The Introduction Rerevisited
When I look back upon the last two segments of this series -- here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 for the unenlightened -- I realize just how much of an overly verbose writer I can be at times. For the ADD/ADHD crowd out there who really wishes I was more concise, I do apologize; the unnecessarily lengthy written form has been and will most likely continue to be my shtick. For the most part, though, I've been told that the series thus far has been well received and, despite the daunting length, a surprisingly quick and easy read. I do my best to avoid complex thoughts and complicated wording to the best of my ability which an especially simple task since my capacity for any sort of abstract thought is limited to paltry observations along the lines of "Oh, perty!" or "Yay, shiny!" But, that is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of this article other than to serve as a nice icebreaker for the rest of the third segment of my series on Real-Time Strategy games and, occasionally, their half-blooded ilk.
As in the last part, I feel a burning desire to thank all of the people who have commented in some public, private, or super-private (wink wink) form to me about the series thus far. I've received some truly fantastic comments and, on the whole, it seems that people are getting some decent information from this thing. Of special interest to me was one of the longer comments I received on an offsite publication of the article over at JoeUser; which is a blogging site started by some of the fine folk at Stardock (Galactic Civilizations 2 being a huge title in the realm of turn-based strategy games).
Galactic Civilizations 2.
For this segment of the series I am going to be taking a look at a handful of some of the most genre-critical games released that I haven't yet covered at all or to any worthy extent in either of the past two articles. My choices for the games to be mentioned may draw some relatively harsh feelings of the your-favorite-game-wasn't-mentioned variety, but that is to be expected in this kind of situation. I would encourage anyone in this camp to post a comment (preferably with some sort of explanation) to this article, though. The RTS and first-person shooter genres are two of the richest categories of gaming that I can think of and, honestly, books could be written about games from even a single developer (and have been), so while I'm picking these games carefully -- dare I say strategically -- there will always be stragglers worthy of mention. I encourage you to shout these titles from rooftops around the globe utilizing some form of barbaric yawp.
Total Annihilation was mentioned due to its immense modability in part 2 of the series and, this time, it's getting mentioned due to its supreme whole package of gaming goodness in the form of a revolutionary real-time strategy game that is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of the genre. TA was first released back on in the third-quarter of 1997 by Cavedog Entertainment and designed, primarily, by industry visionary Chris Taylor. Total Annihilation was a huge RTS game for a number of reasons that I won't be able to do proper justice to within the scope of a mere part of an article of a part of an entire series... But, here's the gist of the things it brought to the table upon its release:
- Prettiness -- Three-Dee Graphics and a surprisingly well-done physics implementation for unit movement, projectiles, and debris asplostions.
- Infinite Resources -- Resources (Energy and Metal) in the game were infinite in supply, so instead of trying to make the best use of the limited resources a cache can provide you, the focus is instead on producing them as quickly as possible and increasingly upgrading the maximum storage for each research.
- Terrain -- The terrain in the game isn't actually rendered in 3D, but each point on the terrain is given a certain value for height from a map-specific set of data. So while the terrain is rendered two-dimensionally, the height data is utilized by the entities in the game in order to make them react to the ground as if it actually possessed that component of depth. The height of certain spots on the terrain is also utilized by the projects launched from units; artillery, for instance, cannot fire through a mountain or hill in the land -- this means that these very long-range units may not be able to demolish a base from afar if the base is designed to use the protection offered by whatever landmasses surround it.
- Units -- The default maximum for units is 500 and Total Annihilation, I would venture to say, was the first game to really utilize battles waging across land, water, and air well. I always felt that Warcraft II was a great starting platform for multi-medium combat, but TA took it to the extreme with great success. TA also shipped with roughly 150 stock units; a number which now totals into the thousands between user-created units, expansion packs, etc..
- Interface -- A left/right sidebar menu was popular during the time of the early RTS titles and Total Annihilation didn't change this... What it did change, however, was the masterful implementation of unit-manipulation into a number of possible hotkeys that could instantly group together units which fit into certain constraints (all non-commander units, everything on screen, all aircraft, etc.) to minimize the difficulties of army management. The game also had an endless-queue implementation that allowed you to give successive orders to units/buildings all at once which it could operate while you focused your attention elsewhere.
