Real-time strategy

Real-time strategy

A real-time strategy (RTS) video game is a strategic game that is distinctly not turn-based. [cite web |url= |title=A History of Real-Time Strategy Games |accessdate=2008-03-31 |author=Bruce Geryk |publisher=GameSpot |quote=Early computer strategy games adhered firmly to the turn-based concepts of their board game ancestors, where--by necessity--players had time to plan their turns before their opponents had a chance to move. Real-time strategy changed all of that so that games would begin to more closely resemble reality: Time was limited, and if you wasted yours, your opponents would probably be taking advantage of theirs. ] According to Brett Sperry, the phrase "real-time" was used to distinguish such games within the broader genre of strategic wargames, [cite web |url= |title=A History of Real-Time Strategy Games |accessdate=2008-03-31 |author=Bruce Geryk |publisher=GameSpot |quote=It wasn't until some time after the game was in development that I decided to call it 'real-time strategy'--it seems obvious now, but there was a lot of back and forth between calling it a 'real-time war game,' 'real-time war,' 'wargame,' or 'strategy game.' I was deeply concerned that words like 'strategy' and 'wargame' would keep many players from even trying this completely new game dynamic. Before 1992, wargames and strategy games were very much niche markets--with the exception of Sid Meier's work--so my fears were justified. But in the end, it was best to call it an 'RTS' because that is exactly what it was. ] which has a longer history both inside and outside of video gaming. Some important concepts related to real-time strategy include combat- and twitch-oriented action.cite web | title =GameSpy's Game of the Year 2005 | publisher =GameSpy | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 4 | accessyear=2007] Other RTS gameplay mechanics implied are resource gathering, base building and technological development, as well as abstract unit control (giving orders as opposed to controlling units directly).cite web |last=Geryk |first=Bruce |title=A History of Real-Time Strategy Games |publisher=GameSpot |url= |format=HTML |accessmonthday=May 29 | accessyear=2007] Generally, the player is given a top-down perspective of the battlefield, though some 3D RTS games allow total freedom of camera movement. Additionally, the in-game user interface is much like a computer desktop: the player can manipulate controls and in-game units with techniques such as clicking and dragging. Each player in an RTS may interact with the game independently of other players, so that no player has to wait for someone else to finish a turn. This lends the genre well to multiplayer gaming, especially in online play, compared to turn-based games.

City-building games, construction and management simulations, and games of the real-time tactics variety are generally not considered to be “real-time strategy”, [cite web |url= |title=A History of Real-Time Strategy Games |accessdate=2008-03-31 |author=Bruce Geryk |publisher=GameSpot |quote=Although games such as Populous and SimCity are certainly played in real time, these give rise to the "god game" genre, which includes such titles as the city-builder series from Impressions, Will Wright's innovative designs, and much of Peter Molyneux's work, including the upcoming Black & White. Games in this genre tend to appeal to their own fans, and while there definitely is an overlap between these two genres, gamers generally see them as distinct from one another. ] though their gameplay involves some overlapping concepts.cite web |last=Adams |first=Dan |title=The State of the RTS |publisher=IGN |date=7 April 2006 |url= |format=HTML |accessdate=2007-05-31]


Precursors and early genesis

The genre that is recognized today as "real-time strategy" emerged as a result of an extended period of evolution and refinement. Games that are today sometimes perceived as ancestors of the real-time strategy genre were never marketed or designed as such at the original date of publication. As a result, designating "early real-time strategy" titles is problematic because such games are being held up to modern standards. The genre initially evolved separately in the UK and North America, afterward gradually merging into a unified worldwide tradition.

In the UK, the genre's beginning can be traced to "Stonkers" by John Gibson, published in 1983 by Imagine Software for the ZX Spectrum, and "Nether Earth" published on ZX Spectrum in 1987. In North America, the first game retrospectively classified as real-time strategy by many sourcescite web | url= | title=RTSC Historical RTS List|accessmonthday=5 August |accessyear=2006 ] is "The Ancient Art of War" (1984), designed by Evryware's Dave and Barry Murry, followed by the sequel "The Ancient Art of War at Sea" in 1987, though Dani Bunten Berry's (of "M.U.L.E" fame) "Cytron Masters" (1982), developed by Ozark Softscape and released by SSI, also has been considered the earliest game of the genre.cite web | url= | title=Cytron Masters at MobyGames|accessmonthday=7 June |accessyear=2007 ] cite web | url= | title=Game Design Memoir by Dani Bunten Berry|accessmonthday=7 June |accessyear=2007 ]

