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The Glowing Circles of Destiny

September 17th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · RTS

Warfare is, ultimately, about area control. You need to seize and hold specific regions and kill anything that prevents you from keeping them. Tactics will decide how you go about taking control and exercising your material influence in a given zone.

So why do RTS games insist on glowing circle of destiny? Whether it’s moving a unit to the final spot in a scenario or capturing a flag, “x marks the spot” is the prevailing design meme.

I’m playing World in Conflict‘s campaign at the moment and it’s pretty good for what it is. It does a good job of giving you reasons to be where you are, though the interpersonal dramas are not very interesting. I don’t care that Lt. Plotpoint needs to get money home to his mom, or that Col. Hardass and Cpt. Goofus have issues. The narration is good at communicating the panic that would certainly follow a surprise Soviet invasion, and the opening couple of missions are excellent retreat and regroup missions; overwhelming force is not an option.

Objective points are marked by linked circles. You seize them and machine gun nests are then built to protect them, and/or you move on to the next circles. But if I am holding all the surrounding buildings and have eliminated all immediate threats to my position, why do I need to be in the circles for things to move forward? Even more ludicrous, objective point fortifications are built faster if I cram more units into the circle. So even if it makes no tactical sense for me to stick my demolition guy out in the open where he could be sniped or to mass all my light armor in a clump where an artillery strike could neuter me, the game’s vision of objective control rewards this insanity with faster machine gun support.

It gets sillier. An early mission in the campaign requires you to take control of a gas station. Naturally, there are objective circles around the station. But you can destroy the gas station if you want – all you need are the objective points. Then, I assume, the game guesses that you have what you are supposed to have.

Now, I’m no computer coding genius, but is this reliance on glowing circles technologically necessary? Of course, you have to mark control of areas one way or another, but this isn’t a situation like Civ or Company of Heroes where control of the tiles or resource points have direct consequences in planning.

Objective points like this do contribute to transparency. It is immediately clear what needs to be done. And clarity is essential in games that can have a lot going on. But when a game as warlike as World in Conflict uses the glowing circles it feels a little off to me.

Not that I have many better ideas. Zone control could be done, with the zones marked on the minimap – eliminate all enemies in the area to take control. Maybe some sort of radius of control around an objective instead of the circles.


One Comment so far ↓

  • Bruce

    Linking the rate of building defensive structures around objectives with the number of units in the objective circle gives you a clear choice: do you hold back and fortify your objective or do you push on with those units and leave the objective vulnerable. This works very well in skirmish mode, which is what the game is all about. That single-player campaign is just tacked on.