What all of these features of Total Annihilation taken into account, you have a real-time strategy game that really shook up the generic constraints that the RTS junkies at the time would have otherwise expected. The typical pace of the real-time strategy game at the time was (well, much like it is today) not especially fast-paced, with units that are typically as inversely fast as they are strong. Units, also, typically didn't have an attack range that was really anything to write home about -- the convention being that most units could not attack anything that they could not see or, more commonly, could not be seen within the range of the screen around the unit. In TA, there were an abundance of units of all power, speed, and range that you pumped out as fast as your factories and resources permitted until the point you reached the unit cap or, more likely, the enemy comes and absolutely crushes your puny forces.
Basically, Total Annihilation reminded other RTS titles that they had no concept at what annihilation really meant. Units were capable of wrecking mass mayhem upon bases and structures to the point that players were encouraged to employ a fairly spread-out base pattern that didn't have too many big, expensive buildings in too close a vicinity. As if the bombers, tanks, and artillery units weren't enough to send TA over the top in terms of pure firepower, the game also made prolific use of one of the greatest things -- nay, the greatest thing -- in the strategy gamer's arsenal: the nuclear bomb. And any game that employs, promotes even, the use of nuclear armaments against the opposition scores so many points in my view that, really, it's almost unfair to the competition.
The striking aspect of Total Annihilation in the grand scheme of things, though, is just how successfully it was able to pull off so many of its namesake features. The pure havoc wrecked in each battle amongst the dozens upon dozens of units gotten through the clever utilization of numerous factories funded by an infinite well of resources across land, sea, and air is something that has lived on in the eyes of modern gamers with unparalleled competition. And, despite the number of features that have been pulled from the title over the years, the most interesting thing is that there really hasn't been much of an active attempt to mimic the game's incredibly successful (in terms of critical acclaim, if not in sales) formula since its original release. There was an attempt to cash in on the franchise name with Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, but that was a lost cause on almost all fronts. The first real glimmer of hope for fans of what is widely regarded as one of the best RTSs ever made is coming in 2007 with Chris Taylor's spiritual successor to TA: Supreme Commander (which will be covered in further detail in part four of this series).
The bottom line, though, is that Total Annihilation was an incredible game which was far ahead of its time when it was released. The combination of revolutionary features (many of which have been plucked by other games over time), a great engine, and an extensive set of modification possibilities have made this game one of the most memorable titles to ever hit the genre.
Ah, Starcraft. Where can one really begin to discuss a game which a majority of gamers consider to be the greatest real-time strategy title to ever hit shelves? Oh, oh! I know! I'll start by saying that I'm not one of those people. I do believe that Starcraft (a follow-up to Warcraft II) is an absolutely fantastic title. It is a game worthy of a majority of the praise which is thrown in its direction. It is a living(ish) testament to the virtually unrivaled sense of dedication, production, and polish that Blizzard imbues into its titles. Starcraft is a game which many people, especially Koreans, believe has yet to be surpassed by any title preceding or even following its release in 1998.
At its release, Starcraft hooked players by having one of the most entertaining and well-done single-player campaigns at the time of its release. The missions were spread across a three-act storyline which started off with the futuristic Human race known as the Terran. The following segment of the campaign then put the player in charge of the Zerg race (building upon events which occurred throughout the Terran portion, of course) who are, quite simply, one of the most entertaining factions available in any strategy game. The single-player story then concludes with the technologically-adept Protoss and, oh, does it ever conclude with a bang. If you have yet to play through Starcraft's Splendiferous Single-Player, then I'd suggest you go find your copy (or go buy one, you sinner) and get to it. It's truly one of the high points of my gaming history and I feel tinges of pain just thinking about various readers not knowing what kind of experience they're missing out on.
It's not unusual for a Blizzard game to pull out all of the stops in regards to the content offered to those gamers without friends and a gateway portal into the jumble of Internet tubes, but if that's all you got out of the game, then you sorely missed one of the few legitimately revolutionary aspects of the title: the multiplayer. In part two of this here epic series I mentioned the importance of Battle.net to the genre, and Starcraft is really where the service started to shine. Suddenly, gamers no longer had to rely on third-party solutions for multiplayer matchmaking (they didn't for Blizzard's previous game, Diablo either, but that's a different genre and therefore I'm allowed to omit it from generalities at my discretion), but instead a service built into and customized for the game itself. The details of this are discussed in more detail in the last segment of this series, but basically the gist of the thing is this: Battle.net made online matches of Starcraft incredibly easy to get into and, as an added benefit, players had stats/ranks associated with their account (which seems simple, but goes a long way to making competition even more important for players).
