What I'd really like to understand about SupCom is how the zoom in/out views are so smooth and seamless.
At one point during the beta I remember talking to a dev on IRC who told me the zoom was very challenging in this game, and that a novel approach had been devised and successfully implemented.
The scale of the range between micro and macro views in SupCom is unlike anything else I've encountered. For example, you can start zoomed in on a specific character on a ship, and then you can zoom out all the way until you can see the entire map. And the whole interaction is for all intents and purposes seamless and smooth as the view changes.
It's akin to the intro part of the film "Contact" where it zooms out from the Earth all the way into the deep universe.
Such a gem of a game -- too bad it takes so long to play a round! (3-6 hours+)
Other games have implemented this sort of thing now, like Planetary Annihilation, which was created by some of the original SupCom developers (warning: don't buy PA unless it's at a severe discount however as it's buggy, has poor game balance, no good single player campaign and a tiny multiplayer community).
The Kerbal Space Program game's devblog also contains some interesting writeups regarding this kind of thing, like this one:
Are these established methods that you can google and pick up anywhere, or is there a lot of experimentation going on to see what works?
I bet I could show this article to myself back when I started CompSci and be able to comprehend most of it. But I was a Gamedev.Net addict, tried my hand at competitions and tried to write my own 3d engine. At some point, my mathematical knowledge became the bottleneck.
There are a lot of established methods, you can pick a lot by reading SIGGRAPH, but that's too heavy early on. If you are truly interested, you should start by learning how to put simple 3d geometry on screen. Then, when trying to figure out how to make things look better, you'll naturally gravitate to learning what you need.
When trying to apply these techniques in real games, there's indeed lots of experimentation. And many times game developers come up with novel techniques. See papers by Valve, for instance.
"Mindblowing" are the demoscene people who fit this (or something more complex with procedural generation) into 64k or 4k binaries.
So yeah, I think you can find very good uni courses which cover those things, but they are not very common - I know I can certainly recommended mine, I got a job in the games industry straight away after it.
Literally every person that I knew who was on this course is now either in a job(in games industry) or doing a PhD.
Edit: obviously there were books which were "recommended reading" but very few people bought them, they were all in the library anyway if someone needed one. I think you can see the list if you click on "modules" and then click on a specific one, it tells you the structure of the module and recommended reading.
I remember playing a lot of SupCom to help me get an idea of how to zoom smoothly and how to handle the overlays/information density at every scale (also because it was a badass game).
I can't help but think about the fact that the SupCom engine performs horribly while reading this, though.
It does worse in almost every respect compared to even the engines that came before it and while SupCom is definitely massive scale, that's not the root of why the game's performance is very poor.
Other than that, then engine is amazing, the concept is solid, the potential is there, the possibilities are endless! ChronoShift or what's that nifty feature is amazing for keeping long games in-sync with each other, and so on.
Currently Zero-K delivers the most fun in terms of time and money investment needed.
Supreme Commander is still the best I've played and it is still going strong under the Forged Alliance Forever community.
FYI: Chris Taylor now works for Wargaming. There has been no word yet on what project he may be doing there.
Wargaming bought Gas Powered Games in 2013, thus Chris Taylor works for them. Within months, Wargaming additionally bought the Total Annihilation rights from the THQ bankruptcy auction. Taylor is likely working on a TA sequel.
Zero-K (which is a free TA Ripoff) is gameplay-wise worlds superior. i felt cheated paying so much for planetary annihilation.
The units are mostly uninteresting. I don't know why they have separated the land factory into vehicle & bots factory, they seem mostly interchangeable to me. The stratospheric & inter planetary game-play is very limited (you have only one type of attack satellite that you mass produce).
The UI has some catastrophic oversights. Even if you have visible coverage on a whole planet, you don't get any alert if an enemy sneaks in (only when he/she attacks). So you have to constantly monitor all your planet(s).
Procedural generation + round planets creates maps that IMO are not very interesting.