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February Strategy Preview

February 5th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 4 Comments · Preview

Beat the February blahs with one of these upcoming strategy games.

February 2Blitzkrieg 2: Fall of the Reich (Take 2/Nival), City Life: World Edition (Take 2/Monte Cristo)

February 5Genesis Rising: The Universal Crusader (Dreamcatcher/Metamorf)

February 6The Sims Life Stories (EA/Maxis)

February 13Great Invasions (Strategy First/Nobilis)

February 14Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar (Stardock)

February 15Dreamlords (Lockpick Entertainment), Making History: The Calm and the Storm (Strategy First/Muzzy Lane)

February 19War Front: Turning Point (CDV/Digital Reality), UFO: Extraterrestrials (TriSynergy/Chaos Concept)

February 20Supreme Commander (THQ/Gas Powered Games)

February 27Sims 2 Seasons (EA/Maxis)

A lot of titles but not a lot to look forward to. Of course, the GalCiv expansion should be good, and the educational strategy title Making History has been in development for a long time. I’ve also heard some positive rumblings about War Front.

But this is really the month of Supreme Commander – probably one of the most anticipated RTS games that doesn’t have a franchise attached. It’s the de facto sequel to Total Annihilation, so fans of that game are ready to grab it if they haven’t already been playing in the open beta.

A lot of people talk about the problems facing MMOs that are opening in the post WoW explosion. WoW’s numbers are insane and impossible to copy at this point, but indicate that there is a real desire to play games like this. So how do you develop for this audience when everybody – and a much larger everybody than Everquest – is playing in a bright and shiny cartoon world like Azeroth?

A friend has suggested that RTS developers are in a similar bind, only its a design problem and not a market share one. The last two or three years have been great for RTS fans. We’ve had everything from traditional manage thy peon games like Age of Empires III to cinematic epics like Battle for Middle Earth II to the amazing Company of Heroes. They have pushed the limits of what can be sensibly managed in the real time strategic environment and added interesting variations on an old theme. There has been no better time for this type of game. Well received recent titles like Panzer Command and Empire Earth II look like dinosaurs compared to what we have available to us now. The friend wonders if the genre hasn’t plateaued again; that just as there was a spate of innovation early in the genre and now stagnation, whether everything that can be invented has been. At least for now.

I have not played Supreme Commander. (Unless asked, I tend to avoid unfinished games.) But Chris Taylor hasn’t made an RTS in a while. Being a smart guy, I hope he’s been watching what has been going on around him, but many of the most innovative and interesting games have come out while SupCom was in development. So he can’t learn from the lesson of BfME2 that sometimes the illusion of many soldiers is as good as the real thing, or from the lesson of Company of Heroes that making every resource hard to keep ensures that tension is built in from the opening bell.

I never played Total Annihilation either, so when I do go SupComming, it will be in a vacuum. I won’t be able to speak to how it differs from Taylor’s classic game or how it simply repeats what he has done before. This is good, since I won’t spend my time complaining about how it is better/worse than a ten year old scifi game. This is bad, because I won’t be able to see which lessons were learned about RTS design in the decade since the original TA.

As usual, I will have to rely on my learned colleagues to help me out.


4 Comments so far ↓

  • Alan Au

    As a quick primer, TotalA was mostly hailed not for its individual contributions, but for its incorporation of multiple features into a single game: unlimited resources governed by harvesting/maintenance rate, unit veterancy, terrain effects on movement and line-of-sight, 3-D unit models, order queuing while paused, salvage/wreckage recovery, pathfinding (sort of–this is the “tank column across a bridge” problem), wreckage as movement obstacle, the ability for all units to hit all other units (although artillery is not effective as anti-air defense), long-range artillery (across the map, well beyond visual range), etc.

  • JonathanStrange

    There’s a lot to be said for not having too much history with a genre. You can avoid the usual disappointments with the lack of progress in AI, poor pathfinding, generic missions and campaigns. It’ll all be fresh and novel; well not all that fresh or novel, but…you know…somewhat new…

    One problem I have with gaming is that it seems the biggest progress is in graphics – sometimes it feels like the only progress is in graphics. And as gaming troopers, vehicles, and special effects get more realistic looking, I become less willing to overlook their unreal actions: not responding to attacks, being unable to find their way across a battlefield, etc. Remember the first Civilization? We were just so glad that the gameplay was interesting and didn’t mind so much the weird combat results. Now we’re irritated by phalanxes defeating Stealth bombers.

    As for this month’s batch; I like GalCiv2’s expansion and may look further at one of the UFO attempts.

  • Alan

    Indeed, the “franchise history” thing can be problematic, as was the case with the ill-fated “Total Annihilation: Kingdoms” spin-off.

  • Krupo

    Having said that, I recall that I actually played TA:K and had a pretty good time with it, although hunting down the last enemy little camp had its ups and downs.