Some writers list Intellivision's "Utopia" by Don Daglow (1982) as the first real-time strategy game. [cite web |url= |title=Total Annihilation Redux |accessmonthday=17 December |accessyear=2006] In "Utopia" two players build resources and carry out combat by proxy. It contains the direct-manipulation tactical combat now common in that the players can assume direct control over a PT boat and sink the opponents fishing boats. Another early example from the same year is "Legionnaire" on the Atari 8-bit family, written by Chris Crawford for Avalon Hill. This was effectively the opposite of "Utopia", in that it offered a complete real-time tactical combat system with variable terrain and mutual-help concepts, but lacked any resource collection and economy/production concepts. As a result, this game might be better considered an early forerunner of the RTT (real-time tactics) genre.

"Herzog Zwei" for the Sega Genesis in 1989 is the earliest example of a game with a feature set that falls under the contemporary definition of modern RTS.Zzap! Issue 68, December 1990, p.45 - cite web | url= | title=Amiga Reviews: Battlemaster | accessmonthday=17 December | accessyear=2006] cite web | url= | title=Are Real Time Strategy Games At Their Peak?|accessmonthday=2 September |accessyear=2006 ] In "Herzog Zwei", though you only control one unit, the manner of control foreshadowed the point-and-click mechanic of later games. Also, control and destruction of bases was an important aspect of the game, as were the economic/production aspects of those bases.

Notable as well are early games like "Mega Lo Mania" by Sensible Software (1991) and "Supremacy" (also called "Overlord" - 1990). Although these two lacked direct control of military units, they both offered considerable control of resource management and economy systems. In addition, "Mega Lo Mania" has advanced technology trees that determine offensive and defensive prowess. However, it was with the release of "Dune II" from Westwood Studios (1992) that real-time strategy became recognized as a distinct genre of video games.

1992 – 1998: seminal titles

Although real-time strategy games have an extensive history, some titles have served to define the popular perception of the genre and expectations of real-time strategy titles more than others, in particular the games released between 1992 and 1998 by Westwood Studios and Blizzard Entertainment.

Westwood's ' (1992) introduced all the core concepts and mechanics of modern real-time strategy games that are still used today, [cite web | url= | title=The Essential 50 Part 31: Herzog Zwei | accessmonthday=17 December | accessyear=2006] cite web | last =Walker | first =Mark | title =Strategy Gaming: Part I -- A Primer | publisher =GameSpy | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =October 28 | accessyear=2007] such as using the mouse to move units, and gathering resources, and as such served as prototype for later real-time strategy games. Its success encouraged the development of such games as ' (1994) and "Command & Conquer" (1995)--which, in turn, became influential in their own right. "Command & Conquer" became the first popular RTS game to utilize competitive multiplayer. "Command & Conquer", as well as ', became the most popular early competitive RTS games. These two games came into competition with ' after its release in late 1995.

"Total Annihilation", released by Cavedog Entertainment in 1997, introduced 3d units and terrain and focused on huge battles that emphasized macromanagement over micromanagement. It thus featured a streamlined interface that would influence many RTS games in later years. In 1998, Blizzard Entertainment released the game "StarCraft", which became an international phenomenon. The game's inclusion of the matchmaking and ranking system popularized competitive multiplayer for RTS games. Collectively, all of these games defined the genre, providing the "de facto" benchmark against which new real-time strategy games are measured.

Refinement and transition to 3D

The real-time strategy genre has been relatively stable since 1995 and additions to the genre's concept in newer games tend to be introducing more units, larger maps, terrain and similar, rather than innovations to the game concept with new games generally focus on refining aspects of successful predecessors.Fact|date=February 2007 As the paragon example of gameplay refinement, Cavedog Entertainment's acclaimed "Total Annihilation" from 1997 distilled the core mechanics of "Command & Conquer", and introduced the first 3D units and terrain in real-time strategy games. In 1997, Microsoft tried to combine elements of "Civilization" with the real-time strategy concept in "Age of Empires" by introducing ages of technologies. This combination was refined further by Stainless Steel Studios' "Empire Earth" in 2001. GSC Gameworld's "" series took the genre in a different direction, bringing population caps into the tens of thousands.

