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Dev Journal: Experiential Unit Design

Posted on Monday, June 4, 2018 By GGTheMachine



Experiential unit design is the realm of making units and other game components feel different from each other, players have to think completely differently about Siege Tanks and Zerglings because of good experiential unit design. It may sound like a simple topic, but many RTS games have failed due to not executing it properly, resulting in a bland game where unit control is unsatisfying. Today I'll be exploring examples of superb experiential unit design from a few of my favorite RTS franchises, including Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. 

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Command and Conquer

In Command & Conquer games, players control a variety of units ranging from infantry, tanks, motor bikes and aircraft. These different unit types have large stat differences such as tanks being tough, infantry being cheap and aircraft being fast, but that's only part of the picture. It's important that units have unique properties to distinguish them in ways which are more interesting than just stat differences. For example, aircraft have limited ammunition and need to land on the airfield to be replenished, tanks can crush, and infantry can garrison neutral structures or be loaded up in transports. 

Experiential design can also be cosmetic, the Telsa Coil in Red Alert has nothing fun about it from a gameplay perspective, yet it's so cool because the weapon effect is totally unique to anything else in the game. (Until the introduction of Telsa Tanks & Tesla Troopers.) If it's not possible to make something unique through experiential gameplay design, giving it a unique style and effects can achieve a similar result.

 


StarCraft

StarCraft combines melee and ranged combat which creates a wide variance between the unit types. Due to the ranged/melee attacks and various properties of Marines and Zerglings, players have to think tactically about how and when to engage. Playing with Marines forces players to think about how to minimize surface area and forcing the enemy to engage in choke points. Siege Tanks and High Templars both provide powerful area of effect damage, but those units are used and thought about in incredibly different ways. Siege Tanks need to deploy in a stationary mode to fire, but High Templars have limited energy that is required to cast a spell. Units can perform similar roles but while being thought about in unique ways.


Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is a much smaller scale RTS and consequently has many tactical mechanics that vary between infantry and vehicles. You need to interact with the battlefield in different ways depending on which units you're using, infantry position themselves behind directional cover for protection while tanks roll over cover. Roads should be avoided by infantry because it provides negative cover while vehicles receive a speed bonus. Other iconic Company of Heroes mechanics only apply to certain unit types which also helps make those units viscerally feel the way they are supposed to.

When Infantry receive machine gun fire they become suppressed which heavily reduces their movement and combat capabilities. Relic could have decided to have tanks also debuffed from all machine gun fire which buttons up the tank crew and limits their sight, but doing so would have ruined the emotive feelings associated with those unit types. Infantry are brought to life and made to feel vulnerable through the dynamic movement as they automatically weave in and out of cover then drop to a crawl when machine gun fire goes their way, meanwhile tanks feel destructive and tough as they crush everything in their path and have thick armor that negates all small caliber bullets. A tank wouldn't feel like a tank if you could destroy it with small arms fire.

 

 

Supreme Commander

Large scale RTS games make experiential design more difficult to implement because there's little focus on micro-management and abilities. Supreme Commander still manages to have some variance on gameplay mechanics design such as Cybran naval ships being able to traverse land, but the main way Supreme Commander makes units feel varied is by having large differences to the stats and creative art design. The UEF Fatboy could be viewed as an equivalent to the Seraphim Ythotha as they're both experimental ground units, but the Fatboy is very different. Not only can it produce units, it also has long range and splash damage compared to the powerful single target weapons.

Unlike the Fatboy, the Cybran Spiderbot has practically an identical role and weaponry to the Ythotha, so how does it still manage to feel unique? The Spiderbot, as the name suggests, resembles a Spider with its six legs giving it a different feeling of locomotion, albeit only at a cosmetic level. The Ythotha and Aeon Galactic Collosus are even more similar as they're both bipedal walkers, and yet they still manage to feel different from each other. The Galactic Collosus has a single deadly laser weapon that makes up almost all of its DPS, while the Ythotha has three separate weapons that each share roughly a third of the overall DPS. The Galactic Collosus also has Tractor Claws which sucks up nearby low tier units, and while the overall DPS of the Tractor Claws is largely insignificant, it looks cool and is a unique weapon which makes it feel different to use. 

 



Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.

Experiential design is equally a challenge in Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation due to the large scale, and creating vastly different appearances can be expensive from a development perspective. One of the methods for implementing experiential unit design in Ashes is veterancy that only applies to high tier units, and in differing ways. Almost all RTS games that feature veterancy handle it in the same way for every unit type. In Ashes only the dreadnoughts and juggernauts (Tier 3 & 4) units have veterancy which makes them feel more important, separating them from the expendable low tier units.

The dreadnought upgrades achieved through veterancy are unique for each dreadnought type, which refines their role by providing them with new bonuses or weaponry. Juggernauts also have veterancy, but it's applied very differently. When juggernauts level up, they automatically receive a small stat bonus which can be applied infinitely; there's no limit to how many times juggernauts can level up which makes them feel more like ultimate late game tools. Unlike juggernauts, dreadnought upgrades can provide bonuses to an army lead by a dreadnought, which adds to their role of being designed to lead armies. 

 


Conclusion

Experiential unit design is one of the most crucial components of making an RTS game fun. Differences to stats and cosmetics is a crucial part of experiential variance, but a more interesting approach requires unique properties and mechanics. Players should think about different unit types in different ways, else an RTS game becomes bland with all the units blurred together. 


Dev Journal: The Challenge of Balancing an RTS

Posted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 By GGTheMachine


Balancing an RTS is difficult. It’s a long, iterative process and, inevitably, there will be mistakes along the way.

Today, I'll be exploring what makes balancing an RTS such a challenge, and explain my intentions for some of the changes I've made throughout my time with Ashes. In a previous Dev Journal, I discussed why balance matters, so read that first for additional context.

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Many Variables & Context

The main reason why RTS games are so difficult to balance is the abundance of variables that need to be taken into account. For example: let’s assume the Athena and Mauler cost the same resources. Imagine you make them fight, only to find that the Athena wins with 20% of its health left. Does this mean the Athena is overpowered and should be nerfed by 20% to compensate? The Athena might overperform in this one specific case, but does the same thing happen if you get 5 Athenas against 5 Maulers, or 50 against 50? Factors such as reload, burst, and projectile speed can make a massive difference when looking at the scalability of an interaction. Let’s assume even in the 50 v 50 scenario, the Athenas win with a 20% advantage. Is it now safe to say the Athenas are OP? Unfortunately, it’s never that simple, you can’t just test things in a vacuum and compare them by their direct interactions, you need to look at matchups in their totality and the only way to include the known and unknown factors is in regular matches. Other factors to take into consideration include the type of production and economic management for each faction, the synergy with other unit types and abilities, and additional mechanics such as energy and shields.


