Glossary of RTS Terms

Total Conversion to Worker
Or TC. A custom modification that changes the original game into something entirely new. It goes beyond patching a few graphics or changing a few sounds and instead transforms the game completely. The entire graphic and sound line up is replaced; rules and units are replaced. Usually, fans like to produce Star Wars or Star Trek versions of their favourite games, or extrapolate on the original story with their own ideas of how the sequel should go. Sometimes the TC is simply using the game engine to do its own thing, completely separate from the original's concept: TC's for games like Quake or Half-life extend the original gameplay considerably. Counter-Strike would be an obvious example, and Team Fortress and Capture the Flag are classic variants on the FPS model. In Total Annihilation, The Lost Legacy, World Domination mod and TA Operation Barbarossa are TC's that either add third new race to the game, or completely replace the two existing races with completely different sides. Back

A tall, strong building that is used to defend a base or fortify a strategic location on the map. Towers come in two main forms:

Lookout towers: these are often unarmed structures that can see further than your other buildings and are used to keep an eagle eye out on your base's perimeter.

Armed towers: by far the most frequent example of a tower. The usual form of a tower is a heavily fortified building that is armed, and designed to impede the enemy from wrecking your base. Classic examples are found in historical games like Age of Empires or Cossacks where castles and keeps are the norm. Towers can be best thought of as an immobile defensive unit. Some people refer to them as any immobile, armed unit; so a pillbox, a laser on a tripod, or a giant Tesla Coil could qualify as a tower. (RTSC tends to refer to these as Turrets. See below.) Back

Tower Defence

A simple game where a human player builds armed towers and stationary defences everywhere and the AI opponent simply tries to breach them with a horde of mindless enemy units. Tower defence games operate at the casual and independent end of the gaming industry, and often appear as little Flash or web browser games. Tower Defence began as a custom game mod in WarCraft III; but it's since broken loose to become a strategy game type in their own right. Some classic examples are Turret Defence and Desktop Tower Defense but there are hundreds of the things out there on the Web. Some upmarket commercial versions are Defence Grid and Revenge of the Titans.


1.) An armed Structure. This might be a laser weapon on a stand, a coastal naval gun, or even a Medieval watchtower. Turrets are generally defensive units ('cos they can't MOVE!) although you can use turrets aggressively by building (or "creeping") them progressively into an enemy base. (Actually, this can be a really nifty way to INFURIATE your opponents. I can't recommend it highly enough!)

2.) A rotating weapon housing mounted on a vehicle. The speed at which turrets can turn to the enemy can become tactically decisive. In Homeworld for example, turrets appear on most ship classes; on the big units like Destroyers or Battlecruisers they're very slow to turn. This allows smaller and faster fighters to slip past these behemoth's defences despite their awesome weaponry. The turrets' angles of fire determines whether the unit has to waste time manoeuvring to line up on an enemy instead of blasting something else in front of it. And while its not shooting, your worthy opponent is given the opportunity to run rings around you and dole out some damage. The same applies in a more two dimensional way to any warship on the high seas or tank rolling across the battlefield. Faster turning turrets can trump slower moving ones, even if the slowpokes are more powerful. Back

tvb Acronym: Top vs Bottom. In RTS netgames with about four or more people in them, a TVB game refers to the top half of the player's list teaming up against the bottom half. Its a quick and easy way to organize a game full of complete strangers into two teams. Other variants include games based on players' starting positions on the map: NvS (North vs South), LvR (Left vs Right), EvW (East vs West) and other variations such as LvS (Land vs Sea).Back
Unit C'mon! You should know what this is by now! More details Back
Unit Limit The maximum number of units you are currently allowed to build for your economy at any one moment. This limit can be increased by building additional Farms (or Houses, warehouses, etc.) to increase the number of  units you can support in your economy. You can extend your unit limit with farms until you reach your economy's Population Limit. Back
Unit Cap Another way of describing Unit Limit or Population Limit, depending on the context its used in.Back
Vehicle Cap

Like a Population Cap, this is an arbitrary limit to the maximum number of vehicles that a player can ever have at the same time in a game. Some games cover all units in a generic Unit Cap, others split infantry and vehicles into their own specialised caps. Usually, a vehicle cap is there to keep the game fair, and is much smaller than a unit cap in order to prevent spammage and to keep the game fair. A cap may represent the actual number of units you can have, or is a set of points that represent the total amount of economic "support" that your forces may require. More details.Back


A user defined point on the map, used for marking out, dot-to-dot style, the route for a unit to travel along. A string of waypoints is used to define a navigational route for your units to take, usually to force them to follow the route you want, not the one their primitive navigational skills will default to.

Units by default attempt to travel from A to B in a straight line. This often means the silly fools will stupidly march into the enemy's guns or get stuck in a dead end somewhere. They aren't that intelligent, although this is rapidly improving with newer RTS titles. Waypointing is the only way to go when defining circular patrol routes. For early game scouting, you really should be clicking out a string of waypoints across your minimap for your scouts to rapidly explore the map early on. More details Back

Wonder A Wonder represents the pinnacle of achievement that your side can produce and are used by many RTS games - and a lot of turn based strategy games - as a game objective in themselves. This is a huge, expensive and exotic structure that usually bestows some kick-arse benefits to your civilisation as a whole. Think of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, or the Statue of Liberty. Rather than conquering the world, players can win the game by being the first to build a Wonder, opting for a Wonder Victory. Age of Empires and Rise of Nations use them to great effect. Turn based epics like Civilization use Wonders as both buildings and researchable techs. They're very slow to build and very expensive, and only one of each can ever be built in a game. Starting one can often signal that the end of the game is in sight and this is the last chance for other players to do something about it. Wonders offer an elegant solution to giving a game focus or breaking a deadlock that doesn't involve blowing things up.Back
Worker There's lots of terms for workers: peons, peasants, colonists, drones, constructors, builders, settlers, SCV's, etc. etc.  Its a generic reference to any kind of general purpose unit that builds or repairs units and buildings, or collects resources. RTS games that use workers (as distinct from Harvesters) usually need teams of them to get an economy off the ground. They're often categorised as civilian units. In wonderful capitalist style, workers are usually very cheap, unarmed, utterly compliant and pretty much completely expendable. Experienced players will generate dozens of them before feeling comfortable with the state of their economy. Some games like to split the various roles up into separate worker units: e.g. Homeworld offers the Harvester, Repair Corvette, Salvage Corvette and Support Frigate. Other examples: StarCraft's Terran SCV, Zerg Drone and Protoss Probe; Age of Empire's peasants; Total Annihilation's many and varied Construction units; and the Settlers series has a veritable horde of worker subspecies that practically make up the entire game: Porters, Levelers, Builders, Stonecutters, Woodsmen, Rangers, Smithies, Fishermen, Farmers, Pig Farmers, Butchers, Bakers, Weapon Smiths, Tool Smiths... you get the idea.Back

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Last modified Thu, Aug 11 2009 by Lindsay Fleay