The early 1990s saw the introduction, into computer gaming, of the Real-Time Strategies (or RTS for short) genre. RTS are the next evolutionary step in turn-based strategy games - games which rely on orders being made and then executed in a rigid segmentation of game time, rather like playing a game of chess with each side completing actions without the option for simultaneous results. Examples of turn-based strategy games are Civilization and Heroes of Might and Magic. In an RTS, the addition of real time causes each player to constantly defend and plan against his or her opposition as he or she may complete activities faster or slower than the enemy and actions are resolved simultaneously.
The genre of RTS was introduced by Westwood Studios, in 1992, with their game based on Frank Herbert's sci-fi epic, Dune, simply named Dune II. The basis for this game was to conquer the planet Arakis. In order to do this, you must harvest the resource of Spice in order to afford to build units and attack any one of your four enemies, which included two opposing armies, the Fremen, a race of native people, and the sand worms, giant native beasts with a connection to the Spice. During the game, you are constantly under attack as you yourself are trying to build up an army to conquer the planet. This made the game much different to turn-based strategies in that you had to constantly adjust your strategies as your opponent adjusted theirs. In turn-based strategies you always had the chance to see what your opponent was planning, but RTS meant you had to spend most of your time just keeping an eye on your own resource gathering, construction and deployment.
An attempt at a further step was taken by Blizzard, another computer game company. Blizzard came out with a game entitled Warcraft. Warcraft was basically the same is Dune II, but with a Fantasy medieval backdrop rather than a Science Fiction one. Certain units in Warcraft were capable of special actions, such as spells. Researching newer technologies and upgrades were also available. In the end, it was not much more than the concepts of Dune II in a different form, but it acquired a following and spawned many sequels.
Westwood Studios' Dune II was followed by a revolutionary RTS entitled Command and Conquer. C&C, as it is referred to, took place in an alternate near future, in which an alien mineral has crashed onto Earth and started to cause serious problems. This valuable mineral, Tiberium, soaks up nutrients from the ground, growing like a plant, but is extremely toxic. As commander of one of the game factions you must manage the harvesting of Tiberium, providing resources for construction of new battle units, and conquer your enemy. The game features two different factions with different goals, in effect creating two games in one. One side is the Global Defence Initiative, who are effectively the good guys. This is the collective armies of the world set to defend against global terrorists. The other side is The Brotherhood of Nod, a group of highly organised terrorists intent on global control. As in Dune II, you must defend against your opponent while at the same time attacking him or her.
C&C was followed by Covert Operations, expanding the available battles, and, some time later, by C&C: Red Alert, which was much the same and set in an alternate past where World War II is played out a little differently.
One Step Further
Blizzard, after making a sequel to their Warcraft game, came up with the next generation of RTS, Starcraft. Starcraft became a big hit with RTS fans worldwide. It provided a fast-paced, action-packed game with unmistakable roots in Blizzard'sWarcraft heritage. The graphics were better, the story was incredible, but the gameplay maintained a comfortable familiarity.
The main reason it is considered the next step in RTS is its multiplayer feature, allowing up to eight players to participate in a single game. Another engaging feature of the game is the fact that it has three playable factions instead of two.
Starcraft is set in a distant solar system in the far future. The first faction, the Terrans, are descended from criminals that were sent from Earth on a spaceship and crashed on an uninhabited planet. The second race, the Protoss, are a genetically-altered alien species, engineering by the Xel'Naga. The third, and final, faction are the Zerg, a race of insectoid beings with a hive mind, also created by the mysterious Xel'Naga. Each of these three races have a separate storyline and set of goals, essentially making three games in one, excluding the multiplayer capabilities.
Another feature was the inclusion of an advanced map editor, allowing players to create their own levels for the game. This editor featured the revolutionary ability to set triggers. These triggers were capable of setting nearly anything in motion at nearly any time. For example, if an enemy unit is destroyed, a player earns a point, or if a unit is brought to a certain point, reinforcements arrive. This allowed for almost endless variations upon the base game. While previous games had often included hacks and cheats that allowed a certain manipulation of the game parameters within the scenarios provided, this allowed enthusiastic players to create whole levels and stories from scratch.
One Step Backwards
Westwood attempted to compete with Starcraft's success, but failed to hit the mark. Westwood had been working on a sequel to C&C for almost ten years, and postponed it when Starcraft was released, which was a big mistake. C&C2: Tiberian Sun, as it was titled when it finally emerged, was not much more than a graphically enhanced C&C. Considering the decade of build-up, rumours and fan hopes, Tiberian Sun wasted an incredible opportunity to wow the RTS hungry public.
Like any medium of entertainment real-time strategy games have seen a waxing and waning in their popularity. While there are still ideas to be explored, technologies to be expanded and profits to made then there will always be room for one more game.