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Which of these is your favorite RTS of all time?




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Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9 with Hunter / Prey

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 By Frogboy

Version 2.9 of the award-winning massive-scale RTS, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation goes out this week.

This version is the biggest AI update since the original release.  It also has numerous visual improvements including higher resolution textures.

Let’s take a look…

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

This is one of the Hunter / Prey expansion turrets.  In v2.9 you can rapidly drop down Emergency Turrets.  They can now be upgraded into a Machine Gun Turret (pictured here) or a Shotgun turret.

You may also notice a general refresh on the terrain in this shot.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

This shot is mainly to just show off the updated terrain texture.

Same here:

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Structures blend in more nicely and the terrain itself has a bit more punch.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Here I have a bunch of the new Nova Towers and Minos Cannon towers.  They are very vulnerable to air but are great anti-turtle siege weaponry.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.9

Subtle but important new feature in v2.9: Hold position.   The previous command “Stop” did indeed stop.  But you still ended up with the unit AI occasionally wandering towards unwanted objectives.

Version 2.9 will be released on November 14 at 1pm EST.


Ashes Dev Journal: Hunter / Prey Strategy Guide

Posted on Monday, November 11, 2019 By GGTheMachine

Just launched is the Hunter / Prey expansion alongside the massive 2.9 update. Hunter/Prey adds in lots of new units and buildings and I'll explain in detail their roles and some tips and tricks to using them. Overall, most of the new content is niche and situational compared to the existing content. This was to deliberate to ensure the new content opened up new and widened strategic options instead of overlapping with old stuff.


Add to Steam wishlist

 

New Substrate Structures

Auxiliary Assembly

This new building produces all of the new units, except for the Heart of the Phoenix, which can be built in the Advanced Assembly. Aside from the Scarabs, each new cruiser requires a tech building to unlock.


New Substrate Units

Scarab

Video showcase:
Overview: A heavy frigate squadron that is slow but tough and with heavy firepower. 
Role: Heavy Frigate

Tips for Scarabs:

  • While very cost-effective, Scarabs can be easily outmaneuvered so attack your opponent's resources where the fight can't be avoided.
  • Scarabs move at almost half the speed of other frigates and cruisers. Don't mix Scarabs in as armies to existing units, else you'll bog the whole army. Scarabs work best on their own with some anti-air support.

Tips against Scarabs:

  • Scarabs get devastated by area of effect attacks such as the Hades Bombers.
  • Use scout planes and radar to see incoming attacks. Scarabs are so slow that you can prepare static defenses by the time they arrive.

 

Skirmisher 

Overview: A fast-moving raider with weak durability for its cost but packs good damage.  
Role: Harassment Cruiser

Tips for Skirmisher:

  • Use to avoid enemy forces and rush past defenses to harass enemy economy and infrastructure.
  • Skirmishers are fast enough and with decent shield regeneration that they can simply disengage from a fight and move elsewhere
  • Skirmishers can easily dodge incoming artillery projectiles if they change course, use them to punish Artillery.

Tips against Skirmisher::

  • Rather than defending specific resource points, place static defenses in the choke points that Skirmishers would try to sneak past
  • Skirmishers are weak in a direct fight for their cost, go on the offensive to deny your opponent fighting on their terms.
  • Use gunships to quickly kill Skirmishers from the sky, Skirmishers are too fast for anti-air support.
  • Avoid trying to use bombers like the Hades that are likely to miss the fast-moving Skirmishers.

 

Falling Star

Video showcase: 

Overview: A portable EMP bomb; when destroyed the Falling Star disables all nearby defenses for a short duration.

Role: Disruption Cruiser

Tips for Falling Star:

  • Base defenses target units based on proximity (after initial unit type priorities), ensure a Falling Star is in the front of an assault.
  • Falling Stars have high shield regeneration, don't be afraid to wait for it to regenerate before commencing an assault.
  • The Destroy unit command can be used to manually detonate the Falling Star, this can be invaluable when the Falling Star is not being targeted and its disabling effect is needed.
  • The Nano-Mesh barrier orbital can be used to give +2000 HP to the Falling Star, giving it more time to get into the perfect position to detonate.

