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RTS essentials

Nutmeg

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Sure, it has drawbacks, but how does GGPO address that without losing the benefits of tiny replay files and minimal lag?
Why do you think replay files would be big with GGPO? It's just time stamped commands.
I'm not a tech expert. Why do you suggest RTS switch from deterministic lockstep and over to GGPO?
Deterministic lockstep divides the game into coarse grained "turns" of 200-800 ms. GGPO is frame perfect, targeting a specific frame rate.

The disadvantage of GGPO is it forces the devs to use deterministic, cross CPU standardized arithmetic and fixed time step frames (which is opposite to how most 3D games are programmed (with a delta time)). Machines no longer agree on states, but on inputs, so they must do the same thing with the same inputs, which means you need to use high level floating point libraries or fixed point arithmetic in the game's state model for cross CPU compatability. You also certainly can't do anything retarded like mix display state and visual animation state which is surprisingly common.
 

RaggleFraggle

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Sure, it has drawbacks, but how does GGPO address that without losing the benefits of tiny replay files and minimal lag?
Why do you think replay files would be big with GGPO? It's just time stamped commands.
I'm not a tech expert. Why do you suggest RTS switch from deterministic lockstep and over to GGPO?
Deterministic lockstep divides the game into coarse grained "turns" of 200-800 ms. GGPO is frame perfect, targeting a specific frame rate.

The disadvantage of GGPO is it forces the devs to use deterministic, cross CPU standardized arithmetic and fixed time step frames (which is opposite to how most 3D games are programmed (with a delta time)). Machines no longer agree on states, but on inputs, so they must do the same thing with the same inputs, which means you need to use high level floating point libraries or fixed point arithmetic in the game's state model for cross CPU compatability. You also certainly can't do anything retarded like mix display state and visual animation state which is surprisingly common.
It sounds like it does pretty much the same thing?
 

PanickedTushkano

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I don't see the games by KD Lab/KD Vision. They are relatively well known for Vangers (not an RTS) I think, but outside of the (badly translated) Perimeter (2004), their games are pretty obscure. At least that's my impression.

They also released:
Perimeter - Emperor's Testament (2005)
Maelstrom - The Battle for Earth begins (2007)
Perimeter 2 - New Earth (2008)
 

Nutmeg

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I don't see the games by KD Lab/KD Vision. They are relatively well known for Vangers (not an RTS) I think, but outside of the (badly translated) Perimeter (2004), their games are pretty obscure. At least that's my impression.

They also released:
Perimeter - Emperor's Testament (2005)
Maelstrom - The Battle for Earth begins (2007)
Perimeter 2 - New Earth (2008)
I'll update the table at some point and sure I'll include them since you mentioned them. Do you recommend them?
 

Nutmeg

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Friends, I have completed Red Alert 3 (2008), all three campaigns.

I didn't initially plan to play RA3, but I had to for completeness given that it was made by practically the same team which produced Tiberium Wars, and that doing so rounds out my experience of the Command & Conquer series and related games (now, the only C&C or C&C related games I haven't completed are the much loathed Tiberium Twilight and the unremarkable Dune 2000. If we include expansions then we can also add Uprising, the expansion to this game, and, surprisingly, the Covert Ops expansion to C&C 95 to my uncompleted list).

Just like Red Alert introduced player production and control of naval units to Command & Conquer 95, Red Alert 3 can be seen as expanding Tiberium Wars with the same. Obviously, between C&C 95 and Red Alert, art direction barely changed, whereas between Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3, it changed a great, great deal, but I am speaking strictly in terms of game design.

Red Alert 3 has probably the best air, ground, and water force combined arms warfare out of any RTS I have played where all three are featured. Many units are amphibious (all three factions, but especially the Soviets) or modal (Empire), alternating between flying and water or ground modes. That said, the combat model is on the simple side, even within the C&C series (where, all things considered, Generals probably has the most complex combat model). Gone are even the rudimentary infantry squads of Tiberium Wars.

Other game design elements of note are how each unit has a single special ability accessible with the F key, the return of general powers, and how every faction has a slight twist on the usual C&C MCV based structure building system -- Allies are the same as any other C&C game, Soviets place first, then the structure builds and money is subtracted over time, while Empire builds little prefab carts extremely quickly, that then deploy more slowly into actual buildings anywhere on the map (gotta get them there first).

