Opinion – RTS Past Blast

Did you know the world keeps changing?  It’s shocking, I know, but this is something that happens all the time.  I don’t want to scare you, but it’s happening right now.  Realtime strategy games, being part of the world, also change.  I’ve been playing the original Starcraft and its reminding me about how much the genre has moved forward since the good old days.  Here are a few things we should all be thankful for.

Varied Mission Design – In the olden days, campaign mission were skirmish maps with a story.  Sometimes they’d mix it up by varying the unit types or the map was a little strange, but the basic formula was build an economic, make an army, and murder the enemy.  Campaigns rarely focused on taking advantage of the single player experience by coming up with unbalanced units or unique scenarios.  They relied on constant repetition making the many campaigns feel like tutorials for the multiplayer mode.  In the end, the battles became progressively more boring as the player rebuild an army for the millionth time.  Starcraft 2 strives to incorporate varied mission design with game choices outside of the match allowing for variety in gameplay.  This evolution is more than welcome.

Better Pathfinding – Have you ever told a group to go one direction and a single unit decides they’d rather blaze a trail towards your opponent’s death ball?  Did that seem like fun?  No?  Great!  That doesn’t happen much anymore, but it used to.  Unit AI had difficultly figuring out the best path to reach wherever the player wanted them to go.  Oftentimes, it would consider fellow player controlled units as impassable blockades and send units around giant mountains and lakes rather than push through allied units.  RTS games caused much frustration because they were not only poor at translating player strategy into onscreen action, but because they did so in a manner that jeopardized a player’s ability to win.  Ugh.

Less Clunky Everything – Some of the changes to the RTS genre have been revolutionary, but most are evolutionary.  The basic Dune II template hasn’t fundamentally changed since the game came out in 1992.  That being said, developers have worked on refining the genre to include hotkeys, visual aids, and clearer user interfaces.  Units respond quicker and with more obvious movements.  On the whole, the player is better able to understand the battlefield and respond how they wish far better than the early genre forbearers would allow.  Developers have streamlined almost everything that players could want and it makes for a much more approachable and appealing experience.

Complexity –The currently RTS genre is filled with complicated tech trees, micro intensive spellcasting units, and countless interactions.  Each aspect informs detailed strategies which require quick minds and quicker fingers to perform.  The fact that the modern RTS has leagues and competitors shows how far the genre has come.  By comparison, the early RTS games are simplistic.  They lack the intricate interactions that form the basis of most modern RTSes.  While games were clunky and unwieldy, this was a necessity.  In many ways, the refining of the control scheme allowed for the development of more complex games by allowing players to have tighter control over the action.  Of course, this is a double edged sword.  The more complex the genre becomes, the harder it is for new players to learn it.  Many may give up, frustrated by all they need to learn to compete.  Complexity increases the appeal of RTS games for some, but it also weakens it for others.

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