Category Archives: Retrospectives

Tyrants: Fight Through Time 1991 – RTS Retrospectives

Also known as Mega Lo Mania in Europe

Also known as Mega Lo Mania in Europe

Petty gods and tiny wars

Developed by Sensible Software.  Mega lo Mania, or better known as Tyrants: Fight Through Time in the US, is a real-time strategy game that introduced some interesting new features to the genre… but first, let me get the premise out of the way.  Out in space, when a new planet is born with intelligent life, a game between gods is played to decide who will look over them… control them.  The game is a battle between gods through the history of mankind, where the objective is to wipe out the other gods forces completely.

Game Structure

The first thing you do before anything is choosing the god you want to be.  Its really only a cosmetic difference, which is a lost opportunity.

There are four gods you can choose from.  The only difference is the snarkyness of their dialogue.

There are four gods you can choose from. The only difference is the snarkyness of their dialogue.

The game is divided in epochs (time periods) that relate to the progress of mankind technologically.  The first epoch, you fight with sticks and stones.  The last epoch, you fight with laser guns and nuclear missiles.  Each epoch contains three islands that represents levels.  After you conquer the three islands in each epoch (each island is a battle between 1 or more gods), you move the next set of islands and the next epoch.  That is until you reach the final epoch… Mega lo mania.  Here, it is just one square island where all you do is prepare your army with the latest weaponry and battle it out.  The victor, is declared ruler of the planet.

Another cool feature is that you can decide how much manpower to use per island.

Another cool feature is that you can decide how much manpower to use per island.


During the actual battle, you can move to the next epochs temporarily.  You always start each battle on the epoch you currently are in the campaign.  But you can progress to the next two epochs while in-battle.  This is important to know because battles are usually determined by who has the best technology first. Battles take place in islands.  Islands are divide in sections. Some islands have more sections than others.  Each section represents an enclosed non-scrollable area that can be used as a base.  For each section, you can have 1 castle, 1 of each of the other buildings, and also each section may have a different combination of resources available.  You will always start with a base / castle.


This is how you start the game, the other colors are the other gods. Everyone is in their own section but you can teleport units to other sections in an instant.

Your main resource in this game is manpower.  Manpower literally represents individual units.  They can be used to fight, to defend structures, to research new technologies, to collect resources like wood or minerals, to work in factories to produce items, and to capture island sections.  Also, everything that requires manpower can be made to go faster the more manpower you assign to the task.

Before you start the battle, you have to decide how much manpower you want to start with.  In each campaign scenario, you have around three islands and 100 manpower to divide amongst them.  In-game you can gain more manpower simply by idling them in you castle.  They “clone” themselves.  The more you have idling in your castle, the faster you gain manpower.

The most important tool you have to win battles is in the design of blueprints.  In order to equip weapons to your units, first you have to design the blueprint for it, or in other words, use manpower to research a new technology.  In order to have the blueprint available for design, you have to have the necessary resources.  The interesting thing is, that items can be made with different interchangeable minerals.  Some produce better versions of the item than others.

In order to design the blueprint when you have the required minerals, you have to assign manpower to the task of researching the blueprint.  The more assigned, the faster its researched.  Once it is done, if the item is not sufficiently advanced that it requires a factory or lab to create, then if you have the resources specified in the blueprint, you can assign manpower equip the items.  Items like a throwing rock, spear, catapult, longbow, cannon, plane, etc…


Getting access to planes gives before your opponent gives a significant advantage since they move fast and can’t be easily hit by most units.

You can also trash a blueprint if you want to design a blueprint that uses better resources to make a better version of the item. Items that you can research can be split into offensive weapons that you can use to fight enemy units and buildings, or defensive weapons that are equipped by units that are placed in the limited number of towers on top of your structures, or as shields to repair your structures. If you research enough blueprints, you automatically jump to the next epoch, providing new upgraded blueprints to research items or new structures like a mine or factory.

Also important, a blueprint is only available in the specific section of the island that it was researched.  However, you can equip weapons to units ( each unit is equivalent to 1 manpower), and send them to other sections, where they will be stored in case you need to use them again.


I came into this game with zero expectations.  Up until I started my research, I never heard about it before. At first glance, it seems like such a weird game.  Not like any other strategy game I’ve played before.  But after spending some time with it, I started to enjoy myself and its peculiar systems.  I also started to realize that this game had many innovative features that would later be standard in the RTS genre. Here is a short list:

  • Researching tech for upgrades.
  • Advancing tech levels (Like Age of Empires).
  • Voiced in-game characters.
  • Varied amount of different resources to gather.
  • Ability to assign more manpower(units) to speed up task (like building structures in Age of Empires).

Overall.  It sits besides Herzog Zwei as the two games I’ve played in the pre-Dune II era that I was having fun while playing.  Funnily enough, they were both console games.  To me, it deserves to be remembered for all the unique things it tried to do, and fairly well at that.