The campaigns, like the ones in Tiberium Wars, are surprisingly good. That said, you have to ignore the first few (3-4 or so) missions in each, as they lack any challenge whatsoever and combined with the cringe art style will make you feel you are too old to be playing RA3. The patience is worth it, as this dull experience is more than compensated for by the presence of a handful of gems of later missions, many on timers, some even on implicit or manipulable timers, and some not on any timer at all, that are genuinely challenging. Another thing to note is that every mission in all three campaigns is designed for human-human 2 player co-op. When playing solo, an AI takes the place of the second human (which slot is fixed, so you only get to experience half the game, in a way), and there's controls to issue hold, attack target (immediately), or plan an attack (general area, take your time), commands to the AI. In Hard your AI buddy is mostly useless except as an aggro magnet, though I've seen one video of a guy essentially microing the AI's starting units with attack and hold orders in one of those missions where you start with a sizeable force you can rush most of the mission with. Best is to simply think of your AI buddy as not there at all and not feel too bad about taking their resources or them getting wiped, and playing the game as you would in your usual one human player vs. potentially multiple AI player based campaigns elsewhere. That said, it can surprisingly be easy to keep your A.I buddy alive and reap the benefits of having an aggro magnet by just building one or two defensive structures or putting a unit in a key location.

While the art style and music are cringe (to me, though not overly so -- ofc. your own tastes may differ), the majority of the unit designs are not, and are actually pretty cool or well lifted from some source material (e.g. the rocket angels are a decent attempt at the Knight Sabers from Bubblegum Crisis, and they fire cool Macross style rocket barrages). Others I would find cringe even if the art style was more to my preference e.g. the "Oni" mecha, which looks like Optimus Prime as he is in mechanical gorilla form in Beast Wars, not any actual Japanese anime. Additional examples are every air superiority fighter in the game, all of which look great or at least good, and every helicopter in the game, all of which look goofy.

The music, for the most part, is not to my taste. I especially found the Allies music grating (tangent: there's a very old PC Engine shmup called Gates of Thunder, which I otherwise would have loved except I hated the music, and it's very similar to the Allies RA3 music). Soviet music is OK and Empire music is completely forgettable, except their hilarious use of a certain form of female choral music originating and still performed in the Balkans (not Japan!), almost certainly because this kind of music is present in the Ghost in the Shell (1995) soundtrack and features prominently in the film. Overall you can tell the developers aren't real weebs, they get so much "Japan" and Japanese pop culture wrong. Unit voices are OK, tho the tiny voice effect due to an Allied units' shrink ray special ability got old fast (game-wise too, though this might be psychological) and probably should have been kept to some gimmick unit appearing only in a few missions in the campaign or something, as opposed to something so ubiquitous.

The acting and FMV was funny and I don't mind it given the game's overall tone, which I dislike. The game is extremely cheesy in that it gives you girls in night dresses or bikinis as your campaign completion rewards. Eva is a nice cow girl in the milky anime sense and is my waifu in this game if anyone cares, tho the little island Asian is not bad either and matches my IRL choices. Slavic girl looks too much like family for me to find her very attractive.

The SAGE engine, here arbitrarily (AFAICT) given the version 2.0, is visually quite nice, as it always is, IMO. I like how metal materials look on most units. In terms of audio, there's no EAX which is a shame.

To conclude, I can recommend the game for its handful of brilliant missions in its co-op campaign when played single player, and its quite excellent handling of combined arms warfare (really the wrong phrase for it, it's more like terrain type traversal warfare), albeit within the framework of a very simple combat model with all the APM over broader tactical focus that entails (quite Starcraft-like, actually), but that's all (and enough).
 
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PanickedTushkano

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I don't see the games by KD Lab/KD Vision. They are relatively well known for Vangers (not an RTS) I think, but outside of the (badly translated) Perimeter (2004), their games are pretty obscure. At least that's my impression.

They also released:
Perimeter - Emperor's Testament (2005)
Maelstrom - The Battle for Earth begins (2007)
Perimeter 2 - New Earth (2008)
I'll update the table at some point and sure I'll include them since you mentioned them. Do you recommend them?

I have only played Perimeter and Maelstrom.

I rarely finish RTS campaigns and instead switch to skirmish mode to get a good look at the factions and AI. Outside of Sacrifice - which doesn't really count - Perimeter's campaign is the only one I have finished in a long while. It is a bit unusual in a number of ways (setting, base & unit building etc.), but the controls are very similar to most traditional RTS'. Scenarios often come at the player hard and fast and barely leave any time to even get your bearings, but oftentimes one restart was enough to get a grip on things. The difficulty was relatively high overall, but the scenario and mechanics were pretty fascinating as well and I enjoyed the music. The story unfortunately got crippled during translation. It does seem fine when not seen side by side, but the russian version has a lot more character, faction feel is more specific and so on. I had a few annoying bugs, but overall it's sometimes more confusing that certain mechanics aren't introduced well and so it isn't always immediately clear what is happening.

Maelstrom is very different. Perimeter has some differences between factions (some units, super weapons), but Maelstrom is more like Starcraft in that respect. There are obviously still a lot of similarities in mechanics, but buildings, units and aesthetics are quite different. The AI is quite bad and for some reason the air units seem to have more trouble with pathfinding than the ground units. They have especially much trouble when it comes to engaging in melee efficiently. But the simulation is good. Solar generators barely produce anything in the night, the landscape has a nice degree of destrutibility and the whole map can be covered in water (because the Aliens prefer it that way). I have only played a few missions though, so I'm mostly talking about skirmish mode here.