Tips against Falling Star:

  • Don't over-invest in base defenses, Falling Stars are practically worthless against units.
  • Spread out your defenses so they're not all caught in the blast radius.
  • Try to use longer range defenses with high burst (like the Oblivion) instead of shorter range, gradual damage towers like the Barrager.
  • Stasis Hammers can prevent the Falling Star from getting within range.

 

Clutch of Eggs 

Video showcase:

Overview: A heavy walking spiderbot, when destroyed releases 16 powerful hatchlings (Frigates).

Role: Swarm cruiser

Tips for Clutch Of Eggs:

  • The Clutch is weak for its heavy cost, but its real power comes in the hatchlings. Use them to overwhelm units and defenses with long reloads that lack AOE, such as the Minos Cannons, Eradicators and Athenas/Maulers.

Tips against Clutch Of Eggs:

  • Make sure to mix in anti-frigate firepower such as Zeus, Masochists, Drone Bays and Disruptor Towers. 
  • If completely caught off guard, the Plasma Storm and Drone Swarm orbitals are deadly against the Hatchlings.

 

Heart of the Phoenix

Video showcase: 
Overview: Versatile juggernaut that when destroyed it forms a Chrysalis that given enough time will regenerate and rebirth a new Phoenix.

Role: Endurance and disruption Juggernaut

Weaponry: Several missile swarms capable of engaging all targets, Static Charge which disables nearby units. Respawns at ~30% total health/shields if the Chrysalis survives for 30 seconds. (game time.)

Tips for Heart of the Phoenix::

  • The Phoenix is versatile against all unit types but doesn't excel against any. It's a good investment if you don't know your opponent's strategy.
  • Multiple Static Charges can stack and disable units for a long time, consider investing in multiple Phoenix's rather than mixing different Juggernauts together.
  • Multiple Static Charges (Including from the Overmind) will especially synergize with keeping the Phoenix Chrysalis long enough to respawn.
  • The Phoenix can be manually killed with the destroy unit command to turn into a Chrysalis. Though this will unlikely be useful as it loses combat levels and only respawns at ~30% total health.

Tips against Heart of the Phoenix:

  • The Phoenix does not have the same firepower as other Juggernauts, duel it with a Leonidas or Eye of Darkness.
  • While the Phoenix can devastate air units, it is with the same weapons as its ground attacks. Don't be afraid to combine an air and ground assault, but don't send the air in too early.
  • The Phoenix lacks any splash damage, send in light units.
  • Make sure to focus the Phoenix's chrysalis down before it can respawn.


New PHC Defenses

All new defenses (except for Minos Cannon) are tier 2 or tier 3 that upgrade from existing towers. Alternatively, they can be built directly on the map from the Sapper orbital abilities which summons an advanced engineer.

Shotgun Turret 

Overview: Very short-range turret but delivers massive damage.

Upgrades from: Emergency Turret (Orbital Ability)

Tips for Shotgun Turret:

  • Invest in the Shotgun Turret over the MachineGun when you know the enemy has a large amount of short-range units such as the Athena and Mauler.
  • The Shotgun excels in overlooking a high ground position where enemies will not be able to shoot up without vision.
  • The cost of spawning Emergency Turrets will increase throughout the game. Use the Sapper to build more Shotgun and Machine Gun Turrets with a fixed Quanta cost.

Tips against Shotgun Turret:

  • The shotgun can simply be outranged by a medium-range enemy like the Nemesis. Utilizing the Hold Ground unit command may charge your units from charging within range of the Shotgun Turret.
  • The shotgun excels against cruisers, with its 1 second reload it can struggle against swarms of frigates.

 

Machine Gun Turret

Overview: Versatile damage and medium-range. Can target both ground and air targets.

Upgrades from: Emergency Turret (Orbital Ability)

Tips for Machine Gun Turret:

  • Use when the short-range of the Shotgun tower will be limiting or when additional anti-air firepower is needed.

Tips Against Machine Gun Turret:

  • The Machine Gun Turret has no particular weaknesses, sieging it with an Artillery cruiser may be necessary unless you have an overwhelming force.

 

Kinetic Accelerator

Overview: Provides a 20% damage boost to all nearby weapons. 

