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RTS: Really Tough Science

By Rumpy


Herzog Zwei. Those are the only two words one needs to know that this was the first RTS ever. Developed by Techno Soft in 1990 and published by Sega, it was met with little enthusiasm. Perhaps it was because of the formula used. Then came The Ancient Art of War, which acted as indirect competition , but when i say 'indirect' I mean that the game did compete, but because the RTS genre was not really a formed niche yet, it wasn't exactly involved in a defined intergenre competition. As for the genre of 'RTS', it started with Dune II around 1994. Why that game? Because it got the formula right. The formula that defined the game and the path that had led up to it. And what happens when developers see a perfect formula? They replicate it and they try to perfect it. Warcraft, was followed by Command & Conquer, which was followed by Warcraft II. They all carried the formula.

This has happened so much in the recent years that developers now have the problem of either sticking to the 2D style RTS or attempting the 3D RTS without ruining playability. There's obviously a real dilemma here. If developers decide to stick to 2D, such as Westwood's Tiberian Sun, then they get backlashed by fans who want more and think that 2D is not the way to go (not that 2D was the only problem with TB). But if developers decide to go with 3D, such as the recently released Dark Reign II and Star Wars: Force Commander, then they get a backlash about the game's flaws and design and that they could have done more to it.

Designing an RTS game is a really tough science-not with just RTS games, but with other games too. But for RTSs it is tough getting a good formula, balancing the game out and making it fun. And it's also very tough trying to make the game innovative and progressive, adding things to the RTS genre that other developers will 'ooh' and 'ahh' at and then want to add to their own. One try at being original, could also lead to disaster in times like these, as being original doesn't always constitute a gaming hit.

Downloading the Star Trek: New Worlds demo recently, (a highly anticipated title on my waiting list) made me just want to forget about it. The game looked good-very good from the screenshots. But playing it was another matter. The interface was very clunky, and yet again, the camera system was not intuitive. Interfaces seem to be the thing that kills most 3D RTS games now a day despite any other flaws a game might have-and they can make the other flaws in the game feel larger because the interface is such an integral component throughout a game. Just look at Star Wars: Force Commander. Get my point? Needless to say, I crossed Star Trek: New Worlds right off my list.

The best interface for a 3D RTS? I would have to go with Warzone 2100. It was smooth, intuitive and the game didn't trip over it, head first. There's a reason why this RTS is one of my favourites. It got the formula right and was being intuitive, yet didn't stray far from its roots. It has the largest Tech Tree bar none. So big in fact that I haven't even seen the last object in it yet! But where it hurt is the actual publisher's advertising quest. It didn't get the attention it deserved. It deserved more and now its producer is no longer. Please do yourself a favour and get this game if you love RTS's-it made a tough science look easy-and you won't be disappointed.

Until Next Week - Happy Gaming!