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What makes an RTS great?

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I've been toying with the idea of creating a small RTS.  I'm trying to figure out which features should get my attention for the first version.  (planning small)

 

Basically I'm looking for clarity in what people like about RTS's, give any reply you want about that.  But I have a few specific questions I'm looking for as well.

 

Tell me about what you like best about existing RTS's, popular or not, new or old.

 

In an RTS that you like, are there things you hate?

 

What feature have you not seen that you would like to see?  - Also, if you've seen a feature but it was terrible, but you think it has potential, what was it and how could it be better?

 

Thanks.

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I would add a non-military economy, and make the game not strongly war based.
Something like:
-Multiple players
-Resources like oil, water, clean air etc. (which all players have access to and is shared.) For example if a player pollutes air, drains all oil from the oil reserves and dumps his waste to the river which you take your water from, you probably have a reason for war unless you can solve it through diplomacy
-You only need to defeat the enemys defense, not destroy him completely. Eg. Fill the streets with your army, and after a while youll get hold of all his factories etc (with reduced functionality for some time of course) Edited by Waterlimon

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@DpakoH
I dont really like different races for different players.
Instead, there could be player made customizations, and the differences between them should vary every game. Eg. at one game player A might have a resource good for defense, while player B has a resource good for attack.
This would increase variety and force players to learn all styles of gameplay. You might not even know what youre fighting against, there might be a quick attack or might not.
So the "race" would be defined by:
-Player customizations (appearance, POSSIBLY some minor gameplay affecting factors)
-Player environment and situation when the game starts Edited by Waterlimon

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Somebody may disagree with me on this but Starcraft (or Starcraft 2 which is practically the same) has everything one would want from RTS game. That is base building, multiple races, multiple resources, near perfect balance inbetween. But for me in all RTS game after a while it boils down to -> do this, this and this in exactly this order, under certain amount of time and you will win.

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I like the ideas I'm seeing so far, but want to discuss 1 that was just brought up:

 

[quote name='Waterlimon' timestamp='1356625663' post='5014725']
there could be player made customizations, and the differences between them should vary every game
[/quote]

 

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.

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[quote name='proanim' timestamp='1356629586' post='5014746']
do this, this and this in exactly this order, under certain amount of time and you will win.
[/quote]

 

That is something I'm trying to avoid to a certain point.  I like in Warcraft 2, how there would be lulls, time to think and plan attacks and defenses.  If the game provides some creative and changing elements, it will need to somehow allow more time for thinking plans through as well.

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boils down to -> do this, this and this in exactly this order, under certain amount of time and you will win.
Exactly, I'm not some korean robot that does that full-time, so I will never play it perfectly.

Some games try to rock, paper, scissor, where every unit has some counter unit, but ultimatly it means there won't be many surprises.
On the other hand if you put in too much randomness it's no longer a strategy game...

I guess it's because most games try to serve to competetive players. When I was younger and Internet wasn't something everybody had I played mostly with friends. I've got the feeling the games where more interesting and we experimented much more.

Nowadays it's all about playing regulary and climbing up the ladder. I don't have time or motivation to play every day/week/month just to stay good at a game. Besides most games just don't have enough content to keep me interested for such a long time. I mean after playing the campaing and maybe a dozen games in multiplayer you've seen everything there is to discover in SC2. Now one only needs to repeat until his hands are bleeding and he is a so-called pro.

Make a game that's fun too play and that a good player can win even if he/she paused for a few month. Make it different each time (maybe radomize the map) so it won't be possible to use some standard strategy found on the internet. Don't make it a race, where you just have to be faster than everybody else to win.



To me chess is the ultimate strategy game. No randomnes and complete view of the board, only the things in your opponents head are a secret (you can still try to guess).
And because there are also standard openings and opening books, some people suggested to place the pieces more or less randomly and then play, after a winner is found put the pieces back, just like the first time but switch sides. That way the board doesn't have to be fair, balanced or symmetric, you don't even have to place the same number of pieces for each color.

You could also take a look at bridge (the card game) as far as I know they are also reusing the same random hand of cards and switch them between SN and EW too keep it fair.

Edit: You could even randomize the available technologies each time to prevent boring standard tactics.
Easy: Don't allow Infantery unit X Hard: No flying units this round. Edited by shadowomf

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I'm also a fan of Environmental Interactions.  For instance, Wind and dist clouds.  Reduce visibility, slow vehicles, possibly prevent flight.  Setup some sort of Dust generator up wind from an enemy base.  Or an area you don't want enemies to fly through.