Aside from the multiplayer, which I'd consider to be the most important element of Starcraft, the various factions themselves are an integral portion of the game. Blizzard did something near-miraculous with the three races which warrants a mention: they're incredibly well-balanced. The Zerg and Protoss are both deep and complex races which the upper-tier of players can utilize a seemingly infinite number of strategies with. Me? I always just liked to mass carriers and terrorize my enemies with endless amounts of interceptors (launched from the carriers). This is, admittedly, a strategy with more holes than a Swiss-cheese Gatling gun cover, but it sure was fun. The one problem with this supreme unit-balancing is that I only mentioned the Zerg and Protoss in this discussion. What about the Terran? Well... Good question. Oh well. 66% batting average for Blizzard.
As incredible as the game is, Starcraft was very close to not making the cut for the handful of games that I picked out for this segment of the series. There is a very legitimate reason for this choice aside from the fact that I value my life and have no desire to be hunted down by rabid Blizzfans. Starcraft, as far as its gameplay is concerned, really did very little to further the genre. Blizzard stuck closely to the success it experienced with Warcraft 2 and just took it into space, adding a third race, and applying their trademark level of polish and presentation to the mix. It paid off in a singular sense; Starcraft is, as I've said, widely considered to be one of the greatest RTSs ever released even by modern standards. It's a great game, and if we're looking at it from a purely enjoyable perspective, then it's a winner... But we're not. Starcraft completely eclipsed Total Annihilation when it was released and, far and away, became the "game to beat" without breaking even a sweat. And, for gamers, that's great. For developers, though, I would have much rather seen Total Annihilation succeed wildly even after the release of Starcraft. TA took more chances with its gameplay, it introduced far more innovative features, and was easily one of the most original RTSs of its time.
That didn't happen, though. Blizzard hit another winner out of the ballpark with Starcraft, and proved a theory that has been validated from time-to-time by various blockbuster games: so long as all of the game's elements come together perfectly, innovation and revolution can take a back seat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in a sweeping sense, either. A lot of great games have come from refining flawed, but highly enjoyable, concepts in past titles (something the First-Person Shooter genre is infamous for), but it's a topic which I think warrants a bit of discussion.
The first game from one of the central threads which make up the United States' sex blanket, Vancouver-based Relic Entertainment, also happened to be an incredibly well-done real-time strategy title which, as far as I'm concerned, had a profound effect on the genre the likes of which were not to be seen for nearly four to five years after its release. Homeworld was one of the first (if not the first) strategy game to fully utilize the third dimension in a new generation of games, and I don't simply mean as a neat visual eye sex. Homeworld actually made full use of the three-hundred and sixty degrees of freedom that space allows (sorry if this spoils the Mercury program for you) for both its limitless camera system and the ability to move your ships left, right, up, down, and all around the starry map. The player simply needs to use the movement action, hold-down shift, and the ship can be moved higher or lower on the tactical map as it thrusts all the way to its target location. This feature of the game doesn't really have a direct impact on the actual gameplay mechanics of Homeworld, but it does make for a level of immersion which a majority of RTSs had yet to achieve by that point in time. And, without saying too much on the subject, being able to zoom in as close as the camera allows (which is far more up-close and personal than you'd ever need for any practical purposes) and rotate around your units while your units duke it out in visceral, fast-paced space combat is one of the greatest feelings I've ever experienced in a strategy game. This feeling was later amplified with Relic's later-released Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. This later feeling was then uberamplified in Relic's even laterer-released Company of Heroes. More on Relic, as a developer, in part four of the series, but here's a quick teaser: they're doing for the modern RTS was Blizzard did for the genre in its infancy.
Homeworld's user-interface is worth mentioning as well; it is, without question, one of the most unobtrusive and intuitive interfaces that I've ever had the pleasure of interacting with in a game. It's difficult to actually explain in writing (the words! zey do nothing!!!), but essentially the interaction with units is handled through small on-screen cues, a movement plane (with depth of movement controllable on an as-needed basis), and then everything else can be handled by using the small menu which pops-up at the bottom of the screen (seen here) whenever you need to execute more complex operations, such as research or unit-building. There is also a large-scale tactical map which puts the entirety of the battlefield at the click of a mouse.
