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Which of these is your favorite RTS of all time?




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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

image

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.


Ashes Dev Journal - Meaningful Base Building

Posted on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 By GGTheMachine



Dawn of War 2 (DoW2) got slammed on launch by many fans of the original for its removal of base building. I found the base building in DoW1 to be shallow, so I never viewed DoW2’s removal of it to be a detriment and DoW2 is still one of my favorite RTS games. Base building in RTS is typically the manifestation of strategic investment, so it’s always meaningful in that you’re choosing to build an Armory over teching up into Tier2. Though base building isn’t always needed for strategy in RTS and DoW 2 clearly shows this. (Offworld Trading Company alternatively shows you don't always need units for strategy in RTS either!)

[[..]]

To me, base building is so much more engaging if the actual placement of structures is nuanced and meaningful, rather than just a way of spending resources and advancing through a tech tree. I’ll admit my position on base building is esoteric in that most RTS fans do enjoy base building regardless of if the positioning is meaningful. I think that enjoyment comes from a feeling of sandbox creativity and a visual representation of the economic, tech and production progression that happens throughout a match. While I don't think it's always necessary, I'll generally enjoy base building as there is something innately satisfying about it, but I think there’s so much potential for base building in RTS games to be more meaningful and some RTS already have nailed it. Although some of this discussion is much harder to apply to large-scale RTS games such as Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.

 

 



Economy & Production

Age of Empires 2 (AOE2) has four resource types which are gathered in different ways. Players have to plan their base for villagers to be as productive as possible but also defended from harassment. Players have to think about the paths their villagers will take on their way to and from the drop off sites, and update drop off points as trees are cleared and animals hunted. Rise of Nations has similar resource types to AOE2, but its lack of resource depletion and villager drops removes the complexity of placement. Rather than trying to force meaningful base building, first consider how a game’s economy will naturally have an impact on the importance of base building.

A similar perspective can be applied to production, if income is slow and build times are fast (like Command & Conquer) then there's no reason to build multiple production structures of the same kind. In StarCraft, needing to invest in multiple Barracks to efficiently spend all your minerals adds a huge layer to preparing for strategies and transitioning between them. I personally prefer the design of PHC over Substrate because by merging the production of Frigates and Cruisers into the Assembly, there is less strategy and foresight required to transition between army compositions.

Blocking

Base building placement can be meaningful as a means to block access; this could be “walling off” or creating choke points and limiting surface area to reduce the efficiency of melee units. It sounds simple but there’s a lot that needs to go into an RTS game for those mechanics to actually matter. Not only does StarCraft and WarCraft 3 have lots of melee units, but ranged units have very short attack ranges relative to their model size. A blob of stalkers getting clumped up will be much less efficient than if they were firing from a nice concave. Inversely, the infantry units in Command & Conquer (C&C) are tiny for their massive attack range so being limited by choke points doesn’t affect DPS and structures won’t be a deterrent.

 

 



Utility

The more utility buildings have, the more their placement will matter. WarCraft 3 is a fantastic example of this with quirks such as shop structures that sell items to heroes, Ancients that attack nearby units, Orc Burrows that are garrisoned by Peons, Moon Wells that replenish, Farms to shield turrets and many other examples. The art of base building in WarCraft 3 is a crucial skill and the hyper-vulnerability of structures during construction combined with open maps and no natural high ground like in StarCraft means even the timing of base building is important. C&C Generals also has good examples with the GLA Palace being both a tech structure and a garrisonable emplacement that creates a trade-off of wanting to place it somewhere safe or boosting a defensive line.

Additional Vulnerabilities

Additionally, the more ways players interact with buildings the more meaningful their placement will be. C&C is the only franchise I can think of that gives buildings more vulnerability types than just simply attacking them. From capturing them with Engineers to stealing money with Spies or blowing them up with a stealthed Colonel Burton; there’s a lot of cheeky stuff that can happen to your buildings in Generals. When placing a Super Weapon you can’t just think about is it safe from attack, you have to think about is it fully covered by detection from all angles so a scumbag Saboteur doesn’t come along and reset the countdown timer. Engineers can also be used to instantly, fully repair a structure so placing a Barracks directly behind a Command Centre or other crucial building could heavily pay off. If an RTS is made with extra bonuses and vulnerabilities to structures, then base building will naturally become more meaningful. What if Infestors in StarCraft 2 could capture a Barracks to spawn Infested Terrans, how would that affect base building?

