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The Future of RTS (docs.google.com)
189 points by henning 69 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 271 comments

Some problems I'd note for any resurgence of the RTS genre:

* There hasn't been a huge RTS hit in ages, so large studios aren't going to push large chunks of cash into them. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you may disagree with whether large studios should act this way, but that doesn't matter, because the observable fact is they do.

* RTS games are still pretty expensive to make well. There hasn't been a breakout indie RTS, and nobody has established a default cheap art style for these. It's not like platformers where the world has accepted we can get away with pixel art forever.

* Streamers rely on their ability to self-commentate, but nobody can play an RTS while talking.

* Even back in the heyday of RTS, everyone I knew played custom maps rather than the actual RTS. I'm pretty sure that crowd is all in Roblox or modded Minecraft these days.

And some bright spots:

* People /are/ trying to make indie RTS games, more than I've ever seen before.

* Tooth And Tail managed to look great while using pixel art. It's very high-production pixel art, but more importantly it's only one unit facing. Indie RTS costs will go down as people experiment with that.

* The game randomizer community keeps building new community-run tournaments and fan commentated races. This means there's an increasing amount of talent available in the wider gaming community for organizing tournaments and commentating.

In my opinion Starcraft 2 killed RTSes (just like Dota 2 and LOL killed MOBAs).

With multiplayer games people can play the same title forever if it's deep enough. So new games in the same genre have to compete against a game that was made by Blizzard in 2010 and constantly developed ever since.

So what happens is - people check out the new game, and either get bored (it's too similar and worse) or get discouraged (it's too different to bother learning).

The only remaining market for RTS are so called "casuals" that want single player experience. But they don't engage with the game enough to justify years of gameplay development, balancing, innovative mechanics - they mostly want nice cutscenes and good graphics and beliveable dialogs and plot.

And most of them won't even finish the game. They will play for a week and move on. Single player games that don't achieve cult status - are finished on the market after the first month.

So for a new RTS to compete it has to be better than Starcraft 2 in multiplayer and gameplay or at least in storytelling. And that's a VERY hard thing to do for an indie studio. Risk is huge and required investment is enormous.

I've had high hopes for Iron Harvest and it clearly went for the casual/single player market and did pretty well, but not well enough.

Trying to appeal to a very small number of people that are still playing multiplayer SC2 and think of SC2 as the gold standard for RTS is a dead end. SC2 fundamentally failed with their multiplayer design due to their irrational focus on the esports and competitive aspects of multiplayer. The point of multiplayer isn't to allow hardcore fans to find ways to enjoy the game for 10+ years. The point of multiplayer from the developer's perspective is to lure in casuals and create a network effect (all my friends are playing X, so I'm gonna also learn and play X). It's more important for multiplayer games to be accessible to new players than single-player campaigns because it's part of your growth flywheel and repeated failures are easier to deal with when you're playing by yourself but SC2 gets this completely backwards. Competitive multiplayer is absurdly challenging for new players, while single-player campaigns are significantly easier even at the hardest difficulty settings.

You have several possible designs.

1. competitive (Starcraft, DOTA, LOL, CS:GO, etc.) 2. low skill ceiling (usually thanks to significant randomness - see Hearthstone) 3. no skill-based matchmaking (for example in Warthunder AFAIK matchmaking is based on the vehicles you drive not on how often you win your games) 4. party games (you play with the same people repeatedly - see Among Us)

Option 1 discourages casuals, but makes for games with high engagement. People still play starcraft 1 broodwar and age of empires 2.

Option 2 is best suited for casual/mobile/pay2win market. It can work for the game developer, but I consider it a dark design pattern aimed at extracting the maximum amount of money from addicted people (usually kids).

Option 3 is weird - people don't care about winning games in Warthunder, they only care about killing enough enemies to get virtual money to repair and upgrade their tanks. It's also heavily pay2win because the best vehicles for their matchmaking rating can be only bought with real money. But few people care about winning so I guess that's fine? Also it's not mainly marketed to kids so I'm more ok with it.

Option 4 is the best because anything with friends is fun. But you have to have friends who are into it.

Among Us took of recently after years of barely surviving (probably thanks to the quarantine). But most multiplayer games that do well for years after the release are highly competitive. I don't think that's an accident.

People play multiple fighting games all the time though and they're as deep as SC2. FGs all have distinct flavors to them which people seem to like. Different resources, tag team vs not, 2D or 3D, zoning-oriented vs pressure-oriented, etc

Couldn’t you argue the same thing for Facebook as the ultimate social network that will never be dethroned?

Social networks are supposedly different in that the _new_ users (i.e. teenagers) are actively trying to _not_ share a platform with previous users (i.e. parents and people older than 25 in general)

Is SC2 getting a continuous stream of new users?

The obstacles to indie RTS games aren't art style/production related. If anything, the top-down or isometric-ish view makes that part relatively straightforward.

The requirement for online multiplayer (while dealing with hundreds of units) is the bigger obstacle. Especially if they're working with Unity. Pathfinding (in a way that lets large swarms of units move smoothly through narrow choke points) is a non-trivial problem, too.

Then there's the design problems. How to get away from standard build orders, and how to make a game that's more accessible than Starcraft but still allows high-level competitive play.

True top-down (allowing software rotation) is as cheap art-wise as side view is, but the only indie hit I can think of that used it was Hotline Miami. It's a very unpopular art style.

Isometric views take wildly more art assets than side view. Notice how there are far fewer indie overhead adventure games than there are indie platformers. The engines for these are nearly identical, and Zelda is just as much of a cultural touchstone as Mario. I attribute this to these games taking 3x or 5x the art assets.

Needing multiplayer and pathfinding are good points. I don't think RTS multiplayer is particularly hard (the hundreds of units hardly matter if you're doing it right), but the fact that everyone expects the genre to have multiplayer at all is still a significant barrier to entry. Mass pathfinding is definitely a problem - the discussions I've seen online about it are mostly people confidently telling each other to use A*, which really isn't sufficient in an RTS.

I don't think design problems are that important for indie games. If the barrier to entry is low enough, there will be enough games to brute force the design.

You could eschew online multiplayer and just make a single player or LAN game. Most RTS games never got any real competitive play anyways because balancing is a very long and costly process. For indies it also matters that this process must be mind-numbingly boring.

I never understood why balancing an RTS is such a difficult problem. Couldn’t you simply reduce each unit to a score that’s a combination of its cost to build, time to build, cost of buildings required to build it, speed, damage, defense, and damage per second, and make sure that all units in a class have roughly equal scores?


You've missed some obvious issues around balancing range, special moves etc. All of which are hard to price and balance. Also, some things will not scale linearly, I expect. A particularly strong mob might only be attackable by 8 melee mobs at once. If it's a 16x strength mob itself, then maybe it wins an even "points" battle.

How damage is applied is also interesting, for example. Slow big hits vs fast small hits. Obviously continuous damage is far easier to balance, but plays un-engagingly.

Finally, whilst you could argue that health and damage are interchangable. How do you balance speed vs health? What are reasonable distributions of numbers? At what point do you create a fast ranged unit which can kite melee indefinitely etc.

basically even in a boring game, there's a lot to think about - and your playerbase if you get one will jsut be better than your devs at finding power spikes/discontinuities.

Interesting points. I suppose damage vs range can be a big thing if your melee units can’t even approach the ranged units to deliver the damage. But are there no formal analysis methods that can be applied to this problem?

It's very complex. AOE2 DE is patched monthly, and most patches include balance changes. I think one of the complex parts is the way balance changes interact with each other. Ie you make one change to address a specific unit being too useful. You unwittingly affect something unintentional, like making it useless against one civ's unique unit.

Some variables for each unit: - Speed - Range - Attack speed - Attack damage - Health - Melee armor - Ranged armor - Pause between stopping and attacking - Attack bonuses against specific units / classes - Training time - Cost - Cost balance among resources

Balance patches may tweak any one of these aspects. Interactions then occur with all other units in the game, econ stats that are also subject to balance etc.

People are very good at exploiting strengths and ignoring weaknesses. A slight advantage will be exploited quickly by experienced players; then others will catch on.

I think you are underestimating the difficulty of the problem. The interactions between all the stats you listed can’t be distilled to to a single number. For example maybe a very slow but powerful unit gets a normal score, but when paired with fast units to protect it from getting kited becomes unstoppable.

A contrived example obviously, but you really do have to see how the units interact with all other units, and how players actually use them, balancing damage etc is not enough.

Interesting. So the Zergling is a weak individual unit but when amassed into a large group they become overwhelming and the overall effect is that the Zerg rush is emergent behavior.

The Zerg Rush is not an emergent behavior; it was part of the fundamental design of the Zerg. Hell, the "Zerg Rush" was part of the cinematics released with the first SC.

It's funny that in SC2 high-level competitive play, the roles tend to be reversed, now: the Zerg usually turtles up until the mid-to-late game and the Terran usually harasses very early on. Zerg tends to be the defensive, macro-heavy race and Terran tends to be the offensive, scrappy race.

Though some Zerg players like Reynor are starting to buck this trend a bit and are known for more aggressive, agile approaches.

(Or at least this was all the case as of about a year ago; haven't followed the game much this year.)

It depends what we mean by emergent. It was designed to be this way, but there is no switch in the code that says “if there are this many zerglings, buff their attack”. Instead it’s a consequence of their mechanics (they die quickly but in large numbers can do enough damage fast enough to offset this).

That's still not "emergent," because that is expressly how the unit was designed to function, and how it has been balanced since then.

Emergent would be something like zerglings can burrow, so use them to burrow in the enemies chokehold to prevent them from constructing a chokehold until they can get to the next tech tier and use radar.

That is the fundamental design. They are strong against a few marines once they have speed because they can get a surround, but weak against a critical mass of marines, since the surface area to damage ratio of the marines decreases.

Also their speed upgrade gives them mobility to counter attack exposed buildings. Also their half supply means that they can be worked into compositions when close to the supply cap. Also their fast and parallel time to make means they can reinforce fast after a long battle. Also their general upgrades and late game attack speed upgrade means they can take down buildings fast if there is nothing around to do damage to them. Also if they are spread out they can draw splash damage from power but slow firing units like siege tanks. They can also be sacrificed to burrow and delay an enemy base, used to scout cheaply ...

All that is just from the first attack unit in the game.

The knowledge you need to come up with the score is the same knowledge you need to balance the game. Just because you’ve devised a simple sounding deliverable doesn’t mean the problem is simple.

The whole challenge of balancing a game is that you’re forever wrong about that score.

Underestimating the score of a single unit (or a more complex combo of multiple units) is precisely how you accidentally create an imbalanced metagame where that unit/combo can be spammed.

That makes sense. Doesn’t that then seem like a perfect problem for a neural net type system to solve? Watch a bunch of games, figure out empirically how effective different units and combos are and try to come up with a scoring rubric that is incrementally more accurate than before.

I am not trying to trivialize the problem at all. I don’t know much about it and that’s why I’m asking why it isn’t simple.

A large issue with this is the fact that certain armies of different strengths can only exists in certain time-frames, so even if you could perfectly calibrate for "this army combo is as strong as every other", the fact that one unlocks parts of these at different times makes this approach totally unrealistic. Since the unlocking of army combos is extremely rooted in economy, map layout/resources, power spikes of opponents ect.

> That makes sense. Doesn’t that then seem like a perfect problem for a neural net type system to solve?

In theory. However if you change the balance then the mega game will change as well and you have to throw away the training data and start anew.

Also it’s very important to not change too many stats at the same time because then it will be hard to learn the game and the new meta will take too long to emerge.

I think I’m starting to see the picture. Since we so far don’t have an AI capable of playing as well as the top human players, in order to figure out what’s out of balance you have to watch a sufficient amount of PvP games. And then you rebalance and must start the process from scratch. And unless you hit the perfect balance by accident you will always need to keep rebalancing.

