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Turn Based Strategy Makes Me Care
by Mathew Stone on 04/20/11 09:28:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Let me tell you, dear reader, about the baddest little bomber I ever had in Advance Wars.

Advance Wars was a deceptively simple game. It wasn't shallow, it just didn't have much width. It was focused, with all the crap cut out of the picture. For me it was a lot closer to Dawn of War's goals than Dawn of War was; tactical strategic combat without the base building, just the action. Although, thanks to being turn based, Advance Wars had a lot more in common with Warhammer than Dawn of War did.

I don't mean to mispeak here, I enjoyed Dawn of War. The campaign was fun, the squad dynamic was good, the levling up and getting loot scratched all the right places, yes - but not once while I was playing did I think "oh boy this feels like Warhammer." Maybe that was purposeful on their part? Certainly, the nature of any tabletop game where you paint little men is ostracising to a degree, which obviously isn't conducive to sales. In any case, there was very little strategy. Which, funnily enough, is almost always the case with rts games.

Time is not your pal. Time is Fernand Mondego. He'll get you sent to prison while he marries your fiance, and then laugh about it. Time is, to steal a line, never time at all, and that is utterly insufficient in the sort of game where you're supposed to be making tactical decisions. Take Starcraft. That's got about as much to do with strategy as Duke Nukem has to do with portraying positive female roles in media. It isn't about strategy at all. It's about who can press buttons the fastest. Chess is strategic. Imagine how well a zerg rush would do in chess. Take as little time with each turn as possible and just run all those pawns forward as fast as you can.

No, a real time game mode is, in fact, an obstacle to strategic thinking. Time means pressure. Time means snap decisions. Time means less thinking. I don't know about you, but I'm not Nero Wolfe, despite what my gut might tell you. I can't marshall my facts in an instant, every instant, and make an instantaneous decison thereupon. That is beyond the scope of my mental capacity. Which is why I relish in the opportunity to consider the facts, to weigh my options, to deliberate upon any given situation.

Now I don't mean to say that rts as a genre is entirely bankrupt of anything worthwhile. Obviously that would be ridiculous. Tiberian Sun is on a high pedestal in my heart, as are Age of Empires II, Dungeon Keeper, Emperor Battle for Dune, and quite a few others. I'm just trying to question a few core values of the genre. I know that after the base building, unit selection, research, army composition, and everything else, my tactics usually amount to "okay, find the other guy, then just select everybody and tell them to go smash shit up over there."

I assume I'm not alone there. The real time construct doesn't allow much room for delicate positioning, perfectly timed flanking charges, tactical withdrawls, blocking troops a with troops b, or many other things I find myself making great use of in a turn based system. One of the many reasons I love Age of Wonders II so much is that combat isn't definite. If I take one NOD light infantry up against twelve GDI light infantry, I'm going to lose, guaranteed, every time. Does that seem right to you? That I literally don't have any chance at all? I mean, what are some of your favourite action scenes from movies?

Take the last few scenes in Serenity. Wash, the goofy guy with the funny lines, gets impaled by a gigantic spike. In that moment, your fear is brought to a high point - the least dramatic, most comical character has been killed, getting across the point that shit just got real. So the rest of the characters all hole up while Captain Mal has to go and take care of some other business. The reason this scene is so filled with tension is not only because we care about these characters so much, but because we don't know what's going to happen. We don't know who's going to live and who's going to die; but, thanks to Wash getting killed off, it's been established that pretty much anybody else is fair game at this point. Anything could go down.

Now, obviously I'm not expecting any rts game to build up as much of an emotional connection with LIGHT INFANTRY UNIT 13B as I did with Captain Mal, that would be ridiculous. The essence there, though, the uncertainty of the situation, simply doesn't exist most of the time in any rts game. Like I said before, twelve GDI light infantry versus one NOD infantry, NOD is going to lose every single time, no matter what, and that's complete bullshit.

In Age of Wonders II, not so. Some of the most thrilling battles I've had within the strategy domain have been when I've had one archer unit be ambushed by a full team of all manner of horrible beasts, but won anyway. There was uncertainty in the mixture. I'm not trying to say I need to win to enjoy myself. Dwarf Fortress is one of my favourite games, and nobody ever wins that. The losing isn't what bothers me, just the definite article. Give me a chance. Even if it isn't a big one. Give me the same chance that the Milenium Falcon had to get through the asteroid belt. Give me the same chance Indiana Jones had to beat the nazis. The same chance that Captain Algran and Katsumoto had in The Last Samurai. Yes, they lost that one, but it wasn't certain until it happened. It was not a predetermined event.

