RTS Basics
RTS Basics: Research & Development

Tech Trees

Make factories for tanks to rule the ground, or airports and take to the skies instead? Develop your economy over your military force? Your decision can affect the outcome of the game. Quite often the map itself will help determine this for you: a map full of islands might require aerial or naval forces; an open plain might require massed ground units.

At the start of a match you have several research paths to pick from, and deciding which one to take is like the decision making process of paper- scissor- rock. Its important to note that R&D costs resources - or at the very least precious time; spending on research may take away from building units and disadvantage your fighting force in the short term, but put you in a stronger position later on. Research really comes into its own at the end of the early game and into the mid game as all combatants try to outdo each other and secure the map. By the endgame though, all players (assuming everyone has made it this far and were diligent in their R&D) are again on an equitable level since most players will have fully upgraded forces.

The Age of Empires II Tech Tree
The Age of Empires II tech tree. Starting from the top line of icons, you work your way downwards as each tech is completed. There are several lines of enquiry to peruse, each colour coded to represent technologies that introduce new units (red), upgrade existing ones (green) or are "blue sky" researches that don't affect anything except make other tech's available (blue). Icons are completed sequentially as you work down the path. You'll notice some tech's can unlock many others, some branch off into new lines of enquiry and others may require two or three prerequisites before they come available. In AoE2, the game is divided into four Ages (each itself a researchable item) which unlocks entire suites of research based on technological progress through the ages. These new tech's start half-way down the tree, rather than at the beginning (that is, at the top of the page).

Knowing which tech leads to what can be tricky if you're not familiar with them, but most games help you out with a nice glossy chart that shows all the types of  units, buildings, tech's and upgrades you can develop. The complete pattern of dependencies between all these items is called a tech tree. Tech trees are like road maps in your decision making process, if you want to build a certain type of unit, you can use this chart to find out which factory and/or builds are required first before you can reach it. Most games have fairly elaborate trees, so that players have to spend a bit of time working their way up to the more powerful units and technologies. Like the units in the game, tech trees are meticulously and carefully balanced to avoid anyone getting an unfair advantage for too long.

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Last modified Sat, Apr 2011 by Lindsay Fleay