Let's take a real example: one of the balance mistakes I made was the gunship buff back in 2.2. Previously, gunships were never used because the Advanced Sky Factory was locked behind the Dreadlaunch, and the gunships themselves were weak. I both buffed the gunships and made them more accessible, which made rushing them out overpowered. I tested the performance of Gunships against anti-air in the unit spawner and thought “Well anti-air is very cost efficient against these so it should be fine.” However, having air units attack anti-air and seeing how it performs is a very inaccurate simulation of a real game. The strength of gunships came from the ability to rush them out and surprise your opponent who may lack anti-air, or even if enemy anti-air was present you could just avoid them and fly around sniping extractors to weaken their economy.

 


Managing Bias

Testing regular games is time-consuming, and it’s difficult to replicate every situation. You need to test the late game, multiple game types such as 1v1 and 4v4, different maps, play styles, and skill levels. To adequately test this full range of scenarios, you need to outsource the playtesting, but doing so can water down the quality of the feedback if the people offering it lack the context, skill level, or are unable to eliminate their bias. Bias can take many forms; it could be the preference for a particular faction and playstyle, or it could be a designer’s own bias that an idea is great and it’s the community’s fault for not understanding it yet. I mitigate my personal bias through the following ways:

 

  • Lots of varied play testing

Not much of a surprise, but the importance can’t be overstated. Lots of playtesting is essential in order to develop the game knowledge and mastery required to see through the bias and false claims of other people. As a designer you need to have the confidence and expertise to say, “No, you’re wrong, and here’s why.” Feedback from community members can be fickle, and you'll only hear from a vocal minority, especially when they're not happy. An RTS needs the stability of an expert designer who has a clear direction in mind.


To avoid my own bias, I continuously alternate between both factions. I play a variety of maps and try to play team games, despite my preference for 1v1. Playing against a variety of players is also crucial, as different players have varying play styles and there may be something unbalanced that some players don't utilize.

 

  • Watching replays and observering

This is similar to the idea of playing lots, but is even better. When you’re observing a match, the emotional investment of winning or losing is thrown out. Better still than just passively watching is Shoutcasting, because when broadcasting and communicating the raw game to live viewers, it’s unavoidably clear when things are unfair or not fun.

 

  • Variety of feedback

Taking feedback from a variety of people is incredibly helpful, whether it’s from players or other team members who may observe an "out of the box" factor. For example, "You probably shouldn't make the Assembly cost Radioactives because it may trip out the AI." It helps to identify some people you can trust with the quality of feedback and assemble them into beta testing groups. People will suggest things that may have occurred to you but never articulated, or may call you out on an oversight that you never considered.


Many players offering feedback may not have good suggestions, but if enough people are pointing towards the same issue, then it’s worth investigating. Feedback is a safeguard against making bad decisions, but you have to be critical about the feedback you are getting because their vision for the game may differ from yours.

 


Find The Root Problem

Often, the perceived balance problem isn’t the actual problem; players will typically only report issues at a surface level, but fixing the underlying cause is necessary to allow for maximum strategic diversity. Let’s take a recent case which has now been fixed as of the 2.75 update. There were several claims of the PHC being stronger than Substrate in the late game, which on its own is not helpful. Pressing for more information led to reports that the Leonidas is overpowered because Substrate lacks an answer, since it duels both Substrate juggernauts and crushes dreadnoughts.


I initially dismissed this as players not respecting the counter system; the Leonidas is intended to duel other Juggernauts since it lacks the area of effect damage of the Substrate equivalent, making it vulnerable to masses of cruisers and air units with armor-piercing. I mostly play 1v1 games, which rarely go for long enough to field Juggernauts, so I hadn’t much experience trying to counter the Leonidas in a real scenario. In theory, Substrate had counters to the Leonidas, but I then played several team games and free for alls as Substrate where juggernauts became prevalent and noticed my assumptions didn’t hold up.


I tried building Air Harbingers to counter Leonidas Juggernauts, but even with my own buffer of mobile anti-air to protect them, I was helpless as the Harbingers reliably got picked off by the Fury air fighters. Likewise, trying to rely on mass Eradicators to counter the Leonidas was flimsy as one small mistake and I’d lose my Orbital Jamming so an Orbital Strike would decimate my entire army. I worked out what the underlying cause was; it wasn’t just that the Leonidas was overpowered, or that the units designed to counter it were under-powered, it was that the counters to the counters of the Leonidas were too strong.

 


In 2.75, Substrate got heavier mobile anti-air in the form of the Overmind rework while Furies also received a reduction in their missile attack, allowing Harbingers to engage the Leonidas more efficiently. The “Nuke” Orbitals also received a substantial cost increase while Mobile Nullifiers received a range increase so that cruisers are harder to shut down with Orbitals. Despite these, I still thought a nerf to the Leonidas itself was justified, but rather than toning down its main weapon, I weakened its secondary weapons so it’s specifically more vulnerable to cruiser armies but still deadly versus other Juggernauts. Accurately diagnosing balance problems is only half the challenge; working out the best solution can be more difficult. When investigating how I will fix a balance issue, I'll generally pursue the path of what will best foster strategic diversity.


Had I not followed the rabbit hole to its origin and instead just nerfed the Leonidas or buffed the Eye of Darkness, then the factions may be balanced in the late game, but it would result in just throwing Juggernauts at each other - the late game wouldn’t be as strategically diverse with functional counters. With cruisers and air units becoming more useful in the late game, the previously neglected Agamemnon is now more desirable. Asking if the game is “balanced” is the wrong question; it should instead be asking if the game is fun, challenging and strategically rich. If faction A has an overpowered thing, the solution isn't to give faction B their own overpowered thing to compensate.


The Leonidas was overdue for a nerf, but it didn’t get one for so long because late game stuff is really hard to test. Let’s say Juggernauts only get used 1 in 30 matches I play; how many of those matches can be used to draw conclusions? Most of the times Juggernauts get fielded in my games is when somebody gets a big lead so they sit back and rush out a Juggernaut, which then is promptly used to crush their opponent and end the game. I deliberately had to pick huge maps with similarly skilled players in 4+ player games to try and naturally create situations that would showcase the relative performance of Juggernauts. Anything situational or only available in the late game will be difficult to test, but the Leonidas' over performance was prolonged by my initial dismissal of the players just not using the right units to counter it.