That's what makes turn based strategy so amazing, so tense, so weighted. Skill becomes a more important factor. I'm not attempting to assert that rts takes no skill - Jae Dong would very obviously destroy me in a matter of seconds - but strategic skill, truer to the heart of what these games should be about, takes a role more center stage when time is no longer your enemy.

Something very singular happened to me while playing Master of Orion II, one of the most dauntingly expansive games I've ever played. It's incredibly dense, and I still struggle to think how they managed to fit everything in there. One of the most interesting features to me was one of the victory conditions. You can get voted as Raddest Dude™ in the galaxy, which makes you king of everything. Although if somebody else gets voted in as Raddest Dude™ then you don't have to take it lying down. You can vote no, and the game doesn't just say "lolnope gameover for you."

Of course, at this point, everybody else has bowed down to the king of everything, so you become the rebel insurgency. Yes, you get to be the Browncoats. Every other planet in the system turns hostile to you, and you're almost guaranteed to get your ass handed to you. Almost, but not quite. There's that tiny little spark, that indefinite article that's so very important here. If you play your cards right, if you manage to do exactly the right things and exactly the right times, then just maybe you make it through this. Just maybe.

You also get random leaders throughout the game. Not Warcraft 3 style heroes who can destroy suns by blinking to hard. You get civic leaders who provide bonuses to things like scientific output and population growth, and you get the military leaders, who provide bonuses more like increased firepower and quicker movement. You have to assign the military leaders to specific ships for most of their abilities to take effect, so they're not just sitting back at HQ, they're actually in danger out there. They get experience and level up, so you get attached to them.

That's another problem I have with rts games. I never get attached to my units. I'm aware I just said above I don't expect to be as emotionally involved with my troopers as I am with Captain Mal, but I don't care about them at all. There's no time to care about them. Their life expectancy isn't much at all. Dawn of War side stepped this a bit with the squad system, in that I was still following the same units, but that was only in the campaign, not in anything else. In Age of Wonders II, that one little archer who single handedly fended off an entire invasion had an identity. I had a shared past with him. He became "that guy who did that thing" as opposed to just ARCHER UNIT 13B.

One of the military leaders I had in a game of Master of Orion II was much the same. I'd colonised a planet, and found him stranded there, so he joined me, almost at the start of the game. For a long time he was the only military ship I had; it was early days, and I didn't really have any reason to be paying the upkeep for extra ships. So, pretty much every time I wanted to protect a colony ship, had to try and repel pirates, or wanted to play some hit and run tactics, he was my go-to guy. Naturally, because he was my only ship, I was constantly fixing him up with any new technology I researched. The ship kept getting bigger and better, with more and more weapons, until eventually it was a Titan class ship, dominating the vanguard of my force.

Then I noticed something. I hadn't been paying much attention to really building up my planets, or colonising new ones, so while I'd been playing soldiers and building up money, one of the computer players had been pouring all of their efforts into population, which gave them a lot more voting power. So, they won the vote, and became the Raddest Dude™.

Obviously, I didn't want to just throw in the towel. I had a chance, after all, so I refused to join the super space alliance, and immediately got pounded by a dozen forces. Now, while my leader and his ship were pretty powerful, it just wasn't feasible to take on that many enemies. In the first turn, every other ship in my fleet got destroyed, and it was just him against everybody else. Dismayed, but still clinging to hope, I took my turn. He managed to take down a fair few of them, but there was still a throng there. Next turn, they managed to take out most of his weapon systems and half of his movement. It was at that point where I said, no more, and just flicked on the auto-combat, admitting defeat, and the loss of that leader I'd had for so long.

The auto-combat did a very peculiar thing. It sat there doing nothing for a little while, then ran the ship directly next to everybody, and set off the self destruct. Because it was such a big ship, the explosion was equally large, and it took out every single enemy. In one fell swoop, it ended the fight right there, letting my planets live for another day. A few turns later my colonies got obliterated, of course, what with me not having any forces left at all, but how strange is it that the auto-combat did such a thing? I never would have considered blowing him up. I liked him too much.