And, really, Homeworld's interface brings one of the game's greatest strengths (and greatest gifts to the genre as a whole) into plain sight. Or discussion. Plain something. Anyway, the greatest feature of the game is its ability to maintain the same real-time strategic and tactical gameplay while completely immersing the player in its world. The graphics engine allows for complete viewpoint freedom and frantic firefights in the depths of space which the player can choose to view without, really, any interface obstruction whatsoever. The gameplay and player interaction are weaved so well into the tapestry of features which define Homeworld that it's fairly evident why the game garnered such an abundance of awards and critical praise. The amount of detail present in the model
The campaign portion of Homeworld was always the selling point for me, personally. I loved the story and the way that the game allowed players to continually build upon their fleet of ships from mission-to-mission (Big "Hooray!" for persistent forces!). The game's scale is also worth mentioning; as you work through the campaign you will, similar to every other RTS campaign, gain access to increasingly powerful units. The first time I saw my destroyer completely annihilate the enemy opposition as swarms upon swarms of small fighter ships flew through the air (erm, vacuum?) to attack the Mothership I just about cried myself into a joyous coma. Homeworld didn't have a whole lot of longevity in the sense that I didn't play it very much compared to some of the other titles on this list, but it is an experience which the ubernerd gamer part of me (it's a big part) will remember forevar.
I'm going to go ahead and just point something out to start this very one-sided discussion. As a kind of prelude. An entry point. No, a prelude to the topic at hand. I can say, with a stratum of certainty generally unattainable by me in everyday interactions, that Warcraft III (and its expansion pack) is my favorite real-time strategy game of all time. I'll detail the reasons in a mere matter of moments, but let me follow-up this bold statement with an equally daring remark: it is not a game which I would classify as being the best RTS. There's a huge distinction between the two which I will cover towards the end of this section of the article but, in short, the reason I love Warcraft 3 is because it's a very well-made strategy game that is incredibly easy to play on a great many levels.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
The vanilla edition of Warcraft III came out on July 3, 2002; this is a day I remember exceedingly well. Not really for any reason which I'd actually directly relate to the game, but because a friend and I were at a wedding and raved about the game to each other endlessly for about a solid hour at the reception the day before Warcraft 3 was to be released. I also decided to splurge on a GeForce 4800 the day I bought the game -- and, oh, how difficult it was to find the game without having preordered it -- and, in short, it was a day for the books. A glorious nerd day the likes of which I had not experienced for an extended duration of time as I wandered the digital wasteland of gaming (a land devoid of entertaining and unique title) which had preceded the release of Blizzard's new opus.
Warcraft 3 is a bit odd in that it, really, doesn't share a whole lot in common with its predecessors. Sure, it's an RTS set in the same universe and it continues the same basic stories/lore as Warcraft 1 and 2, but its gameplay mechanics are really quite different than the relatively similar styles present in its forefathers. Instead of focusing on land, sea, and air like Warcraft 2, WC3 simplifies its mediums of combat to land and air. It also reduces the number of units which a player can have at any time by, roughly, half. So instead of the massive armies which spanned all forms of weaponry from mere knights and archers to battleships and dragons, Warcraft 3 put more of a focus on making the player control small squads of units with intensity (ie, more of a focus on micromanagement). In the early portions of any competitive game, an Orc player would be at a severe disadvantage if they lost a single one of the first grunts which he/she produces. And while this focus on individual units decreases as you get further and further into the game (and the tech tree), the central idea remains relatively unchanged: each unit plays a huge part in the battles. Each "squad" assigned to a hotkey has a maximum of twelve units possible, and I generally don't use more than four hotkeys with my units spread out into something like: base melee, ranged/casters, air units, and artillery. Warcraft 3 is far from being a real-time tactical game (though it has entirely too many fixed-force campaign missions); there is a definite focus on tech-tree research, base-building, and so on and so forth.