 


Map Design

The more asymmetric factions and units become, the more their performance varies on different types of maps. StarCraft 2 is praised for its meticulous balance while maintaining vast asymmetry between the factions, but this is only possible because of how formulaic its maps are. There are many strict rules that every StarCraft 2 map needs to follow, otherwise it breaks certain matchups; if there were no ramps into the main base Terran would be helpless against Zerglings. It’s not as pronounced in Ashes, but certain assets such as the Artillery Post vary in performance depending on the map layout.


Air units are always going to be stronger on large maps because their mobility is more significant, and relative range of anti-air is smaller. Similarly, base defenses are stronger on choke point centric maps because there's less room to maneuver around them. A designer needs to decide on a loose format for the maps to adhere to, else it will be impossible to balance asymmetric content. It’s okay if unconventional maps are a part of the game, but they should not be used in standard play such as automatch. There are several rules that I design and rework Ashes maps to adhere to, but that's a topic for a separate Dev Journal.


Reconciling Single Player & Multiplayer

Unlike most RTS, Ashes uses the same stats for its single-player campaigns and its multiplayer. Sharing stats has the advantage of ensuring consistency so that learning the game via single player better prepares you for multiplayer and prevents you from making false assumptions about units. The downside of this, is that sometimes decisions for skirmish and multiplayer get held back by the needs of the single player campaign. For example, I had the idea of making Orbital spawns such as Saboteurs and Incursion only work in friendly territory, which is how the Emergency turrets now function. Unfortunately, there are multiple missions that require the use of these Orbitals in enemy territory so my hands are tied. The missions can be changed, as much work as it’d be, but the voice over for them can’t be.

 


Technical Limitations

Most balance changes are easy for me to implement, involving just a simple tweak of files. However, many things instead require a programmer to implement, such as changing the dreadnought experience or what units are spawned in the Incursion Orbital. It’s not necessarily time-consuming for a programmer to adjust these, but it still takes away from their crucial time of what would otherwise be fixing bugs or adding new features. Code limitations also mean I can’t just freely tinker and experiment. Some balance changes require an artist, Orbital abilities such as Plasma Storm can’t have their radius reduced because doing so would require the video effect to be redone to sync up with the adjustment.


An artist would also be required if I wanted to put juggernauts in a separate production structure from dreadnoughts. That would require a whole new 3d model, texturing and a programmer to set up in the game. Performance can also be a factor; if I wanted to triple the number of drones spawned by Drone Hives, then players may get frame rate drops if they have too many of them on screen. Even for just balance changes, a designer always has to operate within a limited framework and sometimes has to settle for compromises. 


Game Knowledge

I pride myself on being one of the top Ashes players in the community and having an incredibly deep understanding of the game. Despite this, I have made embarrassing mistakes due to lacking game knowledge about a particular thing. One example of this involves the Overmind and Nest of the Queen which spawn drone swarms which are capable of engaging air targets. I intended these units to be Substrate’s late game answer to heavy air units such as Strategic Bomber, but there was one significant oversight. The drones work great for shooting down most air targets, but the Strategic Bomber’s massive payload also destroy them.


If you have multiple Strategic Bombers you can chain kill all the drones from the Overmind and Queen as fast as they spawn, preventing most of the anti-air capabilities. Strategic Bombers blowing up drones is unintuitive and doesn’t make much sense visually, so I had no reason to think it would. I had over 1000 hours on steam, and yet I didn’t realize this until I discovered it the hard way during a game. The antidote to missing game knowledge is obviously just more and more playtesting and getting feedback from other people who may notice things like this before me, but it’s important to be modest and avoid thinking “I know everything about the game” even after having spent an enormous amount of time on it. I’m still learning things about the game and the development side of it to this day, and I try to assume that maybe other people might know something that I don't. 

 


Foresight of Changes

Balance changes need to be done carefully to prevent them going overboard and flip something from underpowered to overpowered. It's essential that a balance designer has the game knowledge and foresight required to predict the consequences of changes and preemptively make adjustments to compensate. In the 2.75 update, frigates and many cruisers received an increase to their movement speed.


This frigate speed buff made the Hades and Strategic Bombers weaker as their bomb projectiles don't track moving units or attempt to lead their targets. I was okay with the indirect nerf to the strategic bomber, but I wasn't okay with it for the Hades, so it received a projectile speed increase to compensate. The knock on effects of balance changes is the context that community members tend to lack, so if a designer doesn't understand their game well enough and is basing their changes mostly off community feedback, there will be a perpetual state of playing catch up for new balance issues that arise each update.


Intuitive Design

Aside from balancing, there are other ideals to aim for such as making the game more intuitive. Certain changes may make the game more balanced, but if it’s a contrived and visually unintuitive change, then that’s something you want to avoid. For example, the Strategic Bomber and Air Harbinger could initially only target buildings; I dislike these contrived targeting limitations because it artificially limits player choice and makes no sense, a new player's initial reaction would be to assume these units are bugged because they’re not firing their weapons. I reworked both units to be able to engage ground targets, but the Strategic Bomber caused some balance problems in the short term due to Substrate’s lack of advanced mobile anti-air. However, I think in the long run it was a good change, on top of giving more player freedom and depth to the game, it makes the Strategic Bomber more intuitive and is one less thing new players get confused over.

 


Cool Factor

The visual presentation of the game is a factor that needs to be considered, balance isn't everything. Lowering the projectile speed of a weapon might make it more balanced, but it could have the consequence of looking contrived and less cool, for lack of a better word. I've thought about removing the squads of 3 that light air units spawn as, replacing them a single entity with triple the stats, as I dislike how single target anti-air such as the Air Eliminator and area of effect anti-air like the Falcon vary in performance drastically depending on which targets they're engaging. I may still do this at some point, but one concern I have is that the squadron of 3x Furies looks cool and it helps make the game feel large scale.


Gameplay should generally come first, but there are other factors to take into consideration and there's generally a balance solution to find that doesn't involve removing the cool factor. Another example is the Air Marauder which use to not fly around its targets. Instead, it would just awkwardly float on top of them and fire with little movement. Air units rapidly moving and strafing their targets looks much cooler and distinguishes them from just higher floating ground units, so I gave the Marauder the same movement pattern as the Air Rampager but then increased its weapon damage since the firing time was much less when it was strafing around. 