 

A catapult that flings trees perhaps, or A Ditch digger that can block off areas by water.  Perhaps even tunnelling.  or hiding ships in a cloud.

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I really, really like RTS that have fewer more powerful units. Like in the best RTS of all time Company of Heroes the player typically has only a large handful of units 10-15 ish. Each infintry unit is really a squad of soldiers but they act as one unit. I don't like games were you just build a massive army of 40 units group them up and just click the center of the enemys base. CoH battles are all about micro-management and environmental interaction. If you have not tried it you can pick up all three games on steam pretty cheap. Also different races are a must IMO but it makes game balance hard and is a lot of extra work. Also having a couple of types of resources is ok but don't go overboard keep the game play focused on interesting and fun battle mechanics, not tedious base management. It’s not fun building a million harvesters and having to constantly keep an eye on them but it is fun to fight for control of the ore this is why CoH's capture of territories is so good.

Edited by vanattab

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I'm also a fan of Environmental Interactions.  For instance, Wind and dist clouds.  Reduce visibility, slow vehicles, possibly prevent flight.  Setup some sort of Dust generator up wind from an enemy base.  Or an area you don't want enemies to fly through.

 

A catapult that flings trees perhaps, or A Ditch digger that can block off areas by water.  Perhaps even tunnelling.  or hiding ships in a cloud.

 

Perhaps a look at Age of Mythology would be interesting to you. As far as I remember there are many Wonders that work alot like you described.

Not really by working with the environment but the effects where the same.

 

And Stronghold had Catapults that flinged cadavers of cows, which could cause a pleague spreading or something like it.

 

There is also the possibility to use some kind of zones to make gameplay more interesting. E.g. Warcraft 3 -> blight , Starcraft -> creep both as zone to build/prevent building and healing. Or the poisionous tiberium fields in Command and Conquer. But most of the time fights are far to fast over to really make them count.

Other things are also possible, like the lava that is periodically flooding the level in the Starcraft 2 campaing (or was it Dawn of War?) or the solar erruption in FTL both damaging or destroying enemies as well as player units.

And of course there is the classic, height. Units that fire from a cliff would get a bonus agains the units down below.

 

 

If you're looking for a departure from the classic RTS you should look at Majesty 2, where the player isn't controling units directly. You are only setting bounties for specific tasks and the heroes/units will do them if they decided it's worth it. From the earned bounty heroes could buy weapons, armor and potions.

Each unit also had a level like in RPG's (not those silver/gold or veteran/elite labels) and you could put them into parties to increase their chance of survival.

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Somebody may disagree with me on this but Starcraft (or Starcraft 2 which is practically the same) has everything one would want from RTS game. That is base building, multiple races, multiple resources, near perfect balance inbetween. But for me in all RTS game after a while it boils down to -> do this, this and this in exactly this order, under certain amount of time and you will win.

I completely disagree. I feel Relic has a far superior system seen in Company of Heroes and the Dawn of Wars. I will touch on what I love about them below and what I feel is necessary as well. Don't get me wrong SC2 has a tremendous following, but that doesn't mean it's the best RTS available.

 

I love Dawn of War and Company of Heroes over say Starcraft for two reasons. Simpler micro managing and no gatherers. The gathering is based off of territorial control which in turn forces combat. Simple micro managing lowers the skill base while still allowing room for expertise. By forcing combat and lowering the skill level required to compete you have now turned a time-sink RTS into a Thinking RTS, which is where I think most RTS' lack.

 

Other things like cover are just icing on the cake.

 

With that said here are some things I think are necessary for RTS:

  • Two (or more) Resource System
  • Objectives to force combat/taking actions
  • An easy to understand Rock-Paper-Scissors unit approach (Doesn't have to be direct counters, For example AA guns hurt tanks in Company of Heroes but they do extra damage in the rear, Self Explanatory really but it makes you want to get behind them, but you don't have to and can still be effective)
  • Keep the "racing to perform actions" to a minimum and the choice of "what actions do I take" at the forefront

 

Like another poster said I too also enjoy a limited number of unit choices but I don't mind if I have a small army (Company of Heroes) or a giant one (Homeworld). I