Edit: Oh, and the music was just as good in my opinion, if a bit different.
 
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Nutmeg

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What are everyone's thoughts on AoE 3? Seems forgotten but at least on paper some aspects of its design are intriguing. Almost to Colonization what AoE was to Civilization.
 

L'ennui

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Love AoE3, especially now that you no longer have to grind to unlock Home City cards in the latest remastered edition. The campaign looks very silly, but I rarely ever touch RTS campaigns so it's not a big deal for me. The setting, the asymetrical faction design, the lush visuals, the addition of deck-building strategies and unit stances make it a rather unique spin on the classic AoE formula. I'm glad the emphasis on unique faction mechanics has been retained for AoE IV, I can't see us going back to AoE2's original philosophy of same-ish factions with minor differences here and there.

Also, cannons ragdolling tightly packed masses of infantry never gets old.
 

JarlFrank

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I'm not a fan of the deckbuilding part of AoE3. I prefer the strategy of my RTS games to come from the actual strategy I employ on the field, not the pre-game preparation of certain OP deck builds. Other than that, I think it's fine.

The civs are more different than they are in AoE2, closer to what it's like in Age of Mythology. The aging up also takes a cue from AoM, letting you pick between two different bonuses (here you pick ministers, not gods).

Unit matchups feel a little less intuitive compared to AoE2 and AoM. There's different flavors of melee and musket units but they aren't as clear-cut as "spears counter cavalry, archers counter spears" that AoE2 had. Every civilization has different unit pools so that adds more variety to the mix.

I wasn't a fan of the campaigns, they veer strongly into fantasy territory rather than being based on historical events like AoE 1 and 2.

The core gameplay is fine, the only real downside is how important and powerful the whole home city deckbuilding aspect is.
 

Beans00

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What are everyone's thoughts on AoE 3? Seems forgotten but at least on paper some aspects of its design are intriguing. Almost to Colonization what AoE was to Civilization.


Aoe 3 was complete garbage and a complete departure from aoe 1-2. Basically the rts equivalent of fallout 3.


The real AOE 3 was age of mythology, which is worse then aoe 2 IMO but still a very solid game.

:)
 

Nutmeg

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Red Alert 3 has probably the best air, ground, and water force combined arms warfare out of any RTS I have played

Interesting. Can you elaborate?
Sure

The straightforward convention established by Warcraft 2 and Red Alert (and to a lesser extent the first Command & Conquer) is that there are naval units which can only traverse water tiles, land units that can only traverse some land tiles (not forests in War2 or cliffs in C&C), and air units that can traverse any tile. There are also a few (usually just one) buildings you can build on the coast, to build ships, and in Warcraft 2's case, oil platforms. This convention has been followed by almost every RTS since, though naval units in particular are often omitted (e.g. in Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Tiberium Sun, Generals etc.).

RA3 completely breaks this convention, but does so using the same building blocks.

First of all, now almost every structure can be built on either land or water, the exceptions being the war factory and barracks which must be built on land, and the naval yard which must be built on water. Power plants, refineries, tech buildings and airports can be built in the water, in addition to land.

Second, many units can traverse both land and water, but can't fly (e.g. the Soviet Stingray, which can only be built in naval yards but can walk on land, or their Bullfrog anti-air unit, which can be built in both naval yards or war factories, likewise many units from the other factions).

Third there are modal units, which can be in flying mode, or land or water mode e.g. the Mecha Tengu, which is either an anti-infantry land unit, or an anti-air flying unit, or the Sea Wing which is either an anti-air submarine, or an anti infantry flying unit. As you can see they really played with things here.

These amphibious and modal units are quite pervasive as well, and there are more of them than you'd expect e.g. the Allied naval destroyer is also a heavy tank, while dogs, bears, spies and commandos can swim. Even some units that aren't amphibious or modal still subvert terrain traversal rules somehow e.g. Soviet Sickle anti-infantry light tanks which can jump to higher ground or hop from island to island, or the Bullfrog transport which launches infantry across chasms or onto higher ground (often from the water, as this is an amphibious unit) like a circus cannon.

Ofc. there are just traditional land only, air only or water only units in the mix as well.

Finally, fog of war observes height rules. Your units on water won't see very far into raised land, but will see into a beach. Likewise for land units and land of different elevations. Flyers ofc. see everything within a certain radius around them. Many RTS have these kinds of rules, but thanks to the other design aspects of RA3 already mentioned, here it plays into tactial considerations a lot more often.

The effect of everything together that the kind of unit compositions you can have, and especially the kinds you want to have, really varies by geography (not merely terrain type, but *geography*), and the naval, air and ground forces play is not disjointed or binary in the sense that whoever secures the seas secures an advantage for themselves on the ground and that's the extent of the interaction, there's a lot more to it.