Asymmetric Factions

Another factor that has to be kept in mind is the asymmetric design, it's generally more interesting if the factions are unique and the units aren't the exact same as their alternative. Balance changes should try to avoid making the factions less asymmetric, but this isn't always an option depending on how the counter system and matchup is fleshed out. Managing asymmetric design is often a battle of competing qualities, asymmetry is good but strategic diversity and intuitive gameplay is better, if the asymmetric design is sacrificing those other qualities then it's bad design.

 


Let's take an example of a change that I made in Ashes which caught some flak for diminishing the uniqueness of the factions. Originally, only PHC had armor in exchange for Substrate's regenerating shields, which I reworked so that Substrate units also had armor on their cruisers and dreadnoughts. Giving Substrate armor was necessary for the counter system to flow properly and be consistent between both factions. The high levels of armor on PHC dreadnaughts meant you needed armor-piercing units such as the Nemesis to counter them, but the lack of armor and high health pools on Substrate dreadnoughts meant Nemesis cruisers were weak and you were better off using Athenas instead. Since Athenas are the unit to counter other cruisers, if they were also the best way to combat Substrate dreadnoughts then there's little reason to do anything against Substrate other than just spam Athenas all game. The inconsistency of unit roles was a noob trap, the Nemesis is referred to as an anti-dreadnought unit but then was actually worse than Athenas against Substrate dreadnoughts.


Some people hold asymmetric design in the highest regard, which I rebut by asking about the underlying intention behind it. Asymmetric design is desirable because it creates more variety as the factions are different from each other. What creates more variety and makes the game less repetitive, Substrate lacking armor for the sake of lacking armor resulting in endless Athena spam, or having a functional counter system where each unit has strengths and weaknesses and a unique role to play in the matchup? I tend to rank asymmetric design low in the priorities compared to strategic diversity and depth of a matchup, but it shouldn't be stripped away unless for a good reason.


Asymmetric design can also be a balancing challenge if factions vary in their difficulty level; if one faction is easier to play than it will practically be overpowered in low level games, while the more difficult factions will presumably be overpowered in high level games. Ultimately, asymmetric design can be great if it's done correctly, but if done poorly just done for the sake of it, it can and has ruined RTS games. I like to think of asymmetric design as a tool that can be used to create fun varied gameplay, not an objectively good feature that should be aimed for in order to tick a box. 


Expanded thoughts on asymmetric design in RTS:


Ashes Compared to Other RTS

So far I've been talking generically about balancing RTS while drawing examples from Ashes, but I'll finish by explaining some of the factors that make Ashes easier or more challenging to balance compared to other RTS. There’s currently only 2 factions so I only have 3 matchups to focus on, instead of the 6 matchups that most RTS games with 3 factions have. If one unit or strategy is overpowered in a matchup but then weak in another, it can't be fixed with minor balance tweaks and instead needs to have fundamental design reexamined and adjusted. Could you imagine having to balance all the matchups with the 12 factions in Command and Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour?


Another advantage which Ashes has that makes it easier to balance is that it lacks the micro-management of small-scale RTS games. An Athena in the hands of a top player is going to do the same thing as an Athena in the hands of a noob, the difficulty and depth of Ashes instead come from macroscale management of economy, production and unit compositions. Compare this to StarCraft where some units such as the Reaper and Ghost vary in performance drastically across skill levels. There's no way to balance that variance so you end up with many units being worthless in Bronze league, while others are arguably overpowered in Bronze such as the Dark Templar.   


On the flip side, one of the unique challenges of balancing Ashes is the Quantum Upgrades; your units may appear weak, but it could just be because your opponent has more Quantum Upgrades than you. It's another reason why late game is particularly harder to balance, the potential variance of Quantum Upgrades is much higher. However, the difficulty of Quantum Upgrades for readability isn't necessary a game design fault; it's more a flaw of the interface which doesn't give you an option for viewing how many upgrades your opponent has. Hopefully we'll address this at some point. 

 


Summary

RTS games are immensely difficult to balance as they have an vast range of factors that needs to be taken into consideration, requiring lots of play testing. It's crucial for a balance designer to have a deep mastery and understanding of the game because while invaluable, player feedback is fickle. A designer requires foresight to predict consequences of changes and needs to diagnose issues at a deep level to cater maximum strategic diversity. The challenge of balancing is heightened by designers having to work within a limited framework and having to make compromises between other design principles.


Ashes Dev Journal: April 2018

Posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 By GGTheMachine


Hello Ashes fans!

**2.75 Update**

I've been very active with play testing on the upcoming 2.75 update and it's gone through a few iterations. Thanks to all the community members who have been testing it with me and offering me great feedback, Chronopolize in particular. Most of our updates don't have the opportunity for this much play testing, so I'm really excited about these changes and how the community will receive them. There's some other cool things happening in 2.75 that I haven't yet mentioned in the March Dev Journal.

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**New Retributor Audio**

The lacklustre Retributor weapon sound effect always irked me, and like the Air Marauder, it's finally been replaced! Here's a comparison to show you the before and after:



**Leaderboard Reset**

Our season 2 ladder has been in place for some time, so with the launch of the 2.75 update we'll be resetting the leaderboards for season 3. Congrats on Amelie who is currently at the top of the ladder, but there's time to dethrone him yet!


**New Automatch Map Pool**

Alongside 2.75 and the season 3 ladder reset, we are updating the map pool for automatch. I've converted some of our best team games maps to be better suited for one versus one play. We're removing most of the tiny and small maps and replacing them with larger ones. The game has evolved a lot over the past year, and now with Juggernauts, the late game is a lot more fun! Below is the list of new automatch map pool:

• Seginus
• Mirach 2p
• Merga 2p
• Europa
• Gamma Draconis 2p
• Ross 128 2p
• Atwater
• Italia
• Espana
• Ulrich

 

Economy Changes

2.75 will contain a vast number of balance changes, but one of the underlying changes is to the economy. a common criticism that Ashes had received is it doesn't allow for enough defensive play styles given the important of map control. Map control should and will always be important, but we are reducing some of its severity in the form of Turinium Generator bonus income reduction and making lowering some of the passive gain from resource Deposits.

  • Turinium Generator bonus resource income decreased from 10% to 5%
  • Resource Deposit gain reduced from 0.5 to 0.25
  • Resource Extractor gain increased from 1.5 to 1.75



**Competitive Review**

Recently a great video by Enlightning Gaming was posted that reviews Ashes as a competitive game. I really recommend you subscribe to his channel as he does some great content, he had a rather interesting video about Chess.com as an esport. (And StarCraft 2, but we all know that.) Ashes was never intended to be a competitive RTS along the likes of StarCraft, but we made sure there was the features in place to allow for it to develop if there was the community will.