Upgrades from: Sensor Post

Tips for Kinetic Accelerator:

  • Don't invest in one too early. 20% bonus is not significant for only a handful of Smarties.
  • Selecting the Kinetic Accelerator tower shows you its buff range (1000). Use this as a reference.
  • The Kinetic Accelerator is extremely fragile, place it behind other defenses so it is protected.
  • If you can, leapfrog Battery towers forwards and try to fight near them. You may have to lure enemies into engage you in the buff range.
  • Its selection range of 1000 indicates its buff range, but the Kinetic Accelerator still provides 3000 radar range. You don't need to rebuild a Sensor Array.

Tips against Kinetic Accelerator:

  • The Kinetic Accelerator is extremely fragile at 300 health. Take it out with a Sentries, Saboteur, Incursion Drone Swarm, Plasma Storm before an engagement.
  • If Orbital jamming is present, suicide a bomber or two to destroy it before an engagement.

 

Nova Tower 

Video Showcase: 
Overview: Indirect bombardment weapon that delivers heavy shield damage in a wide area-of-effect at.

Upgrades from: Artillery Post

Tips for Nova Tower:

  • Deals no physical damage so it is useless against PHC. Though, it will only ever fire at shielded enemies
  • Best used to support Artillery Posts or prior to assaulting an enemy position. 
  • Use Sensor Posts (Or Kinetic Accelerator) to reveal targets.

Tips against Nova Tower:

  • The shield damage can be counteracted by mixing in Caregivers and Regenerators.
  • The Nova Tower, like the Artillery Post, is extremely weak. They can be quickly destroyed by bombers.

 

Stasis Hammer

Video showcase:
Overview: Deals no damage but stuns an enemy in place for a few seconds.

Upgrades from: Sentinel Cannon

Tips for Stasis Hammer:

  • The Stasis Hammer can stun cruisers but it's likely only a worthwhile investment against Dreadnoughts and Juggernauts.
  • Multiple Stasis Hammer stuns stack, don't be afraid to invest in a few.

Tips against Stasis Hammer:

  • The Stasis Hammer is moderately fragile at only 2000 health. Consider focusing it down first, bombers or otherwise.
  • Artillery units will be able to siege the Stasis hammer with no risk, unless there are nearby Artillery Posts.
  • Unless it is well-supported, Stasis hammers can be overwhelmed with light units.

 

Minos Cannon

Video showcase:
Overview: Tier 3 anti-dreadnought and anti-juggernaut defense. Fires 6 devastating armor-piercing shots in a rapid burst over long-range.

Tips for Minos Cannon:

  • The Minos Cannon's long reload and slow turret rotation leave the Minos Cannon vulnerable to swarms of light units. Make sure to other types of base defenses to complement that weakness. In particular, Drone Bays devastate frigates and the Hatchlings from the Clutch Of Eggs.
  • Mix with a Battery Tower and Stasis Hammer for additional effect
  • The Minos Cannon has more attack range than sight range, mix in a Sensor Array (Or Kinetic Accelerator) to ensure it's firing at max range.

Tips against Minos Cannon:

  • A dreadnought charge against a Minos Cannon is suicidal, don't attempt this. Even a Juggernaut charge may fail if well fortified or multiple Minos Cannons are present.
  • If your opponent is heavily entrenched, it's possible you can flank their defensive position and attack elsewhere such as their economy or Nexus. Supported Minos Cannons are a massive investment.
  • For PHC - Use the Cronus artillery dreadnought to outrange the Minos Cannon from a distance safely.
  • For Substrate - Mass Clutch Of Eggs or other frigates can easily overwhelm a Minos Cannon, even mass cruisers can do the job. 
  • Substrate - Use Mix in Falling Stars to disable the Minos and other supporting defenses.
  • Substrate - Tormentor artillery frigates have more range than Destructors and will be able to safely outrange the Minos Cannon, though they will take some time to chip away at it.

