RTS Basics

Being in Three Places at Once

What a mess...but did you build reinforcements?

If you're new to real time strategy, you can quickly find yourself floundering. Its tricky enough to remember where everything is and what all your units, weapons and tech's do, but when you're confronted with managing hundreds of units on a constantly mutating battlefield with limited visibility, it can get very difficult. Your full concentration can be taken up with just moving your units around. Not only do you have to mind your troops on the front lines but also back at home: building an economy, replacing losses, conducting research, extending fortifications and defences, repairing damage, scouting the enemy, and so on. And all at the same time!

Its not unlike balancing twenty spinning plates. The trick is to give each one sufficient attention to keep it going without neglecting the others. A balance has to be found between fiddling around with individual units and factories (otherwise known as micro management) and organizing your overall strategy and production (macro management). Basically you have to prioritise and focus on what you really have to look after, not what you'd like to. Winning in an RTS match sometimes comes down to who doesn't make the first silly mistake or doesn't notice an attack until its too late. Players that can co-ordinate two or three fronts simultaneously will find themselves with a terrific advantage.


Micro is short for micromanagement. In real time strategy games, it's all about the small details in your game, not your overall strategy. Its about maximising your forces' efficiency and effectiveness in a fight. Timing your moves, picking the right units to do the right thing at the right time and at the right place, is basically micro. Multi-tasking fast action in several places at once is part of it. If you can get your head around the details and make use of a bit of practice, then you're rockin'. Its tricky though, sometimes counter-intuitive (e.g. "we had equal forces, but how the hell did he wipe me out with no losses?!") - but, well worth the effort.

Micro is the hardest thing to write about. How does one micro? Err... we-e-ell... You'll be hard pressed to find any guides on the subject as its not something you can't read about. Practice makes perfect. That's an infuriating thing to say to someone trying to get their head around it, but alas, I think its true. This game was designed to be easy to get into, but hard to master. The very worst thing you can do is simply lump your guys in one spot and just let them shoot it out.

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Last reformatted Sun, Aug 3 2003 by Lindsay Fleay