It's quite well done within the confines of its simulation model, which is not much more advanced than Starcraft from a decade prior.
 
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Nutmeg

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I prefer the strategy of my RTS games to come from the actual strategy I employ on the field, not the pre-game preparation of certain OP deck builds.
I realized this too after playing a lot of Wargame Airland Battle. Not "just" with regards to strategy -- obviously it's more interesting and dynamic having the strategic layer integrated with the rest of the game, as opposed to it being completely disjointed -- but also just in terms of how I experience the game. Do I really want to spend 100+ hours in menus? No I, would rather spend that time in what I came to the RTS genre for -- real-time simulation and control of multiple units in combat or performing tasks to facilitate the combat.

That said I'm not categorically against a bit of pre-game faction customization. But, there only needs to be a little. Already e.g. if you have 4 independent parameters that can take 2 values each for each faction that's 16 different variations. There's no need for extensive systems here.
 
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JarlFrank

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I prefer the strategy of my RTS games to come from the actual strategy I employ on the field, not the pre-game preparation of certain OP deck builds.
I realized this too after playing a lot of Wargame Airland Battle. Not "just" with regards to strategy -- obviously it's more interesting and dynamic having the strategic layer integrated with the rest of the game, as opposed to it being completely disjointed -- but also just in terms of how I experience the game. Do I really want to spend 100+ hours in menus? No I, would rather spend that time in what I came to the RTS genre for -- real-time simulation and control of multiple units in combat or performing tasks to facilitate the combat.

That said I'm not categorically against a bit of pre-game faction customization. But, there only needs to be a little. Already e.g. if you have 4 independent parameters that can take 2 values each for each faction that's 16 different variations. There's no need for extensive systems here.
I like the way Total War and its derivatives do it, or Wargame Red Dragon's single player campaigns (or, even better, Steel Division 2's).

Have units on a world map which you can move around and when it comes to battle you have what you brought. I like that better than a deckbuilding mechanic which is completely independent of any other element of the game.
 

Nutmeg

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Completed the Red Alert 3 Uprising (2009) main campaigns.

Like the base game, I didn't intend to play it, but it caught my interest due to it being a single-player only(!) expansion.

You get 10 actual single player campaign missions (not co-op that you can set up as single-player, as in the base game) across 3 campaigns (Soviets get 4, the other two factions get 3 each). All 10 missions are good, none are great. They are very meaty missions, but the base game had more challenging ones.

You also get 3 Diablo-like missions in the Yuriko campaign (you control a single character with the mouse and click on enemies to attack them, while you cast special abilities with the number keys), except they're not very good as Diablo-likes. Think of it as a nice little extra, not a serious attempt at a game. I didn't play beyond the first mission.

Finally there are 50 challenge missions, which AFAICT are 1v1 or 1vMany skirmish missions with a twist on the usual game rules e.g. you get support powers at many times the usual rate. These seem pretty cool, I might do them one day in the distant future.

The Soviets get new units that actually flesh them out, while the Allies and Empire get OP units that are "fun" but would need some serious number adjustments to actually add to the game.

Not much else to say. The FMV cast is smaller, I guess.

It's funny, despite the fact that Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3 are solid RTS games with very solid single player campaigns, and both obviously had a huge amount of resources poured into their production and quality control etc., and the latter is even a smidgen innovative, I would *still* recommend the first C&C and Red Alert over Tiberium Wars and RA3 for single player (with caveats). This is because in single player, how refined the game system is, is less important than the scenario design, and the scenario design in C&C 95 and RA 96 is just as good (though it's been *quite* some time since I last played them), but the games are just much, much more soulful, which I suppose is a subjective thing and requires a certain sense for the art, but I think others can feel it too.

Speaking purely objectively, it is much harder to make the case. I would have to play the two side by side and really study and compare their missions. My gut feeling here is that the missions in RA 96 and C&C 95 are less "over designed". I will also add that to me RA3 doesn't feel much like a C&C game at all, it feels a lot like Starcraft actually, though this might be an anachronistic impression -- the lead designer for Starcraft 2 was the lead designer for RA3 before that. That said, I think I am correct and the other way to explain it is the guy always wanted to make a Starcraft sequel but got employed by EA first to work on RA3, before getting employed by Blizzard to make his dream come true.
 
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Nutmeg

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Friends I have completed both the good and evil campaigns in Battle for Middle-earth (2004).

Fantastic, fantastic RTS, I think it's better than its own sequel.

First of all, it is more focused. You have two good factions, and two evil factions, and the choice of factions makes more sense with regards to the lore. These factions are Rohan, Gondor, Isengard and Mordor, which are all kingdoms. In the sequel, however, you have Elves, Dwarves, Men, Goblins, Isengard, Mordor and Angmar. So you have 3 kingdoms or regions, and 4 races, which is annoyingly inconsistent, although it doesn't really affect the way the game plays.