The only other way I can think to do this would be to either change units incredibly quickly to not allow players to get too far into any particular strategy development before the unit is retired. Or introduce things like variations between units: two different marines might have different stats to not allow their 0.2 DPS advantage to add up, etc. Or I guess introduce acts of god type situations that might throw off a specific strategy. Napoleon supposedly lost at Waterloo partially because of a stomach upset that required him to keep running to the latrine and unable to focus on the battlefield. Imagine if you suddenly got fog of war over the area of combat because of “broken communication”. Basically more variability that would require the players to not concentrate on a single strategy and instead having plans A through Z for various eventualities. I’m not sure if that would make for a more exciting experience or not but might be fun to experiment with.

Some multiplayer games (like hearthstone) introduce a lot of randomness and quick variability to keep the game entertaining for new players. Even as a newbie you can win say 30-40% of games against skilled players. However, this also means that skill is only shown in long term and thus you attract a different crowd.

Much like in VS fighting games, people like that time and training translate to good skill.

> Since we so far don’t have an AI capable of playing as well as the top human players

AlphaStar is a grandmaster at Starcraft 2. Training it on a new game would cost too much though AFAIK.

I think the previous comment refers to player (human) balance. Not in game unit balance.

You know Elo rating, as in chess? Something like that is needed in order to match players against each other.

An online multi-player game that fails the matchmaker system, will lose players eventually. Because if you match the newcomers with seasoned pros, everyone will be unhappy and churn rates will be high.

No I think we are talking about balancing units. It’s not super satisfying to play a game with hundreds of units if only one or a handful of them are worth building.

Yeah it’s about units. It is also however important to balance the game at most skill points.

For example if a strategy that is easy to implement and relatively strong emerges, then you will have very boring games at low level and the only way to get out of the low rank would be to learn to counter one specific strategy. (This is for example what happened in the beginning of SC1 with Zerg rush and SC2 and M&Ms)

I don't think high-level competitive play matters at all for success - the biggest issue with SC2 IMO is that they prematurely optimized for competitive multiplayer. If they spent the majority of their time worrying about how to make multiplayer fun for new players instead of trying to ensure that it works for existing StarCraft pros and would make a viable esports game, we may not be talking about the death of RTS).

The fact that the co-op mode was released in 2015 with LoTV (5 years after the initial release of SC2) despite this being a substantially better default multiplayer mode that's unconstrained by multiplayer balancing speaks volumes about Blizzard's blind spot. They also learned the wrong lesson from DotA - SC2 isn't just a game but an incredible game engine, but Blizzard wasn't very good at taking advantage of this to broaden its appeal.

> Streamers rely on their ability to self-commentate, but nobody can play an RTS while talking.

For Starcraft 2 there's replay commentary.

(I sometimes watch Lowko and WinterStarcraft. It's interesting how just watching pro players can unlock skills you wouldn't consider otherwise.)

There are some players that play while comentating. They don't usually talk a lot, and they are less competetive while comentating, but it's a thing.

For example in Polish sc2 scene there's Indy who usually talks while playing and is semi-proffesional (won some small tournaments but isn't considered tier 1 like Nerchio, MaNa, Elazer).

> Even back in the heyday of RTS, everyone I knew played custom maps rather than the actual RTS. I'm pretty sure that crowd is all in Roblox or modded Minecraft these days.

Roblox does have a couple RTS games! They're not very good.

Feels like an RTS engine could lead to an explosion and, with cross-pollination with other common mechanics, create a couple new genres.

The Spring Engine is still active: https://springrts.com/

Roblox/Minecraft have the advantage of networking/infrastructure being dead simple/free.

Haven't WC3 and SC2 been RTS engines themselves? People used them to make DotA and other mini-games, not other RTS games even though they could've.

It just seems to me RTS games are like chess, not easy to get into, not easy to watch / understand unless you pour a lot of time into it. People would rather just play Catan or other not-so-try-hard social games.

I think DotA is the best example of this, it's still try-hard yet somehow it strikes the perfect balance of try-hard but still easy enough that the average player can understand it and follow it.

planetary annihilation disagrees, not that your analysis is wrong, because it touches many pain points of the rts genre, but indie succeses with simple graphic do exist.

(also: castle story, darwinia, star ruler in the simple graphics and indie category, zero-k and uncountable space rts in the indie category)

on the other side, Hearts Of Iron and Total War Warhammer sit quite high on steam charts, maybe not runaway success, but they aren't obscure, niche titles either, they both have more players and in-game hours than DayZ and Red Dead Redemption 2, to give you a point of reference, which were both considered hits.

I think the list it's missing two major points: developing a rts cut you off the largish console market (albeit some success exist, it's an uphill battle) and a rts has both a large time commitment and skill ceiling, especially in today online dominated market, so it's a thought sell to the ever growing casual gamers market.

Planetary Annihilation is the poster child for optimizing for "Twitch streaming friendly" instead of actually producing a good game.

Top AoE2 players can play and talk. They get quiet during the micro intensive battles, but it's a small part of the game.

They Are Billions is really the only RTS I've played in ages, and it's technically not even an RTS to some degree.. it is and it isn't. But they really made a unique game so I've highly enjoyed it from time to time.

As a master-level player of SC2 and once a top-1000 ladder player of Brood War I would also love to a see this genre evolving and staying fresh.

I think that SC2 should be studied for its qualities but also for its mistakes.

I think it is overall an excellent game but at the same time I feel that it was not as well designed as SC1, even if patches improved it and fixed some glaring errors over time.

A few things that come to mind:

- Free units, they are extremely hard to balance and can easily lead to stale situations, and in my opinion they never feel right. And to be clear, projectiles are not free units.

- Spell casters able to stand a fight on their own and be massed, again it does not feel right and lead to imbalance/abuse. Spell casters should be support units, fragile and not scalable to a whole army.

- stackable aoe damage, because it leads to death ball armies that can be extremely difficult to engage, with somewhat difficult to read and seemingly random outcomes. A good aoe design is the SC1 inspired Psionic Storm, powerful but not stackable.

- Hero units, there is only one hero unit in SC2, for no good reason.

- Population cap, in SC2 the population is capped at 200 supply, this is an inheritance of SC1 technical limitation, but it has a strong impact on SC2 late game, not for the best as players tend to invest in defensive structures to compensate, leading to potentially static/ boring games.

These mostly seem to have been solved in modern SC2 already -- swarm hosts are no longer a lategame unit, high templars and ghosts are extremely vulnerable to units like speed banelings, viper abducts are powerful against motherships, it's fairly rare for tournament SC2 games to last more than 20 minutes and when they do it's not because there are fields of static defense splitting the entire map: more like mining out for a 200 supply fight, after which the next fast remax's composition choice will decide the game.

(Am also Masters SC2.)

I think the biggest problem is just how quickly units do damage and how fast fights go. It's way too fast! Brood War has slower fights and it better for it.

Indeed. While the damage & health numbers are the same between games, the improved “MicroAI” of the units makes them much more efficient.

Doubling the health of all units, would make the game more interesting.

Interestingly that’s my biggest issue with dota2, and with ssb (I thought the first ssb64 was amazing because it was pure skill, after that it’s just a mess)

> - Population cap, in SC2 the population is capped at 200 supply, this is an inheritance of SC1 technical limitation, but it has a strong impact on SC2 late game, not for the best as players tend to invest in defensive structures to compensate, leading to potentially static/ boring games.

I actually find the population cap to be super useful, and serves the opposite purpose: Without a supply cap, the player with the better economy can just turtle up, defend their bases with strong tanky units, while they build a gigantic army. The supply cap forces them to move out and attack, trading units.

There are pros and cons, and I agree that the supply cap is also something that can be used to reverse an unfavorable situation, knowing that over time the other player won't keep the economic advantage he gained early (same with upgrades or tech). But I think that's the opposite of being a pro-turtle mechanic, or at least in this case your incentive for turtling is when you've already won.

I think that diversity of ressources on maps should play the role of supply cap, leading to different strategies on different maps.

Something that isn't significantly touched on here that most RTSes neglect is physical logistics. That is, actually getting resources from the point of collection to the point of consumption.

In most RTSes, once you collect resources they essentially go into a magic resource counter in the cloud. You can collect wood on one side of the map, and instantly create a building with that on the other side of the map.

I would be really interested in playing an RTS that focused much less heavily on variety of combat, and much more heavily on variety of logistics.

Imagine a game where you had to shuttle food to your army to keep it fed, or physically bring stone to a construction site to build a castle, and you had to physically stockpile resources in vulnerable depots that would become targets of enemy raids.

You'd have to do a lot of design work to make the ergonomics of setting up the logistics infrastructure not incredibly tedious, but I think it could be done.

The closest RTS I have seen to this is probably the Warrior Kings series which was definitely ahead of its time in many ways.

"I would be really interested in playing an RTS that focused much less heavily on variety of combat, and much more heavily on variety of logistics."

You've basically just described Factorio, which is all about logistics.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try, not only because of this, but because it is one of the greatest games ever made -- especially when played with mods, which make it 100 times better than the vanilla game (which by itself is fantastic).

You have sooo many options on what to do and how to do it in Factorio, it puts most other games to shame just by that alone.

I could go on about how great Factorio is.. for hours.. but I won't because there are plenty of other Factorio threads on HN that do just that.. so don't take my word for it, but read some of those threads instead.. or just do yourself a favor and play it already! If you're interested in logistics I don't see how you couldn't love Factorio.

OpenTTD has something like this, but it’s off by default: https://wiki.openttd.org/en/Manual/Passenger%20and%20cargo%2...

This might seem silly, but even as a grown man, Factorio scares me. It seems line it could be a trigger to fall into a deep chasm of aspberger like focus for weeks.

I've found that it engages the same parts of my brain as writing software, and I only have a limited amount of time each day that I'm able to focus on either activity. So to some degree it is self-balancing, but it's also possible to lose 4-6 hours while playing it if you get in the zone.

This is why I could never get into it nor Zachtronics games. Just feels like work.

Honestly I think Zachtronics games are much better for this because they have discrete levels. You have many places you can just stop, and each level has a pretty solid definition of "optimal" (for whichever metric you're optimizing for), so you can actually be done with it.

Factorio presents a significantly more complex problem at a vastly increased scale.

It depends on your personality type I guess. Personally, while I did get addicted to it I never actually enjoyed playing it and was all too eager to put it away forever as soon as I launched my first damned rocket [0].

Players who get way into Factorio see that as the beginning of the game, some 40hrs after starting in my case. If the idea of playing essentially a 40hr tutorial doesn't make you want to run away then Factorio might be for you.

I prefer Dwarf Fortress if I want to make large swaths of time disappear, personally... though I haven't played that in many years come to think of it. I guess as I approach 40 and my awareness of my own mortality increases I care less for making time disappear.

[0] I think pushing robotics much earlier in the tech tree may have made it more enjoyable for me, and there are mods for that, but I never paly a modded game until I've experienced it as it was intended and by that point I didn't want to pay more of that damned exercise in complexity-fetishism.

I haven't bought it yet for this exact reason.

This is a valid concern. I'm glad that when I launched a rocket, and upgrades became n->∞ that I unwound from the game.

Probably not weeks, but a week for certain.

Also there is an RTS which all about economics, Offworld Trading Company.

True, though logistics is not a particularly deep part of it (basically the only logistics part is the further you're transporting stuff the more you'll use of a particular resource, and there's one technology which just removes that cost).

I almost really liked Offworld Trading Company, but I feel 1. there aren't enough ways to win as an underdog, and 2. the devs punted on the end-game.

The outcome is too momentum-based. Once a player builds a solid early game lead, there is pretty much no way to stop them. There aren't really any offense tactics besides monopolizing resources, which pretty much has to happen early on. The various "black market" sabotages are pretty weak and expensive. None of them will stop a late game player with momentum. It feels like your starting position and the decisions you make in the first 1-2 minutes of the game pre-determine the outcome 30 minutes later--which is boring.

The stock trading system (which is ultimately the only way to win) is simplistic and just not a satisfying way to end the game. You're sitting there trading, making tons of money, doing everything right, then suddenly Game Over--someone had more money and decided to buy you out, which you can't defend against, even if you pre-buy all your own stock. You get a warning a few seconds before it happens (the red percentage number next to your opponent) but there's literally nothing you can do to stop them.