Ashes Dev Journal - Meta Campaigns

Posted on Friday, August 9, 2019 By GGTheMachine

Many RTS campaigns have a meta-map which dictates the flow of the campaign, such as the one found in Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. Meta campaigns aren't inherently a good or bad approach compared to a traditional, linear mission structure, it depends on how well it's executed.  Meta campaigns are easy to mess up and be an anti-fun grind, so they should not be tacked on as an extra feature. A meta-campaign should be the entire focus for the single player campaign or a substantial DLC like Company of Heroes 2's Ardennes Assault. So what is it that makes a good meta-campaign?

Not all types of RTS games are going to work equally as well with a meta-campaign which is crucial to identify. Meta campaigns tend to consist of procedurally generated skirmish missions with certain perks such as different win conditions. Short 1v1 skirmishes with constraints don't make sense for an RTS game like Supreme Commander, which instead shines in lengthy sandbox style missions on massive maps. With an emphasis on skirmish style missions, the skirmish AI has to be really fun to verse for a meta-campaign to not just feel like a grind. While Rise of Nations has minimal variation in its missions, the skirmish AI is so fun to verse that it hardly matters. Let's take a look at some of the reasons an RTS might want to do a meta-campaign over a traditional linear campaign.

 

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Meta-Strategy & Progression

Meta-campaigns give the player more agency which ties into the power fantasy that RTS games can deliver. It's one thing to be in control of a big army, but it's another to coordinate an entire planetary conquest! Good meta campaigns deliver a sense of progression as territory lines shift and grow. Meta campaigns give players the choice of where and when they attack, do you go straight for the enemy stronghold or first build up by capturing neutral territory? Do you finish off the crippled empire or do you prioritize harassing the biggest threat? Do you fortify areas as you advance or focus full aggression? These types of decisions are fun and more meaningful than lame story choice cliche's. 

Meta-campaigns typically feature a meta-resource gained from conquests and is used for upgrades or temporary bonuses. They also generally include progression of unlocking of new content, hero upgrades, global perks, and the pacing of starting forces. Progression is typical in linear campaigns too, but it's a lot more fun when it's the consequence of the player's decisions such as being tied to sector bonuses. Meta-campaigns generate tension by being an arms race of escalating power between you and the other warring factions, as your territory lines grow and forces strengthen, so too does the enemies which is viewable at all times. 

 

 

Contextualization

Meta-maps also serve as a great form of contextualization without needing excessive exposition and introductory dialog. Some RTS games have excellent story-driven campaigns, but those are the exception and not the rule. RTS games make it hard to do narrative because of the scale and perspective. There's no face-to-face character interaction or dialog choices while the top-down view detaches the player. The new player thoughts of "Why do I care and why do my actions matter?" is easy to answer when you're a small army sitting on the island of Japan surrounded by barbarian hordes and the empires of Korea and China! Later on, looking out on the map and seeing you now own the entire continent of Asia feels awesome and is innately a motivation to continue the conquest for the rest of the world.

With minimal character dialog and narrative, an RTS can instead focus on lore and backstory, the context around the game. Who are the factions and characters fighting over this world? What are their personalities? Why do I care? I don't consider that narrative because context doesn't need character development or interesting plot twists. Dawn of War: Dark Crusade is a perfect example of lore without story. Meta-campaigns also have the potential for interesting show-don't-tell through gameplay on the meta-map. What if the Chaos in Dark Crusade were overly aggressive, while the Orks rapidly regenerate forces and Space Marines could summon reinforcements from their Imperial Guard allies?

 

 

Video games should always try to communicate through mechanics instead of cutscenes and dialog. The Global Conquest mode in C&C3: Kane's Wrath did this by having unique victory conditions for each faction. The global government of GDI win by securing control of enough of the globe, the chaotic forces of Nod win by bringing enough cities into full unrest and the alien invaders of Scrin win by constructing 9 Threshold Towers. (Planetary Gateways). Company of Heroes 2's Ardennes Assault uses excellent show-don't-tell through its representation of the battered US companies holding out in the Battle of the Bulge. Manpower is finite, so every loss you take on the battlefield is permanent across your global company strength that can result in a campaign loss if each company is depleted. Watching as your Airborne company is removed from the meta-map due to your failed mission is far more emotionally impactful than some corny dialog in a cutscene.