So that's it for April.

Cheers,
Callum


Ashes Dev Journal: Why Balance Matters

Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 By GGTheMachine

To this day, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation is still receiving balance updates. You may be wondering - since Ashes is not a competitive game like StarCraft - why there is all of this effort being put into balance. There can be a misconception that balance is esoteric and only matters to high level players, but I don't think that's accurate. Today I'll be exploring why balance matters for all players and how it's crucial in making an RTS fun.

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The first thing to talk about is the intention behind balancing. What does “balancing” even mean? Ostensibly, it means to make the game more fair for each faction, staying as close as possible to a 50/50 win rate. Ensuring the factions are balanced is certainly important, but that’s only a small part of what I'd consider the umbrella term of "balance" to include. I'd define balance as any change to the performance or utility of units and other game components.

Balance isn't just about tweaking numbers, it's about envisioning and guiding player interactions while providing them with more opportunities to pursue their favourite strategies. Adding new features or content is a great way to make an RTS more fun, but they're expensive from a development perspective, and additional content is pointless if it’s not balanced properly. What would be the point of having 30 units if only 10 of them are useful? There's potential downsides to having too much content; it can be overwhelming for new players to learn, it can lack visual clarity and can make decisions feel meaningless. "Does it really matter which ones I build?"

 

 

Let’s back up a bit here. To understand why balancing an RTS game is so important, one must first begin by understanding what it is that makes RTS fun. Fortunately, I’ve done an entire series of video essays investigating this question, but let’s boil it down and say that the fun of RTS games is the act of crafting, refining, and executing strategies. Having to gather information and make quick decisions against your opponent is also part of the fun. RTS games contain a wide range of tools which manifest as units, upgrades, and abilities; it’s up to the player to piece these tools together in ways that form powerful strategies such as unit compositions, timing attacks, and build orders. It’s not the number of tools the player has which makes the game engaging - it’s the amount possible combinations that can be fielded.


Forming a strategy is like forming a deductive argument. There’s a number of premises which respond to the possible threats, and these together establish a powerful strategy. But, if one of these premises proves false, then the strategy is void. Let’s say a player’s strategy is to overwhelm their opponent with Hades bombers; they must overcome the fact that Hades are vulnerable to other air units and cost a lot of Radioactives. To complement the Hades, the player relies entirely on Atlas anti-air frigates because they only cost Metal, so all of the Radioactives can go towards the Hades. So far, there’s three premises to this strategy:

  • Hades Bombers are powerful against ground targets
  • Hades Bombers are expensive (Radioactives)
  • Atlas Frigates don't cost Radioactives and provide anti-air support for the Hades.

 

 

Let’s pretend that the Atlas is underpowered - what would happen? The player would send their Hades in and be met by enemy air fighters, and the Atlas would open up and not do enough damage to destroy them before the Hades are shot out of the sky. The strategy is void because the premise of the Atlas frigates providing adequate anti-air support is false. The player can try to find alternatives such as Apollos and Furies, but those don’t offer as much synergy because they also cost Radioactives. The strategy needs to be discarded, which is frustrating for the player, as they spent all this time crafting it only for it fail for reasons which are not faults of their own. They are cheated out of their strategy due to poor balance, and this disconnect between the expectations of a unit and how it actually performs results in a negative experience. Poor balance takes away the agency of player decisions as it puts up barriers and limits their strategies to a narrow band of what’s viable. 


Strategies can also fail for plenty of legitimate reasons. Let’s say that the Hades bombers go in and get shredded by an upgraded air defense, the Falcon. In this case, the player’s strategy failed because one of their premises was flawed; the Hades is good against ground targets, but not against upgraded anti-air defense. The player needs to adjust their strategy to mitigate this strong counter; they could rush Hades sooner before Falcons arrives, shoot down the scout planes with early Atlas Frigates to deny scouting, or hide the Sky Factories in obscure locations. If a strategic premise fails for legitimate gameplay reasons, there are paths the player can pursue to rework or refine their strategy. Here's the new premise list for this strategy:

  • Hades Bombers are powerful against ground targets
  • Hades Bombers are expensive (Radioactives)
  • Atlas Frigates don't cost Radioactives and provide anti-air support for the Hades.
  • Falcons are static and expensive, so they will not be built early
  • Attacking early means my opponent won't have Falcons
  • In order to attack early, I need multiple Sky Factories to produce Hades quickly
  • If my opponent scouts multiple Sky Factories or a buildup of Hades, they will rush-build Falcons
  • I need to deny scouting

 

 

Pursuing even a simple strategy contains lots of depth, but if the strategy is countered by an imbalance then there’s no way to respond to it. A unit just doesn’t perform its intended role, or an overpowered unit prevents another from doing so. Obviously, imbalances are bad and things that are under-performing or overpowered should be fixed, but that's still a shallow view of why balance is important. Balance isn't binary - units are not just either balanced are imbalanced. A "balanced" unit can be defined by whether it performs its intended role, but if that's the only criteria then you'll end up in a bland game of units that do nothing more than fill predefined roles. 


Units should have multiple facets that determine their utility and why a player would want to build them. The Archer is a unit designed to counter the Athena, but they're embedded within a more detailed context. The Athena is a cruiser which costs both Metal and Radioactives, while the Archer is a frigate which only costs Metal, allowing it to be used more flexibly to complement Radioactives-heavy strategies or to burn excess Metal if your Radioactives income suddenly drops. Frigates are also considerably faster than cruisers, which makes Archers useful as a nimble form of harassment. Archers have high damage but low health, which makes them great against buildings, but vulnerable versus Orbitals and area of effect damage. 


Meticulous balance creates a richer setting for discovering strategies and for reacting when things don't go to plan; if a player's strategy gets countered they might still have a wide arsenal of tools that can perform other functions instead of just being made obsolete. Expanding the utility and unique qualities of each unit may create some balance issues in the short term, but if fixed and iterated upon it will make the game more compelling in the long term by maximizing what players can get out of it. A small amount of content with a breadth of utility is better than a large amount of content with limited utility, and the determining factor is how thoroughly they're balanced. The more you can do with less the better.

