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Wednesday 12 December 2007

Why Supreme Commander FA is like olives [Am]


Until the recent experience of Supreme Commander Forged Alliance, I never really liked RTS games before. Oh sure I'd bought a couple of high repute like TA: The One That People Raved About No I Can't Remember The Name and the much admired Company of Heroes. But they were a bit fffmmm, a bit hrrrmnmnmnm, simply when all was said in done (and I do recognise this was probably down to me before you load up a transport, add two supporting gunships and start to build experimental anti-pe0n tech), well to date I simply found them a bit meh.

I also never liked olives until I was about 22. Distasteful things that could wreck a martini by simple immersion and would make me look at attractive women eating them and think 'why didn't you just stuff a worm in your mouth instead for all that has just done for your attractiveness, you and your soiled cakehole?'..... Olives this is, rather than an RTS game. You can't fit a CD in a martini glass nor in the mouth of that average woman can you, slot-loading or not?*

And then one day you suddenly decide you like them. Hey I quite like playing this. Good grief this could work on a pizza. And common to both - there's black and green ones here all over the place and I've got no idea what the difference is, better get stuck in and see....mmm....wonder if you'd get an adjaceny bonus with an anchovy?

I've no idea why I like it. Perhaps one of the old hands could tell me that I've matured (may be largely disputed to which I say pfffffffftttt b1t3 meh l00z4rs) or is it substantially different / more action orientated? But whatever the reason, I do like it. I like the multi-dimensionality of considerations; thought, planning, awareness, interaction, mouse-action, scroll-viewing, guessing, scheming, fearing, advancing, retreating, plotting, revising, re-arranging and nuking the living fucking drilled shit out of alien scum lords.

And more specifically yet, while the co-op is suffering a little under the strain of collective processing and netcode, it has to be time for us to get with some pvp 2v2 or 1v1 even. I'm up for it and I've improved. Who dares risk their reputation, yay verily even tonight, for an Amwhupping?**

--SupComAm Out--preparing an intergalatic-can of azzwhupp--transmision ends--

* although there was this girl at the University of Bristol who could put her entire fist in her gob but that wasn't terribly attractive either for your normal bloke let alone those scientific types reading Desmond Morris who would tend to get especially queasy at the biological allegories.

** Lurks need not apply for 1v1 unless I stab him in the eye with this here spare olive stick.....


  1. That's spooky because I had the olive thing too but I think I was 30 when the realisation came :)

    I think it's probably less about SupCom:FA itself and more that you're clicking to RTS games although SupCom does add a substantial new level. If you get a regular RTS off the shelf they strike you as being much like previous ones. You build this then you can build that. And you don't really need to know the ins and outs to finish the game, you just need to do okay since the whole thing has been dumbed down to be doable even if this is your first RTS game.

    However when you get right under the skin of RTS games proper, a whole raft of strategy opens up where you realise that you're about to fight a war and you're in charge of the entire way it's going to happen. The type of game where incredible come backs happen, where people win and lose on the merits of some sort of overall strategy being enacted which, like war, takes into account resources, terrain and just how well each soldier manages to do on the front line.

    I remember thinking I was good at RTS games back in the days of Total Annihilation. Then Cavedog released this mission pack called Battle Tactics. This didn't add any units, just missions but it coached in all the nitty gritty of proper strategy. Using specific units for a job, scouting out intel and techique based tutorials such as good use of pathing and patrols. That Gamespot review is the top Google hit I found and he didn't get it. " Anyone who's still playing Total Annihilation presumably knows the ropes by now", he says. Wrong. I played TA to death but this was my turning point from a reasonably familarity with RTS games and truly 'getting it'.

    What's facinating from a veteran perspective is watching new people play SupCom:FA. It's almost like those picture cards you get with a fictional character's RPG spec. Right, here we have the Muz. He's got got 6 points in tactical processing but only 5 points in micro management and 4 points in technique. That sort of thing.

    It's like if you were in an FPS game but the seperate issues of aiming at people, dodging, moving, shooting etc were all clearly summed in how well you did but weren't all tied to together. So you played a game and some guy could shoot like a bastard but handn't mastered WASD yet.

    There is a point where you can't really compete versus another guy until your technique comes up to scratch. Technique that includes micro management, getting around the interface and queuing up long sets of orders for a fuck load of guys to massively increased your parallel jobs. But interestingly it doesn't need to be that good. I've been watching a lot of ranked games lately and the difference in skill between players is often completely removed from their game strategy. Often with surprising results.