Playing Past Losses

Another benefit of meta-campaigns is the ability to make failing a mission acceptable. In a traditional RTS campaign, you need to win every mission to progress else it doesn't make sense narratively. Being forced to replay a mission in a traditional campaign isn't fun because it's heavily scripted. Meta-campaigns, on the other hand, aren't limited by story so losses can just delay progress or incur a penalty. Because meta-campaigns make it okay to fail an individual mission, they can be made more challenging without the loss being overly frustrating. When failing a mission is more of a possibility, then each more tension is generated and you can have wider fluctuations in difficulty to keep players on their toes. (Which is an inevitable consequence of semi-random missions or force strengths.)

 

 

Since it's okay for players to lose individual missions, the game can be designed around not being able to save-scum. Without the ability to restart a mission or load old saves, every decision is permanent and tension is much higher. Save-scumming is not fun, yet players will do it anyway out of the desire to optimize and be efficient. To be safe, you probably want to leave in traditional save functionality either as part of the lower difficulties or as an option to disable such as Ironmode in XCOM2. If a campaign is intended to be played without save-scumming, then the overall campaign should be short. Having to restart a 5 hour playthrough is very different to having to restart 20 hours of progress. (I found Ardennes Assault was the perfect length). With a short campaign play time, there needs to be an emphasis on replay value, which is a huge potential and benefit of meta campaigns.


Avoiding Repetition

Meta-campaigns are inherently repetitive, so the repetition has to be fun and not feel like a grind. Meta campaigns don't need scripted missions, but it also needs to be more than just a set of regular skirmishes strung together. To avoid repetition, missions should have random (or semi-random) properties such as win conditions, mutators, map types, AI personalities, and other modifiers. Mix all these qualities and you end up with a large number of semi-unique random missions which you could describe as procedural generation. The extent of the required variation depends on how fun the skirmish AI is to play against, which is more a consequence of the design and mechanics of the game than the technical complexity of the AI. (Although smart AI obviously helps.) Dawn of War: Dark Crusade gets away with very little mission variety because its skirmish AI is fun, but that's not the case for Company of Heroes 2. Ardennes Assault navigates around its poor skirmish AI by having massive mission variety and more scripted missions and mutators.

 

 

Procedural Generation can also apply to the strategic level, the meta map. Factors such as spawn locations, territory lines, mutators, resources, bonuses, and progression can vary, which will make repeat play through feel much more unique. The great thing about meta-game design is it isn't limited to RTS gameplay, XCOM2 is one of my favorite games and a solid implementation of the meta-campaign. XCOM2 has different global build orders that have massive implications for your in-game performance such as weaponry and abilities. As XCOM2 is an RPG it makes sense to have your tactical gameplay heavily emphasized by your global progression, more than an RTS. The balance of how much impact meta-strategy has opposed to RTS gameplay is a delicate line, as a general rule for RTS games, the tactical side should matter much more. It feels awful to be thrown into utterly unwinnable battles, which is why I think the emphasis of Strike Forces made the Kane's Wrath Global Conquest mode unpopular. Try to find ways to add variation to the meta-game without overly impacting the RTS gameplay.

 

Adjustable Campaign Options

While the metagame should have randomized variation, it should also have settings that the player can tweak to configure to their preferences and to add more variety to repeat playthroughs. Difficulty is one factor that can be very flexible, such as separate difficulty sliders for the meta element and gameplay element. Specific settings may make a game more easy or difficult by removing or tweaking a meta-mechanic, or it may just be a personal preference that someone finds a particular mechanic annoying. The campaign could be tweaked to go twice as long, or all the battles are 4v4 AI battles instead of 1v1. The meta-campaign could only contain one powerful enemy instead of 6 weaker ones. There's so much potential for options that are just minor tweaks but can give enormous replay value.

 



Scripted Missions

The majority of missions in meta-campaigns will randomized skirmish missions, but not all of them need to be. There's room in meta-campaigns to have scripted missions for extra tension, climax or inversely a more guided introduction. It's typical to see a scripted introductory mission that serves as a tutorial then opens up the meta-map to the player. The final mission can also be an epic battle, or each rival faction can have a scripted stronghold mission such as in Dark Crusade. Parts of the meta-screen could also be scripted, such as the Alexander the Great campaigns in Rise of Nations. Linear campaigns, as opposed to meta campaigns, don't need to be opposites, they need not be all-or-nothing. The StarCraft II campaigns are mostly linear but give the player a choice of which missions to pursue first to determines the unlock order of units. 