"" (1998) and "Homeworld" (1999) were the first completely 3D real-time strategy titles. Homeworld was notable in that it featured a 3d environment in space, therefore allowing movement in every direction, a feature which its semi-sequel, "Homeworld Cataclysm" (2000) continued to build upon adding features such as waypoints. "Homeworld 2", released in 2003, streamlined movement in the 360° 3d environment. Furthermore, Machines, which was also released in 1999 and featured a nearly 100% 3D environment, attempted to combine the RTS genre with FPS although it was not a particularly successful title. These games were followed by a short period of interest in experimental strategy games such as "Allegiance" (2000).

It is only in approximately 2002 that 3D real-time strategy became the standard, with both "Warcraft III" and Ensemble Studio's "Age of Mythology" (2002) being built on a full 3D game engine. "" introduced classic wargame elements, such as line of supply to the genre. "Battle Realms" (2001) was another full 3D game, but had limited camera views.

The move from 2D to 3D has been criticized in some cases. Issues with controlling the camera and placement of objects have been cited as problems.cite web | title =Sacrifice | publisher =StrategyPlanet | date =December 6, 2000 | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 19 | accessyear=2007] cite web | last =Hargosh | first =Todd | title =Emperor’s Spice Flows Strong | publisher =Game Industry News | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 19 | accessyear=2007] cite web | title =Age of Empires 3 PC Review | publisher =TTGamer | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 19 | accessyear=2007]

Relatively few genres have emerged from or in competition with real-time strategy games, although Real-time tactics, a superficially similar genre, emerged around 1995. In 1998, Activision attempted to combine the real-time strategy and first-person shooter genres in "Battlezone", while in 2002 Rage Games Limited attempted this with the "Hostile Waters" games.

pecialization and evolution

A few games have experimented with diversifying map design, which continues to be largely two-dimensional even in 3D engines. "Earth 2150" (2000) and ' (1999) allowed units to tunnel underground, effectively creating a dual-layer map. In addition, units could even be transported to entirely separate maps, with each map having its own window in the user interface. ' (2001) offered a simpler model: the main map contains locations that expand into their own maps. In these examples, however, gameplay was essentially identical regardless of the map layer in question. "" (2005) emphasized its dual-layer maps by placing one of the game's two main resources in each map, making exploration and control of both maps fundamentally valuable.

Some games have moved toward an increased focus on tactics, with titles such as ' (2004), ' (2006), and "Company of Heroes" (2006) replacing the traditional resource gathering model, where designated resource gathering units collect the resources used for producing further units or buildings, with a strategic control-point system, where control over strategic points progressively yields construction/reinforcement points. "Dawn of War" and "Company of Heroes" also replaces individual units with "squads".

Others are moving away from the traditional real-time strategy game model with the addition of other genre elements. An example is "Sins of a Solar Empire", released by Ironclad Games, which mixes elements of grand-scale stellar empire building games like "Master of Orion" with real-time strategy elements.


In a typical real-time strategy game, the screen is divided into a map area displaying a bird's-eye overhead representation of the game terrain, units, and buildings, and an interface overlay containing command and production controls and often a "radar" or "minimap" overview of the entire map. The primary form of input is the mouse which is generally accompanied by keyboard shortcuts, with which commands are given and the map is scrolled. Gameplay generally consists of the player being positioned in the map with a minimal production base capable of creating the basic units and buildings that are needed to start playing. Later, players progress to eventually create increasingly powerful units and buildings, or a small force, the core of which is generally a unit capable of establishing the initial production base.Clarifyme|date=March 2008 Thereafter, the game is typically a race of resource gathering, technology research and unit production to claim territory and suppress and defeat the opposition through force or attrition.

Micromanagement and macromanagement

Micromanagement refers to when a player's attention is directed more toward the management and maintenance of his or her own individual units and resources. This creates an atmosphere in which the interaction of the player is constantly needed. On the other hand, macromanagement refers to when a player's focus is directed more toward economic development and large-scale strategic maneuvering, allowing time to think and consider possible solutions. Micromanagement frequently involves the use of combat tactics.

