Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 4th May, 2007

Real Time Suck

$950 worth of new computing hardware arrived in my hot little hands yesterday. It being my regular day off, I carefully took my old Athlon-XP system out of my gaming case (a Micro-ATX thing for portability) and put into it an Athlon64 X2 system with a Gainward GeForce 7900GS video card. The thing is now a Frankencomputer in a more literal sense, because the video card is so big that it gets in the way of the DVD drive bay (which in this case is removable) and the case's own power supply - a non-ATX style thing of annoying noisiness - is too pitifully weak to run the system (the video card requires two separate feeds from the power supply in addition to the on-board power). So the drive bay and the power supply are now sitting outside the machine, tethered by cables, so the whole thing risks destruction if I try to move it about.

All of this rather expensive and not aesthetically pleasing process was really in order to be able to play Supreme Commander at a frames-per-second rate rather than a seconds-per-frame rate. And, now that the responses come back less than a sip of coffee after when I click, I've been really enjoying it. As the logical successor to Total Annihilation, it has all the improvements that Chris Taylor put in TA - order queueing, construction assistance, and unlimited raw materials. And in addition, we now have co-ordinated attacks, a very nice ferrying system (once you get the hang of it) and repeating construction orders - very useful for pumping out a balanced army without a lot of micromanagement.

Of course, I do think that it needs a few bits and pieces. The left and right click thing in particular is a little contrary to what we regular computer users are used to. In SupCom, you select units with the left mouse button, and order them to do stuff with the right mouse button - what they do is dependent on what you're clicking on. Except when you've specifically selected a command from the toolbar at the bottom right (or by keyboard), in which case you use the left mouse button. In this case, if you want to not complete your order, you right-click. If you've got a unit selected and you don't want to order them to do anything, you left-click. Now, all this is perfectly logical in the game, but it's not the same as the regular GUI interface I'm used to. So it kind of grates.

More annoying is that the command queueing interface feels like it's half-done. If you're queueing movement or patrol orders, you can move the orders about but can't delete them from the queue. If you're queueing construction orders, you can delete them from the queue (via right-clicking to reduce the number of construction units to zero), but you can't move the order around. My solution to this would be to have the movement orders listed in the same area of the screen that the construction orders are listed in; then each order in that section has a 'minus' button that you click to remove it from the queue. Construction orders would also have a 'plus' icon to add to it (shift-click to get five more, control-click to get 50 more, etc.). But I wasn't asked, obviously.

Another niggle I have is with the 'assisting' process. A standard scenario is to have one engineer building a bunch of structures, and several other engineers assisting. You set them assisting the original engineer and they follow them round. But it's too easy to forget which was the assistant and which one the leader, so you have to do a bit of shift-key juggling to work out who to give commands to in order to have them obeyed buy the entire group. Of course, once you think of them in terms of a 'group', you realise that that's the big feature that's missing - group orders. Sure, you can collect a bunch of units and give them the same order, and in SupCom they'll even form nice straight lines instead of TA's untidy messes. But you can do that with any selected bunch of units. I've often ended up adding a transport or an engineer to a group simply because I forgot to stop holding down 'shift'. I can think of a bunch of different ways to group units so that you can give them one single order that appears in one single queue, and selecting one of those units will then allow you to select the entire group that it's in. Once again, they didn't think of asking me.

And what is with this stupid back-story? StarCraft might require you to play the abilities of your units like an oran-gutan on a gigantic organ filled with stops marked "?", but at least it had factions that were interesting dissimilar and a back-story that could entertain the average child of five. Here we have every faction with exactly the same attitude: kill everyone else to make the world safe. This to me sounds like standard USAdian brainwashed patriotic bullshit. Even the Aeon Illuminate, a sect allegedly populated almost entirely by women and dedicated to a peaceful religion, have their (male) war ministers spouting the finest "kill them all" claptrap. Their motto is "Cleanse" - as in cleanse the galaxy of everyone who doesn't believe. Maybe I'm analyzing this too much, but to me this is just morally repugnant. They're not selling people on the storyline (because they haven't bothered with a credible one), so why not just say "you play the part of one of the war staff in [faction]"? Bah.

But do not mistake my annoyance with these factors for a lack of liking for the game. Do not also mistake it for trying to make up for being not very good at it. I can build my initial army quick smart, but it's the process of generating the right army at the right time that I find the hardest. I fail miserably when trying to coordinate air and land attacks. I stumble constantly over trying to defeat the standard layout of enemy bases - a couple of anti-air turrents and a couple of anti-land turrets at strategic corners of the base (or a couple of anti-air and torpedo launchers for island bases). I seem to lose far too many units in such actions. (And don't get me started on the "why can't they just have a unit that can target air and land attacks?" harangue.)

So really it's been a mixed blessing. I've played the second scenario through four or more times, each time trying different tactics and troop ratios. I found out why I couldn't upgrade my structures, even though they said they were upgradeable. I found out how to ferry. I constructed massive armies, only to find that I had to a naval run; then when my armies were depleted and my navy top notch I'd be given the next bit of the mission: defeat a land army. I feel as if any chance of going into battle on a public server will see me whipped from here to a the Skellig Islands and back. It won't be pretty.

Oh well, it's too much fun to play just to give up. Now to save up for a nice big LCD monitor...

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