Second, the base building system in BFME 1 adds to faction differentiation and focuses the course of action throughout a match. There are three tiers of bases -- outpost, camp, and a larger camp (not sure now it has a different name). Aside from outposts, these differ in important ways across factions -- in the layout and number of build plots (where you can place buildings of your choice), and the presence or absence of walls. Factions also differ by how elaborate their building options are e.g. Rohan have very few building options, simple unwalled bases, and focus on map control through early cavalry and upgrades, whereas Gondor have many building options, walled bases with many plots, and take a while to unlock their tactical options. Of course, because the locations where players can build an outpost, camp or resource building are determined by the map designer, the locus of the action is more predictable, and the geographical features of these areas theoretically can, and indeed seem to be, designed to make the tactical play more interesting.

Finally, the campaign is actually good. While the "main" missions range only from OK to good (nothing really stands out), they're a lot more aware of their engine than in BFME 2, which was simply too ambitious, overly scripted and quite cheesy. A good comparison are the sieges, either on offense (evil, which both games struggle with more) or defense (good). In BFME 2, on offense, you had to fight the pathing more than the enemy, which you could trivially out-range and pick off with no threat to your units -- the AI was otherwise completely passive. In BFME 1, the pathing is fit for purpose, for the most part (in Minas Tirith, you shouldn't be too ambitious with your orders), and while the AI isn't as aggressive as I wish, it provides an entertaining amount of resistance, and you certainly can't just pick it off from a distance with siege weapons like in the sequel, due to the better map layouts more than anything. Now on defense, in BFME 2, you would spend the majority of your time fighting a number of easy and boring waves of enemies suiciding themselves into your fire bags, before an actually threatening final wave would wreck you, lest you had foreknowledge of its unit composition. Nothing wrong with a difficulty spike, indeed I like them, but it would have been nice to make the first 20 minutes more interesting and challenging as well, which is the case in BFME 1 where the challenge is indeed more even over time.

The only area where I believe the sequel is superior to BFME 1 (as opposed to worse or simply different), are the controls. I miss the planning mode and formation controls introduced to the engine with BFME 2. They are quite good. A note here is that while a slight annoyance with C&C lineage games is they seem to have deliberately avoided shift clicking for building (i.e. build order queuing), BFME 1's plot building system makes the whole thing moot.

Anyway, back to the campaign. What makes the campaign in BFME 1 shine are the optional "prep" missions (optional in the sense that you don't have to complete all of them, and have your choice of which ones you do). These missions are essentially skirmishes against a semi-pre-fortified enemy with a starting army, and your own starting army which you accumulate throughout these missions. The unit carry over is cheesable, in the sense that you can keep one building of the enemy's alive in order to build units till you reach pop-cap, fully upgrade them, and then carry over this massive army into the next mission. However these won't help you too much, especially in later missions, as unleveled units will, for the most part, be lost in the initial clash with the enemy's starting army -- the real goal is to make sure your units survive and level up over multiple maps, which is not trivial, especially for the evil factions whose units are more expendable by design. In the campaigns, you also carry over evenstar or ring powers, and gain power points, increases to your pop cap, or resource multipliers as rewards (different maps give different mixes of these rewards upon completion). But while these additions are fine and give you a bit of cross-mission strategy without taking too much away from the battles themselves (when comparing to something like Empire at War, partly due to the more constrained format, partly due to the specifics) the strength lies in the fundamentals of the game's skirmish play, which is really quite excellent due to the already discussed base building system, which gave more room for "design" to the mappers, and made things a bit easier for the AI as well.

There's even a score system, with per mission scores and also a final cumulated campaign score. Sadly it's not well thought out, as kills give score, but you can milk kills. Missed opportunity, really, but it's cool they tried and made it somewhat prominent (like in the C&C 95 and RA 96, which IIRC are also broken). I really don't understand why developers, who went through the effort of adding scoring to these games, didn't just think about it a little and make sure it's sound and actually reflects skill and rewards efficiency.

Overall, I think BFME 1's campaign format is my favorite so far. It's a tad more free form than say C&C 95's, which also had plenty of alternative missions, and you can actually weave some strategy into your choices (though practically, there is little bearing on final outcome or challenge throughout, just how you experience the game). It also has more variety and better pacing than e.g. (from more free to more constrained) Dark Crusade, Empire at War and Emperor Battle for Dune. Now if only the set missions had higher highs and they plugged some of the cheese holes somehow and fixed the scoring (you could kill two birds with one stone) it would have been *chef's kiss*, as it is it's just very good.

Audio-visually the game is great. The sequel has nicer landscapes and such, especially when watching videos of the games where you won't have the sharpness of uncompressed 4K pixels, but the simplicity of the 3D in BFME 1 lends itself more to gorgeous display on such screens when actually running the game, such that the difference between the two is not as great as you might think. EAX is present and appreciated. I took more notice of the music than I did when playing the sequel, especially the evil faction music, though neither game has music as memorable as e.g. the music in Generals (same composer). I surprisingly didn't mind all the 2D art lifted from the movies.