More than Factrio, the logistics of combat I think is better handled in "Foxhole", but I am hearing that the community around it is slowly getting smaller.

What mods do you recommend for Factorio?

I'd actually recommend you play your first full game modless (plain vanilla).

That should give you a feel for what the vanilla game is like, and what you like and don't like about it, so you'll be in much better shape to make your own decisions as to which mods look interesting or useful to you.

Then I'd experiment with mods to find out which one you like or not. Some of the most popular mods are probably not too bad to start with (as long as they're not full game overhaul mods or ones that add a ton of content, as those will almost certainly be completely overwhelming for a newbie.. they can be overwhelming even for advanced players).

Also, I'd start with just a single mod or two, and learn how to use those before adding more. It's easy to go mod-crazy, but that's useless unless you actually know how to use them. So learn a mod or two at a time, and then get a couple more.

There are usually videos on at least the most useful and popular mods out there, so those should be of great help in learning how to use them... but nothing beats trying them yourself.

For me personally, the top three absolutely essential mods are Fill4Me, Squeak Through, and Todo List. Don't expect to be blown away by these mods.. they're very small and very simple utility mods.

These days I actually play with hundreds of mods, so the three above won't even give you a small taste of what's possible.. they just cure a couple of annoyances, and add a tiny bit of useful functionality that I personally can't live without. But sooo muuch more is possible!

I'm most definitely not a "first time player" with 566 hours sunk so far!

I did try Bob's and Angel's, but I found the formulas so nonsensical that it broke the "immersion" for me.

I think I'd be more interested in a mod that added something that fits the game world and just... extended it a little. E.g.: adding aluminium and titanium, not 50 new raw materials that inter-convert into each other in absurd ways -- loops even in some mods!

E.g.: One thing that feels "not fleshed out enough" in the vanilla game to me is the infrastructure related to nuclear power. The centrifuges have no use other than nuclear enrichment and related processes. The heat pipes can only be meaningfully used with nuclear reactors. Etc... Similarly, you never need to use circuit networks, the back-pressure from the belts alone is sufficient to achieve the desired throughput.

If you're looking for a vanilla+ style mod rather than some of the more dramatic overhaul, I'd suggest Krastorio 2. It adds 3 new science packs and some tweaks along the way that fit into the vanilla feel pretty well for me.

It does tweak nuclear a little, giving you a way to use reprocessing side projects for fusion power near the later part of the tech tree.

In terms of circuits, the one area in which I always use them is to control oil refining so I didn't end up capping on heavy/light oil but also didn't turn it all into petrol and leave myself without the resources to make lubricant or rocket fuel.

Space Exploration pretty much forces you to use circuits too in controllijy what goes to your space stations/other planets but it's a long mod with most of the content basically starting after a full vanilla playthrough

I've always shied away from mods in games. I vaguely recall playing a game and finishing it, then I tried it with some cheat code and all of a sudden the game became completely meaningless. There's something very important tied into the struggle and limitations.

On the other hand, I think things like keybindings and mods that fix problems are probably ok (personally).

In my experience modding every popular game to death, the most beloved and generally popular overhaul mods make the game significantly harder or more complex.

Factorio: Bob's mods, Angel's mods

Minecraft: Literally every tech mod, most magic

Skyrim: Requiem

Fallout 4: Horizon

If you haven’t launched a rocket in the base version, then I strongly recommend no mods, while avoiding any videos or premade blueprints.

Then go watch videos and do it again, but much faster.

Then if you’re still playing, you obviously have time to kill so go play Industrial Revolution 2, space exploration, and bobs mods on their own for a whole new experience.

"Industrial Revolution 2, space exploration, and bobs mods"

Just so people know what they'll be getting in to with these mods: they add a ton of content and make the game much, much longer... which is great, if that's what you want.

But maybe you prefer more combat, or less combat.. or something that's focused on giving you some particular technology or technologies, or a dozen other ways to approach the game.

Also, many of my own favorite mods don't actually add much if any content at all, but are utility mods, which make certain parts of the game more manageable or more flexible... like train management mods.

If you want Steam achievements, don’t play with any mods. I played with just one - bottleneck. It adds a tiny icon on each building to show you if it’s bottlenecked or not.

I'm 4000 hours deep into factorio, been playing since I think v0.13? Whenever it first hit steam in 2015.

QoL mods:

- Long Reach: Highly recommended if playing on >1080p res display

- Squeak through: Once you start laying pipes for fluids this becomes an essential mod for moving about your base

- Even Distribution: Evenly distributes items when you click drag to fill multiple entites with items, eg furnaces with fuel

- EvoGUI: Simple display overview for keeping track of biter evolution and basic environment info.

- Vehicle Snap: Makes it easier to align to a given cardinal direction

- Blueprint Extensions mod (Continued): Get the Continued flavor for version >1.0 compatibility. This mod gives some basic tools such as mirroring or rotating blueprints, very useful.

- Bottleneck: shows a simple colored dot over some entities to show if it's input starved, output limited (overfull), or running normally. Makes it easy to see at a glance what is backing up in sections of your base.

- FNEI: Want to know how to make something, or what use a certain item has? this simple mod shows how anything inthe game is made, or everything it can be used in. Also has great mod support, even full conversion mods.

Conversion/Gameplay Changing mods:

- Bobs And Angels modsets: Think you've figured out factorio? Want more factorio? More logistics? More recipes and items to make More things? Step into Bobs w/ Angels modset to ratchet up the complexity by an order of magnitude or two (in a good way). Want an extra challenge? Get the Sandblock mod, which is Bobs + Angels but starting on a tiny island, and you have to harvest resources to build your factory - including the land you build it on - from the sea.

- Krastorio: I actually haven't gotten around to this, but it's another full conversion mod that is highly recommended by many members of the community. Definitely on my to-play list

- Rampant Arsenal + Pitch Black: Want more of a RTS-esque combat challenge? Biters too boring/easy now that you've come to grips with Factorio's core mechanics? Deathworld too easy? Give this ago. It greatly expands the arsenal available to you should you choose to build them, but also greatly ramps up biter aggression, difficulty, and variety, especially at night.

There are many many more mods to choose from, and the modding community is very vibrant, and well supported from the devs themselves, with an excellent mod portal and mod loading system integrated into the game. It's by far the best mod community and integration in a game I've ever seen, and people are still churning out all manner of new and interesting stuff, as well as improving upon the classics listed above. There are also many I've not specified (eg FARL, LTN, etc) that many would consider essential, but this is already a long list.

EDIT: Also just realized this is a 9 day old thread. Came back from the holidays to my desktop and this tab was still open, apologies for the necro.

I believe The Settlers pioneered this mechanic in 1993. In the Settlers II at least, supply block wasn't a matter of constructing additional pylons but rather "someone has to carry feed to the pig farmer so that someone else can carry pigs to the butcher so that..."

I was going to say the same thing. I played Settlers III as a kid and while it was an interesting gimmick it was honestly pretty cumbersome.

I got Settlers II HD Edition on GoG, and it made us a couple of good evenings.

And there's a new one in the making, hopefully sticking to the more classical settlers 2-4 mechanics and feel... And not the later iterations of the series...

There is also Foundation, by a smallish canadian studio (iirc), that kinda is a mix between settlers and sim city :-)

There is an open source reimplementation of the settlers II engine, called RttR and it works flawlessly (better than the original for me).

There's also an open source clone of Settlers II called Widelands.

Mindustry is a tower defense game that has some RTS strategies, especially when playing with other human players. You have to stock your defensive units with ammo by drawing (and defending) conveyors with resources (different minerals and/or energy) that feed them.

(Just noticed Factorio is mentioned below; Mindustry is similar, but also Open Source cross platform Java)

Adding another game with good logistics to the list of games:

The Wargame series from Eugen (the most recent one being Wargames: Red Dragon)

Logistics is a huge part of it, your armies can run out of ammo, or be stranded without fuel - there are dedicated units used for resupply.

Supply dumps, supply columns, and their protection, is a big part of the game as well.

The other part that Wargame series does well is unit intelligence and move a bit away from crazy clicking.

You can trust your AT squad to understand that other infrantry needs to be shot at with a gun and that tanks should be engaged with Javelins. This makes the game way more strategic and fun to play than something like Starcraft where you need to babysit moronic units and manually trigger their abilities. In Wargame you can focus more on positioning, information collection and movement instead of having to focus on clickathons to win. By the time shots are fired, the winner is probably already decided.

My main gripe about the wargame AI is that there needs to be some sort of fire control for ATGMs. Too many times have I seen a jeep roasted by 4 hellfire missiles because all the apache helicopters in a squad engaged the same target.

Note that Eugen have moved onto steel division. Mechanically it's mostly an evolution of wargame but moves the setting from cold war -> modern day of wargame to world war 2

Steel division 2 is completely broken at the moment, with axis enjoying ridiculous Winrate and tournaments relegated to mirror matches for the inability of eugeen to balance the game

Some mods fix the most glaring problems, but they require investing in all dlc and make almost impossible to find an online match

Offworld Trading Company addresses this pretty well.


there's additional operational cost in the form of energy used if you have far off resources being harvested. and the transport shuttle has to go get the goods, which increases cycle time a little. i have less than a dozen games in but i definitely didn't feel like I was managing the logistics; that moving stuff around was an issue or concern. there's a lot of different resources but they all roll up pretty automatically wherever they are without thinking about it. that was my (limited) experience.

I agree. It models it (which is more than most RTSs do), but it adds a fairly small amount to the gameplay (mostly location becomes important, it gives another element to the core supply and demand mechanics, and it gives value to one of the technologies which basically just eliminates the cost entirely).

Honestly, RTS games are already so bogged down in complexity that I wouldn't want to see one adding logistics unless it decided to claw back other gameplay features.

Sins of a Solar Empire had an interesting mechanic: You could generate trade within the area you controlled, and little non-controllable trade ships would fly around randomly within the area you were generating trade. If the enemy destroyed these trade ships they would get a small amount of resources and your trade income would drop an equal amount. It simulated logistics, because an enemy army sitting in the middle of your territory disrupted a lot, but didn't add complexity to the game.

I agree, but doing so would make an interesting game. A war that's being fought by 2 evenly matched AIs, and your job is to handle the logistics on your side to give it the edge?

Part of the problem is that there is so much to do that you tend to let the AI do almost all of it, and then get incredibly frustrated when it sends your key resource gathering units through known dangerous territory.

To really do this kind of gameplay well, you'd need to have the ability to task military units to guard supply train units, and for them to have the kind of intelligence / user interface that doesn't just have them defenselessly wandering around an opponents base.

It's been interesting to read the https://acoup.blog/ take on the importance of supply chains and logistics in warfare, and how to organise a properly defended supply chain. I agree that it's an area that could be addressed interestingly, but it'd be a game made out of the bits that other games deliberately abstracted away because they were hard to do well, so I think it'd be a real challenge. Even fiction tends to abstract away from the details of these things because it's so hard to make interesting.

In Mindustry[1] you need to create conveyors and other transport methods to take ammunition to turrets. During late game you also need to power structures by generating electricity and taking it with wires to the structures that require it.

[1] https://mindustrygame.github.io

Hearts of Iron 3 is probably the closest game to a RTS that put a big emphasis on logistics.

Knights and merchants did it. Including feeding your standing army. Was a pain in de ass.

Only because every unit had to be fed individually :P

I agree wit you 100%

This is the aspect that I wish was implemented in my favourite games such as Stellaris since disrupting the logistics of the enemy and protecting your own requires a much more thoughtful setup by players

* Where to site supply dumps for front-line forces

* how to protect them

* how to get supplies to where they are needed safely from your home world / base to these supply dumps and then to the front lines.

* how to keep forces supplied if you break-through enemy lines

* How to disupt the enemies logistics

Without things like the above the games usually devolve into "Bigger army / fleet wins, with a bit of rock/paper/scissor based on unit composition"

I feel like this concept is already fairly well covered in SC2, since you generally need to protect bases on the perimeter of your territory with your military units. You don’t need to literally escort resources from your perimeter mineral patches to your production facilities, but I think that can be hand waved just as easily as the firearm units having unlimited ammunition.