Criticism of gameplay

Because of their generally faster-paced nature (and in some cases a smaller learning curve), real-time strategy games have surpassed the popularity of turn-based strategy computer games.cite web | last =Walker | first =Mark | title =Strategy Gaming: Part V -- Real-Time vs. Turn-Based | publisher =GameSpy | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =October 28 | accessyear=2007] In the past, a common criticism was to regard real-time strategy games as "cheap imitations" of turn-based strategy games, arguing that real-time strategy games had a tendency to devolve into "click-fests"cite web |title=Theatre of War by 1C and Battlefront - Interview |publisher=Armchair General Magazine |url= |format=HTML |accessmonthday=June 2 | accessyear=2007] cite web | last =Walker | first =Mark | title =Strategy Gaming: Part II | publisher =GameSpy | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =October 28 | accessyear=2007] in which the player who was faster with the mouse generally won, because they could give orders to their units at a faster rate. The common retort is that success involves not just fast clicking but also the ability to make sound decisions under time pressure.

The "clickfest" argument is also often voiced alongside a "button babysitting" criticism, which pointed out that a great deal of game time — especially in earlier titles — is spent either waiting and watching for the next time a production button could be clicked, or rapidly alternating between different units and buildings, clicking their respective button. In essence, the point of RTS gameplay is often to play against the interface, not against the opponent.Fact|date=June 2007

A third common criticism is that real-time gameplay often degenerates into "rushes" where the players take turns throwing swarms of units at each other.cite web | title =StarCraft vs Dawn of War | publisher =IGN | date =August 6, 2004 | url = | format =HTML | accessdate =2007-12-01 ] For example, the original "Command & Conquer" gave birth to the now-common "tank rush" tactic, where the game outcome is often decided very early on by one player gaining an initial advantage in resources and producing large amounts of a "tank" unit—an initially relatively powerful but still quite cheap unit—which is thrown at the opposition before they have had time to establish defences or production. Although this strategy has been criticized for encouraging overwhelming force over strategy and tactics, defenders of the strategy argue that they're simply taking advantage of the strategies utilized, and some argue that it's a realistic representation of warfare. One of the most infamous versions of a rush is the Zergling rush from the real-time strategy game "StarCraft"; in fact, the term "zerging" has become synonymous with rushing.

The fourth criticism of the RTS genre is that units are often considered disposable, which may further amplify problems with the genre's gameplay. Units are often "thrown" at opponents.cite web | title =Point - CounterPoint: Turn Based vs. Real Time Strategy | publisher =Strategy Planet | date =June 27, 2001 | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday = April 5 | accessyear=2007] In classic strategy boardgames, units must be marshalled and preserved, as indeed forces are in real battles. The RTS genre thus is claimed to "infantilize" the strategic decision-making process.

A fifth criticism of the RTS genre is the importance of skill over strategy in real-time strategy games. The manual dexterity and ability to multitask and divide one's attention is often considered the most important aspect to succeeding at the RTS genre. According to Troy Dunniway, former Westwood developer who has also worked on "", "A player controls hundreds of units, dozens of buildings and many different events that are all happening simultaneously. There is only one player, and he can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Expert players can quickly flip between many different tasks, while casual gamers have more problems with this." [cite web |url= |title=RTS Design |work=Aspects of real-time strategy |month=September | year=2007 |accessdate=07-09-13]

In response to these criticisms, features which reduce the importance of fast mousework have emerged, enabling the player to focus more on overall strategy. For example, "queuing" allows a player to put in an order for multiple units at once from a single building, as opposed to requiring a player to return to that building to order each unit separately. The ability to set waypoints allows a player to give multiple movement commands to a unit at once. Most games also give each unit strengths and weaknesses, discouraging players from easily defeating an opponent with simple "rush" or "swarm" tactics in favour of more balanced armies.Fact|date=June 2007

Tactics vs. strategy

Real-time strategy games have been criticized for an overabundance of tactical considerations when compared to the amount of strategic gameplay found in such games. According to Chris Taylor, lead designer of "Supreme Commander", "The first [attempt at visualizing RTSs in a fresh and interesting new way] was my realizing that although we call this genre 'Real-Time Strategy,' it should have been called 'Real-Time Tactics' with a dash of strategy thrown in."cite web | last =Keefer | first =John | title =Supreme Commander Interview (PC) | publisher =GameSpy | date =July 8, 2005 | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 4 | accessyear=2007] Taylor then posits his game as surpassing this mould by including additional elements of broader strategic scope. Curiously, real-time strategy games have also been criticized for their "lack" of combat tactics. In this case, real-time tactical games have been suggested as a suitable substitute.