Nothing even approaching that has ever happened to me in any rts game. The stakes are never that high, because I never really care about anything. Instead of "FUCK, NO, THAT WAS CAPTAIN TERRAN, HE'S BEEN SAVING OUR ASS SINCE DAY ONE" it's just "well damn there goes my war elephant, guess I better build another one. Oh well."

Now, he was a unique unit, in that he was a leader, and not just a rank and file, but I don't think that's a terribly important factor. I had a similar experience in Advance Wars 2 with one of my bomber units, mechanically no more unique than any other.

It was the last mission in the campaign, and I was controlling 3 different forces teaming up against the bad guy. Soon enough, things took a sour turn, and I thought I was more or less done for. I still had a bit of money, though, and instead of thinking about which unit would be most useful I just thought "balls to this, I'm going to die anyway, might as well just blow it all on one bomber."

Which turned out to be a very good decision after all. At that point, most of the rest of my army had been taken out, so it was just him and the dregs left. Surprisingly, he managed to take out a few key targets that had been pummeling me, and from there, I managed to secure a foothold and start mounting a defensive operation to get myself out of the hole.

Eventually, we pushed them back, and started to mount the offensive, with that bomber at the head. This being a rather long map, and me favouring tactics of attrition, I was locked in battle for quite some time, and that bomber unit kept zooming around the map, taking out the big guys wherever he could, then rushing back to base to heal up.

I was growing pretty fond of him. After all, it was pretty much entirely thanks to him that I was still alive, so he wasn't just some shitty plane, he was that awesome bomber that drove back the red menace when duty called.

So then we came to the crux of the matter. The aim of the mission was to take out some pipe. I think it was a supply line, or a power cord, or something like that. Anyway, to make things more exciting, they'd gone and hidden its health, so I couldn't see how much damage my units were doing to it. We attacked it a few times, then fell back, but then came the last volley.

My bomber was in range to take another stab at it, but at the same time, they had a few long range anti air units close enough to strike back. I didn't have anybody close enough to take them out, so it was either bomb the power line and maybe get killed, or retreat and try to rally some forces to try again, maybe getting overwhelmed in the process.

I couldn't decide what to do. I must have sat there for a good twenty minutes making up my mind. It was the figurehead of my forces, it was a tough call to make. Live a coward? Die a hero? Possibly survive and win everything? I was at a loss.

Eventually I did send him to bomb the power line, and it did destroy it, ending the game there with a win, but, again, the only reasons that this was such a tense situation were that I cared about that unit, and I didn't know what was going to happen. You don't get a scenario like that in rts games, and that's a damn shame.

Hell, these situations don't even have to be dramatic, they can be comical too. A friend of mine was playing X-COM for the first time and forgot to arm his troops, or armed them badly or something, and he ended up with everybody brandishing stun sticks or some such, except for one or two guys with a rifle.

They went to repel some aliens, and when they got out of their ship, the ufo was right there with two aliens in it. Instantly, they killed the only troops with guns, so he swarmed them with soldiers wielding gigantic purple batons, and beat them to death. The image of these two hyper advanced space aliens getting taken out by a horde of angry guys with poles was brilliant, and ridiculous things like that happen all the time in X-COM. Again, though, just compare this with Tiberian Sun. If I had one or two dozen light infanty up against a mammoth tank, I might as well just give up right there, because I already know what the outcome is going to be.

Indefinite articles inject excitement into games. How many times were you thrilled, frightened, and completely immersed in Fallout's combat, because you had no idea what the fuck was going to happen next? Like I said earlier, my intention is not to rag on every rts game ever made and say they're all worthless. I just think that they still have a lot to learn from turn based games.


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Comments


Jean-Michel Vilain
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Nice read.



Quote:

No, a real time game mode is, in fact, an obstacle to strategic thinking. Time means pressure. Time means snap decisions. Time means less thinking. I don't know about you, but I'm not Nero Wolfe, despite what my gut might tell you. I can't marshall my facts in an instant, every instant, and make an instantaneous decison thereupon. That is beyond the scope of my mental capacity.



My thoughts:

You don't mention RUSE in your article, you should try it. It's a pretty good RTS game and the dev team focused on making an RTS game where strategy is more important than APM or clickfest. In multiplayer, many consider this has been achieved although it may sound paradoxical at first. This game is a very interesting compromise between real time and turn based.

Dave Long
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Great article, and +1 on RUSE - RUSE is the first RTS that feels more about strategy than APM (although clearly all RTS games have some Strat in them). But TBS is deffo still most awesome :).

Matthew Mouras
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Love this piece. Agreed with many points, included the "1 GDI vs. 12 Nod" scenario. Though if you design a game to allow for a different outcome, I think most fans of RTS will say that luck is too great a factor in the design and mitigates veteran play.



I get the sinking feeling that when I'm at the pearly gates, I will be judged by the number of hours spent playing Master of Orion II as a young adult.



Thanks for a lot to think about!

Sean Hayden
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Good article. But please put a spoiler warning on that Serenity reference! If I hadn't already seen the movie I'd be furious about your casual reference.

E Zachary Knight
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I believe there is a statue of limitations on spoiler alerts. If something you are about to spoil has been in the market for 5 years, I think it has safely moved outside that spoiler zone.

Matthew Mouras
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Agree to a point, but as busy adult, I don't have time to engage in all the great entertainment out there. It's nice to receive a bit of a heads up - especially when the reference comes out of left field like the Serenity one here.

Jerry Pritchard
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XCOM - Enemy Unknown is a perfect example of how the TBS genre can be a cruel, yet entertaining mistress.

Tiago Costa
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Agreed... Try and beat the game using a permadeath mentality and you will known fear ... in the form of chrysalids...

Eric Schwarz
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I disagree with your sentiment, in part. No offense, but many of your statements sounded like they came from someone who just isn't very good at RTS games. That doesn't mean there isn't necessarily a conflict in the RTS genre between time and strategy, but some of your examples seemed a bit odd.



StarCraft is not about reaction times, despite what some would have you believe. Unless you're playing at the professional level, actions per minute are secondary to build order, decision-making, and resource management. By contrast, I'd say a game like Warcraft III is all about micro-management during combat and waiting for the right second to pull of spell X or attack Y. Dawn of War falls somewhere in between... while there's a lot of emphasis on unit positioning, so much of that gets handled by the AI that I think the higher-level decisions take over in many situations. Of course, a lot of this stuff does vary based on player skill and whether the game is being played competitively or in single-player.



I think we need to better define strategy in tactics in many of these sorts of games. Strategy games are where the player manages large volumes of resources, soldiers, land, etc. and has to make wide-ranging decisions about their allocation in intelligent sorts of ways. Tactics games are those where the player is mostly involved in the nitty-gritty of battle: unit positioning, use of abilities, flanking, etc. But I think we tend to view tactics as a smaller genre than it really is. There's far more to it than Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. Many games we take as RTS tend to fall heavily into the tactics side of things, like Warcraft III as I mentioned. Meanwhile, if you want an RTS that is all about actual strategy, look no further than Total Annihilation or even Supreme Commander. Both games emphasise large-scale decisions and feature battles so large and chaotic that they pretty much necessitate the player ignore the details.

Richard Vaught
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I whole heartedly agree with you on this. As prior military and a student of military history I know there is a vast difference between Tactics(Starcraft) and Strategy(Civilization). The simple summary is, Tactics will win the battle, Strategy will win the war. It seems like the game industry is coming into its own and is having to finally start redefining genres to accommodate the more savvy player base. Maybe reclass the genres as RTT(Real Time Tactical) and TBS(Turn Based Strategy), which leaves room for two new classifications, Real Time Strategy(Ceasar(sort of)), and Turn Based Tactics(Final Fantasy Tactics).

Neil Self
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Turn-based strategies are fun, and offer a nice reprieve from the fast pace of RTS games, no doubt, but when it comes to your opinion are Starcraft and other RTS games:



You are incredibly wrong. SO wrong, it almost felt like it hurt to read your post.



There are basically six components to skill in Starcraft and its ilk, and only one of them is related to "clicking really fast" (and really, who CAN'T click a mouse fast these days?):



1. Knowledge base: Facts (unit and building stats)

2. Knowledge base: Actions (strategies, tactics, techniques)

3. Sensory Perception: Parsing (being able to quickly recognize, even from your peripheral vision, what is on the battlefield)

4. Sensory Perception: Interpretation (being able to recognize things like when the opposing army is much stronger or in a much better position than yours)

5. Analysis (the "thinking" part of RTS, encompasses the actual decision-making process)

6. Execution (clicking really fast, or more accuracy, being able to click fast while each of the variables you are managing is rapidly changing on the field)

Ian Richard
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While I agree that turn based strategy is a far better experience... I do think you are judging the whole RTS genre on the sins of the current kings. It'd be like me saying I hate FPS's because they have that stupid recharging health.



As for the turn based being more strategic... I understand where your coming from but I disagree. Thinking hard and thinking fast are two different forms of strategic thinking. While I too prefer turn based... I don't believe that speed chess is any less strategic than normal.



You stated that your single unit should have the ability to fight against 12. While I agree that it is better... I find that it has nothing to do with real time or turn based. It is whether or not the game has randomization in it's combat. For example: Chess is a turn-based game without randomization. If your king is surrounded... he can never escape.



Another thing to consider is that you spend alot more time with your troops in X-Com than you do in Command and Conquer. C&C involves purchasing brand new troops battle and commanding far larger numbers. Of course you will become more attached to your troops in X-Com... not because of turn based gameplay... but because of scale and length of time.



The only RTS that I ever fell in love with was the old "Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat". The game involved controlling a handful of squads. Each squad has it's own leader with his own personality... and more importantly these people stay with you until their entire unit died. Each battle involved behind the scenes die roller based on positioning, morale, terrain etc. By the end of the game I loved my men and I fought to keep them alive. The smaller scale and higher threat level was enough to win me over.



It's that one game that gives me hope in the RTS genre. Just because most developers follow the exact same formula doesn't mean that the genre is broken... it just means that publishers and developers enjoy follow the leader.

Martin Juranek
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Need to micromange troops and economy hurt strategy aspect of lot of games It is not limited to RTS games, but there it is combined with real time, so it further reduce time for thinking (but it can make TBS so much boring it becomes unplayable). Different people have different speed/boredom tresholds, so what is bad for one can be good enough for other.



Nonrandomness itself is definitely not bad. Problem is, when there is nothing more to do than attack enemy in way known ahead. If it requires lot of micro, it can be fun, but not much strategic. If it does not require it, it is shallow. If strategic decisions come at different level, it still can be good. But if thats all, then the game is bad.

Keith Nemitz
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I support the article. The main point for me was about emotional attachment/investment/engagement. RTS is good for a rush. TBS is good for absorbing you into the system.



I hate micromanagement that's required to win. That's boring and work for work's sake. But I love to tweak things, when a few small tweaks make all the difference. That's a design issue, not a genre issue. Finding subtle things to tweak takes time, unless you're playing your RTS level for the ninth time.



The best of both worlds, for me are pausable RTS, but I also like Military Madness types: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem,... Same thing with RPGs. Bioware has left behind what made their old games great: pause and give orders from a helpful perspective. I had more fun with Ice Wind Dale than Dragon Age, and IWD was the lesser of their original works. sorry for the digression/rant.

Banksy One
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I'm thankful that the world of games doesn't revolve around the thoughts of Matthew Stone, otherwise i cant think how small a niche market gaming would be.



The difference between TBS and realtime is not that one is black and the other is white. Its that one is black while the other is black, white and grey. Take Mirrors Edge for example. You can run in realtime, you can slowdown time, and you can pause the game. On the other hand you have turn based strategy, which if you're honest enough to admit simply is a tool that lets you pause the game without actually seeing a graphical overlay.



In an online game of Modern Warfare 2 theres no pause or slowdown button, but there are areas of cover and stun grenades, which can often serve the same purpose as a darkness spell or a shield protection. Its all dynamic though, filled with variables that the player has to constantly adjust to. Certainly not as numerically predictable as most RPGs.

Keith Nemitz
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I would agree, if you just slapped a pause button on an RTS like Starcraft. And I'm only considering pause for singer player games. A savvy RTS designer can use pause to craft a more engaging experience.



Imagine a dozen simultaneous small battles all over the map. Imagine larger maps. In realtime how many could you really influence? More importantly, how does the player bell curve lie on such a difficult scenario? It's not smart to make AAA games for only the best players. But in a pausable RTS, EVERYONE can manage that many battles. This kind of game engages a player more deeply because he can invest time into every decision over a huge scope of gameplay.



I'm not dissing unpausable RTS. They're great for a rush. Obviously they're best for multiplayer.

Michael Joseph
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Lots of people going on the defensive.



I don't think Mr Stone is saying TBS games are better than RTS games. They're just different and one specific dimension where they are different is in their capacity to elicit from the user an emotional attachment to units. The title of his article is after all "Turn Based Strategy Makes Me Care." He goes on to describe past games where he grew attached to particular units. Is it not fair to say that there's no time for emotional attachments to develop between a player and units in a RTS?



In many 4x space games the user has a lot more freedom in customizing the individual ships in their fleets. So shipsunits don't feel so much like disposable drones with a 90 second life expectancy. I wonder if there's any notable RTS games out there where users have more freedom to customize the units that get built.



p.s. Is there really any doubt that success in an RTS hinges on reaction time and handmouse eye coordination? My father could never beat me at Starcraft but he can occasionally in chess. It's just like how you could never beat Kobe Bryant in one-on-one. There is a bona fide physical skill requirement that trumps everything else. However maybe you could beat Kobe Bryant in a game of horse.

Evan Combs
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I have a love/hate relationship with RTS games and this article hit on many of those issues.



I have an idea for RTS games that would help to create emotional attachments to units, I can only think of one game I have played that allowed it though LotR: Battle for Middle-Earth, is to allow the players to name each individual unit. Instead of it being light infantry unit 38 it because light infantry unit Bravo Group, or Totally Rad Group, or Steve whatever the player wants to call them.



I have always found that the Total War games do a great job with the on field tactics, and allowing the player to at the very least get attached to generals. The Battle for Middle-Earth games also did this, but in both cases they have turn based overworlds that you fight real time battles.

Victor Perez
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Hold... I know something about it. Not because I play, that I... just because I have done one, hardcore RTS for wargamers (yes, it is not business.. it was just fun...). Good or bad you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs1zY-lFoCE, and you can buy it in Matrix Games.



Finishing the marketing, back to subject. Did you ever play chess with time? you should, it is different.. time is a variable as any other.. that could be excessive as clickfest games or well balance. But it is not worthless, when you design a game you must have it.. because without real time you don’t (DON’T) have multiplayer experience and then you game is over; perhaps fun for few people, but not to do business.



Perhaps you should talk about how time should be managed in RTS, and here there is a lot of room, but not how it is worthless….



(I am a big fun of CIV the best TBS ever done..)

Robert Boyd
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Doesn't really work for multiplayer, but why not use a mix of real time and turn-based? For example, in the game Anomaly Warzone Earth (really fun indie game that just came out - like a reverse tower defense game), the game pauses when you make strategic decision like which route to take and which units to purchase and upgrade. However, it's in real time for the actual combat. Works really well.

Victor Perez
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We included it. It is called "Time-Out", playing as basketball.. you have several that you can administrate as you want.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Antonio Iglesias
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If you like turn based games I would suggest playing "Legends of War: Patton's Campaign". It is only available on the PSP right now, but there is a free demo to try it out. It is a mix of real time and turn based gameplay. Units will stay with you and level up while they are alive, once dead they will be dead forever. The coordination between different types of units is one the bests I have seen.



You can take a look at a video here:

http://www.gametrailers.com/video/mission-32-legends-of/706335



It is quite more about tactics than strategy but I think it may fulfill some of your requests ;)

Rickard Eden
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Nice to see an article about turn based games!

I'm currently developing one (www.hostilesector.com), and there are definitely some good points in here that i will bring with me, mainly about character progression and emotional attachment.



Thanks!

Jonathan Jou
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Emotional investment correlates pretty strongly with time, it's true. So when you give yourself as much as you want to ponder each move, it's easier to see each unit as valuable individuals despite the fact that you could trivially build two more just like it given sufficient resources. There's this great series of games, called Fire Emblem, where death is permanent, and every unit *is* special; they have a name, a face, their own stats (and equipment, and levels), and relationships with all the other members of your team. I'm surprised you didn't bring it up. I have friends who have replayed levels over and over because they want so badly to keep all their units alive. That game makes you care about every single unit, and in those cases, being given the hours and hours to agonize over the unit that is one move from being lost forever makes the series all the more powerful.



On the other hand, I have to question your belief that *time to think* is the reason the moments are more powerful. Everyday we see gamers so heavily invested in their MMORPG avatars that virtual injustice brings them real-world grief. It's certainly harder to get attached to a character with whom you've interacted only briefly, but in many RTS games there are Hero Units which persist with you from mission to mission. In Warcraft 3 a whole lot of the game revolved around taking good care of your units, and I'm rather certain there are many people who grew attached to "GENERIC INFANTRY 13B" as they managed to overcome the odds time after time. It's absolutely the case that some units are expendable, but that's true in every situation. Increasing average lifespan can help, but is definitely not what I would point to as a leading cause for emotional investment.



Also, I agree that removing time out of the equation turns a war simulation into chess, in which he who plans the most steps ahead tends to win. I'm at a loss as to how you would define skill in such a way that it's emphasized less in real-time games as opposed to turn-based games, however. I'd like to think that thinking quickly is a skill, and that being able to handle the battlefield as a whole, instead of planning each step individually is a skill as well. I've watched far too many Starcraft 2 replays to believe that skill is *lost* against two players of equal experience and manual dexterity, though I can understand how you might feel like people can "out-macromanage" you by simply churning out units faster. On the other hand, it adds a whole other level of skill, which is unlikely (and largely omitted in your first-person examples) to show when time is taken out of the picture: mindgames. This is the reverse of your claim: the shorter the time is between turns, the better you learn your opponent's thinking, the more skillful the psychological battle becomes. In a world where your opponent has all the time in the world to deliberate his next move, the harder it is for you to gauge how he reacts to uncertainty, and figure out how you could turn the tables despite clear material inferiority. Grandmasters defeated Deep Blue by tricking it into taking short-term gains to produce long-term losses. Poker players spend all their time trying to get into each other's heads. If every player had an hour to calculate the odds and make the best possible move... well, the more time you have, the less you learn about your opponent.



So no, I don't really think you should use the word "skill" or "strategy." Maybe "planning."

Michael Vandendriessche
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Thank you for this article, it was really interesting.

I have to agree that with RTS games i've played there's too much focus on being fast. I like to see what is happening and taking in as much information as possible before making a decision.

The Total War games are great, i love them. Unfortunately, in multiplayer i can't take the time to see how well my infantry is doing when i'm charging my cavalry into the opponents infantry on the other side of the battle. Often i take too many infantry casualties, not because i'm tactically bad, but because i'm too slow (maybe some would describe that as bad). I'm glad i can pause the game in the singleplayer and look at what is happening all over the battlefield. I spent more time paused than unpaused.

Time factor might benefit some players and put others at a disadvantage, it's really a matter of personal skills and taste. I'd like to play my total war battles in full motion while still making the same decisions as when i paused the game and took my time to think.



About caring for your units, in Total War i do care about some units. I was playing Rome some months ago and had many generals, but there was one guy, a fairly new one, I used to conquer city after city in south east Europe. Winning battles clearly against odds, he won new character traits as reward. I really started caring for that guy and considered him my best general, even though i had others with higher stats. Managing to win a battle when all odds are against you is really exciting experience. (like beating the last spearunit in an important largescale battle with only the general standing)

The micromanagement plays a big role here and that is what attracts me to these games.

My favourite TBS is Disgaea though. That is mainly due to the pure awesomeness of the characters and the many things to take into account. It looks random when playing it fast but when confronted to a clearly much stronger enemy, taking time to think about all decisions and making best use of all the deep systems the game has to offer is really epic.



I got hungry from reading and typing all this.

Harold Myles
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I love turn based tactics. As well I agree it fosters an emotional connection between player and units. Good insight.



However, you simply don't understand RTS games if you think there is less strategy or tactics. A good point raised by my office mate: "Are you trying to say that real life warfare is not tactical and strategic because it happens in real time?"



Speed chess is another good example. The players have the majority of the strategy planned/memorized before the game even started. High level competitive RTS is the same.



Its about HAVING a strategy mixed with rigorously practiced tactics. Turn based has all this as well. The difference is RTS demands you have your game together before it ever started.

Carlos Fraga
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I believe there is also another aspect to unit attachment that has been mentioned in the original article but has been overlooked by many, which is the value of the unit. I have been attached to units in RTS's even in multiplayer sessions. In command & conquer, i used to go to great lengths to protect that single mammoth tank because when it got built i usually had no resources to spare in another one. This in turn would make me manage that unit alot more, which would make it get more experience, which would make it better.

However that never happens with NOD's, because they are spammable. If one dies you just make 5 more and send them ahead. The fact that you can only have so much of a certain valuable unit makes you value it much more.



That said, TBS games do it so much better. X-COM was great at that, but the most recent game i played that made me reload saved games countless times was Battle for Wesnoth. Being able to keep a certain amount of units throughout levels certainly helped this feeling of attachment.


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