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The essence of: RTS games

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Preamble: I am interested in starting a few posts addressing what the basic feature set is for a given genre and related genres. By this, I mean the ideas, features, and concepts that are almost mandatory in a new game of this type because a game with that feature is almost objectively better than a similar game without it. I am looking for fairly concrete ideas, not philosophy or story elements. Both of these are important, but not really what I''m looking for here. Some of these features will be prevalent throughout the genre, and others might be restricted to one or two of the newest games. To take an example from the FPS genre, ''mouselook'' or ''freelook'' started off as a rarity, and now it tends to come as the standard. Features such as this will occur in all genres, and just because something isn''t prevalent now, doesn''t mean it will never be. The idea of these threads would be to condense all this knowledge into one place so that designers of these genres know what is ''expected''. They can then add these features to their game, or think of a new and better idea to supercede or render one or more of features obsolete. Either way, their game is better. I do not expect 100% agreement on some features, but I am looking for things that work well in pretty much any game of the genre, simply because they fit the type of game. And I am not looking for features that occur in 90% of games and genres (eg. "save game facility") as they tend to be obvious. I''m not trying to restrict anyone''s imagination here: just trying to collect info so that nobody is reinventing the wheel. Everything here can be considered to be the baseline, and you can apply your new ideas to it. Ok, let me start the ball rolling with a few features I consider near to essential in real time games with a tactical or strategic element: - Band selection (term taken from Myth - dunno if they use it elsewhere), where you drag a box across all the units you want to select. (Seems obvious, but needs to be said.) Generally this group can be added to or subtracted from by holding down a key such as CTRL (following Windows convention) and selecting other units. - Minimap/Radar, to see much more of the playing area, making up for fact that the standard view is limiting in some ways. Generally this map covers the whole play area, or a large proportion of it. - Order queuing - the ability to tell a unit to do more than one thing in a given order. This started off with waypoints for pathfinding, but can be extended to resource gathering, combat, and so on. This is usually accomplished by holding down a key and clicking on various targets. - Ability to group units and assign them a number/hotkey/button for quick recall. Ok, any others? [ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost ]

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You seem to be focusing on the user interface "feature set". A game genre isn''t defined by its user interface so much as its gameplay, I would think.

A real-time strategy game is defined more by the it-never-stops nature of the game universe. The realization that while you''re pondering your next move, your adversary is *making* his next move...

Or were you actually *wanting* to focus on the user interface elements? To establish some kind of "ANSI Standard" RTS interface?


DavidRM
Samu Games

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I enjoy the ability to design my own units.

I also enjoy the ability to create maps for the game - so ship a map editor too

Regular updates to include new units (Total Annihilation did this quite well)

Lots of options for multiplayer game setup - like how fog of war should act, how Line of sight works, maximum units per side and stuff like that.

-Mezz

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This is not really a "mandatory" feature, as I''ve only seen it in one game so far (Homeworld), but I''d certainly like it to become more common: Band-box target selection (as a complement to target queuing), i.e. an order to attack all the targets within a box, in whatever order is most convienient to the units involved. A very handy feature in swarm situations.

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quote:
Original post by DavidRM
You seem to be focusing on the user interface "feature set"
This is not a bad thing, the essence of a game''s gameplay is transmitted through the user interface, so it is, if you will, a ''pipeline'' through which the game structure flows to the player.

It must therefore be put in review as much as any other feature might be.

I like the bounding-box attack command.

Designing units in-game might detract from the real-time aspect, unless it is a very fast process. Perhaps a stronger feature would be to have your force pick up technologies during missions. Then have access to new unit design methods outside of missions. At which point the player can mix and match pieces, and once (s)he has decided on his/her production line specs, the next mission commences with the ability to build the units that were designed.

However, havoc might come of this system if it became a multiplayer ordeal, unless it was very carefully balanced.

George D. Filiotis
Are you in support of the ban of Dihydrogen Monoxide? You should be!

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Let me see....

Interface:

Bounding box attack should definitely be more common.
Ability to jump to a particular screen very quickly, maybe also a remote camera option.
Simple camera controls. More advanced camera stuff might be nice, but it should never be necessary to play the game

AI:

Ability to put units in formations (AoK, HW, Shogun)
Sensible AI options (Hold Position, Attack-move etc.)

I''ve never been too impressed by ''Design your own units'' games. It sounds like an awesome idea, but in practice, I have found the feeling of freedom it gives you is very false - it seems to add little value, but gives the player more hassle. I''m not ruling it out altogether, perhaps an implentation like Symphonic suggests might work better.

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Balanced units and civilisations are a must. One of the civilisations in Age of Empires 2 wasn't balanced (I forget which). It had massive bonuses for the attack rate of it's town centers so as soon as the player got to the castle age it was simply a case of quickly building town centres near the enemy resources and wiping out their villagers and army when they came by. I belive before it was fixed in a patch, this civilisation were barred from alot of online games. So in conclusion balance those civilisations!