I will end with a final technical note on the game. Don't play single player with the 1.06 (and probably 1.09 and 2.22) patch. Play with the last official 1.03 patch. 1.06 raises the game's frame rate (from 30 FPS to 36 FPS) which speeds up the whole game making some sections of the campaign unwelcome tests of mouse dexterity among audio-visual issues, such as audio samples that aren't meant to overlap overlapping, attack animations being out of sync from when damage is applied, and other things of this nature. 1.06 also introduces "optional" HD textures that aren't optional at all, as without them at least a few models will be invisible. One good thing about 1.06 is it fixes some of the game text by making it more accurate or fixing string references. I did notice that there's a 1.08 floating around, which, according to its changelog, reverts the frame rate to 30 FPS and purportedly restores some features (e.g. mumakil rampaging, which one mission encourages you to do, but it doesn't actually trigger, though this might be because I played that mission with 1.06 applied), but then it goes ahead and makes huge balance changes like giving Mordor walls and armor upgrades, not to mention it's built on top of 1.06 so you still get stuck with the HD textures -- bleugh.

This completes my nigh exhaustive tour of the SAGE engine games (missing are only Tiberium Twilight, and Renegade, which isn't an RTS). More on that in the next post, and a retrospective on the C&C series and related games as a whole.
 
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Nutmeg

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Mahou Kingdom
Westwood and its successors' RTS games retrospective.

I've played all of these now, including expansions, with the minor omissions of Dune 2000, Tiberium Twilight and the Covert Ops expansion to C&C 95. This is how I would group them, with brief comments focusing on their comparative place amongst their peers, rather than description, as in my AARs and earlier overview posts.

Dune 2 (1992)

Primitive, but not bad, and still a unique point in the vast RTS design landscape. I recently became aware of its Megadrive port, due to other posters ITT, which seems quite different to the DOS game and perhaps closer to its inspiration Herzog Zwei, the link between two of my favorite genres -- the RTS and the shmup.

Command & Conquer (1995) and Red Alert (1996)

Revolutionary games that, IMO, are still the "must plays" in their respective series, for both the way they play (they have very solid mission design, despite, or maybe even due to, how primitive they are -- there's no fog of war, just shroud, but flying units don't reveal shroud, yet from the very start the mission design is aware of this and built around it), and due to their artistry -- presentation, music, FMV, geopolitical commentary etc. You can tell these were inspired games.

N.B. If you play these games, I recommend the DOS and Windows originals, respectively, run at resolutions of 320 by 240 and 640 by 480 respectively. Don't play them at super high resolutions, it goes against the design of the games akin to playing an N64 FPS with a mouse. Attention rationing is a big part of Westwood RTS design (otherwise, why have the minimap as something you have to invest resources into?) and IMO for maximum enjoyment and challenge it's best to respect that. The recent remasters, AFAICT, fix the field of view irrespective of resolution, so they may be a good choice too (they're made by many of the same people as the originals over 25 years ago, though I haven't played them). Don't play OpenRA's version of these campaigns, at least not initially, as too much is different.

Tiberian Sun (1999) and Red Alert 2 (2000)

The last pure Westwood (Nevada) RTS and the first Westwood LA RTS. Also the first after EA bought Westwood. Powerful, full featured, simulation oriented 2D isometric engine begets less focused single player campaigns and, in the latter case, IMO, less inspired writing and setting. Of the two, Red Alert 2 is the more refined game, unfortunately by shirking away from the challenges of advanced simulation (e.g. gone is the deformable terrain from Tiberian Sun), rather than rising to them.

Emperor Battle for Dune (2001)

The first 3D RTS from Westwood, and the first game built with what would become the SAGE engine, which I believe Westwood bought from a 3rd party. In terms of game design, it's the first serious flirtation with a "risk-style" "over" game (glimpses of which we could see as early as Dune 2 and C&C 95), though undercooked, as missions get a bit repetitive due to map sameyness, and some of its elements being better on paper (e.g. direction of attack, again, due to map sameyness). Worth playing for its unique system of joining minor houses to your own during the campaign by completing secondary objectives (IIRC), though your house determines which minor houses are easier, or harder, or impossible to recruit.

Generals (2003) and Battle for Middle Earth (2004)

The last game core Westwood worked on before they broke off early on during development and formed Petroglyph, and the first game (presumably) wholly in their absence. With regards to fundamental RTS design and play, this is the genre at two different local optimums. At a glance, Generals might deceive players into thinking it's simply a refined, 3D C&C game (which is what Tiberium Wars actually is, see below), but it's only because it takes elements from a familiar combat model, only to then emphasize and combine them to the point of subversion. Generals, is also, IMO an inspired game with regard to its artistry. Battle for Middle Earth on the other hand puts the miniatures-like combat model from genre adjacent games such Shadow of the Horned Rat or Total War, in an RTS proper, along with a constrained take on base building to the benefit, not detriment of, its strategic play. It also makes maps interesting and the AI more capable (don't expect miracles).

