Flash of Steel header image 2

How Can I Miss You If You Never Leave?

April 2nd, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 14 Comments · RTS

The once-trendy “real-time strategy” (RTS) genre — popularized in the late ’90s with games such as “Blizzard’s Starcraft” and Electronic Arts’ “Command and Conquer” — is poised for its long-overdue comeback.

So says the venerable Marc Saltzman over at CNN in his review of Supreme Commander. Apparently two old fashioned RTS games (SupCom and Command & Conquer 3) are going to restore the genre to the trendy side of the street. This may not be the silliest thing ever written about RTSes, but it’s pretty close. Comeback? Where have they been?

From the opening paragraph, I gather that Saltzman doesn’t play many PC games anymore. If he did, he would notice that the RTS is by far the heaviest hitter in the strategy genre and probably the dominant genre that can’t be easily found on consoles. Somehow he works in a reference to World in Conflict, a Sierra RTS with not a lot of buzz behind it but ignores the fact that last year’s Company of Heroes was the number one or two PC game for almost everyone in 2006.

He ignores that in the many years since Total Annhilation and Command & Conquer ruled the roost, the RTS has spun out into a wide ranging subgenre with titles that emphasize micromanaging particular units, macro economic issues, story telling, role playing or just big explosions. There is no acknowledgement of the great work still done by Ensemble in its forte (peaking, in my opinion, with Age of Mythology) or the substantial talents at Big Huge Games, who decided not to do a Rise of Nations II because they thought a fantastical world like the one in Rise of Legends would be more interesting. The aforementioned Company of Heroes was developed by Relic, the makers of Dawn of War – another success story. Then you have the ten dozen Eastern European RTS makers who churn out variation after variation on the battlefields of World War 2, some good, some not.

Marc Saltzman is too smart a guy to not know some of this. The “comeback” of the RTS is a non-story. Even if a comeback was needed why would you put hope in a hardcore ballbusting game like Supreme Commander?


14 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave Long

    That’s a really lame opening paragraph, mainly because as you say, it’s totally not true.

    Age of Empires and Age of Mythology at the very least have kept RTS on top of the sales charts for the last ten years, since Starcraft and Total Annihilation were still new.

    But that’s just pointing out the obvious… as you note, there are piles of others that have come and gone in between, many of which sold as well or better than the likes of Total Annihilation especially.

  • GyRo567

    Intelligent ignorance is perhaps the blindest of all ironies. (…) (I’m really not sure what that means, but I’ll feign stupidity so I don’t feel stupid…?_?…)

    Furthermore, the Command & Conquer name itself has been very consistently alive all these years.

    There have even been movie franchises in the genre, with multiple Star Wars & Lord of the Rings RTS games, with varying degrees of success & failure.

    Not that I’ve really played any of them since Red Alert 2, but I’m very much aware of them.

  • Alan

    I suppose he could be talking about a “comeback” of the RTS-frenzy that spawned wave after wave of cheesy, half-baked RTS knock-offs. Of course, that’s not something I’d brag about.

  • gatmog

    I hate to disappoint you, but…Saltzman isn’t exactly a paragon of game journalism based on some of the other stuff I’ve read by him (appearing in the likes of PC Gamer and other assorted pubs).

    Catering to the CNN audience that doesn’t know any better, perhaps? It’s surprisingly contrary to the quality of the business-side coverage they’ve been doing about games.

  • Troy

    Saltzman’s been around forever, though, so I have little doubt that he is a serious gamer for actually knows what is released year after year. And appearing in PCGamer isn’t a strike; Andy Mahood and Desslock write for PCG and are near top the top of their respective fields (sims and RPGs).

    Saltzman has been more of a mainstream consumer writer, it’s true. His work has been found in Playboy and USA Today, for example. But that doesn’t mean he has to be so clueless.

  • Natus

    Bravo, Troy! Especially with the nod to AoM.

  • XPav

    Could the CNN editorial process have munged the article into something unintended?

  • Krupo

    Hmm, the comment I tried to post seems to be stuck?

  • Krupo

    Yup… was going to say I remember reading Marc’s articles in “Toronto Computes!” … followed by a rant about the AI in C&C:TW… :)

  • Krupo

    Perhaps it was too long a comment. An abbreviated version – some things in the game are ridiculous (but the dumb exploit is, nevertheless, kinda fun even though it’s cheap):

    1. GDI attacks NOD base with steady stream of troops
    2. NOD (me) builds meat-grinder defence of defence turrets
    3. Defence requires absolutely no attention – perhaps a sporadic repair command.

  • Krupo

    4. call in a few commandos (Shadow teams) supported by Venom gunships
    5. fly around poorly defended minor base. use commandos to demolish power plants
    6. while waiting for demo-pack ability to recharge, watch with amusement as GDI troops pour out of weapons factory and barracks, ignoring commandos 2 or 3 building-lengths away, marching into meat-grinder instead
    7. rinse-repeat

    Did I mention this was on hard difficulty? :)

  • Alan

    Yeah, from that description, it sounds like Westwo… er, EALA is up to their old tricks again, which is to say it sounds a lot like they slapped a new coat of paint onto a 10 year-old game.

  • GyRo567

    Still, despite not having any real substance, the quickly tiring clickfest is extremely satisfying for about two days every year. Except when I lose. Then I wonder where all the strategy has gone.

  • Krupo

    Although the exploit I identified was lame, the cheesy/terrific storyline is still great – I always argued the original C&C had one of the more original/interesting narratives out of the 90’s computer games. Yes, it’s not high literature, but it’s really good quality for the genre – perhaps at this stage of its development. The way the original C&C drew you in with the one-on-one videos? They got that feeling here. I like that.

    Yeah, the gaming is simplistic in some ways, but it’s still satisfying just like nachos and dip can be. ;)