 

 



Busy Workers

The placement of base building in Company of Heroes (CoH) is not meaningful, there’s a couple of small quirks but mostly it doesn’t matter where you plonk your structures down. CoH makes base building meaningful in a different way, rather than about specific positioning, base building is a time investment from something that actually matters. Base building in most RTS comes from worker units that are either sitting idle in base waiting (DoW1) or are collecting a resource and are ready to be pulled with little consequence, but not in CoH. Engineers aren’t cheap and have enormous utility between capturing points, repairing, building fortifications, planting/sweeping mines, and being in combat especially with a flamethrower. Every time you build a structure in CoH, it’s being done with the opportunity cost of all those engineer functions, and that adds a layer of strategy to do with retreat timings and map presence.

Vulnerable Workers

The more utility you can pack into worker units, the more meaningful their participation on the map will be and therefore the more strategic consideration goes into base building. C&C Generals also does utility on support units quite well, such as Construction Dozers used for crushing infantry which comes into play in the early game because of crushing workers to deny GLA tunnels. In general, I find slow, expensive and/or fragile worker units to be much more interesting than fast and expendable ones because then sniping workers becomes a specific type of harassment. There’s no quirky utility for the Engineers in Ashes of the Singularity, but they’re still significant as a form of harassment because of how they’re balanced and their movement speed relative to the map sizes.

 

 



Building Mechanics

As much as I love C&C I think worker units are a better mechanic than buildings magically deploying from the sky. Though C&C3 and Red Alert 3 do have some units which are analogous to worker units. Build radius is limited in those games so if you want to expand out to distant resources you’ll need to send out and deploy an Emissary/Sputnik. These build radius units are expensive, slow and fragile which opens up an opportunity to snipe them en-route. Once deployed they’re much tougher but can still be destroyed to prevent building placement in that region. It’s a cool mechanic, but sadly they’re rarely used as they’re undercut by the free ability to simply unpack the MCV and then drive it somewhere else with its massive build radius. Balance in those games aside, traditional worker units may not be suitable for an RTS but there’s still room to add depth and harassment options to base building. This can also be seen with the Empire in Red Alert 3 that use weak mobile cores that deploy into a structure.

Scouting

As base structures are generally the first step of a strategic investment, they provide the best form of scouting. Scout a Dark Shrine and you know you need detection for those incoming Dark Templar, but scout mass Gateways and you know you'll need bunkers for that all-in. When the scouting of base building matters, then scouting and counter-scouting becomes a big part of the game and helps it flow by creating small skirmishes. Players will then try to place structures in a way to obscure scouting or mislead the enemy, and even more drastic things like proxy buildings (hidden outside the main base). Scouting also needs to be designed in a way where it’s fair and not too easy or too difficult, and the significance of structures at a particular timing needs to mean something that the enemy can read. Scouting a Dark Shrine wouldn’t be useful if it also unlocked Colossus and High Templar. Going back to build times for a moment, the longer the unit build times are relative to income, the more production structures are needed. The more production structures are needed, the easier it is to scout specific strategies.

 

 



Adjacency Bonus

Like with many others of these RTS discussions, applying them to large-scale RTS games can be quite challenging. Supreme Commander takes an unconventional approach to make base building meaningful via its use of adjacency bonus. Building economy structures next to certain structures will provide a bonus such as reduced energy consumption. I don’t think this is a good approach and I wouldn’t recommend it because it’s not creative, it’s mathematical efficiency telling you the exact way you should be placing structures. In theory, it’s offset by the volatility of Power Plants but that hardly matters in a real match. Adjacency bonus to that style would be a better mechanic if there were meaningful trade-offs between different types of bonuses you have to weigh up. Mutually exclusive adjacency bonus is a way to think about the Tech Labs and Reactors for Terran buildings in StarCraft 2. Those add-ons are especially a great mechanic that adds incredible depth because of how Terran buildings can lift off to swap between the two add-ons.