Empire at War (2006)

An evolution of the Emperor Battle for Dune risk-style, strategic over-game, to a real-time format, but shifting the strategy away from the battles, too much so, at least as far as the campaign is concerned, which falls flat on its face IMO. Space battles are very well done, especially between capital ships due to the genre first (AFAIK) targetable hard points on these units.

Battle for Middle Earth 2 (2006), Tiberium Wars (2007) and Red Alert 3 (2008)

Uninspired, very corporate, big budget games from new blood at EA LA -- The majority of the original LA team, which had been around since Red Alert 2, left after finishing BFME 1, to say nothing of any stragglers from Westwood Nevada.

BFME 2 had troubled development, as evidenced by its janky single player campaign (the expansion, OTOH, has a much less janky campaign, with a couple of excellent missions, though even then, it is let down by some jank), and other tells such as the fact that it was released in 2006 without widescreen resolution support. Nevertheless it made important innovations in unit control (adding a means of specifying facing and formation with move orders, as well as issuing different orders to multiple units simultaneously) that would carry over to Tiberium Wars and RA3. Compared to its prequel, BFME 2 is a lot more conservative in its design (e.g. gone is the innovative build plot system), which is another thing all three games have in common, with the latter two setting out from where 1998 left off.

Unlike BFME 2, which was undercooked, Tiberium Wars and RA3 are overcooked, if anything i.e. they are overproduced, and, IMO, lack soul. Made up for by the fact that they both have very good campaigns. RA3's campaign is also of note because it is entirely co-op, while its expansion had no multiplayer at all. Beyond that, Tiberium Wars also has a surprisingly competent AI (don't expect miracles) and RA3 makes naval units and water tiles interesting by expanding and subverting genre conventions, albeit within the confines of an overly simplistic, retrograde combat model.

Universe at War (2007)

In many aspects of its design, a sequel to, or evolution of, Generals, from combat model, to economy. Perhaps revealing some of the direction Generals might have taken had Westwood Nevada stuck around in 2002 and 2003. Highly unique remix of familiar elements from all Command & Conquer games bearing the Westwood name, in addition to Generals, along with Petroglyph original ideas such as the capital ships from Empire at War, but now they're huge walkers on land that are their faction's production buildings and can also crush other faction's production buildings, or a power-grid for base expansion doubling as a unit transport super highway, and all round incredible asymmetry between factions. Excellent interface and attention to attention (not a mistake in my wording there) that makes it clear that the absence of shift clicking is a deliberate design choice, not a programming oversight.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Recommended for anyone who likes RTS games:
  • Command & Conquer,
  • Red Alert,
  • Emperor Battle for Dune,
  • Generals,
  • Battle for Middle-earth,
  • Universe at War
Skip unless you're after or especially interested in what I put in parentheses:
  • Tiberian Sun (simulation, Y2K angst era grim future sci-fi),
  • Red Alert 2 (gold standard 2D isometric RTS),
  • Empire at War (space battles within a Total War-like strategic context),
  • Battle for Middle-earth 2 (refined minatures-like combat model and controls),
  • Tiberium Wars (good, well produced, content rich, campagin, surprisingly competent AI),
  • Red Alert 3 (co-op campaign, Starcraft-like combat model but where unit design makes terrain matter)
I know some readers will hate me for putting Tiberian Sun and RA2 in the skip category, and I suppose they'd be right -- it's worth, almost mandatory, playing at least one of the two if you are a fan of the genre. OTOH, if you don't care for the sci-fi, Tiberian Sun is a tech demo, RA2 dials a lot of it back, and unless you really miss naval units, Generals can be considered a refinement of sorts on RA2 (although it goes well beyond that, as well). Well, this was my reasoning anyway.
 
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PanickedTushkano

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I don't see The Tone Rebellion (1997) in the list, but I think it's debatable if that is actually an RTS. From what little I've played, the control scheme is non-standard.
 

janior

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Its a tricky balancing act between 'game plays by itself the player is not required' and 'you have to do every single minute detail' but you do understand that actually playing the game is the point?

The issue is that a strategy game should be about strategy. You should be expected to outplay your opponent. RTS games that make themselves all about stutter-stepping, fighting with unit AI, and generally fighting with the game mechanics in order to actually accomplish anything just get in the way of the strategy and make it more tedious to pull off, which makes for horrible gameplay. All RTS games have various degrees of this, but StarCraft with it's limited unit selection, extremely wonky AI, super zoomed-in camera and general jankiness is very micro-intensive, which I feel has a major negative effect on it's depth and strategy, which is why I feel like it's extremely overrated. People like to focus on the atmosphere, balance and story, which are all good, but the actual gameplay is very crusty and outdated and people can't see it because of nostalgia.