Almost seems like you'd be better off making mods/changes to the existing logistics game genre (Factorio, maybe?) to introduce RTS elements rather than looking for a ground-up implementation of a novel RTS.

I haven’t played it, but PvP Factorio (with rules and balance) definitely exists.

If I remember right, such management was a staple of the great Settlers games. But it was a base building game without the rts combat.

Settlers did have combat, but it was greatly simplified (soldiers/archers/priests/towers.) I recall military victory was nearly always a foregone conclusion after the long economic buildup, so the relatively simplicity was forgivable. A more complex military game would perhaps have needed a complicated logistics path to training, route planning, sending the officers to look at the big board, etc. :)

"From the depths" just turned into a logistic based rts, there's a block building aspect to it but plenty units on the workshop if you want to skip that part

It's also fairly often on good sales

I like HuK, but his thoughts on WC3 are off-base. He says:

Economy/Resource - 2.8 / 10

"However when comparing it to the SC universe, WC3 has always been underwhelming to me when comparing its resource counterparts of mineral/vespene. Gold obviously being the most important, with wood generally feeling more like a chore than something I want to collect. To me the most limiting factor is the upkeep cost, a mechanic that not only limits strategies, but also deters expanding or larger scale battles."

This misses the point of WC3 vs. Starcraft / Starcraft 2. In Warcraft 3, one of the most important resources not present in Starcraft is your heroes and their levels. If you watch any professional WC3 game, there is rarely a discussion of who's ahead based on economy (although that is a factor at times) - but there is always discussion on hero levels. The importance of creep routes and disrupting creeping for heroes / races with favorable creep is a huge component of the game.

Also, upkeep is a specific choice meant to reward players who don't inflate their armies for the sake of it. Grubby said it on his stream, in Starcraft, it is universally a good decision to spend your money as soon as you have it. It's not strategy if it's always a good thing to do. Whether you spend it on X, Y, or Z is where the strategy comes in, but as long as you spend it something, you can be confident that it was better than not spending it / banking it. In WC3, that too is up for debate. You can spend on X, Y, Z (units, hero items, expansion, another hero, tech, upgrades) but at certain times in the game, it is also perfectly valid to hold on to that money for a specific reason. I think this is a smart design decision, and is one of the reasons why WC3 has some interesting dynamics.

This is my perspective as a really big fan of both games. They're different games, but it's clear HuK is using Starcraft as the rubric. No game is as Starcraft as Starcraft, Warcraft is its own game with its own complexities.

Age of Empires 2 Definitive edition is thriving. I play regularly with a group of friends, and found out this week that several of my colleagues play it too. DE really is AOE2 in its finest form: Fixed netcode, responsiveness, matchmaking, and continuous patches and balance tweaks.

It's a 20-year old game that gets monthly patches, and is active enough to match you to opponent[s] in minutes.

Compared to SC2, I miss the asymmetry among Civs, and ability to pull off surprising strategies effectively. (eg Thor rushes, and going straight planetary fortress+Raven etc). AOE is more predictable by comparison.

Thoughts on if AOE2 DE players are mostly people who played the original, or if there are newer players? The pros seem to be a mix.

It's worth noting that the game never really died. After the "golden age" of the early 2000's the player base organized and formed voobly, which had it's own competitive scene and even game patches for the original game (a group of developers reverse engineered it and fixed stuff like pathfinding)

And I think the game is hands down played mostly by casual players. As of today there are over 40k people that have played at least a rated multiplayer match (how many more that never hit the multiplayer button?), and from those more than 75% have an ELO lower than 1200 which is on the lower end of the spectrum (best player of the world has 2500 ELO and one starts with 1000)

The game is still pretty challenging for newcomers, my 12 year old nephew loves watching me play, but whenever I offer him a chance to play he is "scared" because it looks to difficult, and says he prefers to just watch. When I was 12 (or even younger) I loved playing. Nowadays it seems games are designed intentionally to not being too difficult to play/learn

AoE 2 DE is a lot of fun, but I do wish they'd allow for 16 players. Comp stomps with a group of friends are limited to 4-5 right now, but there's probably no intrinsic reason they couldn't be higher.

> but there's probably no intrinsic reason they couldn't be higher.

The client (from the original version through DE) runs a single-threaded simulation. That is a big barrier to getting more players or even larger maps (it used to be that ludakris size was unplayable before DE/UserPatch optimizations). Given how many players can't even clear the multiplayer performance benchmark without dramatically reducing quality settings, I'm not sure they'll bump up the player cap unless they decide to re-architect a good part of the engine internals.

The original simulation ran fine on a Pentium 2, and that was a single core that also handled rendering, animation and audio.

Considering a single core can be dedicated to it these days we're approaching two orders of magnitude more performance available.

If it's become a bottleneck it's likely that there is very low hanging fruit to fix it.

The original version also had a smaller pop cap, less demanding graphics+audio, much smaller maps and less simulation (particles, animated water, fog, etc). Some other engine functionality like pathfinding has also been reworked in the Definitive Edition, so it's far from an apples-apples comparison.

> If it's become a bottleneck it's likely that there is very low hanging fruit to fix it. This was true for the previous "remaster" of AOE2 (HD edition). That had persistent performance issues and was poorly optimized despite maintaining the same graphics style. If you read through a couple of the dev blogs for the DE release, I think it's pretty clear that there's little if any low-hanging fruit left before pretty major architectural improvements are necessary.

Popcap and map sizes are unchanged since AOE2: The Forgotten, though, and the other items are not in the deterministic simulation.

AOE2 HD wasn't multithreaded, so we should still have an order of magnitude more CPU performance at our disposal these days.

The pathfinding has been reworked, yeah. It shouldn't have made the game 10x slower.

In any case, if it already supports 8 player with 500 pop, 16 with 250 is not really any different.

>> Simply put, most RTS games are exhausting. As someone who has achieved a relatively high level of play in numerous popular RTS games, my best coaching advice for the vast majority of players would be to play more and to play faster. In most instances being able to micro, macro, and multi task is the biggest obstacle keeping players from pushing their play to the next level. Many times, I hear players getting frustrated as they ultimately know what and how to execute, but their fingers cannot keep up. Often a player with higher APM will trump an opponent who might otherwise make better decisions and have a better grasp on the game. There are always exceptions, but most players would agree that a 300 APM player will beat a 100 APM player almost every time.

I used to love RTS games (until I discovered Total War) and I have to say I'm a bit taken aback by this assumption that playing an RTS game must necessarily mean that the player is chasing some ultra-high performance standard, quantifiable in APM. I get that the author is a competitive player, but the vast majority of players are casual players who don't thnk of games as a career. If the reason no new RTS games are being made is that they are not very good for e-sports, then that's just sad. I would really have thought that making a good game that is pleasant to play, would do the trick. Maybe it's the ultra-competitive edge that's actually driving players away and keeping the incentives to make more such games low? If game procuders are thinking of how to make the next big e-sports RTS hit, instead of a game that many people will want to play, then yes, I can see how they are finding design constraints hard to satisfy.

I don't think it's just about the competetive nature of RTS, though that's part of the appeal, so much as about the kind of skills modern RTSs reward. If I'm playing a game where I'm good at one element of it (especially the element after which the genre is named), but I consistently lose against those who have no skill in that element because a different element is so strongly weighted it trumps almost all of the others, I'm probably not going to have a lot of fun playing it, and it's probably going to lack wide-ranging appeal.

In fact, in modern RTS this effect is probably strongest at the lower performance levels. Just executing something, anything faster will win far more than any deeper understanding of the game and its systems or strategy.

The thing is, making RTS games that are crazy APM clickathons is something that the studio chose to do. There's no rule that you need to make a strategy game that focuses so much on fast clicking - games like Wargame series, original Company of Heroes, Dawn of War and even Age of Empires II have significantly less of a "mad clicking" requirement and focus more on economic and strategy aspects of the game.

It's kinda ironic that "strategy" genre has ended up bogged down in small unit tactics, with units too stupid to actually use correct weapons by themselves. No wonder we all lost interest into the genre.

I did play a lot of Dawn of War when it first came out (I also played the sequel a little). I liked it exactly because you could command platoon-level units, rather than well, soldier-level units. That kind of less fine-grained control is also why I totally fell madly in love with Total War. That and the slightly more detailed economy aspect of course (no commerce in Starcraft...).

how to make the next big e-sports RTS hit, instead of a game that many people will want to play

The problem is that we want to do both. The competitors to RTSes, games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Rocket League, and Hearthstone, are all (very different) games that are enjoyable to play across the full spectrum of skill levels.

RTS games really seem to be split into two categories: indie games that are appealing to casual players and competitive games that appeal only to esports competitors. StarCraft Brood War may be the most popular RTS from a spectator standpoint but it is a pretty terrible game to play if you just want to unwind after work.

So then the question is: why do we want both? The theory is that a highly popular spectator esport drives sales for the game. If your game doesn't do both then it either needs to succeed on its own (without any esports fame) in an overcrowded market or it's a spectator sport without any low-level players (and somehow needs to make money only from high level tournament play).

> The competitors to RTSes, games like League of Legends, Fortnite, Rocket League, and Hearthstone... are enjoyable to play across the full spectrum of skill levels.

<citation needed>

I'm mostly kidding, but I do think it's worth pointing out that most (if not all) of those games have been accused of being extremely unfriendly to new players and generally being miserable experiences until you acquire a baseline level of knowledge.

I think the more important part of those games you listed is that they're designed around team play (and thus friend groups), with the obvious exception of Hearthstone (which compensates for the burden of knowledge by having a lot of randomness and a VERY forgiving ladder at the low end).

Getting destroyed in League is fun if you're playing with friends; with strangers it usually just results in a lot of angry messages.

> it is a pretty terrible game to play if you just want to unwind after work.

I think this is really the crux of why games that encourage team play will always win out: It's fun to play with friends, win or lose. SC2 tried this a bit, but at least when I used to play it was very clear that the game was completely unbalanced around team play.

Most of these games, if you want to really succeed, are mentally taxing. You have to pay attention to a minimap, you have to constantly be on the lookout for other people, you have to remember exactly what cards they've played so far.

If you can't counterbalance that with at least some socialization and lightheartedness, it's just work.

Team play is definitely something I missed in my comment which is a big part of the picture. There’s a bit more nuance to it though. Solo queuing a team game can be miserable at any skill level simply due to a lack of accountability for team members. Playing with a group of friends, as you pointed out, can be fun at any skill level.

For competitive games that are inherently one on one, I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that they feel like work. Yes, StarCraft definitely falls into that stressful category. Hearthstone would seem to not do so.

Chess is a pretty interesting example. It’s one where you can have fun games even at very low rating, provided you’re appropriately matched. Low rated games may even be more “interesting” due to volatility in the evaluation, where high level games might be much more likely to result in a draw. Of course, high level players online tend to play a lot more at fast time controls, bringing blunders back into the picture.

I think StarCraft (2)'s pacing and focus on fast 1v1s is its downfall here. Personally, I find both Chess and Hearthstone very stressful because of how much thinking ahead is required. It's analysis paralysis, amplified and gamified. In an RTS, you're generally not working at that level of strategy and have a much smaller state space to search through at the tactical level.

Fortnite, Hearthstone are much more fun/chill compared to starcraft even at lower levels.

I think part of it is does has to do with how real time rts you have practically zero downtime. It's always improve economy, then improve army micro, then do builds. Even with league of legends there's some downtime when you're at the shop or just killing minions.

I agree completely. I'd actually like to pick up a game which can't be min-max'ed to death. If that requires for example introducing some subtle randomness - great! As much as I enjoy some competitive play, I would love to know that the result looks more like log(skill) rather than e^(skill).

It's interesting you say that. I don't know if it's still the case, but Hearthstone used to have a decent amount of random effects (other than just basic card draw RNG). A big complaint at the time was that the randomness felt really awful if you were on the receiving end of an opponent's good luck.

Sometimes it felt like a chess match where you had executed your strategy perfectly, but randomly three of your opponents pawns turned into queens.

I get that you're talking about something more subtle than that (and maybe more akin to just, well, card draw RNG) but it's a delicate balance because it can also feel really bad for players being on the receiving end of randomness.