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@DpakoH
I dont really like different races for different players.
Instead, there could be player made customizations, and the differences between them should vary every game. Eg. at one game player A might have a resource good for defense, while player B has a resource good for attack.
This would increase variety and force players to learn all styles of gameplay. You might not even know what youre fighting against, there might be a quick attack or might not.
So the "race" would be defined by:
-Player customizations (appearance, POSSIBLY some minor gameplay affecting factors)
-Player environment and situation when the game starts

with those customizations of the units and different starting conditions you can't achieve any balance. and if a RTS game is not balanced it will be fun to play it 10 times and never look at it again. balance is achieved in two ways - the boring way is to make same units for different races (with little modifications) and the better way is to have totally different units and style of gameplay for each race. btw i am talking about RTS which will be played in a multiplayer. for a single player RTS only requirement is interesting campaign, no balance needed at all.

of course i am no master game designer at all, i am just stating my experience from 10+ years of gaming. i could be wrong :)

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[quote name='DpakoH' timestamp='1356683157' post='5015020']
if a RTS game is not balanced it will be fun to play it 10 times and never look at it again
[/quote]  

 

I agree, that the balance is important, but I have a different idea for how to balance it that what you suggested.  

 

1) If tactics are noticed that allows a race to beat another race without a chance to get around it, then that first race should gain some additional early on benefit.  For instance an early upgrade for harvesting speed, or a slightly quicker time.  

 

In fact, the entire online community can be part of a larger multiplayer story line.  I'll step in my Starcraft shoes for a moment, and imagine I just released Starcraft.  Perhaps I noticed that the Terrans will always beat zerg, if they focus on producing Goliaths.  Trying to act like all the online play is part of a large scale intergalactic war, where planets and areas of planets are won and lost every day, I would have announcements of the Zerglings have evolved to a slightly stronger armor.  Or if terrans had terrible air defense, then scientists would invent a new air defense turret upgrade, or something like that.  

 

The point would be that the upgrades you get in single player games would become part of the ongoing world. as weaknesses are found and exploited, scientists, mages and evolutional hives would study the problems and produce new techs.  like a real long lasting war.

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Actually the Idea of a connected universe sounds quite interesting.

I never liked that MMORPG's have battlegrounds and factions that are at war, but nobody ever conquers anything. Everything is static.
Maybe some kind of star chart or world map where you can see what race is currently dominating the game. Of course no race can ever really win the war or else you would have to restart it (well Blizzard is resetting their ladder every few month or did they stop doing that?).

Best regards.
-Christoph Edited by shadowomf

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I like when not only are there different races, but when the races play completely different. For example, in warcraft 3, one race raises the dead and for another race almost every single building can uproot and attack the enemy or otherwise has a purpose like healing units. There should be completely different gameplay if you decide to have multiple races. Playing a different race should mean an entirely new experience. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend having different races.

 

I despise micromanaging things. Micromanaging is what keeps me from getting into these games besides playing a bit of the campaign. It sucks when you have to tell all your units to target one unit (not to mention it's unrealistic). It's one of the reasons I like to play MOBAs, as there's plenty of strategy without having to command every single unit on the map.

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What if, you only had 1 "race", but let the players heavily customize what theyre specialized in (defense,attack,big army, sneaky ninja attacks?), but because that might be had to balance, make the matches always (or by default) be between multiple players, which would even it out (so that both teams would have defenders, both have attackers etc.)

 

Of course you should still try to balance it, in case one of the teams happens to have 2 "general purpose" players and the other a specialized attacker and defender.

 

The more players the better balance of course.

 

 

 

Maybe you could even consider a whole new approach: Instead of each player having his own base in a multiplayer a VS b game, make both teams have a single base, and each player perform a different task.

Player A could have bought the ability to use advanced defence units, and as such might be tasked with the defense.

Player B might have decided to upgrade both attack and building, and as such has been tasked to handle both of those.

Player C might be new and have no upgrades, and thus simply aids by doing scouting, small attacks or making the defenses stronger.

 

 

You could even have a 1 vs 5 match, because both teams have equal resources. The lone player just needs to manage more. And of course the lone player better be good in all aspects of the game. This would work if the 5 players are noobs and the lone player is a pro.

 

Each player could have their own "tech trees" (i would prefer some out-of-battlefield bases with production buildings giving access to advanced units and tech)

which they can improve equally (build buildings for everything) or improve just some particular sub-area (letting them advance a bit faster in that sub area due to increasing costs)

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Custom unit specialization

-Everyone starts as a basic soldier, I get to issue skills, gear and weapons (a la FPS) these custom units could be preset at structures and units could be assigned to report to those structures for upgrades.

 

Veteran command units.

