Why I Suck At RTS Games

I’m not a bad gamer, not by a long shot. When it comes to first person shooters I’ve pulled off some insane shit over the years. I’ve made that last second kill in deathmatch, grabbed the last point in a game of capture the flag, and literally been the last man standing. It is usually a mix of my own skill and that of the people I’m fighting with. I’m responsible for me. I kill the enemy, we win; as that annoying meerkat from the idiot box says: “Simples.” I also tend to be not be too bad at other genres; while there are dozens to chose from, I can hold my own in racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure games. However, when it comes to real time strategy games, or RTS, I’m hopeless. Utterly, utterly hopeless.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a bad gamer and I can hold my own quite comfortably, so why do I fail at every hurdle of the RTS genre? If anything it should be easier than some of the other titles out there, shouldn’t it? You generally have a clear layout and scope of the land, so you can see what’s going on. I know that many RTS games have a fog of war (where the battlefield is covered up until explored by your faithful units), but this can be turned off and you can still see what’s going on, regardless. If you’re about to be attacked there are generally a few seconds warning – something you don’t always get in first person shooters and other titles. Chances are if a group of tanks or men are heading in your direction, they aren’t coming over for tea and biscuits. They’re coming to shoot and they shoot to kill.

So if it’s not the change of layout, then perhaps it’s the interface. RTS games generally involve a great deal of micromanagement; you have to order units here, there and everywhere. The majority of RTS games also require some sort of resource gathering. You also have to consider base defences, build orders, army size, capturing and securing areas of the map, and that’s all before considering how to attack the enemy and the possibility of learning and using secondary functions for your units. That’s a lot of stuff to remember when it’s all ‘real time’ and when the opposition is probably doing the same, only twice as fast.

Compare that to other genres and we may be on to something. First person shooters are fairly self explanatory: point gun at opposition. No… no the other end, that’s it, and click the mouse button. Sure, there is an element of movement and tactics to it, but they generally flow with the shooting, and there is a strong likelihood of certain clashing points between teams so you can ensure you’ll probably know which way you are going. Puzzle games generally have one goal and on occasions are joined with a particular feature or theme. The games that spring to mind are Bookworm Adventures and Portal – easy to pick up, hard to master, but they keep with a theme so the player doesn’t get overwhelmed. Sports games are generally the same and even action or role playing games don’t make things too complicated, as that means less fun. With that in mind, the last Red Alert game’s expansion pack (Red Alert 3: Uprising) brought one army to having 25 units and 13 structures. Each unit would likely have a secondary function as well (and that’s just for the allied side), so if you multiply that by the three armies then you have 75 units and 39 structures, and while some may be similar, they are all going to have different secondary aspects. So clearly this is the issue, right? This is why I suck!

Well no, not exactly. First of all I’ve selected a specific game, which doesn’t account for the all the RTS games that don’t have such a large unit count… and which I still suck at. Secondly the micromanagement isn’t a problem for me – my actual job involves more micromanagement then any RTS game has ever thrown at me, and believe me when I say it’s far more difficult and pressure filled than a game. So really a game’s not going to be able to rock my micromanagement skills.

Maybe it’s the actual gameplay. Let’s face it, RTS games aren’t easy. The micromanagement does make it tricky, on top of knowing what units to use where. Combine that with knowing what technology path to follow and you’ll be screwed harder then a group of Shermans staring down the barrel of an anti-tank gun. If you manage to pick all the right options then you’ll generally be on the path to success. But do unit choices and tech paths really have that much impact? Well let’s be honest, if you’re playing Dawn Of War and you just churn out countless groups of Imperial Guardsmen, when the Necrons turn up with a fully awakened monolith you are, for all intents and purposes, totally and utterly fucked. Make no mistake about it, unit selection and knowing where to stick your resources counts for a lot. However, it’s generally not that difficult to choose the right option. Typically the more expensive the unit, the more interesting things they do. It doesn’t cost eight hundred combined requestion and power to build a Baneblade tank because it’s the worst unit going – that thing will cut through an army like a knife through tin foil. Tactics also play a large part in the proceedings, but the general concept behind most games is to kill the opposing team. The more units you have, the easier it will be to do that in most cases.

