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Future of Real Time Strategy

I think RTS games are currently wrong. What do I mean by that?

Current RTS games do test strategy and tactics, but they also require a high degree of micro-management. Top Starcraft players are measured by their APM, and a player with high thinking skills but a less than agile hand is at a disadvantage. The anticipatd Starcraft 2 doesn’t seem to hold great promise to change this.

What I want is this: In addition to the point-and-click action we all know (and love), I want RTS games to offer me strategy/tactics menus. I want to be able to order the computer AI things like:

  • “build the base, 10 drones, and the entire tech tree up to Guardian
  • . Then build 10 of these and 25 Mutalisks and send them after the nearest Terran opponent.

  • “Organize all my troups into battle formations while leaving 10% on defense and go search & destroy all opponents”
  • “Build up to 3 overlords and scout for Vespene gas. Once found, take a drone there to build a base. Once the base nears completions, send other drones there to mine the gas”.

Such commands should be easily programmable in the game as it ships. Special player-made commands could be added before and during a game. The player’s major role should be to select and define strategies, not to gather up individual drones to build structures or to micro-manage an attack. Of course, as I said, the micromanagement can stay, but it must not be how you spend the better part of a game.

Note that most of the “strategy commands” I want are probably already present at some form inside the computer’s native AI player. As a player, I want to have access to this AI and parts of it. Once this is developed enough, I can imagine different Starcraft tournaments where players are only allowed to pre-program the strategy.

Now I wonder how long till these ideas become reality and how difficult it would be to program a extension for the existing Starcraft that accomplishes something like this.


  1. Ido:

    Hmmm… Man, you might be on to something nothing short of brilliant here. It would be an entirely different (not to mention interasting) gaming experience.

    Besides, a tournament entirely pre-programed and then played out sound nice. Nicer if some of the original orders are not fully executed 🙂

  2. Eyal Rozenberg:

    What you’re suggesting is not RTS, it’s the opposite of that – non-real-time strategy. But it’s still a good idea for games.

    The closest game I know to what you suggest is M.A.X. ; in addition to the ‘real-time’ mode it allows turn-based. It doesn’t actually offer programming, but it is very flexible w.r.t. many options which aren’t available elsewhere (e.g. build vehicles faster but pay more resources per unit or slower with less, tech tree allows for separate improvements to armor, #shots, move speed, damage, scan range), etc.

    On the other hand, I think in Alpha Centauri, where you can have auto-management of city construction, IIRC you can give it preferences regarding its development policy, so maybe it’s as close to your suggestion as M.A.X. is.

    Still, none of them is not even 20% of the way there.

  3. ripper234:

    I want the strategy elements to be programmable both by the game’s creators and the players both before a game and during one, but I want the exact strategy to be chosen by the players dynamically according to what is going on in real time (not turn based). I want to automate simple tasks that require massive player micro-management and let him focus on determining actual strategy.

  4. Idan Zeierman:

    I was drawn to this post by the title, since the gaming site Gamasutra had an article with a very similar title…

    They offer a completely different take, suggesting to focus on a more life-like political simulation, but they are guided by a similar motivation to you: setting the player free from micro-managing his army.

  5. ripper234:

    I think you may have been drawn by something else as well. As it so happens just today, I was thinking of this post and pondering emailing it to you. My blog is rather reader poor and I figured you might post a link in your blog.

    I’m sorry to have accidentally mind controlled you 🙂

    The ideas on Gamasutra could be interested in general, but I think I would prefer classic war games for the raw action of it. They make for much better recordings at LAN parties (“yeah, and then I made peace with everyone and had more university graduates in my country” sounds less compelling than “I annihilated their sorry asses” 🙂

  6. Derp:

    Fuck you, the micro management is what makes Starcraft so good, the fact that it is a game based around decision making AND click-your-mouse-around-the-whole-screen skills.
    In Starcraft (unlike Starcraft 2), there is no golden rule, micro is important, macro is important, decision making is important. There is no one way to take on an opponent, if you have an idea, try it out.
    This stands in contrast to Starcraft 2, which due to it’s more lenient controls (harvesters auto assigned to minerals, more than 12 units in a control group) usually devolves into a mass vs mass game, where the key is economy.
    Sure, micro helps, but you can’t out micro someones superior macro, like you could in SC1.

    It is an interesting idea, and would definitively mean that the strategy would be more important, but that’s not Starcraft, Starcraft is like 15 different mental disciplines rolled into one.

  7. ripper234:

    This post was written years before the release of Starcraft2 … I’m glad to see that they did make some push to “auto micro” for you in Starcraft 2. Just like in real warfare you have subcommanders that are responsible of taking on particular tasks, I think it’s interesting to explore the role of the general without having to micro every minor attack/harrasment squad.

    I like how individual units are getting smarter, I think it’s a good direction and would like to see more progress there in future games.