I'm not a fan of the randomised experience really, but it's one way to balance the game a bit.

The best equaliser I've experienced was the handicap in Quake 3. I can have a great balanced match with people both better and worse than me, having lots of fun. Even if without the handicap the matches would end with scores like 30:1. I'm not sure how that would work for RTSes though - handicap on movement speed? amount of gained resources?

He's equating Blizzard RTS with All RTS.

I’m working on one such modern RTS game: https://github.com/amethyst/shotcaller Note: We’re adding UI, input and playable units this month. Currently the game is just an non-interactive simulation.

It’s a MOBA-style game that is played 1v1, with the 5 “players” on each side controlled by autonomous bots. This design accommodates AI development as part of the sport, much like a F1 driver and their team of engineers and mechanics.

The game is written in Rust and will use WASM for scripting to accommodate a wide range of languages for both game modding and AI code. While it’s only 1v1 in its initial iteration, I agree that there’s immense value in cooperative and more micro-level play, so we do intend to incrementally move towards that as an alternative game mode.

I’d love to chat more with anyone interested in this particular design or RTS/MOBAs in general. You can find my email on my GitHub.

It's sad to me that this author's only view of RTS is as an esport. If that's how it is then I'll be fine if there's never another RTS, and 95% of the public doesn't care about esports either.

I find eSports bad for gaming. People are focusing so much on watching others and being competitive, not caring much in about enjoying the games they play. I see even kids doing it, just sitting back and watching others instead of actually playing the game.

When I go to a field to play football, most people are just having fun, no one is trying to be like a professional. Those people that are extremely competitive end up not wanted around. On video games on the other hand it feels like everyone wanna be a professional of eSports and play competitively, even on games that are not meant to be. It just ruins the experience.

The author is HuK, a former professional SC2 player.[0] It's understandable why he would focus on the esports aspect more, however, he does point out that RTS games need a way better social side. The game needs lots of players that just play it for fun to really support a strong competitive scene.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HuK

I would love to play another RTS with a nice campaign. I don't care if my game is a poor esport. But no, everything must be an esport now, with ladders, seasons and whatever, unless it just can't.

For me the fun of RTS is slowly discovering new units and their application.

After I know the full tech tech tree RTS games become fairly boring to me.

The Command and Conquer (and Red Alert) campaigns were awesome. Loved playing them.

The thing is, esports and casual play help each other out. Streamers and tournaments are watched by hordes of casual players who are able to appreciate what's going on only because they play themselves, albeit at a much lower level. So from a community-building perspective, the ideal game should be playable by both pros and casuals.

I’m sorry but the whole points of RTS is competition. It’s like complaining that we’re talking about tweaks to make chess more competitive.

Blizzard at some point publicly said that more than 60% of Starcraft 2 players never clicked on the "Multiplayer" button. This is why is has so much resources put into SP campaign with special units, recorded audio and cutscenes.

IMO this is why RTS genre really died out - the studios focused too much on eSport aspect and abandoned most of their paying customer base which wasn't interested in crazy clickathrons. Multiplayer games are very very loud, but they're not the ones paying most of the money.

When smaller studios tried to copy Starcraft 2, they usually cut down on singleplayer content and sales tanked with that.

The single-player campaigns were a major focus for many early RTS. Even Warcraft II many players mostly played the single-player, but that was probably the tipping point due to the success of Battle.net.

Eh, I'd say the campaign of WC3 was a pretty big focus, or at least Blizzard clearly considered it one since it formed the basis for a lot of WoW's storyline.

Nah, I've always been terrible at RTS games but I'm still obsessed with them.

I'm also pretty far into creating a generative RTS and it's turning out well. Maybe you'll like it too!

Whilst I certainly have huge respect for HuK, I feel that either his use of the categories in the article as perhaps a bit simplistic. Many of the points he mentions are really intertwined - most importantly balance vs variety: it's very hard to score highly on both.

SC2 has 3 very distinct races (he gives it a 8.8 for variety), hence there are just 6 possible matchups. AoE 2 (DE) has 35 (he gives it a 3), making over 600 possible 1v1 matchups. This creates a huge amount of extra work to ensure matchups are enjoyable - yet (at 1650+ Elo) there are just 2 races with > 55% winrate (Franks @ 56.98% & Celts @ 54.21% on random map). Despite the good balancing, tournaments also come up with rules to limit the impact of the best civs, normally with specific civ bans and limited picks in a series. It's really only because of the huge overlapping tech & unit tree that this is possible - if there were more diversity there would be too many variables to balance around. This is further compounded by the variety of maps which the game is played on - as he does mention the map does affect which of these are viable, and this makes the game even more interesting and diverse since you need to adjust to multiple types of map. SC2 on the other hand has a much smaller responsibility in this regard: provided there are interesting viable builds within each race the task to balance across-races is minimal. SC2 also only has 7 maps in the pool (at least, right now) and just spawn positions are randomized. This makes preparation way more important, and less dynamic.

Both AoE and SC2 also use the space as a stop-gap for specific strategies - it's a way for the less aggressive player to fend off early aggression, but also a way for a more dominant player to choke out resources. Traditionally this is done by controlling the entry to your main base or your expansion (in SC2), but in AoE it's way more open and difficult to accomplish this most of the time. This importantly makes players rely on very adhoc dynamic walling, often incorporating undestroyable natural resources (like gold deposits).

>AoE 2 (DE) has 35 (he gives it a 3), making over 600 possible 1v1 matchups.

The 3 species in Starcraft are quite distinct in many key areas, whereas in Age of Kings and AOE3 (the only ones I've played) the differences between the factions were limited to a handful of units and buildings, but ultimately they all played pretty much the same.

> ultimately they all played pretty much the same

High level tournaments include civilization drafting before a best of N series of games. Occasionally, one player/team ends up with a civilization match up which gives them a clear advantage (because they successfully predicted their opponent's civilization pick - it the opponent had picked something else the advantage might swing the other way). Occasionally games are described as "civ win" when the advantage is large and wielded well.

So the civs are both not as distinct as sc2 races but also less balanced. Seems justified to me to rate it lower for how well the game adds and handles variety. I say this as someone for whom aoe2 was one of the major games of my childhood and only got into sc2 in college

They're pretty well balanced, just overall, not for each possible matchup.

The difference is that there is more map variation than in SC2, so a civ which is good on water maps is probably going to be below average on land maps. Also team games are a thing at the highest level, so some civs fare better in that context than 1 Vs 1.

It's still a simplistic view on HuK's part because he completely ignores civ bonuses and the rest of the tech tree!

To elaborate: at lower levels, most civs probably feel or play the same. Macro and micro are in short supply, so economy and tech bonuses don't make much of a difference.

Once one starts playing above mid ELO on the ladder, this changes completely. Eco bonuses can make or break an entire match and dictate the style of play for each civ. For example, the Saracens have a unique playstyle where they exploit resource trading at the market to get aggressive early and still maintain a fast age up time (much, much more important than tech/hatchery levels in SC2). From the tech side, the Incas have a common strategy that involves rushing with static defence and fighting with villagers. Protoss can do this too with a cannon rush, but the Incas strategy is far more viable (and actually scary at mid-high level) because they get armour upgrades on their villagers.

So yes, there are only so many ways to assemble a unique army of military units in AOE 2. That in no way implies that there are only that many meaningful matchups. I respect HuK's RTS prowess as well, but I'm afraid he's missed the boat pretty badly on this one.

Total annihilation took a completely different approach of having factories instead of races. I only know TA-like games through Zero-K, but factories introduce a lot of diversity and perhaps less imbalance risks because players always have the option to go for a mirror match-up (i.e. choosing what is considered the best factory for the map being played).

Some game designers claim that Blizzard's uses races to keep players interested by creating imbalances. The idea being that you keep players interested by making slight changes all the time to respond to alleged imbalances from the players.

In my opinion those matchup counts are a red hering in game design. It is nice for the theme and visuals but adds nothing to the core game loop. It is more extreme in fighting games like Street Fighter or MOBAs like League of Legends. It splits the meta-mini-game of race/character selection out of the main game. The downside is that it makes balancing nearly impossible.

As an alternative, a game could use positions for unit select. Kinda: Conquer the eastern flank to build Zerg units or conquer the western flank to build Protoss units.

Definitely not directly comparable - since every civ has access to some common/baseline technology, but certainly differentiation (peaks/dips) in specific areas. That said, SC2's races are more different but not enough IMO to say the game is overall way more diverse.

Why do you say 'The downside is that it makes balancing nearly impossible.' when referring to MOBAs?

There is one thing I've noticed about RTS: every player seems to think they are awful at the game.

This seems to be the opposite of most games, where players tend to overestimate their skill.

This actually keeps a lot of players from even trying online play.

There is something different about RTS... I think in some way they aren't fun. They are really quite stressful to play in ways other games aren't.

It's like this for fighting games, as well. I've played both genres, but it's also the same deal for any mode that's inherently competitive, such as league play in the older shooters like Quake, CounterStrike, Team Fortress Classic & 2. Everyone says that they're "bad" but a few say they're "good", either through sheer practice and results or hubris.

You're right that there's a lot about it that isn't fun. One's ability to enjoy fighting games and RTS games begins and ends with understanding a multitude of different mechanics and having the physical execution to make one's plans a reality. People who play those genres have to practice daily to derive some decent enjoyment from the games in them, almost as if it's a second job (maybe even a third depending on what you do for a living, i.e. the software developers of HN still have to carve out time to keep up with tech advances).

It's worth it in the end in my opinion because of the people one meets in these communities. They're usually very dedicated, most like to see more people be able to compete and are really helpful, and will participate in group events in real life (tournaments for both fighting and RTS games, locals for fighting games).

The problem with online gaming for RTSs (and to some degree all skill-based games) is it's unwelcoming because there is too large a disparity between casual players and those that somehow spend hours a day on it.

> There is one thing I've noticed about RTS: every player seems to think they are awful at the game.

Dota 2 is another game where I've noticed this trend.

> This actually keeps a lot of players from even trying online play.

True with Dota 2 as well, lots of people that only play locally with bots, or resort to just watching streamers and others play it, because they're tired of the feeling of "not being good enough" while playing.

The common factor, I think, is that in both cases there are a hundred things going on in parallel every second, a hundred ways you could be optimizing things, and crucially, you could list those things yourself if you were given time - but you never are, so every moment you're aware that you're doing something somewhere suboptimally. Mistakes don't feel like "Ah, interesting, I've learnt not to do that", instead it's "Of course I should have done this instead, it's obvious, I must be an idiot to not have done this" - even though in the moment you were getting a dozen other things right, and just didn't have the mental capacity to stretch to this additional thing.

So any skill growth in the game happens slowly by your mind learning to make many of the optimal decisions subconsciously, thus making things slowly more manageable. But that's not an easily visible, tangible change. And it still leaves you with twenty things you could be doing better, that are "obvious" in retrospect.

Interesting observation.

I noticed that in real life, most people think they are sub-optimal. I've wondered what caused the pessimistic attitude and if it has always been this way.

(Of course, it could just be the people I hang out with, but I suspect it is pretty common for people to be harsh on themselves)

Your theory explains it. Life is always throwing us a lot of stuff at once (especially if 65% of our mental capacity is taken up by a smartphone). It is a game where we usually only have a general idea of what to do, lots of reasons not to do it, and not enough time to decide about everything.

If you stop and think, you are probably doing much more right than not. But overall, in the game of Life, you are also blowing lots of opportunities that you are aware of and simply don't have the time and resources to get right.

> skill growth in the game happens slowly by your mind learning to make many of the optimal decisions subconsciously, thus making things slowly more manageable. But that's not an easily visible, tangible change. And it still leaves you with twenty things you could be doing better, that are "obvious" in retrospect.

Maybe we should focus more on our slow advances. Players that consider themselves good, enjoy the game more and probably do better at it (in RTS and in Life).

RTS matches take comparatively longer with other online games. In a Vs fighting game the match is over under three minutes every time. In an RTS you might be there for 20-40 minutes and lose because of a single mistake. Except when playing on lower tiers and getting rushed and beaten in 5 over and over.