Summary

In summary, most RTS players tend to enjoy base building just for the sake of it, but it can be way more fun and provide an avenue for immense strategic depth if the specific positioning of structures has consequences. The game’s economy will heavily tie into the importance of structure placement, but base building can be meaningful through many other ways. Structures can be used to block pathing or funnel troops, so long as the game is designed where clumping limits DPS. If buildings have additional utility and vulnerabilities then interaction types are created which naturally gives their positioning benefits and consequences. The timing of base building can be made more strategic if builder units have additional utility as that creates an opportunity cost to having them idle in the base. Otherwise builder units should be a combination of slow, expensive or vulnerable to provide harassment targets. Lastly, an RTS should be designed in a way so that base building reveals strategic information to create the dynamic of scouting and counter-scouting, which encourages players to hide important tech buildings and creates small skirmishes.


Ashes of the Singularity: March 2019 Update

Posted on Tuesday, March 5, 2019 By Frogboy

Greetings!

Lots to go over this month so I will do my best to keep it short.

## NEW Ashes Game ##

We are about to announce a new game in the Ashes of the Singularity universe.  It's in the tower defense genre.  This originally was going to be released as a DLC for Ashes but the gameplay changes required made it impossible to keep it part of the same EXE so it's being released as a stand-alone game.  Lifetime Founders of Ashes will get this added automatically.

We'll have more details about this later this week.  The good news for Ashes players is that a lot of new tech was experimented with and implemented with this game that will be coming back to Ashes of the Singularity this Spring.

## NEXT Ashes DLC ##

Many of the engineers at Stardock have been working on porting the engine to Linux.  I've mentioned this elsewhere but we've got it running.  The challenge now is that we need to do more optimization with Vulkan before we can make it publicly available.  

While the Vulkan work goes forward, we are in the process of creating a new DLC for Ashes that includes new units and buildings that should result in some new strategies and greater strategic depth.  We'll have more on that also this Spring.

## Ashes of the Singularity v3.0 ##

The new core engine features and bug fixes that we've made to Star Control: Origins and the upcoming tower defense game will be collectively referred to as Ashes v3.0.  We have a lengthy list of player requests (I'm working on a Hades bomber targeting update myself this week) plus a lot of other changes that will result in what will almost feel like a new game in some respects.

 

 

 


Ashes of the Singularity: Road Map 2019

Posted on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 By Frogboy

Greetings!

Lots of exciting things happening with Ashes of the Singularity.  With Star Control: Origins released, we've been able to give Ashes some new attention and I wanted to use this post to update you on where we are.

Engine porting

Under the game is the game engine which in Ashes 1.0 was pure Nitrous.  These days, we have taken the Nitrous engine and integrated all the cool stuff we've developed over the years (Game engine wise) to create a game-specific engine we call Cider.  So right now, we're porting Cider to Linux with Ashes being our first test.  

The good news is that we have Ashes kind of sort of working natively on Linux.  The bad news is that the performance isn't quite there yet.  Vulkan is the graphics platform we're targeting and it's still very young.

New entries in the universe

We are working on a new game in the Ashes of the Singularity universe that we will be announcing next month.  Ashes founders will get it either for free or at a steep discount depending on what type of Founder they are.  

Ashes sequels

So the short version is that we aren't going to be making new expansions for Ashes of the Singularity I.  There might be more DLC but the changes we want to make are a little too radical to have as an expansion.   My next post will be talking about what we have in mind for the sequel so you guys can opine on it.  But if you liked SupCom or TA then you will really like where we want to take the sequel.

Stay tuned!

 


Ashes Dev Journal - King of the Hill Analysis

Posted on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 By GGTheMachine

 

King of the Hill is a scenario for Ashes Escalation where the player has to hold out as long as they can against endless waves of enemies. It plays out like a Tower Defense game; establish a strong defense and continue to place more turrets and upgrade them to bolster your position. Tower Defense games can be quite simple with limited options, but King of the Hill is complex because it's inside of Ashes with all the mechanics and content that the game contains. RTS games, and their cousin Tower Defense, are all about weighing up opportunity costs and making meaningful decisions. 

[[..]]