-Surviving units that earn skills to become caster units or can have X # of units linked to them enabling that unit to tactically organize of those units.

 

Veteran training

-Assign a veteran command unit to a structure and custom specialized units can be trained by the veteran unit to be deadlier soldiers. Example: A veteran unit earns the ability to use (cast) grenades. The player applies the unit to a structure all units trained at that structure will tactically use grenades when they are equipped with them.

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Micro is the bane of my existence. I can do it, but I don't WANT to. My focus in RTS design has been into automating basic behaviors, allow for the assignment of hierarchies that work together smartly, more focus on economics and more static defenses and other such goals.

 

I think it might be important to differentiate between exploratory strategy and competitive strategy. Exploratory games want you to master lateral thought and mess around with combinations. Competitive games are the much maligned yet much loved clickfest style.

 

I vastly prefer exploratory strategy. Rather than dozens of strategies there are thousands and they are all a chaotic myriad of unbalance and mathcrafting. And even when you think you have a totally broken strategy someone else puts together a crazy out there combo of units and smashes you like its nothing.

 

I am currently working on a game that demo's the freedom of my GAE derived exploratory strategy engine while also serving as a test bed of new ideas. It has a dozen factions currently being finished, mostly just XML to describe their abilities and stats and I am planning to add at least a dozen more. They are small groupings of 1-5 buildings, 1-7 units, 1-10 upgrades, and 1-10 items with some other varied mechanics for customization as well. That way I can play with what is effectively 25 or more factions and see how they interact together.

 

Do I like to use farseers and ritualists to locate enemy bases and armies and crush them from afar? Do I use farseers and scouts and spam units to send a realistically sized army of spam to fake them out while backdooring with a small elite force? What about spam to take the heat while large numbers of cheap AOE fire damage floods in behind the lines?

 

How does having varied damage types even work in an RTS anyways? Most games just have attack and armor or maybe physical and magic damage. Can I change that? Should I? Can I mix military and economic functions? What if there is a woody faction that provides some ranged damage with debuffs and sells potions with useful bonuses on the side that you can't get anywhere else? Sure it's weaker than the other ranged faction but can the availability of poison and healing potions offset that?

 

Could it combine its poisons with a tinkerer faction to create better traps? Should I make cheap single target traps to cripple the enemies scouting or should I make expensive AOE traps like log or stone drops or spiked pits? Can traps "catch" monsters for my animal related faction to give it more variety than its normal spread of creatures can provide? If my enemy has the potion faction should I rush to prevent health potion supremacy or are they buffing their trap makers with damage types that don't scale to the late game but hit hard early?

 

I know a lot of people like Starcraft where you see emphasis on kind of unit and know exactly what to counter with, but I prefer a little more imperfect information in my fights.

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In regards to creating different 'races' that have unique play styles, I think it would be a good idea to start with deciding on different styles of play that are interesting and make sense for the game and not worry too much about their specifics and how they balance each other in the beginning. I think this will give you more variation in play styles and avoid a template race that is then just modified for each additional race.

 

That approach would require a few things:

 

1. Most, if not all of the gameplay/unit data to be scripted/easily editable. Which, for an rts, is already a must imo. 

2. Agile development or something similar that allows for play-testing/significant changes during most of the development cycle.

3. A LOT of play-testing. Preferably by a small group of experienced rts players that can evolve/document strategies as the game progresses(No reason these can't be developers, but time might become an issue)

 

For a non-competitive rts, focusing on the macro strategy level and not the math/direct counters is your best bet.

 

ie-Just because Race A has a unit that does a lot of damage, doesn't mean Race B needs one(copy) or even a heavy armor unit that can take the hits(counter).

 

Sometimes strategies just emerge from gameplay that are invisible when looking at the data values/code. That's why I stress creating unique (grounded) ideas, rapid prototype them, and see how they play together.

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Its not that some strategies are hard to see in code. Its that no one person can see as many strategies as the thousands of hardcore RTS players who will play the game.

 

One person vs thousands.

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Its not that some strategies are hard to see in code. Its that no one person can see as many strategies as the thousands of hardcore RTS players who will play the game.

 

One person vs thousands.

 

Although I agree that one person trying to define strategies is nothing against a horde of rts players constantly experimenting, that wasn't what I was trying to say. 

 

By cultivating a small group of players during development that are play testing and discussing strategies for your unique races as they evolve, you can find balance in macro strategies that wouldn't be evident in unit vs unit comparisons. Hope that clears up my point a little.

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