Turn-based vs. real-time

A debate has emerged between fans of real-time strategy and turn-based strategy (and related genres) based on the merits of the real-time and turn-based systems. Some titles attempt to merge the two systems: for example, the role-playing game "Fallout" uses turn-based combat and real-time gameplay throughout the remainder of the game, while the real-time strategy game "Homeworld" allows the player to pause the game and issue orders.

Real-time strategy games on the consoles

Real-time strategy games made for video game consoles have been consistently criticized due to their control schemes. The PC's keyboard and mouse are generally considered to be superior to a console's gamepad. RTSs for the consoles have generally met with mixed success.cite web | last =Ocampo | first =Jason | title =The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II (Xbox 360) | publisher =CNET | date = 2006-07-07 | url = | format =HTML | accessmonthday =November 4 | accessyear=2007]


"Total Annihilation" (1997) was the first real-time strategy game to utilize true 3D units, terrain, and physics in both rendering and in game-play. For instance, missiles in Total Annihilation travel in real-time in simulated 3D space, and can miss their target by passing over or under it. "Homeworld" and "Warzone 2100" (both released in 1999) advanced the use of fully 3D environments in real-time strategy titles. In the case of "Homeworld", the game is set in space, offering a uniquely exploitable 3D environment in which all units can move vertically in addition to the horizontal plane. However, the near-industry-wide switch to full 3D was very gradual and most real-time strategy titles, including the first sequels to "Command & Conquer", initially used isometric 3D graphics made by pre-rendered 3D tiles. Only in later years did these games begin to use true 3D graphics and game-play, making it possible to rotate the view of the battlefield in real-time.

Recently, real-time strategy games have more commonly incorporated physics engines, such as Havok, in order to increase realism experienced in gameplay. A modern real-time strategy game that uses a physics engine is Ensemble Studios' "Age of Empires III", released on October 18, 2005,cite web |url= |title="Havok Enables Age of Empires III" |date=October 18, 2005 |work=Havok announces the use of the Havok Game Dynamics SDK in "Age of Empires III"] which used the Havok Game Dynamics SDK to power its real-time physics. "Company of Heroes", released on September 14, 2006, is another real-time strategy game that uses real-time physics as a part of gameplay, including fully-destructible environments as well.Fact|date=September 2007

ee also

*List of strategy video games
*Real-time tactics
*Massively multiplayer online real-time strategy


Further reading

*cite journal|author=Chambers, C., Feng, W., Feng, W., and Saha, D.|year=2005|title=Mitigating information exposure to cheaters in real-time strategy games|journal=Proceedings of the international Workshop on Network and Operating Systems Support For Digital Audio and Video|publisher=ACM|city=New York|pages=7–12|doi=10.1145/1065983.1065986
*cite journal|first=Mark|last=Claypool|title=The effect of latency on user performance in Real-Time Strategy games|publisher=Computer Networks|volume=49|issue=1|date=15 September 2005|pages=52–70|doi=10.1016/j.comnet.2005.04.008 | journal = Computer Networks
*cite journal|author=Cheng, D., Thawonmas, R.|title=Case-based plan recognition for real-time strategy games|year=2004|month=November|journal=Proc. of the 5th Game-On International Conference|pages=36–40|url=
*cite journal|author=Aha, D., Molineaux, M., Ponsen, M.|title=Learning to Win: Case-Based Plan Selection in a Real-Time Strategy Game|publisher=Springer Berlin / Heidelberg|journal=Case-Based Reasoning Research and Development|doi=10.1007/11536406|pages=5–20|date=7 September 2005 | volume = 3620
*cite journal|author=Chan, H.; Fern, A.; Ray, S.; Wilson, N.; and Ventura, C.
year=2007|title=Online planning for resource production in real-time strategy games|journal=Proceedings of the International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling|url=

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