Sunday, May 13, 2012

RTS UI Philosophy

When I get to talking about RTS games with either fans or other people in the industry they often ask me what my favorite RTS is.  Now the first one that I put any real time into was the original C&C which was just a genius of a game.  But C&C suffered from the same issue as Warcraft and it's successors.  That issue is simply that the interface is designed to be part of the game experience.  Micro play and control of individual units is commonplace in these games and the emphasis is more on tactics that huge armies.  Limitations on numbers of units selected create a command and control scaling problem.  I've heard designers of these games talk about these issues and most of them consider the UI to be part of the game itself.  They want to limit what the players strategic options are by making the UI more difficult to use in some cases.

To me this is the fundamental difference between games like TA and SupCom and most other RTS games.  The philosophy is to make the interface as powerful as possible so that the player can concentrate on strategy, not on having to quickly hit buttons.  Micro is discouraged by giving the player the ability to automate control as much as possible.  Huge battles are only possible if you can actually control huge numbers of units.  Things like factor queue automation, automatic orders when units are built, automatically ferrying carriers, sharing queues between factories and all kind of other things made it into SupCom.  Shift-click in TA was the original simple version of all this stuff and by itself was pretty powerful.

Now that's not the only difference but I think this is one of the major things that differentiates these games from one another.   I want huge fucking battles!  Let me build 10,000 units and throw them against the enemies buzzsaw!

Anyway I've been thinking a lot about RTS stuff lately now that Super Monday Night Combat is out.  I have some very specific ideas about what the next generation of RTS looks like that I would like to put into motion.  More on that later...


  1. Do you think that the huge fucking battles will become more common in RTS games as processing power increases? It seems like that's going to be a wall that you run into if you want ten thousand units fighting each other - but at least it's a wall that is slowly crumbling with each passing year.

  2. Only if people choose to make games like that. Most RTS games have been going with more of a single unit design (e.g. dota).

  3. I mean, games like Super Monday Night Combat and League of Legends and DOTA are a whole different genre, with part of its roots in RTS. RTS have evolved from the old days of Warcraft and C&C, to games like Total War and Civilization, but its not a complete evolution. Classical style RTS games are still going on, mostly Starcraft II, but I believe that Age of Empires II will always be the prime example of a really good RTS. In Age of Empires, the armies never get too big, and you can mod the population limit in AOE2 which is practically invisible when it comes to using PC resources on modern day machines, and you can have gigantic armies if you so choose. But it just doesn't feel right, its too big than the game wants to be.

  4. The problem with this idea in SupCom, was that the two basic units were artillery bots vs laser bots. If the laser bots were micro'ed (where performing unwieldy UI juggling becomes a majorly important skill in the game), then they suddenly became super effective against the artillery bots, instead of balanced, and thus the player who's coordinating their large scale strategy is still worse off than the player who can also UI juggle...

  5. Thats a great point Action Man. Perhaps they could automate such functionality, call it 'evasive attack' or somesuch.

    I think the micro also has the effect of making a player feel that they are having a tangible effect on the battles, so its not just a numbers/ or tech affair.

    Micro, if not overwhelming, like in a MOBA game or something like DawnofWar2 can be really immersive for the player. But obviously you couldnt effectively control 10,000 DOW2 troops, let alone 10k LoL champions.

    Id be surprised if PA had no game-affecting micro, but id hope that the rest of my bases troops could effectively handle themselves while i was doing it.