The RTSC Games List


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MMORTS Games
a.k.a. "Massive Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy" Gaming
Cripes, every man and his dog seems to want to make an "MMO" these days. That is, a huge, persistent game world where players have to log in to a central server in order to play. You may be familiar with the roleplaying versions (or MMORPG's) like World of WarCraft, Age of Conan or Warhammer Online. An MMORTS is a persistent real time strategy game played in a huge world where players log in to roleplay armies or empires, rather than individual fanatasy characters.

This page collates the MMORTS's that are beginning to appear out there. It remains to be seen if they actually work out. The MMO market is horrendously competitive, demands frightening amounts of time, effort and resources to produce and maintain, and there's something like a 90% failure rate amongst developers out there.

Beyond Protocol (2008)

Developed by keen-as-mustard indy developer Dark Sky Entertainment, Beyond Protocol is a classic take on the galaxy conquering 4X empire builders of old. Players roleplay an empire rather than a character, and guilds of players can cooperatively manage large interstellar empires in a persistent game universe. Everything in the game, from basic equipment to spaceships can be designed and built from scratch, and many game features only become practical when players work at them in teams. There seems to be a lot of extremely fiddly detail that demands a lot of this sort of cooperative play. The emphasis of this game is definitely on the heavy duty spreadsheet end of the strategy gaming spectrum, aimed squarely at the hardcore - i.e. the ascetic! - school of strategy gaming.

Home planet under attack
First impressions of the beta were of a still unfinished game composed with the usual space opera far-future sense of design. Beyond Protocol looked like it was still held together with a lot of placeholder and programmer art. In fact, I don't think it even uses an Art Department: this feels very much like a programmers' game written for programmers. Many features, like the minimap, the camera system and even the maps themselves felt either rudimentary, last minute, or purely algorythmic. It uses a tech "cloud" rather than a tech tree, which seems to imply some very clever coding in the game that is only visible from the inside. Surprisingly, this half-there package was released as the initial game. At the time I write this (a few weeks after release) there have been a constant stream of daily updates to the BP client. Dark Sky Entertainment seem aware of this (even comfortable with it), and make no bones about the mountain of issues associated with their game. They've even published some player reviews in a forum thread, warts and all.

Home planet under attack
The 4X empire angle has been ramped up to the point where you have to research, design, budget, prototype and eventually build all your units pretty much from scratch. That long and protracted process also applies to all the components that make up those units, like weapons, armour and all widgets - even where you need to study the minerals you're mining, and develop your own customised alloys to go with them! The perk is that you can utterly customise and personalise your units to the nth degree; unfortunately, the down side of this is that you have to. You can't just throw some basic defaults together and expect it all to work it out on the fly.

However, this is nothing new for any 4X game set in space - although few 4X games get as carried away with the enforced customisation as this one. Beyond Protocol makes no concessions for casual idlers or even mainstream gamers - and it runs slowly. This is a cross between the glacial slowness of 4X strategy with the bottomless time sink of the MMO. However, the tutorials breathlessly crash through an avalanche of menus and stats; even old veterans used to big strategy games are going to find the going tough. Skipping them leaves players utterly clueless, but working through them doesn't seem to clarify much, either. The fact that you might have to spend huge amounts of time building a "library" of minerals and alloys just to get what you want is more than just a little bit game killing.

Beyond Protocol's artwork only makes the GUI feel worse. Even fundamental things like on-screen HUD's, selection boxes and even health bars were effectively absent. The lack of any immediate feedback only adds to the slow boil of frustration, and its slow pacing feels turgid, especially since its impossible to see what's going on anywhere at a glance. Battles grind on interminably.

Compounding this horrible wall of... stuff is a lack of any contextual menus. Every game element and menu offers all options at all times, even though many of them aren't useful or appropriate at that moment. Some of the potentially cool stuff in the game, like Secret Agents, are almost undone by the fact that even trying to assign a simple reconnaissance mission amongst agents with skill sets is like editing a fucking phonebook. One where you have to research and prototype your blunt scissors and sticky tape first - oh wait I forgot to mention blunt scissors are made from stainless steel oh god AAAAAAAAAAA Man, this makes EVE-Online feel almost.... accessible!

Home planet under attack
While we're on the subject of EVE (uh oh - spot the fanatic!), as a comparison the spaceship MMO EVE-Online is frighteningly complex too, sporting it's own labyrinthine and player killing GUI, albeit a more airbrushed version. It'll take months - if not years - for dedicated players to even access half its depths - but it still uses some rather basic and fundamental gameplay mechanics which you can jump into quickly, with some sumptuous graphics that never seem to tire as the months slide by. It at least, is contextual, which makes navigating the mountain of game detail a little easier. With EVE, its all about the progression - but I never had any sense of progression in Beyond Protocol.

Other 4X games, like Sword of the Stars made mighty efforts to be become accessible to new players. While Sword's graphics were a wee bit naff, the game jumped into the action without losing the strategy and never got lost in its own details. It's approach was to gut nearly all the resource gathering and planet management from the 4X rule book - leaving behind a focused 4X strategy game that didn't feel like it was missing anything. Beyond Protocol goes in the exact opposite direction - it piles on the numbers, interfaces, options, and procedures to the point of paralysis. Its impossible to tell which is more important, or what needs to be done first. Thus, we get a horrendous learning curve and a sense you've been dropped into the middle of something huge and complicated instead of starting out somewhere with a clear idea that there's some great MMORTS journey to go on.

So its really a niche game for serious players who like their numbers and have a lot of time up their sleeve to figure it all out. If you've been hanging out for a complex 4X style RTS that's persistent, and one where you can totally build up your very own empire from scratch, then Beyond Protocol might be for you. But you'll need to see past the art-free graphics, the lack of any useable in-game interface, and a barrage of clunky GUI's. Prototyping units might be analogous to creating characters, but this is hardly a riveting example of gleefully sticking guns on something and then throwing it into the field for some glorious multiplayer biffo. Its very much like an ongoing work in progress, which must surely affect the decisions of people wanting to pay rent to play the thing. I might look in on this indy MMO a bit later on, when its straightened itself out - assuming it survives, that is.Back

Dawn of Fantasy (in development)

No idea what this is. Apparently an MMORTS set in your standard Tolkine style fantasy universe. From what I gather, you don't roleplay a character so much as manage your Homeland, which is like running your own Civ in a massive multiplayer environment. If Canadian developers Reverie World Studios can pull it off, then it might prove to be very interesting.Back

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Page established Dec 2008
Last modified Thu, Jul 14 2011 by Lindsay Fleay