I like the ideas I'm seeing so far, but want to discuss 1 that was just brought up:
there could be player made customizations, and the differences between them should vary every game
I like this idea, however, one of the key things to these games is reducing think time for players. I.e when you see a particular character type, you know how to react, such as sending squad B instead of squad A or choosing to run or go around. If units become heavily customizable, and the game varies each time, it will be harder for people to figure out what to do.
I'm not saying that's bad. I'm just saying it's a mechanic that would need to be careful in its design. How to keep it fun, and keep it working.
My thoughts on that at the moment:
In a typical RTS, you manage hundreds of things, and split your attention all over.
- Not being able to quickly determine what your up against (even after experience settles in) would be tough, potentially requiring more focus than should be alloted to a particular unit or squad in the game.
However, it does make sense to have a lack of knowledge. If you see a group of guys with guns run past, you know they can shoot stuff, but do you know if they have mines, grenades, rocket launchers, or a laser for a guided missile system? nope.
I kind of like the idea that you can have ways of detecting these things. but that has to build up. So mostly, each foot soldier looks the same, but as you see them do things, little flags raise around them on the screen indicating abilities that you are aware of.
In starcraft, if you see a ghost trying to get close to your base, you know it is most likely to setup a nuclear strike, or spy, but usually blow stuff up. The game tactics would change if it were suddenly 10 guys sneaking around at different spots, and any of them could be it. Fortunately you installed laser detectors, and could tell which ones were carring laser guidance systems.
Perhaps I miss understood your inriginal point, but I think the concept is interesting, and possible. Just need to be careful with it.