- DarkIce

Edited by - DarkIce on February 4, 2002 8:35:22 AM

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David:

The thread is misnamed, but I couldn''t think of anything better to call it. Suggestions welcomed But yes, I am looking for features that define the current expectation for the genre, rather than the concepts that determine the genre classification. In a sense, yes, I am looking for a ''standard''. However this is not to force it on people as an expectation, but to provide it as a starting point for people to build from. And yes, much of this is to do with the interface, as an interface is pretty much the only thing that all games have in common. However there might be certain concepts that are concrete enough to mention as well.

Some good suggestions everyone... any obvious ones we''ve missed?

[ MSVC Fixes | STL | SDL | Game AI | Sockets | C++ Faq Lite | Boost ]

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People generally expect RTS to be fast-paced, have resource-gathering involved and to have structures to build which in turn ''build'' units.

Teams are really nice too, and hotkeys for storing and accessing them.
I don''t like the limit StarCraft puts on your teams, especially with the Zerg I always run out of numbers to map teams to. C&C, for example (SC and C&C are the only RTS I''ve played) allows the player to have an infinite amount of units to be mapped under one team hotkey.

On an interface specific note: It''s nice to have a default action for each type of clickable terrain or unit, which can be overriden with a keypress or by selecting it from a menu.

---
Allow me to clear my head for once...
Stop polluting the air!

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Actually, we pretty much forgot to mention the standard ''select unit, select destination'' left click and right click aspects of the interface.

So here it is: left button selects a unit, right button selects a target. Special orders are selected from a unit specific menu, and targetted with one of the mouse keys (usually the left - although this would seem to be slightly illogical)

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Another factor that people expect is locational bonuses. For example, a unit on a hill takes less damage and/or deals more damage than lower units. This tends to come out only in games between good players, but it is nonetheless quite significant on a psychological level.

Along the same vein, map clutter actually tends to play a very important part in RTS games, both as atmospheric flavour and as hiding points for units without cloak abilities. Again, tends to factor mainly into high-level matches, but the effect is quite definitely extant.


Much better foxholing systems are needed, as well. Homeworld is a standout example to my mind.

[edit]
That is to say, a standout example of a game which needed foxholing in some form.
[/exit]

ld

Edited by - liquiddark on February 4, 2002 4:10:35 PM

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Notification sounds and mini-map "flashes" for completion of work, arrival of a new unit, warnings, etc.

Also, instant "jump to" the action of a notification using space bar or something.

Dave Mark
Intrinsic Algorithm Development

"Reducing the world to mathematical equations!"

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My 2 cents:

Unit Grouping: click-dragging to select a number of different units as well as being able to hotkey them for quick redirection during battles.

Map Warping: The only game that I have played that has this is Starcraft (unless i missed something in the others). Clicking on the minimap will instantly jump you to that location on the map. Very handy when being attacked at multiple locations.

Fog of War: This is a must BUT i believe total blacking out of the map is a bit silly(unless it suits the situation). I hated being on a planet where you live and NOT knowing the terrian around you. This to me just doesn''t make sense. have the whole/part/or none of the map revealed IF it fits the situation ie. you are inside the enemies base and you don''t have the floor plans. I''m not saying you should be able to see the other players movements but at least the lay of the land. Can''t think of any RTS I have played that did this but I know Warcraft 3 is allowing the map maker to do it.

Can''t think of any other elements of RTS''s that fit what you''re looking for(without going into specific types of RTS''s ie space, medival, earth, future).

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Hmm, a basic features-list? Well, what I'm listing here actually is what games do not have, although I think they are in a way modifications of what some games have tried to do, or are what I believe are better implementations of what games designers try to simulate

Well, I would recommend the following:

1) Scaleable Unit organization- This would be something along the lines of Kohan, in that you don't just make units piecemeal, but you design individual units around a core of units. Basically you use units as building blocks, not as end fighting units in and of themselves.

2) Command and Control
a. Chain of Command- each base unit of organization has a leader or captain. Orders are issued from the player, to the commander of that organizational unit (let's call it OU from now on, although that gives me the willies from it's M$ networking heritage...but I digress ). Instead of having one little unit that the player controls (or clicks and drags a box on to control), the player really controls and gives orders to the commander of the unit, who in turn controls the OU. This chain of command goes from the highest level Army and Corp commanders, all the way down to the Lieutenants in charge of platoons.

b. Command Interface- This is a pseudo scriptable interface that the player can give rudimentary "game logic" for the commander's AI to use. Depending on the rank of the officer to which he is interfacing with, certain routines or events may or may not be possible (for example, the ability to call in for artillery of air strikes without the player's intervention). I guess you can think of the officers as a class that inherits from the base class Commander. Then you can specialize the interfaces that particular officer objects have, which in turn control the behavior (i.e. methods) that can give "orders" to the OU. The player's pseudo-scripting will essentially allow the player to access these interfaces and potentially even methods of the officers, although they can not alter the base class. I suppose it could be possible to make major officers almost like the avatars in Black and White, but with more initial intelligence.