I played SC2 for a while, at rather modest level (got to gold). After a few years I tried getting back to it and couldn’t even get out of bronze as I found defending against constant rushes not fun.

I would contrast between faster and slower RTS games here. In SC2, everything is on a knife edge and it's common to fall apart after a bad engagement.

This is not a universal truth though. I primarily play AOE 2, where map distances and good static defence mean that an attacker needs momentum to push their advantage after a mistake from the other side if they want any chance to close the game. Hence it's common to see even pro players recover from somewhat horrifying gaffes when their opponent fails to push aggressively enough.

I played hours against friends. I did okay against them but got murdered in online play. The skill jump was huge and I never found a way to climb the ladder.

The first thing would be that almost all competitive RTSes are one-on-one games. Can't really flame your team-mates for getting pummelled.

And yep they're mechanically stressful. I used to play Broodwar competitively and it really felt more like exercising than gaming at some level. But it's also rewarding if you get into it, because just like in sports beating someone through mechanical skill is fairly satisfying.

RTS games are fairly unique in that you always know you could be doing things slightly faster, constantly. Yes, you can make a big mistake that loses you the game (like losing a queen badly in chess), but often if you just did your macro tasks a little faster you would have won, or scouted every 30 seconds instead of 35. The article touches on this in respect to APM.

Music is often the same way. Any beginner with an ear can tell they are not great, especially performing with others who are. They get shy and won't play, for fear of sounding bad.

I think that’s because there is no point where you can easily come back. Once you are behind defeat is often a foregone conclusion.

At least, in my games it generally comes down to a single battle.

I always felt like it was like playing Go. Very stressful.

Surprising to see no mention of Supreme Commander. This game isn't just alive, its thriving and getting popular(the FAF mod, not the base game).

Maybe RTS games are not being actively made but the mods are very much alive.

I think that Supreme Commander has the best UI in the RTS world.

This is the only game where I saw things like queing tasks for all units (whole construction schemes), estimated time of finishing each task, unrestricted zoom (from map view to the single unit) and multiple minor utility functions, like patrols of engineers (that can help creating units) or "help" function for factories (queued units in one factory and the other ones helping it).

Those functions greatly reduced cognitive load and micromanagement of most task, allowing the player to focus on the grand strategy.

I really hope that next AAA RTS game will be greatly inspired by this UI.

Was looking for this in the comments. Forged Alliances Forever (FAF) is a lovely community mod. While the Winter Steam sale is going on, SupCom:FA is $2.50 - required for the mod to work. The single player campaigns were updated and turned into co-op missions. New survival, phantom, and other mods. New faction even. This is one of the few games where multi-monitor support just works. Runs on Linux with just a bit of work.

Agreed, they added Nomads faction recently. And its really popular these days. The only problem is that you still need a relatively good pc(good processor ideally) to play this game, considering that its over a decade old.

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is the only game I play. I agree with another comment that no other RTS has a comparable UI. I would also say that no other game has the scale of SupCom. It's by far the most satisfying game I've ever played.

I must say I'm very impressed with this FLOSS TA inspired RTS after playing it for about a month: https://beyondallreason.info

Back in like 2005(?) when it came out it was also the first game that I ever saw supporting dual monitors. I had the overhead map on one screen and normal view on my main screen. That was pretty darn cool back in the day.

I will never, ever forgive Blizzard for removing quality-of-life features from Starcraft 2 for the sole purpose of artificially inflating the required APM. Specifically in the beta you could just use hotkeys to quickly use Zerg Queen to spawn extra larvae. But nope! Pro players hated that. Why should players be able to do something in a strategy game in fewer clicks when they could simply do it in more? Garbage.

In an RTS the mechanical skill largely comes down to raw speed. And it’s relatively binary. As opposed to a shooter where mechanical skill is reaction time and accuracy.

Interesting write up. I agree with many points. I pray someone twists the RTS genre in a way that is radically less reliant on APM.

You can't play in the master league with a low APM, but I held my own in Diamond league without going APM crazy. Just sticking to the fundamentals (scouting, harvesting+spending resources, knowing the basic matchups/units to go for) got me to lower Diamond and kept me there for a pretty good while

Nowadays the game's just too intense for me, though

I felt that Company of Heroes was a nice evolution of the genre and minimized the need for incredibly high APM.

For those who have not played Company of Heroes it is more about unit positioning and microing those units effectively. It requires a different set of skills than other RTS games.

Unfortunately I have not seen this catch on. Relic, the developers of CoH are working on Age of Empires IV and so I hope they will infuse their particular style RTS in it, but, for good and bad, it looks to be very similar to past AoE games.

Yeah, vanilla CoH had "The stuff" IMO.

It was more about decissions than APM. The resouce system was very cool too.

It was super streamer friendly; any viewer could look at it for 10 seconds and understand what was going on - zero nerdiness required. And it was gorgeous for its time.

Then Relic started making a lot of mistakes:

- New factions with units a viewer would need to "learn" to be able to understand what was going on in the match.

- Introduced a super defensive faction which could fight the old defensive faction, resulting in long, abhorrently boring games.

- CoH2 which sold new mini-DLCs each month with special units purposely not balanced for online play. Top scummy.

- A plethora of other things I won't bore you with. But Relic became a customer-toxic company in my eyes.

But vanilla CoH could be examined to find gold, IMO.

Company of Heroes 2 is fantastic. I bought everyone in my Steam list that game -- it was €1 a few months ago. However flops like Dawn of War 3 (a sister game to CoH) are why publishers are slower to risk on RTS.

I feel like dawn of war 3 commited StarCraft suicide, they scrapped almost everything that made the dawn of war series great and replaced it with a more "StarCraft like" gameplay to cater to a larger audience, instead of evolving what they had from dow1 and 2, making it a mediocre sc2 :(

Yeah. I was pretty disappointed when CoH2 wanted to get on eSport bandwagon and shoveled in a lot of micro heavy features. Suddenly every unit had bunch of manually triggered abilities you had to babysit (because apparently WW2 soldiers are too dumb to throw a grenade on a tank by themselves).

As such, it got significantly less fun for me with the exception of Ardennes Assault campaign.

Company of Heroes was an amazing game. I still work with some others on a community mod project from time to time which adds the Russians and the Ostheer as new factions.

Wargame/Steel Division are other games in the company of heroes vein.

I clicked just to see what the op would say about warcraft 3 and the very first point is a clear indication of inadequate understanding of the game at elite level of play. Spacing is important and in fact a big part of the game but not in a Starcrafty kind of way. Different maps allow for different tactics around map control based on race and ability to creep and gain map control. Its not about holding a high ground as a strategy, its more about holding a high ground for a certain type of army composition and while trying to expand for example.

And on the subsequent points ,again op just fails completely to understand the game at a higher level or simply has not seen any high level tournament in the last 2 years. Warcraft 3 is a masterful piece and the reason its not popular is it is fucking hard to be even decent at it online. Micro is more important than macro and thats a big deterrent for anyone thats a causal player.

Yes exactly. I would also debate the popularity point: how many games released by 2003 (release year of The Frozen Throne) still have an active pro scene, meaning people whose job is to play this game at tournaments?

With the rise of streaming I'd venture that most pro players do not rely solely on tournaments (and their tournament sponsoring) anymore, but the point remains that the game seems to have seen an increase in popularity in the past few years.

The Warcraft 3 scene is nothing compared to the biggest names in esport, but it is still remarkably healthy. One reason for this is that Blizzard let the community take the lead unofficially with things like https://www.w3champions.com/ which is basically like Battle.net but better than Battle.net has ever been in many regards.

I think it also helps that WC3, as a RTS, can still be relatively enjoyable as a beginner: fewer units to control, fewer resources and buildings to manage, and at the very beginning (say, with 50 APM) focusing mostly on the first hero (meaning a single unit) is clearly the best return on investment to increase one's win rate, which can become apparent after just a few games. Few RTS games are able to both offer such a gentle learning curve and the depth required for people having played the game for more than 17 years to still refine their strategies.

Agreed! I think WC3 is massively underappreciated.

After being terrible at it in its heyday in middleschool and hearing about Grubby it was a delight many many years later to discover he streams. Watching his stream fully made me appreciate the depth of strategy in WC3. Not the top player when it comes to micro but he often beats the best with brilliant and constantly varied strategies. One thing he is known for is successfully base trading his way to a win that most would have already considered a loss. That grubby does so well despite his "low" APM I think is a testament to WC3's depth of strategy and balance.

Honestly, I think the RTS genre is too hidebound to the origins of the genre. Too focused on trees of units and factories that existed originally because of singleplayer campaigns and trickling out upgrades.

I mean, the current monster of the genre - SC2 - can trace many of its gameplay mechanics and units back to a game that came out in 1994, which was of course primarily designed for single-player gaming.

An RTS basically expects a player to learn multiple games with completely little intersectionality between them - an early-game, a mid-game, and a late-game, wherein you use completely different units and strategies. Given the fact that the designers have to figure out how to make the "core loop" fun in several completely different gameplay modes, and players have to learn all of them, is it any wonder that RTS isn't more popular?

I love the RTS genre - the combinations of base-building and unit command and creativity and intensity scratches all the right itches for me. But every RTS game I play feels like it's bogged down in far more complexity than the game really needed. For a while I had a lot of fun playing with the Cambrian explosion of simple RTS games on mobile because they don't feel the need to bolt on so many mechanics - they figure out what their core loop is and stick to it... but the mobile gaming world has been ruined by F2P mechanics.

I've been enjoying Zero-K lately, which does reduce some of the RPGishness that I think hurts the genre - no upgrading, no teching, no tech trees... you just plop a factory and you start building units. But its mechanics are still incredibly complicated, grown organically over a decade of experimenting within the genre of Total Annihilation-style RTS play. But even then, it's still very tied to Total Annihilation, another mid-'90s RTS game.

I'd love to see more first-class attention to the "core loop" of RTS games, but I'm worried the only people who are truly experimenting with the genre are the mobile developers, and the economy of mobile gaming is an ugly place.

Slightly off-topic, but Zero-K still has some "teching", just in the form of creating a supply chain of energy to the huge cannons. However, it's messed up in that the mechanic is simply undiscoverable without a tutorial.

That's sort of ironic, as I've been missing higher tier units, as they were as close to a disruptable supply chain as it gets in TA: build factory -> make builder -> build factory 2 -> make tier 2 unit. Targeting builders or resources was a way to delay the coming of the next tier units. It also gave some predictability to the gameplay: not seeing tier 1 units meant tier 2 units were unlikely to come.

I agree with the complex mechanics, and I hate that there are so many factories, with so many units, many of them basically copies of each other. Same for defenses: do we really need 3 different anti-air towers? I much preferred the TA approach, where each unit was good at something different, and easily visually distinguishable too.

You are describing a different Zero-K than I know. In the ZK I know switching to another factory is a late game thing, not something after you get a few builders for you first factory.

Also each factory has mid-tier and high-tier units with unique capabilities. Some factories even have low tier units with specific features (e.g. Jumpbot's pyro or Cloakbots cloaking builder).

I don't understand at all how you can say that many copy each other. That's blatantly unfair.

Furthermore despite the wide choice of units and structures, every stat and an helpful description of the typical role of the unit is available in-game.

The reason for the various AA towers is because you need bigger guns against bigger beasts. Your basic cheap and fast built AA tower will wreck locusts all day, but Ravens will laugh at them and crush your factory anyway. Depending on which style of unit you face (swarm of light units, pack of medium unit, or a few heavy and high DPS units), you need a different type of weapon (e.g. low DPS area of effect or single target high burst).

You're right about mid-tier units in each factory. I guess that functions as a sort of equivalent to building tier-2 factories in TA, although there's max 1-2 of those in each factory.

What I'm trying to describe is rather the feeling of being quite lost still after 20 games or so, because I can't remember for the life of me which unit from which factory does what, even less what it works well with, and almost nothing about what mid-game units I can expect from the enemy given the observed factory they have.