    And that's why we have to play vs people. AIs wont surprise you. They wont drive a shoal of amphibous siege tanks onto shore on your western flank to take our your power economy. They wont execute a diversion drawing away your fighters while a cloaked squadron of bombers flies in from the South with your anti nuclear defence in sight. They wont throw aircraft over your base and around the map in a desperate attempt to learn what the fuck you're up to. They can be fun, they can show you the units, the interface and basic technique but they'll do almost nothing for strategy.

    And the whole point of SupCom, the thing it does that other RTS games don't do, is strategy. What other RTS games call strategy, is actually tactics. You need to zoom out, scratch your chin and survey the battle before you with a God's eye view to suddenly feel that buzz. Holy shit, I can pretty much try anything I like here. That, at the end of the day, is why the game rules and why we must play it.

    It's irritating that the network and performance stuff is such a drag but we can deal with it and issues are lessened dramatically when you don't have AIs zerging hundreds of units around the shop.


  2. The olive realisation came at 26 for me. Now I buy a pot every week at tescos


  3. When one blogs and then checks out the webby a few hours later, I think it is not unnatural to find the posting of a new comment to one's blog piques one's interest in no small measure. Hurrying to open the full page blog to check out the newest contribution can indeed lead to thoughts on the way in such as 'cool, I'll check this out - perhaps the subject matter has received a fresh and illuminating perspective which will give me new insights into this subject I cared sufficiently to post on' or 'heh, I wonder if some witty contemporary has entered into a bon mot or joyful bandinage which will have me chuckling into my cup of tea' and one files it away under one of those mental headings, perhaps to reflect in later years on a life well lived....

    I thank you indeed for your olive-accretion data Pod, for your scientific audit of your attainment of olea europaea. It is perhaps the most brilliantly short encapsulation of the difference between comestible and commendable I have ever seen. I shall try to find a category for it to fit under later.


  4. I haven't hit the turning point for either RTS's or olives yet. I'm 28, so there's still time. As far as olives go, I remember mistaking a bowl of the wretched things for grapes as a kid, which lead to a mouth full of olives and a gagging reflex.

    I'd love to compare this to my history with RTS games, but sadly truth surpasses narrative and I must say I've never really found RTS's to be very enthralling. The odd thing is that every now and again I decide to give the latest uber RTS a go (The time for the next attempt is nearing with the praise SupCom is getting from the clan.), install the bloody thing, play it for several hours, end the session and never fire the game up again. It's weird, because I haven't come across a really bad RTS that I can recall. I've always enjoyed the few hours I've spent with them, but the enjoyment just doesn't seem to carry to a second session. One reason for this, I think, is the fact that you've spent hours on a single map, gathering resources, building stuff, making your army. Then the map ends and you start the whole bloody thing all over again in the next map. Doesn't feel very rewarding. Now, if the game design somehow would let me keep at least a part of the units and buildings I worked to create, I might feel a bit more inclined to start on the next mission, but the games really tend to strip me to bare essentials, kick me out of the transport, point me to the bad guys and say "Have fun!"


  5. The last RTS I played was Dune 2000, and that was in... 2004. The game is well over ten years old, but it is uncomplicated and it "just works".

    Six months ago I hated the Sup Com demo. It was a desert, some units, the usual harvesting and building, and an ill-tested UI; I was unimpressed and stuck to my FPSes.

    I'm not sure why Sup Com FA works for me. I think diving into it at a LAN on launch weekend with the rest of you had a significant effect. I'm also deeply impressed how much time and enjoyment I'm getting from less than fifteen quid. The one player missions are rock solid hard, and I'm only playing with Aeon and haevn't mastered Cybran or UEF or even the new chaps.

    Any game which does large scope multiplayer, and is not a twitchy shooty game, has a big thumbs up from me.


  6. It's a lot better game than the original SupCom really but yeah, most games tend to be impenetrable until you have a reason to give them a go eh?


  7. I've liked Olives for a long time. And I like RTS's. But I do think my micro-management skills are poor. I prefer higher control than having to worry about which foot soldier is going where. Which is why I gravitated to the likes of Kohan (, where you have company based units, that have morale and supply chains. You assemble Companies with different offensive and defensive units, and you move them in and out of battle, almost chess like. Rather than the usual Ctrl+number groupings of warriors and archers, scoutbikes and tanks etc... I think it handles the whole thing at a slightly higher level, and this is how I prefer it. My micro is bad. :(

    I've had a stab at the original SupCom, and found it suffered from the same necessary micromanagement troubles. Mine. Not the games. I did like the zoom out overview aspect to the game. I'm keen to see how FA tweaks the gameplay, and to listen to Lurks speak of the hidden depths in RTS games in terms of strategy makes me want to jump in and learn the appropriate 'micro' skills to see the beauty.. because a lot of RTS games just come across as the same old dull dross. I'll have to grab the FA expansion and give it a whirl.

    Another olive in my lager please.