Powermonger 1990 – RTS Retrospectives

Populous + War

Populous + War

An Ambitious strategy game by the greatest hype man in gaming, Peter Molyneux

Developed by Bullfrog after having made the landmark Populous game.  Powermonger is a real-time strategy game where the objective is to gain a majority control of the land.  The game features a 3-D map just like Populous, though only the topography is in 3-D, the rest are sprites.  It also features an advanced AI system (for its time) similar to Tropico that both make the game lively and interesting, but also frustrating.

Game Structure

You start the game with a few soldiers under your command, and a captain representing your avatar.  You become the victor by capturing territory and literally, tipping the scales to be in your favor.


To conquer territory and grow your army, you must send captains to capture neighboring towns and turn them to your side.  You always have the option of passively turning them, or slaughtering them for quicker dominance, however, you have less possible recruits to fill your army.  You will also encounter the enemy’s army – battles being decided by numbers and equipment.  Food is really important as a resource, as its used to keep people loyal, and also used to create equipment.  There other resources like steel and wood which again are used for equipment.

A cool battle

Here you can see you have two captains under your control and a town being dominated.

Through equipment, you basically turn regular soldiers into what the equipment is , like swords, bows, or even catapults.  You can gain new captains by conquering cities with neutral captains. These other captains are important because if your starting captain dies, you lose, so you will be delegating to the other captains to do more dangerous task.  Another interesting aspect of the subordinate captains is that the farther they are, the longer the delay between the orders you give them, since a carrier pigeon must fly and give them the orders.


As true to the Molyneux style, this game is ambitious in its design.  Every unit has their own jobs and status, like in Tropico or a more simplified Sims.  A lot of what happens in the game does so without your input.  Its a very interesting game, though for me, I was unable to grasps its mechanics easily.  Its user interface is obtuse in its design.  You must depend on a guide to be able to understand what each of the buttons do.  Even though most of the screen is UI related, it still feels like there is missing information.

There is so much UI in comparison to the actual game section.

There is so much UI and decorative art in comparison to the actual game

You also have to constantly use a query command to know the status of towns, troops, pretty much everything since it’s not displayed anywhere else.  It needs a lot of re-design to make it more accessible for newcomers.  In the end, I wasn’t able to play very much to form a more robust retrospective.  But it still served as a view into a different kind of RTS – a more sim-like experience.

Herzog Zwei 1989 – RTS Retrospectives


Heavily influenced the game that will later define the genre.

Mechs + Jets + Kicking tunes

Developed by Japanese developer Technosoft in 1989.  It is considered by many to be hugely influential towards the RTS genre.  In this game, you and your opponent each control a transforming mech.  It can change from a high-speed jet, to a powerful ground assault mech.  A true late 80’s power fantasy. It’s the most powerful unit in the game… as it should be.  Your view and controls are tied to the mech.  With it, you can both attack and defend, or help ferry your units to key parts in the battlefield.  The goal is to destroy the opponent’s home base.  And the best way to do this is of course is to build up an army, capture bases, secure resources, and crush your opponent’s units – all in real-time baby!

Attacking the enemy base will kill the enemy base

Attacking the enemy base will kill the enemy base

Game Structure

The game contains 8 levels.  Each one has a different terrain and layout.  For example, there is a swamp level which has large tracks of muddy terrain that slows ground movement considerably. There is another one that takes place at a volcanic area – featuring rivers of lava sectioning off the different bases.  You can play the levels either against the CPU, or against a human opponent through split-screen.


When the match starts, the players immediate focus should be in capturing bases.  Bases are extremely important, and its easy to tell sometimes who is going to win by the number of bases under their control.  This is due in part for the two main benefits bases provide.  The only resource in this game is gold – it is acquired periodically for every base that you control.  You start with your home base but you must quickly expand if you want to generate enough gold to build a decent army.

The other essential benefit of bases is that they automatically repair your mech jet, refill ammo, and recharge energy.  Energy being extremely essential.  Every time you move, you consume energy, which is more akin to fuel.  If you run out, you die.  Death though isn’t a huge impediment.  You will respawn at your home base a few seconds later.  Because of the energy system, your incursions into enemy territory require careful planning, and the accompanying capture of staging bases to give you refueling spots.  The map usually contains around 6 to 8 neutral bases.  Depending on the map, they will be separated by obstacles like cliffs, lava or water.  In order to capture bases, you are going to need units.

Units can be queued to be built anywhere in the map, but the trick is that you must pick them with your jet, at any base you control, and then drop them on the ground before they are active.  Only one unit can be built at a time, and before the next one can be queued, you have to first pick and drop the last one that was built.  Another important detail is that units are assigned orders at the moment they are queued, and interestingly… different orders have different costs.  It’s cheaper to queue a unit to hold a position than to have one ordered to attack the enemy base.  You can change the orders when you have a unit picked up, but it still cost to change the orders.