Yes, the chassis, costs, and speeds give them different edges, but a more perfect game IMO would turn "Some factories even have low tier units with specific features" into "there's few enough units that each feels like it has a specific feature".

I'm not sure which way this would be best achieved: by combining some factories where units overlap most? By splitting factory groups into factions? After all, the original TA had a good faction/factory overlap: kbots+vehicles * arm+core gives 4 sets of overlaps, with some unique units in between them.

I do like the different experiments: cloaks? shields? jump? meelee? mines? disruption? All are awesome riffs on the concept, but too much all at once. Alpha Centauri dealt with it by letting the player piece units together and save as presets, instead of letting them blend in player's mind.

In all seriousness, I get the point of having 3 AA towers: one that can shoot ground, one that is somewhat powerful, and one for mid-late game. What you say about adjusting to swarms etc is not something that I expected (and my AA defenses have been historically useless for some reason), so maybe I'm just playing a game I'm not able to enjoy :P

Yes, the diversity can be overwhelming. The cloak factory is said to be a solid choice for beginners. From there, you can venture in other flavors of "bot" factories, like shield bots and jump bots. Then you can experiment with the more specialized ones, like spiders, hovers, gunships. And finally there are the very specific ones like the airplanes factory and the ships factory (good skills in those can make a difference in multiplayer games).

Of course it is better to have some knowledge about each of them, so you have a general idea of what to do when facing e.g. spiders.

Zero-K explicitly follows a rock-paper-scissors scheme (mainly raider-riot-skirmisher). Each category has a logo, which helps with selecting a counter-unit [1].

This is precisely the purpose of the campaign, which has been designed as a giant tutorial (without the annoyances of click-there-do-that past the very first mission). It restricts you to a single factory and often only a subset of the units of this factory, as you unlock the units when you complete missions. It is also RPG-y as you can unlock more modules for your commander as well. It is quite well done.

[1] http://zero-k.info/mediawiki/index.php?title=Unit_classes

If not for the campaign, I would have never guessed how to operate the huge cannons.

The thing that drives me to Zero-K is that it's much more polished than other Spring RTS mods, the constant metal/energy factor, that it has a good diversity, and actually works without having to guess how to run it.

Meanwhile I'm still going to looking for something where the diversity has less overlaps, where I can distinguish units without having to zoom out to see icons,… and where ships come in a whole range of sizes ;)

So far I'm not willing to give up the moveable commander, and that eliminates Nota.

> I mean, the current monster of the genre - SC2 - can trace many of its gameplay mechanics and units back to a game that came out in 1994, which was of course primarily designed for single-player gaming.

Couldn't the same be roughly said for FPS+wolf3d/doom/quake? or RPG/Zelda/Tomb Raider/whatever ?

Top 3 control, I mean writing, from HuK. Seems like a limited review so far, only a handful of games, no C&C mentioned. I'd say the genre is for a niche audience, just like model trains or golf video games, etc.

I love RTS but I almost never hear of friends loving this genre, they usually want easy, relaxing games after long days of work.

RTSs attract a certain personality type: the type of person that becomes an engineer, mathematician, scientist, or statistician. I met so many individuals from these career choices when I was playing RTSs that it was uncanny. Given this, it's no surprise to me that RTSs aren't wildly popular, the complexity and depth is just too much, it takes a systematizing nerd (of which there aren't many) to fully appreciate it.

I believe another reason is that these games are mostly 1-on-1, so they don't benefit from the same team play benefits and network effects as other games.

At least in starcraft, >2 player has a totally different feel as early game rushes are way more powerful. a lot of people don't like to play like that

It's designed to be a 1v1 game, a lot of people don't like that because it becomes hyper-competitive and even a little stressful when compared to team games

I love seeing the Starcraft folks come out of the HN community! Have loved Starcraft and sc2 and still watch the major tournaments - but I’m always curious that the most popular RTS of all time is so ignored by “PC RTS” players: Clash Royale / Clash of Clans. The future of RTS games to me lays in increasing accessibility. I’ve been playing Starcraft for decades and my hands and lack of time keeps me from really excelling like I used to as a kid - which is why a game or two of Clash Royale goes pretty far to scratch the 1v1 RTS itch.

Yeah, and if you ever have trouble winning, you just drop $500 on the game and you'll be good for a nice victory streak

plus you don't have to worry about losing to someone who just started playing, since they'll have to grind out dozens (hundreds?) of hours to be on a level playing field with you

Hrm - I play Clash Royale and the clan wars are typically locked-level cards. Early on when you’re getting started, the levels of cards for sure matters - but it stops fairly quickly. I’ve spent $10 on the game and regularly make it to the top league. Once you know how to play, it’s already stopped being pay-to-win. There is a reason it’s insanely popular and it’s not because there are no redeeming values. If time is money, I’ve spent thousands of times as much on Starcraft and Warcraft (and at least 6x dollars compared to sc2 alone). It’s a good product :)

Whatever you pay (even 0$), you'll end up with 50% winrate sooner or later.

I never paid anything for this game and had a lot of fun for years.

You get opponent that's either good with bad cards or good with bad cards. But you have 50% probability to win with either.

You are only winning as you climb to your level of opponents.

It's quite brilliant way to ensure players are appropriately challenged.

> Clash Royale

A game called Castle Burn was also very good take on RTS on mobile. Unfortunately defunct now.

People interested in a new generation of RTSs should check out Frost Giant Studios [1]. About the time Blizzard was canceling future development on SC2, a bunch of prominent ex-Blizz devs and designers announced they were making a new studio with the express intent of keeping the genre going.

You can scroll to the 'team' section to see their bona fides; the founding members have track records that make me want to believe it'll be a good product.

1. https://www.frostgiant.com/

My hot take is that RTSes focus too much on making things competitive and balanced and cater huge amounts of resources to the 0.001%. I just want a fun campaign and be done with it. But it’s not viable, instead you must build and balance multiplayer which is more work than the rest of the game. If you don’t then the online/esports personalities will trash your game. I did enjoy Spellforce 3 Fallen God a lot lately and that’s such a rarity

I get my real-time strategy fix from 0 A.D. [1]. It's free and open source, and has been discussed previously on Hacker News [2][3].

I've been playing for 5 years, strictly solo against AI in various configurations. I typically don't play for 3-9 months, then spend 2-4 weeks playing 0 A.D. with virtually all my free time. It's a nice sojourn from my usual side project, and a way to unwind after the day job and increasingly busy family life.

[1] https://play0ad.com/ [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10638238 [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17108843

my hot take on RTS : I like the genre (or rather used to like, the last one I loved was SupCom) but I wish somebody would make an RTS with no/minimal macro. Controlling the builder/peons units is a chore at best and I would love to see it streamlined a lot. For example just ask for a building to be built instead of finding/assigning builders to the task and micromanaging what they will do next.

Dungeon Keeper comes to mind as a game that starts to go in that direction but it can be argued it is more a (very) fun management game than an RTS.

Probably not doable, we would lose a lot of expressivity in such a change. However, if there is a new RTS coming, I personally would love to see an innovative take on the genre, closer to Brutal Legends 2 / Sacrifice 2 (or as another commented posted, something emulating logistics would be another interesting avenue) than to the inevitable Warcraft 4 (for ios ;)).

SupCom's still active, through Forged Alliance Forever. I got back into it a couple of months back and was pleasantly suprised by how easy it was to find a game.

happy to hear that this is still going on !

I lost interest in FA around the time when FAF was in its first betas.

Planetary Annihilation is more or less a successor but I could not get into it.

I like its idea but in practice the micro was insane in order to keep an eye on several different planets.

This is why I've always liked C&C over SC.

Side note, openra is still addictive.

Consider trying http://www.toothandtailgame.com/

It's designed to be playable with a controller, and uses a player character who commands the army and builds buildings. (Units autoproduce to a limit per building.) It removes APM from the equation, and also adds a new resource as a result: Position and focus of your commander.

AOE2 Deathmatch mode? Thanks for bringing up Brutal Legend and Sacrifice - genuinely fun, interesting games.

They had some sweet ideas.

I just watched a retrospective on 20 years of Double Fine. Tim had some interesting comments in there about how BL came to be. They were avoiding very hard to make or market the game as an RTS because the genre already had a big stigma at the time.

It might kinda explain the weird state of the game. It was definitely a fun and interesting experience but it was also flawed .. way too many games packed into one for its own good.

https://globulation2.org might fit your bill except that it is Open-Source-crappy and dead. Its core idea is good though.

Did you mean no micro?

oups indeed I meant micro not macro

RTS without macro would make no sense

> RTS without macro would make no sense

actually, the game "world in conflict" has no macro - you get free units (in limited quantities), and you micro the set of units to take control of points in the terrain (which leads to more reinforcements/units).

Quite an interesting RTS, i would say. It's completely about tactics and micro, no macro at all.

interesting, I will have to give it a look at one of these days ?

I heard about it but haven't played it. Looks like it was made from the same team as Ground Control, so this would be a tactics game (maybe a bit of a pedantic point to make though .. the 2 genres are closely related) ?

Indeed, it was not what I had in mind but removing the strategic layer would also serve as making these games more focused and hopefully less frantic.

The author talks of APM requirement as benign challenge; the RTS decline is caused by RSI, because once the player gets to high-level play - speed of execution becomes dominant and players injure their muscles to win. Turn-based games are thriving because the cost-of-interaction is much less and APM is irrelevamt

I really hate the intentional crap UI to make actions more challenging. (sc2) Soldiers and creatures running into their death because they didn't get an attack command. Creating control groups and adding units manually. Producing units manually in as weird as possible ways. Those things just draw attention away from engagements of which you will simply have fewer at a time and they are won by catching the opponent while off guard, not by your distraction but by build in ones. :/

There is a saying from game designers (e.g. Zachtronics) that the UI always has to have some element of frustration to it. The most elegant easy to use interface to a game is a 'push this button to win' button. This might be one of the reasons why you still have the physical interfaces design surviving in video games, while we don't see that in desktop UIs anymore (outside some niche software).

That being said, SC2 goes out of its way to make it frustrating. They intentionally design such frustrating UI elements into the game to act as skill differentiators. For instance, a Zerg player needs to click every N-seconds on each of his queens to spawn eggs or risk getting behind. That makes SC2 overall one of the most /execution-/oriented esports, where the perfect execution of a good strategy is the largest differentiator in skill. In contrast, dota2 is a very strategy/game-sense oriented game, where the top players are not necessarily mechanically the best.

Doesn't dota2 have last-hitting like dota1?

Yes, last-hitting is indeed one of the more important mechanics where execution is important in DotA2. However, there are a ton of tools to stack that deck in your favor such that a weak last-hitter can still do better than a strong last-hitting opponent. Today, players try to set up the situation in their favor: lane support bullies the opponent so he cannot contest the last hit, you get certain items to have a larger last-hit window, you use abilities to secure the more valuable ranged creep, etc. There is so much that it becomes more like a chess game than a 'who can click in the correct time window' game.

> Soldiers and creatures running into their death because they didn't get an attack command.

I wouldn't say that's there to make the controls more challenging. You should default to doing an attack move instead of a non-attack move.

> Creating control groups and adding units manually.

While I would like to be able to make factories assign units to groups, that's still manual creation. What do you have in mind for automatic groups? There's always F2.

> Producing units manually in as weird as possible ways.

This one is definitely there to get in the way.

Right, making the controls more challenging is taking away attention from economic planning, scouting, harassment and fights. As some famous broodwar player (whoes name I forgot - hah) said: Attention is the only resource. If you by design suck more than half the attention out of the players preemptively there is very little wiggle room for the actual game. In the late[r] game most players need all their attention to manage the economy (at the expense of everything else). The game becomes so fragile without that wiggle room that you cant recover from one unfortunate situation.

Its a classic really, the interface makes you feel dumb.

I'm suppose to be in command. My new trainee marine comes out of the barrack, he is not at all afraid of the hoard of terrifying zerg monsters, he just walks into them not even bothering to return fire. The SCV leaves the mineral line, builds a building, he is truly sophisticated at it! Then when done he just sits there.

>While I would like to be able to make factories assign units to groups

You can already put the factory in the control group, its just really annoying and doesn't do anything useful besides save a control group key.