Warcraft 3 is still played very often by a number of RTS players, despite the fact that a huge number of triple-A RTS games have been unleashed upon hard drives and retail shelves everywhere in the four years since the game was first released. xFire, a chat client designed with gamers in mind, even has Warcraft 3's expansion pack within the list of the ten most-played games every day -- I have yet to see (or, at the very least, remember) a day go by where it has not been listed in the "Today's Top Game" column whatsoever. And, just think, this tally of play doesn't even include the amount of time which gamers spend playing the original Warcraft 3, just its expansion. When I first decided to include WC3 in this segment of the series, three single features of the game stood out to me as being the most obvious and important reasons for the game's success amongst the more strategically-oriented gamers of the world.
Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.
One of Warcraft 3's most important features is the role which "heroes" play in the game; essentially, these are units which start out relatively powerful in any match, but as they level up and learn increasingly powerful abilities they become a huge aspect of a player's army. Whenever someone begins playing WC3 for the first time, one of the things I always stress is that the heroes are the most critical aspect of the game; a mediocre army with a couple of high-level heroes will always topple a larger army with a single average hero. In my opinion, all of the Warcraft 3 heroes are incredibly powerful, but the choice of which ones to utilize simply depends on a player's style of play. Each of the game's four races has a selection of four heroes: one strength, one agility, one intelligence, and then the fourth hero (introduced in the expansion pack) is generally a reflection of a race's strengths. If a player has a very aggressive playing style, a strength hero is generally a good choice. I personally like to have a fairly varied selection of units, so my heroes generally play a big support/buff role, so while my army may consist of expensive, strong melee units, I'll usually rely on an intelligence-based hero who can heal and tie up enemy units. This aspect of the game is a reflection on the versatility of the game's races; each one has a depth of strategies that can be utilized depending wholly on the way a player likes to play. There is no "best" army for any race, and even if you rely on the same army composition game after game, simply changing the heroes you use may completely change the way in which you play a match. I doubt that Warcraft 3 really pioneered this feature, but Blizzard definitely executed it perfectly and it's a feature which has been endlessly copied by dozens of games since the release of WC3 (albeit with, normally, less success).
The other two highlight features of the game go hand-in-hand; first, Warcraft 3 is one of the most well-paced strategy titles that I've ever played. It is, for the most part, a fast-paced game, but there are spots in most skirmishes where a player needs to research tech, build necessary buildings to begin the construction of his army, and all the while use his first few low-powered units to assist his hero in killing "creep" (neutral, aggressive monsters of varying power) in order to level it up before any battles begin with the opposing forces. After about five minutes of preparation, scouting, and early hero leveling, though, the game kicks into high gear and the rest of the match is a struggle for resources and units to continually thwart enemy advances and, eventually, take the battle into the enemy's base for an eventual strike of ultimate destruction that wins the match for the player. It is this fast-paced nature of the game which, in my mind, is directly correlated with the third critical aspect of the game: the multiplayer component. If it started with Diablo, and great improved with Starcraft, then Battle.net was essentially perfected with Warcraft 3 and the subsequent expansion. In the four years since the games release, I have yet to see any game even begin to compete with the multiplayer match-making excellence in WC3. Not only is it easy to play a game (with anywhere up to eight players for team games, and up to twelve players for some custom games), but the stats which the Battle.net servers record and maintain are incredibly detailed. I could ramble on and on about the system but, really, I've said all I need to say. The Warcraft 3 multiplayer really is that great.