So what is it then? I mean we’ve covered pretty much all aspects of the genre, so what’s the problem? As it turns out, the problem is me. It’s nothing to do with the games, it’s how I play them. For a start I’m what they call a ‘Turtler.’ This particular way of playing RTS titles relies heavily on my ability to keep the money coming in and the enemy staying out, which I can assure you does not happen that often. I like building a base and having it appear as the most fortified bastion of hope and justice on the map. There are multiple problems with turtling and without going into too much detail, generally my resource supply gets cut off, meaning I can’t rebuild any base defences that get destroyed, or I focus on the choke points around the map, and once they punch through I’m pretty screwed. The final problem is that in the wonderful world of RTS, there is generally more than one type of enemy to deal with. Trying to fund defences that cover land, air and sea can be difficult at best.

“So build some units!” I hear you cry. “Is this guy some sort of idiot?” Well no, I’m not, however I do have a rather large problem with RTS units, and it’s here that I think the real problem behind my RTS affliction lies. It’s my motto for RTS: “No man gets left behind.” I can hear the collective sigh already. The fact is, that unlike any other game characters the only one I feel any emotional attachment to is the units within RTS games; I literally cannot bring myself to sacrifice any unit for the greater good.

I once played a game of Command and Conquer Generals that lasted for four hours. It wasn’t because the fighting was so fierce, or because it was an epic clash of the titans. Instead, it was because the opposing team seemed to be focussing on a band of my marines that were holding a town to the west of the map which had a couple of oil derricks that I had captured. Now, he was clearly after the oil derricks and didn’t really care that my men were nearby; they were more of an inconvenience then anything else. I was raking in a lot of extra cash from that group of oil derricks, enough to easily build an army of tanks and planes and literally march across the map and wipe the floor with him. However, I didn’t. I spent two hours reinforcing that town to the point where my base looked poor and sparse in comparison.

Whatever illness I’ve got that allows me to totally take leave of my senses must have rubbed off on this poor bastard because he seemed to ignore my base and make it his personal mission to try and wipe out that tiny little town. The end result was that I actually had to evacuate the marines after he launched a nuke at the town. I actually got a group of Chinooks, the unit that was funding my war effort, to pick them up just before it hit. I must have lost around twenty buildings in that attack, but it didn’t matter because those marines were alive, and they had done an awesome job too. I didn’t even send them in to the final attack on his base, I just left them at the homestead, shacked up in a small building, protecting nothing, but enjoying a well deserved rest. That’s my problem with RTS games. No-one’s expendable for the cause. We either all go home to our loved ones, or we all die trying.

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  1. Edward Edward says:

    That’s most probably where you and I differ, Toffer. I’m all about throwing as many troops as I have at the problem until it goes away. It’s something about having even a slight modicum of power that lets me completely detach myself and go “now how expensive and awesome can I make the ensuing chaos?”
    A good read, Chris :D

  2. Chris Chris says:

    Cheers man. It’s the total opposite for me. I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep everyone of those bastards alive. From the Dog to the Apocalypse Tank, everyone comes home.

  3. Mason says:

    I couldn’t stop laughing in those last two paragraphs. I don’t meaninglessly sacrifice my units, but if risking them can draw the enemy into a trap or force them into a weak formation then it’s worth it. If you had sent troops to attack his base while he was sieging the little town he would’ve had to withdraw his troops to defend the base. Thereby saving your marines and simultaneously destroying his base.

  4. Chris Chris-Toffer says:

    Possibly. But by that stage It was less about taking risks to win the game and more about being assured of the survival of my men.

  5. Mason says:

    I suppose I can understand that. I’ve played in some pretty intense rts games.

  6. ShadowKnight says:

    I have beat both c&c generals and zero hour campaigns on easy.

    And when I tried online I always lost from the first minutes of the game, For some reason I never win at rts online games……… Starcraft’s usm maps online is the best thing ever because I manage to actually win and have fun more than the default 1v1 maps.

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