Which of these is your favorite RTS of all time?
Supreme Commander
Total Annihilation
Company of Heroes
Command & Conquer
222 Total Votes

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.



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. 




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. 


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.



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.



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'!

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?


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:


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


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

Here's a screenshot that shows it off better


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.


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.




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.


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.


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


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.





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