Refresh Real Time Strategic Carnage
The Everyday Guide to Real Time Strategy

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Starcraft: 2D strategy
2D Strategy: In StarCraft (1998) you're given a scrolling window on a giant isometric map. Everything here is abstract, almost cartoonish. Units and buildings are iconic like playing counters, and you play on an animated board game where the game rules are often very arbitrary.
First Person Shooters (FPS), or 3D Shooters, are pretty straightforward. You install it, run it, and off you go! There's about a ten second learning curve - mouse skills and motion sickness notwithstanding. For very little effort you get instant gratification: immersive, visceral environments; thrills and spills galore! Where else can you jump off tall towers into lava or get blown into small giblets and come out laughing? About the only challenging thing is working out the game's keyboard shortcuts and your graphic card settings; the rest is just practice.

But strategy games, even the most inbred, lolly-coloured ones made for the kiddies, require forward planning and a capacity to do three things at once. Real Time Strategy isn't like "older" strategy games, where players have the luxury of considered turns; nor is it the run'n'gun 3D game where everything is laid out for you to simply run over and blast anything that moves. While a lot of new games tend to simplify things and make them easier for casual gamers, there's still a lot in RTS that comes across as counter intuitive or at best, demands a few game sessions just to work it out. There's a learning curve.

Total Annihilation: 2D strategy in a 3D environment
2 1/2D Strategy: In Total Annihilation (1997) you get a 3D world, but its still presented as a top down, scrolling map view in 2D. In 3D, things are a little more literal and "realistic". 3D games use crude physics models to work out trajectories of artillery shells or movement of vehicles over uneven ground to calculate the outcomes of battles. The shape of the terrain can now be used creatively by the player.
There's an entire map to keep an eye on, and you are driving an army made up of dozens - if not hundreds - of individual units. You probably have indirect control over them at best, giving them orders which they try to carry out. Most of the time they seem to die like flies the moment you take your eyes off them. But even worse, you have to build this force of yours up from scratch, and with all those different units and weapons, its tricky to know what to build, when, and why. All those different units behave differently, fill different roles, have different strengths and weaknesses, and many have lots of specialised menus and commands. Armies don't run on nothing, not even imaginary ones. Not only do you have to build everything, you have to develop and grow an economy to support and feed it.

The most important guys in your army are the unarmed ones - gangs of workers mining stuff, building stuff, repairing stuff and making everything else possible. If your economy's not up to scratch, you have no army. Not only do you have to use the right forces at the right place and time, you also have to build them first and make sure you can reinforce them. You're not so much an avenging champion of ultra-violence; you've become a goddamn manager!

So its not hard to see why trying to get a one off strategy LAN was a bit of a failure.

Experienced but unscrupulous strategy players will massacre beginners purely on the basis that they know where everything is. (This is known as bottom feeding in some RTS circles) Any differences in players' abilities quickly translates into lopsided routs that are just no fun for anybody. And all of this is before you can think up a strategy of your own to stay in the game long enough to enjoy yourself.

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Last modified Wed, 15 Oct 2008 by Lindsay Fleay