Friday, July 18 2008

Please Stand By...

Posting has been light for a while (*cough* understatement *cough*) due to stress, stress, stress, and stress.  Also writer's block.

Partially, my stress issues have been compounded by a lack of any way to burn off stress.  The DC weather has been too hot or too wet (or both) to do any reasonable outdoor activity at any time I might actually be awake.  My other choice method of stress relief, mass slaughter of pixels, has completely failed me.

I've been playing computer games for a long time.  The genre's that I've most enjoyed over the years have been real-time strategy and first person shooter, both of which I've played from nearly the beginning.  Neither genre has evolved beyond recognizability.  The recent games I've played in both genres have been technically superb examples of the genre.  And yet, more and more, I find myself completely uninterested in actually playing the games.

Give a choice between the two genres, I've had more recent luck with the real-time strategy (RTS) genre, and it's the one that still holds my interest more.  I've got four big name recent RTS games sitting around my computer.  What I want from an RTS game is as follows:

  • I want to sit down in front of the game for about an hour and play a full round with all nifty options available in the game.
  • I want to play against an enemy that is capable of forcing me to react and yet can be beaten without too much difficulty (this is supposed to be stress relief).
  • I want the game to draw my attention, either by keeping me on my toes (and yet not to the point of panic) or by making my own actions fun to watch.
  • I want the game to be different each time, both by battlefield, by allowing me to choose different strategies and by varying enemy behavior.
  • I don't want to spend too much time micromanaging unit behavior, and too much time waiting for stuff to happen.
  • I want to be able to play both by myself and with a friend as ally.
The first RTS I really got into was Command & Conquer.  I have Command & Conquer 3 on my shelf.  It looks pretty.  It's got a robust skirmish AI with varying personalities.  Unfortunately, of the three sides, only one is interesting and usable enough to play, and my strategies are limited to Tank Spam and Air Spam.  While there are a number of maps, all are basically post-apocalyptic wasteland, which is dull.  Combat and base construction requires a little too much micromanagement, although resources are plentiful.  Overall, too much of the same old thing.  I'd do much better going back to C&C: Generals.

I had a lot of fun with Total Anhillation back in the days, and Supreme Commander is a successor to the line, with its predecessor's merits and faults.  Base construction and resource generation require massive amounts of micromanagement.  The AI varies randomly from slow to crazy.  The three sides are practically identical until you get to the super units, which require seeming hours of micromanagement to actually deploy.  My viable strategy is limited to Artillery Spam.  The battlefields are generic rock, generic grass, generic sand and generic ice, although the sheer scale mitigates this to some amount.  It is fun to zoom out all the way and watch the games nukes go off, however.  Overall, takes too long to play, with too much micromanagement of base construction for a short payoff when the fur actually flies, and half the time the enemy dies due to random gunfire before I can volley off a personalized salvo of destruction.

I should like Company of Heroes, and at some level I do.  It's World War Two at the platoon level, and looks it.  The four forces available (US, British, and two different Germans) are all surprisingly different and all playable with several strategies I can use for each.  Unfortunately, there's only so much you can do with your wrecked European towns and your wrecked European countryside.  While the AI can be fun to play, it varies with the board.  The resources are so limited, however, that it takes forever to get to the good stuff, and once you get it, you wait forever for it to drive to where the action is.  Units require a good deal of micromanagement, from cover and alternative weapons, to tank facing and specific damage effects.  Overall, fun when I need a WW2 fix, but that's so rare these days.

Finally, there's Dawn of War, the Warhammer 40,000 themed RTS, with it's three integrated expansions.  On the plus side, this gives nine playable sides, each acceptably different.  It requires some dull early-game micromanagement, but the play speeds up when the economy is up to speed.  While the worlds are a further variety of sci-fi wasteland, it comes off as more varied and interesting than C&C 3's wasteland.  Although you can micromanage combat, you don't have to, and the shooting and other violence is sufficiently pretty.  This game is probably the best of the four.

What strikes me as worrisome is, that while I occasionally will get the urge to fire up one of the four games above, I spend a lot more time painting up little miniature tanks to play tabletop wargames than I do sitting in front of a computer actually gaming.  I shouldn't find it more fun to paint my 300th German panzergrenadier (which will happen any day now) so I can use it to play a game in a couple weeks than to actually play a computer game right

Update 7/21:
From the ever-resourceful Steven den Beste I find that C&C Red Alert 3 is in the works.  From what little I can see, this hopefully represents an improvement in the C&C franchise.  The Red Alert series has always been a bit goofier than the regular C&C series which in some ways made it more fun, and Red Alert 2 was significantly more fun than C&C 2.  I don't have a problem with introducing Japan as a third playable side, but the super infantry unit is admittedly a little too much, especially the sailor fuku.

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