The core pillar of Tower Defense design is significant variety of creeps and towers, creating a counter system between them that makes composition and placement of towers tactical. Escalation has a huge variety of base defenses compared to most RTS games, so it's an easy conversion to make to tower defense. King of the Hill doesn't go as far as actual Tower Defense games with utility such as slow towers or damage over time, but there are towers strong and weak against certain unit types. Barragers are multipurpose, Drone Bays excel against frigates, Oblivion Turrets destroy dreadnoughts and Artillery Posts provide indirect fire from the back lines. Air units also spawn in and fly straight for the player's Nexus from many directions, so spreading out air defense is reequired.





The enemies in King of the Hill target and attempt to destroy the player's defenses, so a whole range of mechanics normally absent in Tower Defense games are opened up. Players need to think about building Repair Bays or placing Engineers to heal turrets, and investing in Building Health Quantum Upgrades as well as Weapon Damage. Engineers can be quickly picked off so constructing defenses in combat can fail, players may want to invest in Medics to assist the Engineers. Turrets don't just fall from the Sky, they need to be built by Engineers and stacking many together will rapidly decrease the build time. It's a good idea to have a hit squad of Engineers ready to rapidly replace forward turrets once there is a gap in the enemy waves.  

But the challenge isn't just about defenses, King of the Hill gives players the full Escalation tech tree. For prolonged survival when enemy dreadnoughts and juggernauts arrive, the player has to weigh up between the three competing interests of short-term defense via turrets, long-term defense via juggernauts and investment into economy. Each of those three points are not simple and branch off into many sub decisions. Large costs and upgrade time of Oblivion Turrets makes their investment require careful timing else the position can get over-run while the Sentinel is out of action. Players may decide to delay their first Juggernaut for investing in multiple Cronus dreadnoughts to provide fire support. Even investing in Economy requires players toss up between Amplifiers, Optimize Orbital, Refineries and Quantum Relays. The investment of Quanta is then a whole other challenge as Weapon & Health Quantum Upgrades, Optimize and offensive abilities all come from the same Quanta pool. 






King of the Hill especially works as an endless survival mode because of the scalability of Escalation's mechanics. Income levels is near infinite due to Refineries, Harvesters and Quantum Relays so there is no cap where economic growth stops. Quantum Upgrades can also be applied infinitely, though with exponentially increasing costs. Juggernauts automatically receive unlimited combat bonuses each time they level up. Lastly, the the strategic zoom and unit icons helps players monitor their base and incoming unit types at a glance. King of the Hill starts off slow and gentle, but it ends up at becoming insane. 

The last point I love about King of the Hill is the cosmetic element of it due to the scale. Countless rockets and projectiles fly out from the ledge as hundreds of drones circle the creeps and artillery shells rain down from above. Flak projectiles fill the sky as aircraft explode until VVVVVRRRMMMM, a Leonidas beam fills the screen and annihilates an enemy Juggernaut.  You then zoom out and see your entire base saturated with Refineries and Quantum Relays providing a tremendous income. The player constantly receives reports of "Enemy Juggernaut detected." "Enemy Juggernaut destroyed." Witnessing the carnage in King of the Hill is mesmerizing, and it showcases the large-scale gameplay that our engine supports but takes a long time to experience in a regular game of Escalation. 

 


The main downside of King of the Hill is that it gets quite repetitive due to it only having a single map. Tower Defense games benefit from having many different missions to keep it interesting and make you think on your feet each time you start a new mission. King of the Hill, of course, isn't a Tower Defense game, it's just a scenario inside of a full RTS game. Though, there are other defense style scenarios and campaign missions inside of Escalation. These are timed missions which removes the replay value and means they don't progress past just building defenses. I think King of the Hill would make an incredible co-op experience, and it would be a great introductory game mode into Escalation.

I love Tower Defense games, and King of the Hill provides a deeply strategic and challenging experience due to the inclusion of a full RTS tech tree and mechanics. The variety of towers and creep types which attack the player means players have to balance their defensive compositions carefully, while also weighing up between investment into economy and juggernauts. Quanta provides a great additional element of spending it on permanent Quantum Upgrades or utilizing Orbital Abilities for short-term support. Lastly, the scalability of mechanics in Escalation makes it excel as an endless survival mode mode. King of the Hill is fantastic, and I'd love to see what we could do with that style of gameplay.

-Callum


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