This is the screen for queuing up units.  You can see the price of the unit plus that of the order

This is the screen for queuing up units. You can see the price of the unit plus that of the order

Unfortunately, the AI is not smart enough most of the time to choose the best route when you give them orders to move to a certain spot.  You will find yourself babysitting them – making sure they don’t get stuck or self-destruct by going into lava.  Usually, your best bet is to drop the units as close as possible to the base you want to capture.

Most units are also limited by energy just as your mech.  Thankfully, they don’t die when they run out of energy, they simply are unable to move.  That’s where the supply truck becomes important.  A specialized unit designed to automatically refuel nearby units.  Or you can simply drop them off at a base to refuel and rearm.  A unit that doesn’t need refueling – being the second most important unit behind your mech, is the infantry.  It’s the cheapest, weakest unit, but it’s also the only unit that can capture bases on top of requiring no energy.  Its also important to know that in order to capture a base, you need a total of 4 infantry units stationed inside.

Other units consist of the armored truck, a step up from the infantry – the motorbike, weaker than the armored truck, but it is also the fastest unit – the tank, which should be the backbone of your army – the gunboat, which can only be used in water and has the greatest visibility – the SAM truck, the only mobile unit that can attack the enemy while in jet form – finally, the cannon, a static and vulnerable defensive unit, that can attack both ground and air.


Oh man… this is the first game out of all the previous RTS retrospectives were I was having a blast playing.  Attribute this to several important factors.

  • Great presentation – The art and sound for this game is miles better than any previous strategy game released.
  • Much better pacing – Although still limited to selecting only one unit at a time, the fact that you can breeze through the level with the jet really heightens the pacing.  Units are also built fairly quickly – bases captured at a brisk pace – Gold accrues quickly as well – units can die quickly, including your jet, forcing you to keep your attention in the game – the enemy can drop in tanks at a moments notice behind your base.  I only played against the CPU, but I can surely feel that playing against a human player would ramp everything up to 11.
  •  Good balancing – Most units feel like they have a purpose and place.  Although my later strategies consisted of mostly amassing tanks and cannons, I’m confident that I resorted to that strategy due to the AI opponent’s basic strategy.

Overall, this game can still stand proudly of its accomplishments.  It is easy to see how it changed the landscape for RTS games, and laid the foundations for Dune II.  The only thing missing from the RTS formula we know today is the building of structures, resource gathering through specialized units or structures, and a tech tree.

Carrier Command 1988 – RTS Retrospectives

You can be my wingman any time.

You can be my wingman any time.

Combining Sim and RTS, It flies in the Danger Zone…of Innovation.

Developed in 1988 by Realtime games (Ian Oliver, Andrew Onions and Graeme Baird).  Carrier Command is a mix of First Person Simulation and real-time strategy.  You are in command of an advanced robotic carrier, and your objective is to destroy the more advanced enemy carrier.  In your way, lies an archipelago that you and your opponent must colonize so that you can construct factories for ammo and vehicles, resource gathering, or erecting defensive encampments.

Game Structure

You have two main options.  Either play a short skirmish (action game), or play the long campaign mode (strategic game).  What differs really is the scale of the map.  In the strategic game, It will take much long to engage the enemy, since the map is much bigger, and you start farther apart.


Your carrier is a mobile platform for launching air and amphibious vehicles, firing surface to surface long-range missiles, volleys of precision lasers, ordering transport drones to re-supply, etc…  It certainly earns its simulation tag.  Its also important to note that most of the time, you will be micromanaging every unit, and every defensive weaponry on the carrier.  Everything is managed through CCTVs.  When you switch to one of your air units, your camera switches to a first-person view.  It does have an autopilot option, but its only for moving to locations.  Controlling the unit means steering the unit manually, adjusting its speed, and firing when necessary.

For new players, its an overwhelming experience.  Most likely, you will have to read the manual to grasp the interface enough to the point you can even perform an intended action.

Here is the menu for controlling the carrier's offensive and defensive capabilities

Here is the menu for controlling the carrier’s offensive and defensive capabilities


Here is the manta loading bay menu.  You can load weaponry, repair, build, and deploy them from here.

Here is the manta loading bay menu. You can load weaponry, repair, build, and deploy them from here.


Its not a game for the casual strategy game lover.  It requires dedication to learn just enough to get by.  It also requires great micromanaging skills.  But it also makes you feel cool as hell.  Launching a manta (aircraft) opens up the docking bay, and you see the aircraft slowly rising towards the launching deck… ready for takeoff.  And then it zooms straight out of the ship.  For its simple vector graphics, it manages to fill the simulation with enough detailed actions, that you truly feel in command of a carrier.  Unfortunately, I didn’t play enough for me to actually stand a chance against the AI.  So I didn’t get to experience the full depth of the game.  Even then, It feels ahead of its time.

Nether Earth 1987 – RTS Retrospectives


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.