No matter how many RTSs I find to play which are incredibly fun, Warcraft 3 is the only title that I consistently come back to playing primarily because its multiplayer component is, as far as I'm concerned, so completely far ahead of those of its competitors. As much as I've enjoyed various RTS games in the past -- Dawn of War, Rise of Legends, and Company of Heroes to name a few -- WC3 is always the one I come back to whenever I want a nice multiplayer RTS to play (Counter-Strike: Source is my equivalent game in the FPS arena). If I had to find something faulty in the game, it would be that actually getting into the multiplayer realm for a new player is... Daunting. A player simply needs to go into a Battle.net match expecting to lose his first dozen or so games; the players who play the game online are just incredibly good at the game. Just being a persistent player and trying to learn from mistakes will quickly help a player through the early phases of multiplayer 'crafting, though, and when that happens it's fairly easy to see why Warcraft 3 gets the praise it so rightly deserves.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
Rise of Nations
In a genre occupied by heathens and harlots, in a dirty, grimy, despicable part of the digital town there are gamers who play games which fall under the title of turn-based strategy games. I know, right? It's almost unthinkable that a logical person would enjoy such a trite, uncivilized form of games. Actually, no, it makes good sense, but since I'm playing up the RTS angle at the moment I figure I should push the limits of genre slander. Anyhoo, in that genre, there is a widely-known series of games which go by the name of Civilization; a series pioneered by Sid Meier. Now, on some of these projects, Meier doesn't always take the helm, and this was the case with one of greatest turn-based games ever created: Alpha Centauri. This game was partially created and designed by Brian Reynolds. And good 'ol Bryan one day saw the light -- a completely fictitious story made up at this very moment involves something like an angel of God, all nine muses of myth, and Jim Henson dressed as a crocodile -- and decided to go off on his own and form a developer named Big Huge Games. And create big, huge games they did. Their first title made an absolutely huge splashy-splash in the metaphorical water of the industry and, as far as I'm concerned, is truly one of the greats of my gaming career. Ladies, gents, and kittens, I introduce to you: Rise of Nations.
Rise of Nations.
I won't go on and on about this title, because this article is already running far longer than I had originally anticipated, but there are some things about this game that need to be said. Rise of Nations is, essentially, a real-time strategy game that bridges the gap between the turn-based Civilization games and the more fast-paced, conventional real-time strategy games. A typical game starts out at the very earliest of architectural and agricultural civilization and then, by the end of the game, you have seals, tanks, nukes, and stealth bombers flying all over the enormous battlefield that spans land, sea, and air. Yes. That's right. The game has nukes and they absolute devastate an entire village (a bit more than a full screen of damage at 1280x1024) with their nuketastic goodness. To use an earlier grammatical style: if Age of Empires started the idea of a real-time strategy game progressing through "ages" of advancement through specific eras of civilization and Empire Earth was the first game to successfully stretch out the idea of "ages" throughout the entire spectrum of civilization... Then Rise of Nations took the best from both aspects of both of these games, combined with some of the tricks Reynolds was sure to have picked up from Side Meier and the Civilization games he was a part of, and whipped out one hell of an RTS.
The other thing I really found spectacular about Rise of Nations was its very cool take on single-player entertainment with its "Conquer the World" campaign system. Instead of having the "my friends hate the games I like" version of play revolve around a single, linear story which may only provide fun and excitement for one, maybe two play-throughs, Big Huge Games went with a far more varied, dynamic, and open-ended RISK-like take on world conquest. The player can take control of one civilization, choose which territories to really put structure upgrades into, and take that civilization through several "turns;" every turn, a player can attack other territories in an attempt to claim new land (and a random scenario is occasionally chosen to spice things up a bit), or defend his land from enemies possessed with the green-eyed abomination of jealousy and greed. Throughout an entire CTW campaign a player can make or break alliances, increase the base structures in his territories, and accumulate cards which grant the player certain benefits in battles in which they are played. It was a feature in Rise of Nations which I never took advantage of until last spring and, upon finally trying it out, played obsessively for a solid two weeks before I realized just how near my Finals had suddenly become.
Rise of Nations.
In short, Rise of Nations is totally fantastic.
A Concise Conclusion
Shortly before the Rise of Nations portion of this article I realized just how incredibly long-winded and overly-verbose this article had gotten, so I apologize for those of you who really wanted to hear more about that last title. This article was a whole lot of fun for me to write and, in doing the research and writing about so many fantastic RTSs, I do believe that once I finish up this final segment of this series (which will, most likely, cover a mere two games and then a bunch of my closing thoughts for the series) I will actually start designing and developing a small concept RTS of my own which will, most likely, take me about two months to get in a playable state. So, yeah, it's a contagious bug this whole strategic business.
I'm not sure exactly when I'll have part four completed -- I'm actually trying to gather some quotes from various developers, so there's the potential I'll hold off until I have those before I go ahead and publish anything. There's also the chance that this article will also be updated with said quotes as well, but I'll be sure to make a big hairy fuss about that if it happens just so that I can be absolutely, positively sure that everyone is all in the know and such.
Anyway, keep up the great article comments that I'm seeing around the vast reaches of the Intarweb. Thanks for everyone that's talked to me in some form so far. I can't wait to hear/read/see more!