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More on Halo Wars

November 18th, 2008 by Troy Goodfellow · 6 Comments · Crispy Gamer, Design, Ensemble, Preview, RTS

Dan Hsu has an interview with Dave Pottinger and Graeme Devine at Crispy Gamer. It has the now standard “yeah it sucked but we’re going forward” non-comment on the closing of Ensemble, but, most importantly, lots of juicy bits about the upcoming console RTS Halo Wars.

Devine adds this bit of development chronology that I’m not sure I knew:

We didn’t start this game off as a Halo game. We started off wanting to make a console RTS experience. We spent the first 12 to 18 months just on that, with no [intellectual property] … there was no concept of it being a Halo game. In fact, we started off with the Age of Mythology engine. Microsoft saw what we were working on and asked if they could use it [for Halo], and of course we said yes.

Ensemble had said earlier that they had done an AoM console interface as a proof of concept, but I had no idea that they had worked for over a year on a game with no IP attached. That suggests that the studio was already well along in cracking the console RTS nut before they got the Halo Wars project. Still, they’ve already missed at least one target, presumably because they realized that Spartans don’t chop wood.

Pottinger says:

On the PC, I could put my buildings anywhere, and some people thought that was important to the strategy aspect. And you know what? It’s not. The choice is to make the building

I’m not sure I entirely agree with this, but his general point is sound. If I’ve decided to go naval in Age of Empires III, I will need to build a dock. Where the dock goes isn’t that important. When I choose to build a mill is more important than where.

But placement can matter, especially in games that have durable structures or maps that have chokepoints. In Age III, for example, many native American tribes have buildings that can defend themselves – barracks and even houses. There is no “Will I build I barracks?” decision that has any uncertainty, but knowing how close you can build to the friend and whether or not you can use a structure offensively can be significant.

Still three months till Halo Wars arrives, so there will more Ensemble updates to come.


6 Comments so far ↓

  • James Allen

    I guess making proximity matter is key to making placement matter, at least for non-defensive structures. Perimeter was pretty good at this, I seem to remember.

  • luke

    Related to Pottinger’s disheartening build anywhere comment – and I thought you might know, Troy, with your past hands on time and interest in the game – what draws the player out onto the map in Halo Wars? In Relic RTSs, it’s control points. In AoE 3/Warcraft/Starcraft, it’s expanding and hunting for more resources. These design features make territory across the map matter. For comparisson, Halo Wars gives each player a single base and some quick-collect resources spread around the map to grab at the beginning, right? So it sounds like every match, especially 1v1, will rapidly devolve into base-to-base whack-a-mole. If true, then that is incredibly regressive. I can hardly believe it took Ensemble 4 1/2 years to get to such a low point.

  • Alan Au

    One of the things I never mastered with StarCraft was the art of building placement, where Terran supply depots and barracks were regularly used to seal off chokepoints. That’s maybe an extreme example, but even the Age games made building placement important if you wanted to optimize resource collection rates. Then there’s the whole thing about placing a forward base, allowing for the production of troops behind your opponent’s front line. Last but not least, there are walls and towers to consider. I’m not sure why Dave would suggest that placement of structures isn’t important.

  • Troy

    what draws the player out onto the map in Halo Wars?

    My experience is limited to a play session at E3, so things might have changed but…

    Halo Wars is similar to Age of Mythology in one central respect – bases can only be built at specific locations. So, seizing these spots is essential in securing more resources and victory.

    Also, since it is a fast console game, the maps are smaller than you would typically find in an RTS. Though exploration matters, it’s not the core mechanic that you would find in other Ensemble games where you are seeking out relics or animal herds or treasure.

  • Jon Shafer

    While I also agree that base placement does have some strategic role to play in most RTS games, I would say that if I were designing one for a console this would be one of the first things to go. The rules of what you can and can’t get away with are just different on consoles.


  • Troy

    Absolutely, Jon. I think the failure of the PC to console RTS ports demonstrates that you have neither the tools or the situational awareness for tactical building placement in a console RTS as conventionally understood. I am in no way indicting Pottinger’s decision re Halo Wars.

    But the idea that placement in general doesn’t matter that much is debatable at least.