Auto-Resolve

Even with varied missions, it's still possible to get a feeling of a grind if you have major scripted missions like base sector assaults broken up between randomized skirmish missions. To avoid that feeling of grind in the late game, missions should have auto-resolve. The lack of auto-resolve in XCOM2 made unimportant missions in the late stages of the game frustrating to encounter as they ended up just being a time sink. For auto-resolve to best function without being overly random, there needs to be a system of force strength quantification which are compared and determines win chances. Force strengths in the RTS gameplay typically manifests as the size of the starting army and base.

 



Mission Resolve States

Missions can have more than simply win or lose states depending on the game mode. If missions can be resolved with grey areas such as stalemates or pyrrhic victories (Where you win but suffer massive losses), then there's much more tension with each mission. Even if victory is inevitable in an Ardennes Assault mission, you're still trying hard to minimize losses as the manpower losses diminish the company strength which bleeds over to subsequent missions. In XCOM2, suffering wounds on your operatives leave them unable to participate in future missions while they recover, forcing you to rely on inexperienced recruits. Non-linear success states also adds more depth and less RNG to an auto-resolve mechanic.

 

Approachability.

RTS games are already very confusing and complicated, so adding a layer of metagame on top of that can further alienate new players. Try not to front-load all of the complexity to a new player. The first missions in a campaign could be purely linear without introducing the meta-game or showing it without giving the player control until the 3rd mission. Elements of the meta-game can be introduced gradually, such as choosing where to attack but being locked out from upgrades, abilities and supporting armies until later in the campaign. The meta-screen should avoid clutter and be clean to prevent overwhelming new players and use submenus to separate information.

 



Summary

Meta-campaigns aren't inherently better than a traditional linear campaign and are suited to particular RTS styles more than others, but they have many benefits. Story-driven campaigns are challenging to execute well in RTS due to the perspective and scale, whereas meta-campaigns contextualize and immerse the player without needing story. They also have the potential to communicate through show-don't-tell gameplay which resonates more with players than fluffy dialog. Meta-campaigns enhance the power fantasy of RTS games and give the player choices about their global strategy while hooking them with progression. Meta-campaigns are less scripted, so individual missions and the wider campaign should have procedural generation of maps, win conditions, game modes, mutators, and AI personalities. Advanced options further add to the replay value by allowing players to customize their experience and make repeat playthroughs differ. Meta campaigns aren't limited by a narrative, so losing individual missions can be acceptable. Higher mission failure rates create more tension and opens up the removal of save-scumming. As RTS games are very complicated, the introduction to the meta-game should be delayed or gradual to avoid overwhelming new players. To prevent a feeling of grind, battles should have the option for auto-resolve and preferably with non-binary resolutions.

Cheers, and happy RTS'in'!
-Callum


Ashes Dev Journal: Super Units

Posted on Thursday, July 18, 2019 By GGTheMachine



Super units are a controversial topic in RTS; some people love super units while others hate them. Some RTS games handle super units well, while in others they’re obnoxious. RTS vary a lot in their focus, and by extension, so does the implementation of super units. There’s no singular right way to handle super units, but there are some universal ways on how to bugger it up and have them end up annoying, cheesy or feeling unfair. First let's start with some definitions so we're on the same page. I define an RTS super unit to be a singular end-game unit with massive power or impact compared to regular units. There’s a distinction to make between super units and heroes, heroes are generally available and weak in the early game but scale up in strength over time. A super unit is something like the Redeemer in Command & Conquer 3, the Baneblade in Dawn of War and Tiger Tank in Company of Heroes. I’d also consider experimentals/juggernauts in Supreme Commander/Escalation to be super units despite the lack of a unit cap because of their huge cost and power relative to standard units, unlike a Battlecruiser in StarCraft.