Games like Supreme Commander, which let you automate basic unit creation and focus on things like resource management offer a lot more opportunities for strategy and depth as a result. It's a smart-persons RTS.

Dota is probably the best of both worlds in this regard. Although it suffers from a related problem where the super micro-intensive characters are about as effective as the ones who play themselves, so there's no real benefit to taking the hundreds of hours required to master a hero like Chen or Meepo unless that complex playstyle somehow appeals to you.

This push towards more automation and more focus on strategy has been a slow, gradual goal for RTS games in general. One could argue that things like Attack-Move, Formations, control groups, and other essential RTS features are "automation", and since they weren't in older RTS games, it's clear that people care about these things because they want to actually play the game, not spend hours memorising keystrokes and mastering tiny nuances of AI.

In this regard, StarCraft is the vim or RTS games, except that vim is useful and powerful, StarCraft is just old and crusty. Great campaign, though. Just a shame about the gameplay.

On a related note, this is also why fighting games are objectively terrible and only stupid people like them.
skill issue - the post
 
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Messages
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There are 3 great lineages of RTS games


These are the "crafts" (Warcraft/Starcraft), C&C, and "Age of" games (Age of Empires/Mythology)


They each feel different and have innovated in different ways

If there were a 4th, it would have probably been Relic with Impossible Creatures / DoW which introduced a different take on resources and positional control

And the "Annihilation" lineage. Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander, Planetary Annihilaition, etc.

skill issue - the post

What a witty retort that absolutely refutes my original point. Bravo. I guess I should expect this level of idiocy from the Codex

Skip unless you're after or especially interested in what I put in parentheses:
  • Tiberian Sun (simulation, Y2K angst era grim future sci-fi),

Not recommending Tiberian Sun is a game crime.

The importance of Tiberian Sun is that it single-handedly shows that the RTS genre can be atmospheric and evoke feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and other emotions typically associated with first person games or games that are more about the story of a single character. Tiberian Sun, especially compared to CNC3, did an extremely good job of making the world feel like a barren, barely habitable, treacherous place, filled with hostile life and a toxic atmosphere. CNC3 feels very clean, even in the "Red zones" and virtually every other RTS game I have played that's set in a post-apocalyptic or terrifying, infested setting (StarCraft zerg worlds, Total Annihilaton decimated worlds, Dawn of War endless war etc) just comes across as having a slightly beaten up map that never feels truly inhospitable or dangerous. Most of these places just feel like "game maps", if that makes sense?

I wholeheartedly disagree with you that Tiberian Sun's gameplay is essentially a tech demo, and I feel like you're selling the gameplay short. Great thought and care was put into making the factions different enough to be relevant - GDI has an emphasis on big, clunky land units (Titans, Mammoth MK II, etc), while NOD is more infantry and stealth focused, and this design isn't just reflected in their special unique/commando units, but in other more minor faction differences too (GDI has a vehicle transport Orca, while NOD has an infantry helicopter, for instance, and in Firestorm this is extended to both the GDI mobile war factory and the NOD mobile barracks). Terrain deformation as well as elevation is interesting in regards to certain aspects like disk throwers projectiles having physics, however it is admittedly undercooked. TS's gameplay is far from super innovative, but what's there is there and is interesting.

One of the innovations you didn't mention is how doing optional, hard side missions before main missions can affect what units and resources you have access to in the main missions. For example, in one case you have an optional mission requiring you to capture various bridges, which is a hard mission. In the main mission alongside it, the bridge will explode and prevent enemy reinforcements if you completed the bridge capture mission. I believe this was also removed in Red Alert 2, along with terrain deformation and other things.

Where this aspect really shines is in the "gimmick" missions. Every C&C game has them, you know the ones I'm talking about. Usually you start without a base, often with a special commando or unique unit, and have to infiltrate or take out a special objective, or do something to that effect. The Hospital GDI mission is amazing, and NOD has a few too, where the unit design of the special units aids the gameplay significantly. In the hospital mission, for instance, you have a relatively weak mutant which can instant-kill infantry, a slow firing railgunner who can take out light vehicles, and a defenceless hijacker. Using all three of them together is important and forms most of the challenge for the mission.

I would recommend giving Tiberian Sun another playthrough if you have a chance, and really let yourself get engrossed by it's world. You will have a great time. You should play the expansion (Firestorm) too, which is excellent.
 
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Beastro

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Messages
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I wasn't a fan of the campaigns, they veer strongly into fantasy territory rather than being based on historical events like AoE 1 and 2.
I hated, hated, HATED the AoE3 campaign.

I was so looking forward to playing some historical 17th and 18th century campaigns just like you could choose from in AoE2 and instead you get some stupid story about the foundation of youth.

I almost quit when Russia tried to invade early 19th century America from Alaska.

A whole fucking army marching across North America complete with Tsar Cannon!?! In Age of Empires?!?
 

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