Author Archives: Carlos Giraldo

Nether Earth 1987 – RTS Retrospectives

netherMain

One of the first precursor RTS games to feature an isometric view

 

The Homo erectus of the RTS genome.

Probably the first precursor RTS to feature an isometric view.  Published in 1987 in the United Kingdom, it’s about two races, humans and insignian, battling for control of their respective bases.

Game Structure

The game structure is simple.  You simply start the game and face off against the enemy computer. The objective is to capture all their bases.

Gameplay

One very important detail about this game is that the player has an avatar present in the battlefield. A floating command ship that’s meant represent your cursor, since this games was meant to be controlled by a joystick or arrow keys.  I’l explain more about it in a bit about the issues this brings forth.

In this game, your units are robots.  You build them at one of your war bases.  For every robot you build, you have to equip them with different parts.  There are mobility parts, weaponry, and even an enhanced brain for more intelligence.  Each part requires a different resource.  You have a general resource that can be used as a replacement for the other specific resources like missiles, cannons, chassis, even nuclear ammo.  These are produced from factories scattered around the map.  You have to send robots to capture them.  Every 24 hours of in-game time, you generate resources from the factories and war bases you control.

Here are all the parts you can equip

Resources are on the left. Parts are on the right

You also have several options in controlling them.  You can give them orders, like search for neutral or enemy factories to capture, search and destroy enemy robots, advance or retreat X amount of miles.  You can even directly control them – moving them around with up, down, left and right. Though attacking is a chore if you are directly controlling them, since you can’t move and attack at the same time.  You have to stop moving, select the attack order, and then choose a type of attack depending on your equipment.  All these commands are done by hitting the up, down, left, or right keys, and a confirm command.  No mouse yet.  What’s also frustrating is the ways you select units and bases.

nether2

On the right you can see some of the orders you can manually activate while you are controlling a robot.

You cursor is a floating command ship that you move with the arrow keys or joystick, and a thrust for moving it up or down.  For every action you want to initiate, from building a robot, to giving an order to capture or destroy, you have to move and land it on top of that object.  Imagine that in StarCraft, you had to move your command center and land it every time you wanted to order a specific unit or build anything.  And then lift-off and go to the other unit or building.  It slows the game down considerably.  Also, in order to the move around the map and see what is going on, you have to move your command ship as well.  What makes it worse is that the map is a long and thin strip that takes a considerable time to go from end to end.

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Below, you can see a representation of the map… and it scrolls

Another issue is that the AI for your units sometimes acts very dumb.  On many occasions, I would send a robot to search and destroy the enemy’s robots, but instead I find him dancing around in a spots, moving left and right.  Square dancing without a care in the world!.  Combine that with the chore of moving your command ship every time you want to issue an order, and the game starts to feel out of your control.

Thoughts

I really enjoyed the strategic choices of choosing parts for the robots.  It means that I can create the archetypal unit types by my own intuition.  When I need to capture more factories instead of building soldiers, I can simply create fast dispensable units.  If I need tanks to hold positions, I can make them slow, but deadly by equipping them with all the weaponry I can fit.

Resource management is more akin to titles like company of heroes, in regards to securing points and generating resources automatically from them.  In this game, it is a very crucial component in a player’s strategy, more so than in my previous retrospectives.  Unfortunately, its not as fun as it could be due to the frustrating unit AI and the command ship controls.

The game though has many of the staples of modern RTS games: different resources, different units you can build for varying purposes, ordering units to patrol and search for resources or enemies, an isometric view with an UI that gives unit and resource counts.  I would say that this is the first strategy game that look and plays like an RTS… just without a mouse.  Still missing a few things like a more elaborate economy system and more specialized units and upgrades.

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

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.

Thoughts

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).

 

stonker3

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.

Gameplay

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.

Thoughts

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!

DotaFusionsLogo

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.