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#strategy - Blowing Up Stuff The Micro and The Macro Way

Real-Time Strategy: Blowing Up Stuff The Micro and The Macro Way

Destruction by "Death Star" lasers also optional in Planetary Annihilation.

Destruction by "Death Star" lasers also optional in Planetary Annihilation.

I grew up playing the granddaddy of RTS, Dune 2, released in 1992.  A classic before the household names of Command and Conquer and Warcraft had made their scene, Dune 2 was a success in creating the archetypal RTS that we know today. The resource gathering system, building of production buildings that built units to annihilate your enemy, meeting or building prerequisite before advancing of technology, etc... they exist in just about all RTS games even till today.

Dune 2, you had to place the tiles before placing the buildings otherwise suffer structural damage.

Dune 2, you had to place the tiles before placing the buildings otherwise suffer structural damage.

Utter the words "RTS" and in this current generation and the game Starcraft would be almost eponymous with the acronym of Real-Time Strategy. Both Dune 2 and SC2 share one thing in common, they both have 3 factions to play in game but that's where the similarity, if at all ends, Dune 2 factions shared most units where SC2's races are completely unique. Where Dune 2 only depended on refined spice as credits, SC2 depends on crystals, gas and a supply cap. With the release of Starcraft 2 (aka SC2), the game could be considered as the 'Chess of Our Generation'.

For many years now, Blizzard Entertainment has gathered fans worldwide to watch the rock stars of the game compete on a regular basis at Blizzcon. In particular, I watched the SC2 finals of Blizzcon 2015. Each challenger had  their own separate and enclosed booth with cameras capturing their front and side profiles. How each challenger braced their unflinching posture would be in stark contrast to their hands: a flurry of movement. Calculated and precise, they moved so fast it was almost a blur. In fact, the stats of each competitor's APM (Actions Per Minute) would be shown in real time as well. For us mere mortals, 60-120 APM would be considered common place but for these professionals from South Korea, 200-400 APM is an apt description for the dance of their digits.

Starcraft finals at Blizzcon 2015. A beautiful and world class display of what Grand Championships look like today.

Starcraft finals at Blizzcon 2015. A beautiful and world class display of what Grand Championships look like today.

Stracraft 2 is a game about the micro. SC2 is largely based on the control of individual units and the timing of usage of their individual abilities and positioning is critical in the micro of the game. The macro of the game would be choosing the right strategy via technology upgrade choices and knowing how to counter the opponent's strategy. SC2 games are lightning fast, a game could be over in less than 10 minutes.

The bleak outlook when everything on the battlefield, including the terrain goes FUBAR.

The bleak outlook when everything on the battlefield, including the terrain goes FUBAR.

For folks who don't enjoy playing at such a breakneck speed, there are other RTS games out there. Most notably, on OMGeek's Discord #strategy channel, the game is Company of Heroes 2 (COH2). COH2 is not as a high profile game like SC2. It doesn't have sponsors nor annual tournaments filmed on a gala stage in front of a thousand fans. COH2 is almost a different game. To compare, SC2 would be F1 races and COH2 would be rally cars. There is a little more time to appreciate each competitor's decision making process in COH2. COH2 makes use of a directional cover system with semi-destructible environments (e.g. trees, fences and house) so it is more tactical. COH2 is based on the Eastern Front War between Germany and the Soviet Union with the later expansion the Western Front including the U.S. Forces and late-War German Army. The most recent addition is the U.K. Forces joining the Allies.

The appeal of Company of Heroes 2 is different from Starcraft 2. Although they are both RTS games the decision making process and general speed of the game is almost a world, if not worlds, apart. COH2 doesn't have a resource collection system like SC2 does. You can't attack the 'mineral line' like you do in SC2. Instead COH2 is about territorial control on a segmented map. Capturing specific sectors offers a boost in Munitions and Fuel resources used for expending grenades, arty-strikes or weapon upgrades. Cutting off sectors is a common strategy used to deprive the enemy of specific zones, especially the fuel points in order to slow down the enemy to tech up or build battlefield dominating vehicle units. COH2 has micro as well, not to the extent of SC2, but a unit's position in the environment matters due to the cover system, have them out in plain sight and they won't last long. Facing direction matters as well especially for tanks with fixed or rotatable turrets and their armor is weaker on the sides and back. Most enjoyably, COH2 does explosions well just like watching a WW2 movie. From satchel charges to artillery strikes, COH2's sound and visual design should be experienced.

991280159_7YOFVhcT_total-annihilation-1.jpeg

On the flipside of the spectrum, Chris Taylor developed a gem called Total Annihilation in 1997. In Total Annihilation (TA), it isn't about the micro, it's all about the macro. TA's resource system is different from both SC2 and COH2. TA's resource is gathered or rather, generated by structures that would produce a fixed amount of metal or energy. In general, creation of any structure or units in game would then cause a rate of consumption depending on what structures or units were built at any point in time and the number of construction units involved in their creation. This may sound a little more complicated but essentially, the game is about building en masse. Having multiple factories producing units non-stop and throwing a blob of tanks at the enemy's face is not unheard of. If you prefer you can stockpile 50 aerial bombers and throw them at the enemy all at once whilst launching dozens of nuclear warheads at them.

To me, TA's standout was its impressive CD-quality Music Score dynamically changing whether you were in combat or not. "The March Unto Death" is my favourite track from the game.

There have been spiritual successors to TA. One would be Supreme Commander, which Chris Taylor also helped to develop and most recently, Planetary Annihilation. As you may have figured out, Planetary Annihilation (PA) is about destroying planets. It's basically TA to the Nth degree. You can literally build rocket thrusters on a moon or an asteroid and send barrelling towards an enemy planet or equip a metal moon with lasers and blow up planets with spectacular results. PA doesn't take itself too seriously compared to the other 2 mentioned above, which is to say, you can have alot of fun playing PA.

Game over Red Team.

Game over Red Team.

PA in its current state with the Titans expansion is a heck of a lot of fun just to blow stuff up at a planetary scale. Although the Naval units aren't as well used in this iteration of the  game, the Orbital abilities more than make up for it. PA's refined queuing system where you can shift click orders to what seems an almost limitless amounts is superb. The Picture-In-Picture game screen is also a great way to keep track of developments on any planet during the game and swapping your main view to it back and forth is very smooth and easy to do.

How do you like to blow stuff up in an RTS? With efficiency or with spectacle? Do you have fast digits and prefer the micro or want to relish in the awe of pure destruction playing the macro?

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