 

 

Curbing out underperforming or overpowered units is crucial to maximizing strategic diversity, but good balance doesn't just make an RTS game "more balanced." It emphasizes the unique qualities of each unit and ability, creating more depth and decisions about which tools are used and how they're used. I love the analogy of RTS as a set of tools for players to utilize because it encourages design of units that have unique qualities, allowing players to field them under many circumstances for various reasons. Flexible RTS design allows for flexible decision making from players, and meaningful decisions broken up into small increments is at the core of what makes RTS games fun. 

Balancing an RTS is difficult, and one of my next Journals will be exploring the challenges I have faced during my work on Escalation.

So what did you think, and what else would you like me to talk about?

Cheers
-Callum

 


Dev Journal: Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance Analysis

Posted on Thursday, April 5, 2018 By GGTheMachine

I love the fast-paced rush of StarCraft, the tactics of Company of Heroes, and the intricate micro of Command and Conquer. Although Supreme Commander is on the opposite end of the RTS spectrum, it resonated with me, and many LANs of my teenage years were spent playing it. To this day, Supreme Commander is still one of my all-time favorite RTS games and I play it on FAF (Forged Alliance Forever) from time to time. Supreme Commander is a large scale RTS from 2007; its meticulous design, backed by a massive budget, resulted in a huge amount of depth and strategic diversity, a superb art direction, and innovative quality of life features that streamlined the interface.

[[..]]

At this point, you may be wondering why the Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation dev is writing all this praise for a competitor? For starters, I love ranting about RTS and articulating my thoughts, but I don't view Supreme Commander as a competitor to Ashes - in fact, it's quite the opposite. This poll from our site is a good demonstration as to why:


 

It's a small sample size, but according to this, half of our player base chose Supreme Commander as their favorite RTS. As great as Supreme Commander is, it's now a 10 year old game and people get bored and want something fresh and new that builds on the Total Annihilation formula (the predecessor to Supreme Commander). If not for the popularity of Supreme Commander, Ashes would probably would have been far less successful.

Many of our players wish Ashes had the same content variety and quality of life features that Supreme Commander boasts, such as naval units and build templates. I thought it might be appreciated that the Ashes lead designer has a thorough comprehension, articulation, and passion for Supreme Commander (though the old lead designer, Brad, will argue Total Annihilation was better). Today, I'll be analyzing Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance and exploring what made it such a masterpiece.

 

Polish and presentation
At first glance, the most noticeable thing about Supreme Commander is that it's gorgeous; the visuals and sound effects are incredible and hold up even to this day. There's not much I can expand upon here, so I'll provide some explanation as to why that is. You may find it odd that modern RTS games struggle to surpass the presentation of a 10+ year old game, especially since 10 years was the gap between then, and Total Annihilation.

The reason boils down to budget and engine limitations, and these are not trivial matters. We've solved the engine issue at Stardock with our core-neutral Nitrous engine, but as for budget... let's just say that Supreme Commander was not profitable on launch and the publisher, THQ, collapsed 5 years afterward (coinciding with a whole host of other reasons, I'm sure). As RTS games become more niche, it's now too big of a gamble for publishers to invest a huge budget in them, unlike for other genres.

 



Here's an interesting excerpt from a Q&A with Chris Taylor, lead designer of Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, that I came across while researching for this essay:

"Supreme Commander 2 was criticized for being a simpler version of the first game – do you agree and if so, how/why did this happen?"

Chris Taylor: "It was a fair criticism, and it happened for two reasons. The first reason was that times were a lot tougher in the world of PC games. We didn’t have that big of a budget, and we had quite a bit less time. But we thought, hey, if we have to really bust ass to get this game out, lets see if we can make it a more accessible and mainstream game by shrinking the scope and scale a bit, and in some ways that worked, but to our original fanbase, this strategy was a failure."

Gameplay aside, most people would say Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is a much prettier looking game than Supreme Commander 2. Budget matters. 

 

Progression throughout the match
At the start of the game, the resource income and production speed is slow, with players only able to build a handful of low tier units at a time. As the game progresses, the economy rates and production speeds snowball to enormous levels, fueling destruction on a massive scale. Artillery batteries rain bombardment from the sky, wrecks of colossal Assault Bots litter the battlefield, and Battleships contest the seas; the late game in Supreme Commander is epic, but getting there is a challenge and is not guaranteed. Many games of Supreme Commander are over in the first 15 minutes, with players barely progressing past tier 1. The late game - and all its cool toys - are a privilege, not a right, making it much more rewarding when you get there.

 


The journey from early to late game along the gradual progression of tiers works in a really profound way. Late game isn't just fun because you get bigger stuff and a lot more of it (although that's certainly part of it), late game is so compelling because as you tech up and the game draws out, the level of intensity and required management escalates.

In the early game, the only consideration for the players is to build their base and have tank battles to contest Mass Extractors. Later during the tier 1 land battles, players tech into air factories, where they now have to think about mixing anti-air while reacting to bomber raids and air transport drops.

Once players hit tier 2, it isn't just Medium Tanks turning into Heavy Tanks - there's now Amphibious Tanks which open up whole new attack paths. Artillery and Tactical Missile Launchers become prominent at tier 2, so players need to invest in Shield Generators and Tactical Missile Defense. Once players hit tier 3, scouting becomes crucial as identifying an enemy Experimental Assault Bot, Strategic Bombers or Nuclear Missile requires completely different responses. 

As the players tech up and proceed throughout the game, the level of strategies and responsibilities increase. Players don't stop worrying about air transports and tanks sniping their extractors just because they hit tier 3; they still have to worry about all of those things, on top of being concerned about their base being annihilated by a Nuke. Supreme Commander does not require a high actions-per-minute in the way StarCraft does, but it does require an immense game knowledge and capacity for decision making. 

Every time you start a match of Supreme Commander, you have no idea what to expect; the game length and the strategies of your opponents, and consequently your own, are up in the air with many different possibilities. Other RTS games are predictable, with predetermined match durations and rigidly designed factions that result in matchups following the same repetitive patterns. 

 

 

Unlimited scalability of economy and production

For the progression to work so well, the game needs to have an unlimited scalability of the economy and production. This is achieved through:

  • Multiple tiers of Mass Extractors and Power Generators
    A tier 2 Mass Extractor or Power Generator produces many times more yield than a tier 1 structure, and likewise for Tier 3. Higher tier economy structures were big investments, and less cost-efficient in the case of Mass Extractors, but allowed players to get huge non-linear bonuses.