F2 is an anti-pattern. It can be OK if you play casually in bronze/silver. But if you want to play more competitively you need to be able to have units split in different locations on the map executing different orders.

Well yes, but clever unit grouping is the opposite of automatic.

I agree with everything here. The learning curve is too steep for RTS in general: it is not clear how to improve. It’s also not fun that there is no mechanism to cap APM. I’ve also always dreaded starting 1v1 due to the mental stress. I get the same playing Go. I really wish there were more competitive 2v2 or more.

Anyone here remembers natural selection I and II? They were hybrid RTS/FPS where a single player would play an RTS game and other players would play units. I felt like there was something to be explored more there...

Also one thing that always created great space control were front lines: total commander has that, and capture the flag (I remember league of legends having a “dominion” mode that was really fun). I also remember an RTS where you could occupy buildings.

As a player who managed to get to masters on SC2:WoL I have two simple suggestions for you.

1. Look into what build orders you should use for different strategies.

2. Watch the replays of your games afterwards.

You d be surprised how much that helps.

AOE2 variety comes from many different map scripts with many different seeds, not so much from the civilizations/units/techs.

The doc talks about map generations in the AOE2 space section, but given the rational for prioritizing diversity, I expect this the variety in map generation should lead to a higher variety score.

I really enjoying watching the AOE2 tournament scene: https://liquipedia.net/ageofempires/Portal:Tournaments

I find it rather funny the author rating Starcraft with good variety. The game made every unit ranged so they wouldn't need to bother balancing melee attacks. I understand he means that each faction has different units, but imagine how boring AoE2 would be if all units were archers.

Melee units are effectively ranged units with a very short range. One of the most interesting aspects of games is how different ranges interact. Whether that's "melee range" or "slightly further than melee range" really shouldn't matter that much. Also, zerglings, zealots, ultralisks, dark templar and workers are melee in StarCraft 2.

Can you explain what you mean by "made every unit ranged"?

Does that mean that zerglings, zealots, ultralisks, firebats/hellions, banelings... (did I miss any) are ranged attack units? Because they swing claws and blades and flamethrowers around?

One RTS that i actually really like, to the point i actually made a couple of maps for was World In Conflict.

It somewhat surprises me that it died off so much with no sequel or replication of the format, I thought it was a decent team RTS with a reasonable amount of variety though maybe not enough. It also a baseless RTS and had not resource gathering component, iirc, and so could be argued it's more of a Real Time Tactics game.

World in conflict was awesome, I couldn’t remember the name of it until your comment, thanks!

Was there a multiplayer or longer / more replayable part? Perhaps that is the reason for the lack of long term success

There was MP, players selected classes like armour, infantry, support, air and then battled over a map in a team.

The environment destruction was amazing for the time, you could call in carpet bombing, napalm and even tactical nukes and it left the map as a warzone.

I'd love an RTS that lets you command hundreds of units but instead of controlling them directly like puppets, you set lists of priorities with something like a visual programming UI and let AI carry them out.

Besides the hard limit on the number of units in StarCraft and other RTSes, there's also a "soft" limit on how much shit an average player can keep track of or care about.

I was excited to read the first part - an analysis of why RTS games have become less popular - and a bit discouraged when the author didn’t follow up on that theme more, and instead reviewed a bunch of past RTS’s.

I do completely agree with the analysis, though. RTS games are hard for a “casual” player to get into. It’s hard to even follow a game on Twitch, because the camera is frequently jumping around while a player handles logistics, and when someone is doing multiple actions per second it’s hard to observe them. The difficulty of casual play also makes it difficult for streamers to chat with the audience while playing.

It’s interesting to compare to MOBA games like League of Legends. They are very similar mechanically in terms of unit control, but you have much less context switching because you are only controlling a single character. So it’s easier to follow a stream or to play.

I think there’s room for a middle ground, a game that has more complex strategies like RTS’s do, but with casual play like a moba. We’ll see...

There have been tons of analyses written on why RTS games have become less popular. If you're curious to read some, it should be pretty easy to google up. But the general theory is that RTS has lots of subsystems and very few people like all the subsystems in a single game, so the player base fragmented as gaming evolved. Tower defense games took the people who liked the base building part of RTSes. Slower-paced strategy games (Crusader Kings, Total War) took the people who liked deeper strategy. MOBAs took people who liked the micro.

> I think there’s room for a middle ground, a game that has more complex strategies like RTS’s do, but with casual play like a moba. We’ll see...

One problem is that RTS genre is a bit stuck. It is hard to pull in new players given all the other genres I just mentioned. And old RTS players "like what they like". You can see this in new RTS games that try something new like Tooth & Tail. It has a lot of negative reviews from RTS players saying things like "No micro?!? This isn't a real RTS!" Even though the lack of micro is specifically to try to draw in new players.

The RTS genre isn't really stuck - it's dead. Blizzard killed it. Studios left the genre when SC2 came out because at the time it was launched, SC:BW was, literally, e-sports. Power user players sought legitimacy for their games, hoping it would rise up to occupy that position, in the form of punishing, unfun mechanics. The result was that for a 4 year period prior to the release of SC2, games patched themselves to death to cater to the complaints of competitive players, players who promptly dropped the games they tailored to themselves for SC2.

Following SC2's announcement, RTS games almost stopped being developed entirely - no studio wanted to compete with blizzard's release. Unfortunately, Blizzard created a game which had very little of the UMS lobby scene, and very little of the captivating visual spectacle of SC:BW.

Blizzard's response to the decline of SC2 was made very clear very early; they didn't see the point in investing further in the genre when Hearthstone and WoW both featured recurring revenue and SC:BW had it's popularity owed to recurring fan based content at a set upfront price.

> You can see this in new RTS games that try something new like Tooth & Tail. It has a lot of negative reviews from RTS players saying things like "No micro?!? This isn't a real RTS!" Even though the lack of micro is specifically to try to draw in new players.

Well it's rated Very Positive on steam, for what it's worth.

It's definitely far from a standard RTS, though, with the way you have a single avatar character that runs around to personally provide vision and perform all actions.

Interesting, I hadn't seen that reasoning before - that each vertical within the general-purpose RTS gameplay eventually split out into its own genre, if you will.

I suppose it makes sense, but makes me a bit sad as I feel reconciling the strategic value in one to complement another was the magic - resources, units, and towns only have value insofar as they enhance your strategic execution. I could never get into Civilization or Rollercoaster Tycoon where it felt (to me) like building just for the sake of building or following how someone else defines "good".

Are there any games that have players controling different slices in the same space, like one player controls economy, another player controls production/R&D, and a 3rd player controls tactical?

This is the main characteristic of Dwarfheim https://dwarfheim.com/

So a few RTS games (StarCraft 2, Steel Division 2 come to mind) allow multiple players to share control of the same units/resources so you could artificially divide up responsibilities. You need to go far away from RTS to a game like Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator to find a game where players are dealing with distinct gameplay to a common goal in a shared space however

Age of Empires 2 lets you do this as well.

Ah, is this a definitive edition change? I don't remember HD/AoK having this

Actually, I was just playing AoE2 (the original from 1999) last night with my family and discovered this feature.

When joining a multiplayer game, you can choose player number and team. If you choose the same player number and team as someone else, both players have control of the same units.

I find it so weird that this is written by Huk, since I would have expected a lot more well thought opinions from somebody who admittedly once was one of the best non-koreans.

I'm truly shocked that he just describes the economy as too simplistic only because it has just 2 types of resources.

I don't get the comments on APM, since "playing faster" isn't a function of "my fingers don't have strong enough muscles" but much more "how much processes can you handle subconsciously or purely on muscle memory".

Also I really liked day[9]'s take on it that Starcraft focuses on Real time aspect of RTS instead of the strategy aspect (while that also goes incredibly deep!).

But let's face it, 1v1 esports is dead. Nobody enjoys mechanical heavy games anymore and that sucks!:<

Give a world where the top esports would be any starcraft, an arena fps like quake/diaboticals and GunZ and I would be happy.

I think RTS can evolve, but I don't think you can compete with SC2 in the style where it excels, after more than a decade of balance patches. You can make games with a different focus though.

SC2 is a short (~10-20 minutes) 1 on 1 APMs contest. (APM=actions per minutes). APMs are more than fast clicking. No pro player managed to do everything they know they should do. It is about prioritization. Even I, a modest gold-league player can watch pro replays and go "oh, they should have moved the drones there, they could have saved these 3 marines". Knowing your skills there, execute well, recover from errors, exploit your enemies' mistakes, cause them.

This is the kind of game SC2 is, and it is perfect in that regard. It fits a niche perfectly, has the good amount of complexity.

RTS can be about other things than APMs, but also, I believe they can be about something else than being an eSport. It is not necessary to be an eSport to be a good game.

> SC2 is a short (~10-20 minutes) 1 on 1 APMs contest.

This is the first time I learned this. (Sorry tongue in cheek a bit.) But yeah as an eSport (1v1), or in modes where people play 1 on 1 (and APM tends to win), your statement is true.

It is not the only mode you can play SC2, and while it might the most recognized or popular setup, the people I play with prefer basically ever mode except that one. (Many of us also enjoyed the campaigns!)

That's the mode where SC2 shines. The Co-op isn't too bad, and the campaigns are good, but there are better games in these categories.

The article ignores the Total War style of RTS which is more relaxed. I'm not sure if we should consider them in the same genre as Starcraft though.

As a rule of thumb if you don't produce units it isn't in the strategy genre. Total War is a turn based strategy with real time tactical battles. Online play is mostly the tactical battles so is a real time tactics game.

The reason you separate it there is that in a strategy game you should be able to win the war while losing every battle. You can't do that unless you can produce units, meaning if you plan well you can outproduce your enemy and win even though he kills more of your stuff every time you fight.

How can you talk about RTS games and never mention the CNC series? Red Alert 2 was amazing. As an advanced Age of Empires 2 player, Red Alert 2 has a complete different set of strategy choices to offer and feels much more arcade. This may be good or bad depending on your preferences but it must be mentioned IMHO

It makes me sad that Ruse, the 2009 title hasn't made it on the list. It had gone under a radar of many RTS players, but it was revolutionary in terms of APM: there were so few actions per minute that you could competitively play it on an xbox controller (which it had a great control scheme for). The challenge was always to out-fox and out-smart your opponent, and you didn't have to click fast to achieve it.

Unfortunately, the developer, Eugene Systems, didn't keep this in later games. The Wargame series are an excellent and very deep strategy games that further built on recon and other mechanics from Ruse, but it is, once again, a bit of a click-fest.

Still, I highly recommend both; Ruse is more on a casual side, and Wargame series if you want something more hardcore.

The author:

* gave StarCraft 1 a balance score of 7.4 / 10 while the game is probably the most balanced RTS ever and deserves nothing else than 10 out of 10

* Gave higher scores to games that are irrelevant (Company of Heroes?) and were never relevant, while people still play StarCraft 1 up to this day

... is someone who knows not much about RTS.

The scores there are completely wrong.

StarCraft 1 is a game from 1998 that is still relevant to today and overall the best RTS ever. Nothing else touched it when it comes to balance. Gameplay is debatable, but Id say no other RTS touched it too.

Also the author completely omits the thing that made StarCraft Brood War relevant: the map editor with custom games. Those were and still are revolutionary, since they allowed the players to create their own maps with own rules. Things like Turret Defense, or whole MOBA genere came out from custome StarCraft maps. Thousands such maps were made and played by players - the game gave the relatively easy to use map editor that also provided a relatively easy to use (and primitive) programming language. That added to the game's longetivity.

WarCraft 3 had it too -> the whole DOTA was probably more popular than the game itself.

StarCraft 2 didnt have real custom maps - as Blizzard didnt know what to do: they wanted to monetize them, yet didnt, so effectively they killed this mode with their wrong decisions. If SC2 had a decent ability for custom games from the start, the game would be much more relevant today. The whole paragraph about "ladder anxiety" goes away, if you can play custom games all day. As many player in SC1 did. But couldnt in SC2.

The cool thing about brood war is that it will last forever.

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