Real Time--Wait...what?

A few weeks back I ran several articles on what I called “ripple genres”, or small sub-divisions in what is usually believed to be a solid genre. The earlier articles presented various genres of games, such as Role-Playing Games, and showed how inside that genre, various different types of sub-genres existed that created a difference among the ‘solid’ genre. This week I’m following again along with that same theory, looking at another genre that has ripples throughout it: The Real Time Strategy (or RTS) genre.

RTS games are a classic and famous game genre in which the player takes the role of a military commander, organizing troops and military might in an effort to defeat another player. RTS games have always had a home on the PC, where the mouse and keyboard are the perfect interface for the art of organizing and maneuvering a military. Famous games such as Command and Conquer, Red Alert, Warcraft and Starcraft amounted to a large percentage of the gaming market in the mid to late 90s. Even today, RTS games remain a classic staple of gaming power.

However, as mentioned earlier, RTS games are not congruous. Rather, more than most other genres, RTS’s suffer from an even larger disparity of game styles. These sometimes small changes in design may be why in the late 90’s such a division could be found between followers of the RTS genre. When I was in Middle school and High School, I remember having numerous lively discussions with my friends over our preferred RTS game. I myself played the Command and Conquer series and it was my favorite, while my friends played mainly Warcraft and Starcraft.

Looking back now and having played both series, I now see why one appealed to me so much while the other was less appealing. The Command and Conquer series and Blizzard’s “Craft” series both are ripple genres in the RTS pool, which was why myself and my friends each chose different games. Games like Starcraft and Warcraft II limited the amount of forces a player could have in play at one time as well as how many could be controlled with one click. Add an emphasis on fast based combat (Starcraft’s Terran Marine dies on average in an apparent .7 seconds of battle) and you have a highly micromanaged (heavily involved) style of gameplay. Players of Starcraft often click extremely rapidly, so rapidly that it sounds like a woodpecker attacking a computer, as they micro-manage armies that more resemble squads. So fast based is the gameplay that merely looking elsewhere can be cause for loss of a battle. In such, Starcraft and Warcraft II fall into what I would call the “Twitch-RTS” ripple genre. You blink, you miss it.

By contrast, Command and Conquers pace was quite a bit slower. Not only was the perspective further back, but larger amounts of units could be trained and organized for combat and sent into battles which lasted longer than Starcraft’s blink-and-its-gone combat. Combat in the C&C games was more protracted, owing to units that took longer to reach their destinations and took much longer to die under fire then say, the Starcraft Marines. Battles were also much larger. While Twitch-RTS games had standard battles of forty, maybe sixty units, games like C&C had forces that would surpass a hundred. Added to the individual units stay in combat, and battles could be several minute affairs in some cases, where the goal was not to order single units, but groups. Since C&C follows the pattern of the first RTS game, Dune II, in such exactness (after all, the team that made Dune II and invented the Genre next made C&C) I would call this the “Classic RTS”. Longer, more protracted battles of greater numbers.

The next rift in the RTS genre was one that I never had too much experience with (a guys only got so much money to spend on games you know), but is recognized by the industry anyway, so I won’t need to get to deeply into it. As far as play goes, it is almost a mixture of twitch and classic, seating on the bench somewhere in-between the two: Tactical-RTS. These games tend to focus on less units similar to twitch, but longer, more technical battles in which individual movements and moments are critical similar to classic. Often, tactical thinking is encouraged, such as in Mechcommander, when commanders are capable of giving orders to target specific parts (such as individual weapons) of enemy units in order to disable them. While battles may last a long period of time, the commander is busily occupied giving very precise orders to the units under his command, causing them to take cover, provide covering fire or even lure an opponent into an ambush. The “Tactical RTS”. Specific combat.

The last impact to the RTS genre has only truly appeared in recent years as computing power has grown to the capacity to execute its grand design. Strategic RTS’s focus on large scale battles with thousands of units over huge swaths of territory in games that may take ten hours to complete. Strategic RTS games such as Supreme Commander or Sins of a Solar Empire offer large areas of combat, impressively large forces, and grand battles that may take upwards of ten minutes, sometimes longer, to finish. These games have such a grand scale that often I have found myself reading a book as I wait for my armada/army to arrive and form up at the attack position before launching the offensive. The Strategic RTS, combat on a global scale.

So, to summarize, the Real Time Strategy genre is heavily divided into the four smaller genres. Twitch-RTS’s are heavily focused on fast paced micro-managed combat requiring a quick eye and a quicker mouse hand. Classic-RTS’s are slightly slower paced, focused on larger armies and battles taking several minutes at most. Tactical-RTS games rely more on less units but longer battles with focused combat details such as cover, aim and numerous weapon statistics. Strategic-RTS games focus on massive scale combat with thousands of units and battles that can take up to a half hour.

Questions or comments?

GAMES I'M CURRENTLY PLAYING: Castle Crashers (XBLA), Gears of War 2 (360), Sins of a Solar Empire: Entrenchment (PC), Audiosurf (PC), Sonic Unleashed (360)

1 comment:

Time Enforcer Anubis said...

I keep getting reminded that I still need to get Sins of a Solar Empire 'cause I've heard absolutely nothing but good things about it.

That aside, you presented a very accurate description of the different genres within the RTS genre. I'd have to say my favorite two ripples are the Real-Time Tactical and Real-Time Strategic. Ultimate micromanagement and ultimate macromanagement, as it were.

I've definitely played more Real-Time Tactical games, with MechCommander 2 and (parts of) Warzone 2100. I've always been intrigued with the idea of the massive-scale battles Real-Time Strategic brings to the table, and I'm looking forward to trying games in the genre.