 

  • Power and Mass Fabricators delivered infinite resource potential
    Power Generators and Mass Fabricators could be built anywhere and provided unlimited income, fueling endless growth of economy. It’s important to balance this carefully, as unlimited income from a player's own base could result in the game being too defensive and passive. (e.g. GLA Mirrors in C&C Zero Hour). Mass Fabricators were woefully inefficient compared to Mass Extractors, which served as a valuable point of contention on the map. This meant that Fabricators were mainly used in the late game when all the accessible Extractors were taken. Despite this, Fabricators allowed for defensive “Turtle” play to be more viable. 

 

  • Production speed scalable to infinite levels
    There was practically no limit to how many engineers could create a structure or boost a factory. This allowed players to have hundreds of Engineers working in tandem to rapidly churn out expensive late game stuff. Engineers also had multiple tiers with improved build speed, peaking at Support Commanders, which made boosting cleaner than having 100+ Tier 1 Engineers awkwardly pathing. The UEF Tier 4 artillery took almost 2 hours for a single engineer to build. Stacking multiple engineers is essential for late game assets.

 


Economic management
The economic management in Supreme Commander was challenging and compelling. On of top of what was already mentioned, the following reasons contribute:

  • Managing surplus and drain
    To play Supreme Commander most efficiently, expenses should be as closely tied to income as possible. Spending too little resources would see it wasted, while spending too much would see your production slow down. Pausing production of units in order to boost an upgrade of a Mass Extractor optimize a player's economy and can make a significant difference when they stack up. You're also required to think ahead about what rate of income you need to support certain production; do you build a third Tier 3 Power Generator before beginning construction of an Experimental? The economy has so much complexity and there's always lots of considerations to make, and as your income grows or shrinks from harassment, you need to adjust your expenditure to compensate.

 

  • Management of storage
    Due to the tiered resource structures, upgrading one's economy was always an option, however the investment was large. To prevent an economy from crashing during an upgrade, players could invest in resource storage. Players are able to upgrade storage in Ashes, but there is practically no reason to do so, lacking the same level of huge economic investments that would crash an economy if not prepared for. For storage management to be an interesting mechanic it requires meaningful and expensive investments such as Commander and economy upgrades on top of expensive units like Experimentals. If the Refineries in Ashes were to cost 10x more but granted 10x more yield, upgrading storage would be more valuable, as then players can save up to build one outright.

 

  • Power Drain
    Certain units and structures would drain power, such as Shield Generators, Radar and commander abilities. This required more consideration and foresight for investments.

 

Badass late game stuff
Due to the unlimited scalability of economy and production, every faction has incredibly powerful late game tools. These include Experimental Assault Bots and Air Units, Rapid-Fire Artillery Installations that saturate global targets, Nuclear missiles that can annihilate an entire base, and Experimental structures to provide a utility such as generating unlimited income. The late game high tier units were colossal in comparison to the early game units. The scale difference served as a visual representation of their power and gratified the player for having obtained them. The units themselves were very quirky; a giant robot firing lasers out of its eyes and huge giant magnets to suck up units is cool, as is a giant 6 legged Spiderbot.


Due to their expensive nature, the late game units and structures can be truly devastating and wacky, yet remain balanced and fair. Accessing these late game tools is so difficult that fielding them was exciting, unlike most RTS that games have finite resources so their end tier units can only be several times more expensive normal units. Supreme Commander’s Experimentals delivered a power fantasy; there's something fun about sending your giant robot over to the enemy base and watching the carnage ensue. 

 

 


Quality of life features and usability
There were a lot of tools for automation of unit management and production, allowing players to focus on the large scale “macro” management and not have to worry about micro-managing their units. A great example is the “Ferry” option for air transports, allowing them to be assigned a pickup and drop-off location. The Transport will automatically taxi any units between the two locations that move to the pickup zone which can be a rally point from factories. Features like this, being able to click and drag to draw a line of buildings, and build templates streamlined the rate of which players could grow and manage their base, removing the barriers between strategy and execution. 

 

Naval
Naval and amphibious units added a lot of flexibility and variety to map design. Naval units weren't completely separated from other unit types; Torpedo Bombers could destroy Submarines while Amphibious Tanks and Gunships could engage ships. Naval is well designed because it is just one of the many strategies when playing on water maps, but there was one big flaw. Mass Deposits were not found in the water which made naval play contain less contention and harassment opportunities compared to land combat. Underwater Mass Extractors are utilized in the Forged Alliance Forever community project, significantly improving naval play.

 

Detailed base building
Base building in Supreme Commander requires lots of consideration, which makes it more fun and meaningful. Economy structures benefit from from adjacency bonuses when placed next to each other; Mass and Power Storage next to the equivalent resource structure would improve its yield while Power Generators would reduce the power drain of adjacent structures and boost the rate of fire of Artillery Installations. However, power structures were volatile, so adjacency came with a risk. Shield Generators provided defense to all structures inside them but were costly to maintain and only had a limited radius, incentivizing players to group important structures into the same areas and efficiently stack them to minimize shield investments.

 

 

There's also many kinds of base defenses, from protection structures such as Shield Generators, Tactical Missile Defense and Walls to combat defenses such as Point Defense, Artillery Installation and Tactical Missile Launchers. This gave more depth and deliberation to fortifying positions on the map; the player had to think about the most effective way of defense and had to react to changes in the opponent's attempts to break it or scouting to see how they intended do. Insufficient Tactical Missile Defense could see shields overwhelmed from missile bombardment but not enough Point Defense could result in the position being crushed by a direct assault. In Supreme Commander, something as traditionally "noob-y" as turtling also had a high level of complexity and skill ceiling.

 

Didn’t go overboard with asymmetric faction design
The four factions in Supreme Commander have unique units, Commander upgrades, and in some cases, buildings. For example, UEF is the only faction to get Shield Boats while Cybran naval units can walk on land. Asymmetric faction design can be a great way of creating strategic depth and variety while allowing players to find a faction which appeals to their play style. However, asymmetric design needs to be used delicately as a tool and not a feature, else implementing it poorly can cripple a game. Supreme Commander’s asymmetry is elegant because it doesn’t go overboard; while the unit roster varies between factions, they each have access to all the core tools and mechanics and they are all equally challenging and balanced at all stages of the game.

 

Flexible strategies
Supreme Commander has enough depth and variety in units and structures that players are free to pursue different play styles and strategies. Each has their own strengths, and weaknesses, which experienced players read and adapt to.

 

  • Aggression: Deploying forces to harass the opponent's infastructure or find beneficial engagements. By harassing the opponent’s economy, a player will ensure a stronger economy of their own and splitting their opponent’s attention makes it more difficult for them to manage their base.

