Monday, April 6, 2015

Form Firing Lines

So I've talked about both Starcraft and Total Annihilation from time to time, and how Starcraft is the "big" RTS and how Total Annihilation is the underrated one.

Now, the Starcraft video I've selected for today is not a normal gameplay video, and the Total Annihilation video is one (albeit for a modified version of the game*), but the point has less to do with the gameplay and more to do with something else (two somethings, perhaps).

This video shows two groups of Starcraft units duking it out.

Notice how they form firing lines? Firing lines with a bunch of guys in back milling around trying to get closer. Why is this supposedly futuristic combat is taking place at spitting distance, exactly?

And a Total Annihilation video:

One of the things I want to draw attention to is that there's lots of difference in combat ranges.

This screenshot shows... I guess it's an island? Boy, TA's graphics aged surprisingly well, but it's been so long (about eighteen years)... ahem. It's under bombardment.

Anyway, when I say it's "under bombardment," I mean that there are artillery pieces a couple of screens away (Old TA doesn't feature zooming, so that's a fixed distance) pounding the heck out of it. Here's a closeup of the radar screen, with the relevant radar of the artillery fire highlighted:

This is not the maximum range of the weapons, and there are weapons with longer range. "Ranged unit" means something completely different in TA than it does in other games.

This screenshot shows something else-engagements tend to take place at absurd ranges even with running battles of comparatively short-ranged mobile units. Often, you can't even see what your guys are shooting at, or what's shooting your guys, because their ranges are that long. (Long range radar scanning and artillery spotting for the win, you bloody pukes! ...Sorry.)

Now, I know why Starcraft's weapon ranges are so short. It's in service to "balance" and "transparency of gameplay," concepts I appreciate but honestly find a bit overrated. Yes, balance is a good thing, but sometimes I feel like driving for balance over all else sterilizes the joy of the gameplay**. Long-ranged units as seen in TA are probably (almost definitely) "overpowered," but they're also central to what makes TA fun and to what I know of Starcraft's gameplay seeming a bit... well, sterile***. Not in and of itself, but by comparison.

I mean, I suppose it depends on whether you'd rather watch a bunch of dinks running up to each other to shoot each other in the face (and stab each other in the face-wait, aren't these guys supposed to be high-tech?) or watch lots of huge explosions of things shooting at each other from really far away.

...Which admittedly sounds a teense meh when you put it that way, but it has a feel that evokes a more realistic flavor of high-tech warfare+. And I'm pretty sure one TA Commander could just wipe the floor with all three Starcraft factions given a little prep time++.

*It's modified, but in terms of how things work in it, such as unit range, it still largely follows the spirit of the original. The Total Annihilation community really likes doing that sort of thing, and the tiny, determined remainder of it even cracked the engine at some point in their determination to better modify the game. Considering it's kind of abandonware at this point, I can't say I find the fact that said cracking is technically illegal very relevant.

It's a little tricky finding decent video of the game in its vanilla state that's useful for illustrating anything.

**Reminder: I'm terrible at RTS games. I'm talking about an experience, not some kind of nonsense to do with serious playerVplayer tourney BS. I appreciate that those of you with 200+APM like that sort of thing, but I'm more into building my neat, tidy forts (AKA suicide in multiplayer), and my stupid overcosted superunits (AKA suicide in multiplayer), and my mostly ineffective sorties against the enemy base (AKA just me being terrible), and my massive artillery/nuclear bombardment endgame (AKA if people do it in multiplayer it's either a huge map or people are screwing around). I want an entertaining experience in something that vaguely resembles warfare.

Addendum: The idea of fun being sterilized by balance applies to my thoughts on tabletop RPGs, even though I don't play those, because most of the fun-sounding parts of Dungeons & Dragons seem to be the older parts that chew player characters up and spit them out. And even if I played such games, if I wanted a combat-focused RPG I'd just find a JRPG or a comparable flash game, because you don't need to hunt down a playgroup for those.

***Disclaimer: I actually quite like a pretty fair bit of Starcraft's story lore, although I think it's hilarious that the Zerg are a serious threat to the Protoss.

+Heck, TA:Kingdoms has a more compelling-if unrealistic-model of low-tech warfare than one often sees (like, there are actual long-ranged units here, too), and the unrealism is significantly mitigated by the fact that, hey, MAGIC. Cross that stuff with the diplomacy and settlements and stuff in Seven Kingdoms and throw in the Kohan squad system to fight off micromanagement nonsense, with some zany Command & Conquer-inspired shenanigans, and that'd be my favorite RTS of all time right there, even moreso than TA or 7KII, the two primary contenders. ...My ideal high-tech-based RTS would require even more complexity, because my second-favorite tech-based RTS lets you design units on the fly, and other high-tech RTS games I'd be interested in emulating would up the complexity even further (Achron involves actual player time travel and Planetary Annihilation involves multiple planets which can move); it'd probably be an unplayable, slow-moving and glitchy cluster-fluffle.

++Reminder: A Total Annihilation Commander has a gun that can instantly disintegrate anything it hits and can build a starter base from scratch. Said base can then build an army from scratch and expand into a massive, self-replicating living urban sprawl from hell. And said base will have guns that outrange anything in Starcraft and have access to ICBMs once it's built up enough. Heck, I suspect the basic anti-air missile towers (which despite their supposed function can hit ground targets) outrange basically everything in Starcraft. And once the Commander's built a base that can dominate a planet, the Commander can, according to TA lore, teleport to a new planet and start over again+++, which is something the player more or less does in the missions, albeit without actually getting to control the teleport process.

+++There's actually a lot of TA lore that I only really know secondhand because I didn't get the original booklet with the game, my original copy coming from some sort of wholesale thing that was just a disk in a white envelope with a clear front to show off the disk's title. Worst way to get a game ever, would totally do again.

-Signing off.

No comments: