Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 6th Oct, 2006

Hot for Supreme Commander

After ABC's new show "Good Game" previewed it, I read a couple of reviews of "Supreme Commander", or 'Supcom' as it seems to be known. The review by Gamespy was particularly enthusiastic, in which I learnt that the main lead is a guy called Chris Taylor, who also developed Total Annihilation. I know people who still play TA, and when Starcraft was still a glint in Blizzard's eye, TA had features that made Starcraft look like cheap; TA has full 3D object models, full 3D terrain, and each unit can queue orders nearly infinitely. It still rocks.

Supreme Commander looks to do the same to TA. You can zoom in to see the side of a tank and out to see the entire continent, and every gradation in between. You can swivel your viewpoint around, something that TA alluded to but never actually gave you. It's using the full palette of lighting and effects that modern 3D cards give you. You can move the control panels anywhere - they're not glued to the bottom of the screen like in virtually every other RTS game I've seen. If you have two monitors, you can have two different viewpoints; or, with one monitor, you can split it in two for the same effect. The sheer range of sizes and uses of units seems to be staggering. But, to me, that's not the best bit.

Some people like the micromanagement in these games - setting up each unit with orders 'just so', having to grab each construction unit as it finishes building one structure and command it to build the next. I don't - this explains, in part, why I prefer to play Protoss in Starcraft; you can use one Drone to warp in half a dozen buildings and get it back to work without having to remember where it was each time. RTS games have always struggled with this, and I think it's probably one of the most variable player requirements - players go through the entire spectrum of hands-off to hands-on control.

So it's good to see that, in Supcom, you can not only give units long sets of instructions (as you could in TA) but the style of orders and the amount of detail in each seems to be variable too. Reviews speak of wolfpacks of submarines harassing a coastline - something you could potentially do in TA but that would rarely make much sense, because the scale of the maps was usually too small. You can also warp in a base commander - give em a number of units to command, and e'll keep the base repaired, protected, and producing things to a certain schedule. Even things like being able to tell a factory to just keep on producing tanks on a regular basis, rather than saying 'ten tanks then stop, please, because your tiny brain can't comprehend making more than ten of anything'. Nice.

Of course, there are Open Source RTS games that I've yet to check out. Three that I can see are Stratagus, Glest, and Spring (formed from a project originally just trying to be compatible with TA). As far as I can see, Spring doesn't have Linux binaries but is the most advanced of the three. Glest looks like more of a Warcraft III clone with improvements, and Stratagus is adaptable but, IMNSHO, basic. I have a feeling my previous researches into this topic had found another game, but I can't remember it.

I still have this funny feeling that Supcom is going to blow them all off the face of the earth...

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