First of all, why should an RTS even bother with super units if they may come off as frustrating? Simply, players love controlling cool big flashy toys. We enjoy the power fantasy of unleashing massive carnage and destruction and that’s why super weapons like Nukes are also a common part of the genre. According to Brandon Casteel: “I like super units in RTS more than superweapons because it forces you to work within constraints like unit caps, and because it’s often something you have to risk to use well.” Superweapons are fun for the player using them, but never for the player suffering from it. Fun in RTS games should never come at the direct expense of the other player, (unless that other player is the AI then go nuts!) it should be a mutual collaboration of interaction and counter-play. Super units, if done properly, are a way of enabling the destructive power fantasy but while also leaving room for other players to respond. “Damn I almost destroyed that Baneblade” feels much fairer and generates tension compared to “My entire base just got deleted by a Nuke.”

 

 

So how do we ensure super units are fun and not frustrating? Most importantly, they should play by the same rules as other units in the game. Super units can have unique qualities and quirks, but they feel unfair and “cheap” if they have odd exceptions to things that define the game or even the genre. Breaking game rules happens when super units are free, don’t take up population cap or have no counters in a game of hard counters. This frustrating design can be seen in Dawn of War 3 where Super units (and all other elite call-ins) do not cost the main resources of Requisition and Power. Whenever something is free in cost or population it removes the entire decision making process of whether or not you should deploy them at the expense of regular units. Free units, especially super units, also deliver sudden and massive power spikes.

Company of Heroes has also been guilty of some free or low-cost super units. In Company of Heroes 1 heavy tanks only cost Requisition and not Fuel. The lack of fuel cost is frustrating for the opponent because despite deliberating starving the enemy of fuel and keeping them pinned in their base, a King Tiger can still show up out of nowhere and push you back. Super units “not playing by the same rules” can also be done in gameplay mechanics, such as if Tiger Tanks were immune to mines or had free repairs without needing Engineers. It’s about meeting expectations and ensuring skillful play is rewarded; the Hexapod in C&C3 can be cheesy and frustrating because it may get caught out of position, only for it to instantly teleport out. It’s a delicate dichotomy to manage but you want super units to be unique while playing by the same rules as everything else, some judgement is needed to do it properly. Think of it this way, you can give super units new abilities and quirks but not take away vulnerabilities, or instead give them a new vulnerability. Heavy tanks in Company of Heroes can crush through forests and tank traps, Juggernauts in Ashes of the Singularity have infinite veterancy levels and some experimental units in Supreme Commander are mobile unit factories.

 

 

C&C3 is a great example of super units (aside from some of the Hexapod cheese) as they still fit into the rock/paper/scissors(RPS) interaction by being weak against masses of Rocket Infantry. However, the super units can be garrisoned to give them powerful turrets to shut down infantry, or grant other attack types and bonuses depending on the type of unit garrisoned. The customization is a cool mechanic for a few reasons, but its potential to break RPS of super units means they’re primarily countered by another means, EMP abilities. Every faction has access to some kind of EMP unit such as Raider Buggies and Grenadiers, and I love the mechanic because utilizing EMP makes engagements tactical and climactic. EMP unit upgrades was introduced into the Kane’s Wrath expansion pack alongside the super units, so instead of having super units with no counters or a regular counter, they made them more interesting by widening the counter system to include a new mechanic. I love EMP because it’s not just a pure RPS counter, EMP works against any vehicle but the massive size of super units makes EMP’s easy to land on them. Another great example is the Colossus in StarCraft 2, it’s more of a tier 3 unit rather than “super” but I love how it’s countered by anti-air weapons. One caveat is that no matter how well designed you think super units are, some players are probably just going to hate them regardless. Give players the option to disable super units in their skirmish & multiplayer games!

If super units have counters then it’s crucial that they can be scouted like anything else. The most common method of scouting super units is a specific production structure required to produce them, this also creates a vulnerability that can be destroyed to prevent the unit from spawning. Giving players some warning also makes their arrival feel fairer and less frustrating. C&C3 has a map-wide announcement when one is built: “The Redeemer has risen!” Or gracefully from the Scrin’s Hexapod: “BLERRRRRGHH!” I personally find the global announcement over the top as it means players generally don’t have to scout since build/upgrade times are fast in C&C3. (Unlike StarCraft 2 where scouting is critical because of long tech transition times). A better approach is in Company of Heroes where every vehicle has an engine noise that can be heard approaching through the fog of war. Heavy tanks like the Tigers are especially loud and distinct, which gives attentive players several seconds to retreat or reposition, rather than a global notification give a minutes notice to build a counter. The engine noises are fun because it’s immersive and intimidating, this could also be done with loud THUDS or shaking as a giant walker is approaching.

