid one, I think. I have no problem at all with abstraction in games. Some of my favorite games are very abstract–Fantasy General, for instance, which features icons moving around on a grid of hexes, doesn’t bother me at all in this respect.

I think the difference with RTS games is that they present abstract elements (soldiers that are almost as large as the buildings that they live in, warring nations that are geographically located a few hundred yards away from each other) in a highly realistic way–realistically (and now often in 3D) rendered in a convincing environment. We take it for granted that the icons and hexes in Fantasy General are meant to represent something else–armies moving through varying types of terrain. Your army isn’t actually the one soldier on horseback (or whatever) displayed on the icon.

RTS games, generally speaking, present themselves so convincingly that it doesn’t feel like the images on the screen are meant to represent something else, and it feels strange when something that looks like a realistic simulation deviates from literal reality.

It’s interesting how much this sentiment is applied to real-time strategy games and not to first-person shooters or role-playing games. It’s now being mentioned about massively multiplayer games.

Are the mechanics and exploration aspects of the average FPS that much more interesting?[/quote]

The comment wasn’t intended to imply other genres are any better off; it was just the topic here. I’d say much the same thing about any other gaming genre: Innovation in game design is rare, period.


It’s interesting how much this sentiment is applied to real-time strategy games and not to first-person shooters or role-playing games. It’s now being mentioned about massively multiplayer games.

Are the mechanics and exploration aspects of the average FPS that much more interesting?[/quote]

Mechanically? Not usually. But exploration can sustain a game all on its own, if the environments are interesting enough. That’s one thing that makes the solo campaigns in RTS games more entertaining, I’d argue–they often have a strong element of exploration. Warcraft III certainly focused on this, and the multiplayer mode suffered for the lack of it.

With strategy games in general, however, I’d gladly trade scripted exploration for a dynamic metagame. I think that it’s unfortunate that the strategy genre has gone so heavily in the direction of scripted mission structures. It might not have voice acting and cut scenes, but I’d take X-Com over Warcraft any day of the week.

I thought this line by Erik was worth repeating in case y’all missed it.

I caught it. I was amused.


RTS games, generally speaking, present themselves so convincingly that it doesn’t feel like the images on the screen are meant to represent something else, and it feels strange when something that looks like a realistic simulation deviates from literal reality.[/quote]

That’s a very big part of it, definitely, but it’s also the pacing and the design. I like sitting back and being a King, commander or squad leader and games that support my conceits by creating systems that reinforce that role will always please me more than games that by design are constantly reminding me that I’m in a game environment.

In a generic RTS, I’m spinning around and micromanaging all sorts of activities in a frenetic rush to gather resources, build infrastructure and field some kind of force against my foe and react to him as quickly as I can. There may be different twists on this theme but that’s essentially it. It’s a great premise for a game but not really representative of any subject that’s interesting for its own sake.

Compare this to a game like Combat Mission in which I’m thinking through tactical considerations very much like a real commander might and dealing with consequences that jibe with my understanding of the reality of the conflict being modelled. In fact, that there is a real world basis for good combat simulations also attracts me as I try out tactics and methods I might have read about elsewhere - and the subject matter is inherently interesting.

Compare an Age of Kings to Medieval: Total War - for me there’s no contest. In the former I’m building insta-settlements and sending out roving troops to raid and pillage. In the latter we see provinces developing over decades, some diplomatic and espionage options, armies gradually gaining strength and experience, and identifiable leaders with noteworthy traits. Tactical combat does reward real world assumptions. Not only graphically with the great cinematic battles with hundreds of combatants but tactically - factoring in fatigue, weather, elevation, morale, leadership, flanking, pushback, maneuvering, formations and many different unit types with a slew of attributes associated with each. That’s an immersive environment, to me, and one I can care about. It suspends my disbelief.

I can even bring in fantasy games as examples - King of Dragon Pass does a remarkable job bringing a fictional culture to life and setting in motion plausible events and complications. Diplomacy, exploration, trade, war, clan leaders, lingering special events, ritual sorcery, religion, internal politics and more make life interesting and in ways that let me enjoy the unfolding, dynamic, narrative. It’s not just a shoot-em-up however fancily dressed.

