Thursday, May 10, 2012

Single Player Strategy Games

I love the single player campaigns of real time strategy (RTS) games. Games like Homeworld, Sacrifice, and Battle for Middle Earth have provided me with some of my all time favourite gaming experiences. Yet I am almost embarassed to admit I like the single player version of these games because "everybody" knows that these games only come into their own in multiplayer. Everybody it appears except for me.

It is absoluely true that muliplayer RTS gaming is very popular. Starcraft is a gaming phenomenon but plenty of other RTS series like Age of Empires, Command and Conquer and Company of Heroes have built up large loyal followings. It is the multiplayer crowd who contribute to the longevity of these titles as is evidenced by patches being produced long after release invariably targeting multiplayer balance issues.

It is also true that single player is a much easier challenge than multiplayer. No computer can hope to match the cleverness and unpredictability of a skilled human player. Nevertheless I like it. I like the fact that the computer is predictable. I like the fact that you can keep trying different strategies until you find one that works. I also like that you get a story line and a sense of progression in the single player game. I like that the game has an ending that you can aim for. These things are important to me.

While it is true that the computer opponent can never provide the challenge of a real player most single player RTS games compensate for this by "cheating" and giving your computer opponent an overwhelming advantage in resources at the start of each level. A player who is new to the genre is likely to struggle at first and get totally overwhelmed. Having played many of these games over the years I have found that you almost always have to go through the following stages:

1. Survive
2. Build
3. Conquer 

The first stage, survival, is usually the hardest because you are probably out manned and out gunned. In the early levels the game may be kind and leave you alone to get a toe hold but once you progress beyond the beginner levels you are going to find yourself under attack from the get go. It will take full concentration to survive the onslaught as you try to gather resources and establish a basic infrastructure. During this phase you must do anything and everyhing that is required to reduce the threat of enemy attacks to a manageable level. This could mean establishing permanent defences or it may include pre-emptive raids to disable or destroy nearby enemy facilities.

Eventually you reach a tipping point where you have more resources coming in than you need to defend your holdings. Once you reach this point you can hide behind your defences and start to put the excess resource to good use. Now is the time to consolidate and build. Advance through the technology tree and build a huge army.

The Conquest stage begins when you judge your army is big enough or more likely when you get bored and decide to take your massive army and carve a swathe of destruction across the map. Care is still needed here because while you have been amassing a huge army it is likely that your computer component has been doing the same. Be prepared for massive battles between high end units.

Sometimes a game will try to mix things up a little. A popular technique is to have triggered events that start when you reach a certain spot or capture a certain objective. Sometimes these will force you go back a few steps such as capturing an objective triggering a huge assault on your base focing you back into survival mode as you call troops back to defend.

This rumination on single player RTS is brought about by the campaign of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War which has sat on my shelf for many years and which I have only recently started to play.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Strategy games are amazing. And the best startegy game is Champions Of Chaos 2