Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ancient Art Of War 1984 – RTS Retrospectives

Total War's grandaddy

Total War’s grandaddy


Major leap in presentation and depth from its predecessors.

Developed by Evryware and published in 1984.  Ancient Art of War introduced a whole slew of innovative features that now accompany most of today’s RTS games.  It featured a scenario list of maps, each with its own objective.  You could choose which leader to face against, from characters like Athena, or the challenging Sun-Tzu (writer of the Art of War).  Even including a map editor for making custom scenarios.  It truly broke away from the arcade design principles that plagued many early strategy games in the early 80’s.

Game Structure

You have 11 campaign scenarios to choose from.  Each one might have different starting conditions and objectives.  Some matches require you to capture a flag, others, to destroy the enemy forces. Each one would also start you off with different units, in different terrains, which might include forts, towns, hillsides, etc…  Beyond that, you can also set custom rules for them like supply-line length.


Gameplay consists of a mix of styles.  You start with a global view of the map, where you can order individual units to move (units are grouped together like in Company of Heroes or Total War).  If two opposing units meet, you can decide to zoom in and control the actual battle itself.  The game then switches to a side-view of the two opposing groups, each starting at opposite ends.


This is the overhead view

This is the overhead view

The is the battle-mode view

This is the battle view

The units are arranged in a predefined formation that the player can set beforehand, which is pretty cool, and allows you to better setup a tactical advantage.  Once the battle starts, you can decide to advance your units by type, retreat, back up, or attack.  Units attack in a fashion similarly of that to the Total War games.  Once they start attacking, the battle plays itself out, unless one decides to retreat and try to save some units from dying.  If all the units in a group die, then you lose that squad, otherwise, you can somewhat replenish them if the rules enabled it.  There is also no economy management, which kinda distances the game from the traditional RTS we know.

The actual meta of the units is a simple rock-paper-scissors style balance.  Knights counter barbarians, barbarians counter archers, archers counter knights.  There are also spies, which don’t attack but move quickly and see farther in the overhead view.  Also, the effectiveness of a squad is determined by how well-supplied they are.  Being in a village or fort would replenish a hunger value.  There is also morale, which Is decreased after every battle.  Units will retreat if they feel they are overwhelmed and low in morale and hunger.  Moving great distances can tire them.  Something really cool about this game is that where the units fight also matters, being uphill grants you bonuses for example.  Having archers in a fort means you can attack their knights or barbarians with impunity since they can’t attack through a wall.

Ancient Art of War_4

Fighting on top of a hill gives you an advantage.


So to summarize, the game has a rock-paper-scissor balance, terrain advantage, formations, macro and micro controls (Like Total War), a map editor, and a dozen single-player scenarios with different generals you can choose to fight (AI behavior change and difficulty).  This is an incredible amount of innovation for its time.  Not only that, but it couples it with a detailed and polished presentation. Although the control scheme is a little archaic, and it feels slow gameplay wise, I give it props for still being fun for me in 2014.

Stonkers 1983 – RTS Retrospectives

We’re starting to get close to that RTS look and feel

The pieces are lining up

Stonkers is one of the early RTS pioneers that first starts to resemble the RTS  we know today.  The objective of the game is to destroy the enemies forces by battling them with your own army.  In this game, your army is already deployed and ready to attack and defend.  The important issue then becomes supplying your troops.  This is critical because what determines a victor between equal forces is their rating.  It depletes every time they perform an action.  Supplies are generated by supply ships, which come every so often in your port.  This game also lets you switch views from a macro view (shown above), and a micro view where you can select and move your units (shown below).



Here is the zoomed-in view, where you can select and order your units.


The main strategic element of this game comes from knowing which units to send against the enemy, and securing control of the only choke-point in the map.  The main issues with this game though is the slowness of it all.  You have to manually select and move each unit.  On top of that, they take their sweet-ass time getting there.  This is why newer games have a speed option.  Also, a mouse interface at the the time it was released, still hadn’t become the default.  Most of the games were controlled by joysticks.  Overall, this game will be remembered for being a pioneer in the genre.

Bokosuka Wars 1983 – RTS Retrospectives

Bokosuka wars

The beginnings of the action-strategy-RPG genre


The common ancestor of tactics and action-strategy games.

Bokosuka Wars was developed by Kōji Sumii, and released in 1983 for the Sharp X1 computer, and in 1985, for the NES system.  The gameplay mainly revolves on side-scrolling your forces from right to left, while keeping your king alive while you move him towards the enemy castle.  The plot of the game is that King Suren’s forces have been captured and turned into trees and rocks by King Ogereth. King Suren has to release his warriors from trees and rocks, and defeat King Ogereth’s forces. The allies coming from trees and rocks only appear in the NES console version, which is the version I played.

Game Structure

The game is really just one long level.  On the screenshot above, it tells you how much distance is left, the number of enemies left, and the number of allies left to free,  The moment your king dies, you lose and have to start over.  You win when you finally reach and defeat the enemy king inside his castle.


You initially control just your king, but you can free more units to join your cause.  Units you can recruit are either hidden in trees, which you simply bump into them with you king, or held in a prison camp.  Those units can help in creating formations to protect your king and fight enemies.

The game gives different levels of control for your forces.  You can decide to control all of them at the same time, just your king, or control a specific type of unit.  However, as you gain multiple units of the same type, you can only move them all at once, so it becomes hard to coordinate them and form formations since they bump against the environment, getting stuck.


Bokosuka wars2

The white unit with the sailor shirt is your king. The blue skeletons are your soldiers. Here you can see how important it is to have a formation setup for clearing safe passages for the king.

There are an abundance of enemies that stand in your way, and you can decide to fight them by bumping into them.  This initiates a pre-determined battle sequence.  The winner is usually determined by its power level, but there is a random element to it.  Unfortunately, it is hard to know for sure your chances of winning the battle, making the game feel frustrating and random at times. Especially with regards to your king.  Its important for him to engage in battles so that he levels up, but there is always a chance you can lose, and subsequently having to start over.  Regular units also get stronger. They can even upgrade to a golden variant, increasing their power level considerably.  There are also obstacles that only certain units can overcome, like the gates in prison camps.


Overall, for today’s standard, the gameplay feels slow and frustrating.  Slow because you constantly have to re-adjust your formations, and the controls don’t make that easy.  Frustrating because you can lose the game very easily in a random encounter, making you feel your chances of success are like a toss of a coin.  But for its day, it was an important title that helped inject more action into strategy games, paving the way for what will eventually be the RTS.

Dota Fusions Released on Steam Workshop!


I’ve been working on this mod intermittently over three months.  It’s been a great learning experience, and now, anyone can experience it.  You will need the Dota 2 Alpha Workshop tools before you can play.  Hopefully, Valve will soon (ha!) open the floodgates for anyone to easily download and play custom Dota 2 mods.  Link to Steam Workshop page.