 

  • Turtle: Economy structures are fragile, so defending one's territory and infrastructure is critical. Base defenses, in particular, are used to secure positions from enemy raids due to their cost efficiency. A defensive, “turtling” play style is typically weak in RTS games, but the multiple tiers of Mass Extractors combined with Mass Fabricators and reclamation of wrecks allows turtlers to still gain income at a competitive rate, though less efficiently compared to a player who establishes map control and saturates tier 1 Mass Extractors.

 

  • Economy: Producing additional resource structures or upgrading to high tier resource structures sacrifices the short term for the long term investment. Players can be overwhelmed if they invest too much in economy too early on without support but if left unchecked will reach the late game first.

 

These three play styles are meta-strategies, with each branching off into countless sub-strategies utilizing particular units and timings. An aggressive strategy could take many forms as there are always multiple ways of applying aggression, such as swarming cheap tier 1 tanks, dropping units behind enemy lines with air transports, or deploying air raids to neutralize key defenses. Some strategies are based on particular units and timings, such as neglecting ground units in favor of mass naval power. 

Expert players do not lock themselves into a meta-strategy such as aggression, but rather balance out all three meta-strategies, reading the battlefield and reacting accordingly. Every unit and structure built is a deliberate investment which has the opportunity cost of neglecting another play style. Upgrading to a tier 2 Mass Extractor is 16 tanks or 3 Point Defense that the player didn't build, these small divergences rapidly add up and create ripples that can shape the course of a match.  

The trichotomy of strategy into Aggression, Turtle, and Economy is a common theme throughout RTS games, but Supreme Commander does this dynamic so well because of the vastness of meaningful decisions the player has to constantly make and the variety of tools they have to manifest these strategic divergences.

 

Intuitive and distinct art style for each faction
The 4 factions in Supreme Commander look very distinct from each other, the style of units and structures intuitively reflect the backstory of the faction. I recently wrote an essay that highlights the superb art direction of the Seraphim faction, so you can read that to get an understanding of the way the factions are visually designed.

 

 

Commander upgrades
The Commanders have mutually exclusive upgrades between offense, defense, economy and other utility, allowing for customization and using the Commander loadout in synergy with certain strategies.  The Commander upgrades were varied between the different factions, so it was a good outlet for asymmetric design.

However, I have quite a bone to pick. I personally think the weapon upgrades are far too cheap for their potency on small maps, especially when combined with Overcharge. The range weapon upgrades allows the Commander to negate endless amounts of tier 1 units and Point Defense by outranging them and safely engaging from a distance. Increasing the combat potential of the Commander would be fine if not for the risk and penalty of using the Commander in combat being thrown out the window when it simply outranges everything. Rushing Tier 2 point defense to combat the upgraded commander can be suicidal due to the huge initial investment and static nature, while many maps have elevation blockers which limits their effective range.

The enemy is then forced to back off and concede map control unopposed, or to try to all-in the upgraded Commander and hope they manage to kill it instead of throwing away their entire army for nothing, which the Commander then reclaims. When playing on small maps, especially with minimal chokepoints, rushing Commander weapons upgrades seems to be crucial else your opponent can just march their upgraded commander up to your base and cripple you. It's an obnoxious interaction that limits strategy diversity and is part of why small maps are not popular. The Cybran Torpedo upgrade and Seraphim health regeneration upgrades can be equally obnoxious. Despite its many flaws, I think Supreme Commander 2 balanced their Commanders better, and it had some cool ideas such as the Escape Pod upgrade that alleviated some of the extreme risk/reward of using the Commander in combat. 


Role of units & structures was intuitive
Supreme Commander didn’t have as deep of a counter system as Ashes, such as not having certain Tier 2 units that countered tier 1 and vise versa. However, there were scouts, artillery, anti-air, tanks and assault bots (walkers instead of tracked vehicles.) The silhouette of each unit and their weaponry instantly defined them as their role, and made it obvious to the player. Supreme Commander had traits for their units types as was consistent with them, such as Assault Bots are always faster but weaker than the tank equivalent. Structures were also well defined, a Power Generator was not mistakable for a factory.

 

 

Readability when zoomed out
When players zoom out, they are able to monitor the entire battlefield on one screen. Supreme Commander had an elegant system of icons to communicate the exact unit type to the player. Each unit type was represented with a different shape such as squares for buildings, triangles for air units, and diamond for land units. There was also an icon for the role of a unit, such as Tank, Anti-Air, Artillery and Engineer, while the tier of each unit was denoted by 1-4 lines below the icon. Weapon projectiles are indicated as yellow dots when zoomed out, so it's still possible to follow combat from a distance.

 

Radar
Supreme Commander’s radar structures and units show the number and type of enemies approaching through the fog of war. Radar contacts use the same shapes to describe unit types, but it didn’t reveal what tier of units or what role they filled, so air scouts were still required for visual confirmation. Radar structures covered a long range and with full precision, so there was lots of seeing enemy movements and trying to intercept and outmanoeuvre. Positioning of forces was vital, and sneaking units past enemy lines to harass extractors and other infrastructure was punishing. Radar drained power, so there was a cost to pay for this useful information.

 


The system of icons (and grid locations in build menus) is consistent between each faction, so even if a player is not familiar with all the factions they are able to see the role of the unit. Ashes has an inferior approach, by using a 2D silhouette of the unit which does not communicate the role or power of a unit who is not familiar with that unit or faction.

 

Relevance to Ashes of the Singularity
There's a lot that Supreme Commander gets right, and it'd be foolish to reinvent the wheel instead of embracing those lessons in a way that leverages the existing strengths of Ashes. Since the release of Escalation, we have been embracing much of what worked so well in Supreme Commander such as Strategic Zoom, Tier 4 units, and unlimited scalability of economy and production. Moving forward we have more features in mind such as naval units and air transports that will further align Ashes with the proven Total Annihilation formula.

This doesn't mean we're just trying to make a Supreme Commander clone; it's obviously not perfect and there's other criticisms I could have mentioned here. There's a lot I like about Ashes over Supreme Commander such as its counter system that makes unit composition more meaningful, on top of other factors such as the better engine and AI. Ultimately, we have a lot of work ahead of us, whether that comes in the form of small patches, expansions or a sequel. 

 

Thanks for reading and leave your thoughts below! Anything I left out, or that you disagree with? What would you like me to discuss in future?

-Callum

 

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