Ceasar's Mind

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Analyzing the RTS

with 4 comments

I recently read an article that claimed that we really need to stop studying Facebook as a whole. That is, if you look at what is said about Facebook, there are a bunch of people who say that life is better because we’re all more connected now and there are a bunch of people who say that life sucks more now because people value face-to-face interaction less. The point is though, that these are both partly valid, but it’s stupid to say it’s Facebook’s fault. Facebook is a combination of tons of mechanics, a huge complicated system, and the only way to make sense of it is to atomize its components. (This isn’t really a new thought- dynamic programming for example pretty much uses the same idea- but the guy was just ranting to wake people up again.)

Real Time Strategy games are the same way, which often makes it hell to talk about them with people because there are so many factors that we may as well be predicting how a drop of dye will spread if we were to drop it in a glass of water. When I made Naval Commander, besides wanting to producing a simple version of the RTS for simplicity’s sake, my intention was partly to put to use a few of the formulas and thoughts that my friend Vinh and I had conjectured. However, even that was clearly too high-level to make any sense of.

Having recently played a bit of GemCraft Labyrinth, it occurred to me it wouldn’t be very hard to actually distill it further. (GemCraft basically uses almost an exclusive  soft-counter system, and in my opinion that makes it very interesting.) All one would really need to do is to break everything down into its components, understand what each component does, and then rebuild everything utilizing the components.  As far as I can tell, there are only three unique things to notice (undoubtedly more, but it’s 3:51AM.)

  • High damage – Good against heavily armored targets. Bad against low hit point targets.
  • Low damage – Bad against heavily armored targets.
  • Large range – Good against slow moving targets. Loses value when overkilling.

So we can see some cool things with just the small list. Since an offense consists of some amount of damage, some attack speed, and some range, we can create a 2*2 interesting units with these pieces. For example, one might construct an anti-armor unit whose job is to put heavy damage on armored targets. Such a unit would exclusively need a high attack damage. Likely, he would have a slow attack speed to keep his cost down, and he would be extremely susceptible to units with low hit points who he would expend too much damage on.

Armed with these basic components (or at least the realization of the need to break things down into their smallest parts) we could construct an entire RTS game which would provide interesting choices to the players, without any kind of need for tactical unit abilities, requiring instead only tactical movement.

Written by Ceasar Bautista

2011/04/23 at 03:53

Posted in Uncategorized

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4 Responses

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  1. Nice post TW,

    I liked how you went from Facebook to damage systems on RTS, that can only happen late at night with no distracting sounds around you hehehe.

    I find your small list very interesting, and has already given me some ideas for my SC2 map. I will still keep the explicit “+x damage vs heavy” type bonuses for now, and complement it with the points of your list. We´ll see how that turns out!


    2011/04/24 at 16:03

    • Honestly, I really want to open up TFT and try this out more explicitly, but I’m fairly certain with this approach in mind, it would be fairly straightforward to design an incredibly engaging RTS without the need to involve any active abilities on units.

      Specifically regarding your comment, done right, the explicit bonus is usually entirely fine, since the amount of depth such bonuses can add typically far outweighs the cost of learning them. (See David Sirlin’s Kongai for instance.)

      In fact, I actually think a well-designed RTS (with a proper emphasis on strategy) (or TD just as well) would end up looking a lot like Kongai, except in RTS-form. That is, more specifically, a simple explicit rock-paper-scissors counter system, united with a soft-counter attack-rate/damage per attack/constant armor reduction system, all served with some interesting twists in-between just to make it fun.

      I suppose, the only problematic thing I can easily think of might be that if mis-designed, the game could very easily lead to large armies and therefore equilibriums, but really, that’s typically an easy fix.

      Ceasar Bautista

      2011/04/24 at 19:10

  2. That approach looks good, I´ll give you that. What you mention about large armies reminds me of what you mentioned in one of my threads about mixed armies -how mixed army composition could lead to worse battles, as in quite a few different types of units creating a sort of chaos in which the player does not know what to do with each unit. I think I understand that concern better now, but it remains to be seen whether it has a big impact in small armies as will be the case in my SC2 map.

    About Kongai, I read up on it for a fair while, and it seems rather complex. I sadly don´t have much experience with card games though. I didn´t like the bits about “critical strike” and “dodge”, reminds me too much of LoL.


    2011/04/27 at 22:11

    • I mean, there are a few ways to combat equilibrium. At this point I’m not yet sure which is the best or worst. My problem with keeping armies small is that it tends to dramatically reduce variety in an unpleasant way, but really it all comes down to execution.

      Kongai is a little intimidating at first, but once you understand the rules, you quickly realize the game space is surprisingly immense. But yeah, on those points specifically I most definitely agree and am not totally sure why they are in the game except to piss players off. But definitely check out David Sirlin’s explanation of his design decisions here: http://www.sirlin.net/articles/designing-kongai.html. He explains himself really well and there are a lot of small pieces of insight to be gained.

      Ceasar Bautista

      2011/04/28 at 03:22


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