 

 

A personal frustration of mine is all-or-nothing situations that can occur. If a super unit barely survives with 2% health it shouldn’t just then immediately kill you and end the game. As cool as the experimentals are in Supreme Commander are, they have very annoying qualities. Not only do they have very fast regeneration, but they get massive flat health spikes with veterancy where suddenly ~10,000 health is gained. Escalation does juggernaut veterancy better where the 5% health gain is affected by missing health, so there’s very small combat heals. Even more radical approaches can be taken, I love the design of the Bloodthirster in Dawn of War 1. Once the Bloodthirster is built it takes damage when it’s not in combat, your only choice is to throw it into the meat grinder until it's destroyed! The Hexapod in C&C3 gains resources from nearby destroyed units which encourages the player to use it aggressively. Adding elements of risk/reward can be a lot more interesting than playing ultra-safe with super units. Why not only have temporary super units? There’s a lot that can be done with super units to make them more interesting than just a very big tough unit. Though it’s fine to have simple anti-everything super units so long as that’s normal for the game. Aside from air/anti-air/artillery, Supreme Commander and its experimentals have no counter system because it’s a game about economic and production management

Super units don’t have to just be about raw power. C&C Generals have Commandos which are very fragile but have devastating utility with stealth. The Black Lotus has no attacks but can capture structures and disable vehicles, while Jarmen can snipe infantry and decrew enemy vehicles, allowing for capture with friendly infantry. The non-lethal vulnerability states of these Commando abilities is a lot more tactical, and the micro emphasis is consistent with the focus of the game. Super units have so much more potential than simply tough attack-move units, but they shouldn’t make regular units obsolete which Jarmen is guilty of. Avoiding overlap is crucial, the more viable choices you have at all times the more exciting a game is to play. Immediately rebuilding a super unit every time it dies is not interesting, which Generals is also guilty of since Commandos are not very expensive.

 

 

In summary, super units provide a fun power fantasy through which players unleash massive destruction. Unlike super weapons such as nukes, super units, if designed properly, are interactive, risky, generate tension and are still fun for the opponent to deal with. Super units should not be a no-brainer, they should be a strategic decision and investment as much as anything else. If one exists, super units should fit into a counter system allowing players to properly deal with them. Super units can have additional quirks and features to make them unique, but they should play by the same game rules as regular units and not have less vulnerabilities. They should be priced to reflect their power so the opportunity cost is fair, unless they’re overly cost-efficient to compensate for some other weaknesses. Avoid all-or-nothing situations when super units have fast regeneration/heals and make sure super units aren’t just being used in boring ultra safe ways. Super units can be about utility rather than just raw power, especially if the game focuses on micro and utility. Ultimately, fun in multiplayer RTS games should never come at the expense of the other player. Always think about how will this super unit be fun and fair for all players, not just the player wielding it.


I love the juggernaut design in Escalation and have a lot of thoughts on them, I may do another Dev Journal all about them. What do you think of the juggernauts, and what are your favorite super units in RTS?

Cheers
-Callum


Ashes of the Singularity is getting bigger

Posted on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 By Frogboy

Next month will mark the third anniversary of the original release of Ashes of the Singularity!

It's amazing how much things have changed since then.  I was looking at screenshots and gameplay video and the game has come so far from its first release.

This first image is from Ashes of the Singularity v1.0:

image

And here is what today's opt-in update looks like.

image

The first thing tto notice is how much bigger the buildings and units are. 

Here's a screenshot that shows it off better

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We still have more work to do as the sizes are going to create some pathing and formation bugs which you will see for yourself if you try out the opt-in.  But the increased size makes the battles a lot more interesting and helps communicate the interactions between units much better.

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