c. Communication and Intelligence- Instead of the player having a magical connection to every OU that makes the orders go through 100% of the time, orders must make it to their commanders effectively. I propose having an "avatar" that represents YOU the player. It can be a mobile command bunker, a general on a horse or whatever. But this represents your ability to actually send orders to your subordinate officers. Depending on technology, the visibility of the battlefield will be known to you only through what your AVATAR has access to. So, even if say for example, you have a Reconnaissance unit out patrolling, that scout unit only "sees" for it's commanding officer. Once your Avatar "communicates" with this commanding officer, then you "see" what the reconnaissance unit sees. Think of it like each OU is a node on a circuit board (or network). These nodes are unconnected until you purposefully make a link. So you the player through your avatar may not know exactly what's going on, but the OU's commander, and his superior commander will know. And this reflects back on point a) and b). How smart are your AI commanders, and will they tell you this information in time? Will they react appropriately? This makes intelligence gathering and communication links incredibly important. Who cares if you sent off your great Army if you can't effectively communicate with them?

3) Seperate Resource Building and Warfare- Resource management should be handled on a different time scale than combat, or should be handled by "wizards" that take into consideration the players overriding goals. RTS's try to simulate that a commander has to worry about logistics and fueling his army, but in the real world, a nation has it's generals, and it has its politicians. Trying to have the two together invites trouble
4) Supply lines and Logistics- Speaking of which, units should not be able to last indefinately on their own unless they are highly specialized units. Units begin to lose their efficiency and or mobility depending on how far they are from resupply. This can be implemented as a variable within the unit object type that determines how long it can go without resupply, and how much maintenance and upkeep it needs. Can also factor into morale

5) Morale- Wow, one segue right into the other Commanders give orders to their units, but that doesn't mean they will obey. Morale will be determined by damage to the OU, if the leader is good (or even alive), a threat factor (are they facing imminent destruction or is it a cake walk?), and hosts of other factors. Rallying units that have broken or are shaked will be a critical factor in

6) Skilled Human production- It's takes more than just raw materials to produce armies, you have to train the personnel and the leaders for them as well. This includes officers, elite units, crews for vehicles, scientists and other support personnel. Along with raw material resource modeling, there should also be a "people" factor. This will be based on education levels, as well certain other factors.

Hopefully you see a trend in my ideas. It stresses less on the materialistic and individualistic nature of the combat, but rather the human side to it. Can you get your order to your commander? Once the commander gets the order, will the unit obey? Can he rally his troops? Do you have the skilled crews to man the vehicles? How do you organize units to cover their weaknesses rather than send them out piecemeal or as a mob? If my communication links get cut, will my officers be able to fight effectively?

In essence, I'm taking away the "God" view of strategy games, and trying to make the player do what a real battlefield commander would have to do. Even if your avatar dies, it's not the end of the game, you'll assume a new avatar, however, your army as a whole may suffer a huge morale shock, not to mention there will be a time delay where all officers will have to react on their own (i.e. no input from the player).

Edited by - Dauntless on February 4, 2002 12:08:29 AM

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Units that can gain limited experience from kills.
Survivors carry over to the next level as veterans.
(credit goes to Myth)

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This should be obvious, but I''ve taken games back for lacking this: freeplay skirmish mode. Ability to select map, map size resources, etc.

Also should be obvious, but missing from some games: difficulty setting.

Unit limits for multiplayer and skirmish mode. TA let you limit ALL units. Red Alert let you restrict weapons of mass destruction.

Setting a rally point from buildings. TA let you select multiple queue points, so you could automatically have units follow a path out of the factory. Conquest: Frontier Wars does the same, except over multiple star systems!

Clicking a point on the minimap with unit(s) selected is the same as clicking on the main map (so you can send them across the map without scrolling there).

Orders: Guard, Hold Position, Hold Fire, Return Fire, Free Fire (Total Annihilation). Would love to see this applied to groups, btw, so that GROUP 1 (your fighters) can guard all of GROUP 2 (your bombers).

Queueing convention: Waypoints still visible while you select them, and a line is drawn between each node (TA, not Starcraft grrrrr....).

Queueing convention (patrolling): Selecting first node of waypoint automatically indicates a patrol route (like the polygon creation tool in a paint program, where you click the beginning of your first line to indicate you''re finished drawing).

"Paint" selecting for common, redundant object placement like walls or mines: In C&C and TA, it was irritating to have to specify each wall segment. Better to just paint and drag.


UI: Swap, customize controls. There''s always going to be that lame RTS that reverses the mouse button convention or changes buttons themselves. Why not simply let us select our own settings?




--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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