There’s nothing wrong with shoot-em-up RTS games, in fact I’m pretty impressed with some of them but more as an observer than a participant. I’m just much more interested in believable settings I can enjoy as they challenge me rather than feeling rushed through a series of repetative processes in a world that’s quite beyond belief or care.

Click-click-clickety-click-click. I hate the constant clicking under time pressure. Basically, the same reason I despise arcade games.

I’m glad to see other folks have some of the same reasons for disliking these games as I do.

Most of my dislike is just a personal preference about the scope of games. I’ve never liked strategic-level games. In the days of cardboard counters, I played lots of Squad Leader, but I didn’t care to play any Third Reich. I used to think that RTS was a misnomer because the games focused on tactical-level fighting. Now I understand that there are virtually no tactical decisions made in most RTS games, all of the important decisions are made on a production/strategy level.

Another significant problem for me is the hitpoint-oriented combat models. There is no way to kill a unit other than chipping away at it. This leads to just ramping up production, cranking out a ton of units, selecting them & clicking on a target. Now sit back and watch as your pile of hitpoints erode itself against the enemy pile. First one to completely erode loses. I’ll be over here taking a nap.

A more specific example. Let’s say a powerful combat unit, an ogre or a hero or something, is coming toward a pair of crossbowmen in Age of Conquering Legends (tm by me). The crossbowmen are going to lose. They may chip a few of the ogre’s hitpoints off before it can kill them, but they have no realistic chance of winning the battle. They won’t get a lucky shot in its eye, they can’t hide from it, they can’t bait it toward one while the other shoots it in the back. The strategic decisions on what to construct and where to place it already determined the outcome of the fight, so the tactics don’t matter.

On the other hand, tactics play a role and allow different outcomes in something purely tactical like Combat Mission. When a powerful unit like a Tiger tank approaches a pair of infantry squads, or a pair of bazooka teams, they have a reasonable chance to fight and kill it if they employ proper tactics. As opposed to our doomed crossbowmen, one bazooka team could draw the Tiger’s attention while the other fires a killing shot into the rear armor. The infantry squads could seek favorable terrain to hide until the Tiger is nearby, then close assault it and immobilize it, causing the crew to break and abandon the vehicle. Drag selecting the bazooka teams and ordering them to attack the Tiger will probably doom them as much as the crossbowmen, but it is not the player’s only alternative.

I think the roshambo aspects of games are unavoidable, but in RTS games they are too simplistic for my tastes. In Red Alert 2, I pick the Koreans and build the super-duper fighter jets. My opponent sees I have the Koreans and builds a pile of AA guns. I lose! Despite the promise of elite pilots in the finest jets, I don’t get to try to avoid the guns by flying high or nape-of-the-earth, I don’t have Wild Weasels along to jam the guns’ radar, I don’t have precision munitions for the first wave to knock out the AA sites. Rock beats scissors, game over, and again the strategy of unit construction rules the day.

Resource harvesting is just more strategic emphasis, but also gives me a chore-like feeling. I’m waiting for a house-themed RTS, where I get to select occupants and order them to do the dishes, take out the trash, and mow the law before the Mother-in-Law arrives for the big battle. I have another idea to combine the old Track & Field arcade game and Warcraft. You would just furiously pound on the buttons for a set time, being awarded one point per button press. When time is up, you use your points to buy units, and have at it. If that is too simplistic, how about a period where colored squares appear on the screen, and the points go to the first person to click on them? It doesn’t seem that much different to me from strategically determining the winner of a game through all of the production-oriented mouse clicking.

This contributes to my “roshambo in a blender” complaints. To create variations in game play from the previous RTS game, the designers will create their own heirarchy of units, and that heirarchy may defy common knowledge. You should have seen the look on my face the first time I watched a single guard dog tear through half-a-dozen of my assualt rifle-armed soldiers in RA2. It’s a dog! They have machine guns!

I am fully aware that lots of other people like the production aspects of these games. That’s fine, have at it. I’m not demanding they be removed from the market, I’m just not going to play. Besides, I think I have just as much fun heckling people who are playing. “Pro smegma? No, I’m anti-smegma, actually. It’s nasty stuff.”