Real-time Strategy Games: In Praise of Slowness


So many armies and not enough time

I have a confession to make: I still play Total Annihilation. Yes, I know, the 1997 graphics are primitive and the missions, even with both expansion packs and the Banzai AI boost, are pretty repetitive and in many cases unchallenging. However, it has something that most new real-time strategy games lack. That something is what makes all the difference in the world for a gaming graybeard like myself, namely: a speed slider that actually works.

By that I mean the ability to slow the action down to a molasses-in-Alaska kind of slow to truly gain full control over every last unit, or crank up the speed when waiting for some huge building slowly comes together. What passes for speed slider in more recent games is a joke.

Slowing down or speeding up things 10% doesn’t make one iota of difference when trying to coordinate 8 fighters, 3 musketeers, 2 knights and 2 dwarf mortar teams to fight optimally in Warcraft III. By the time the fighters are whooping Grunts and the knights are positioned to overrun the Shaman, the mortar teams — who were supposed to take out those damn watchtowers — have already been slain by 3 axe-throwers that popped out of nowhere.

I know, go ahead and poke fun. “Stick with turn-based games, then!” you say. “If you’re too slow to manage your troops, perhaps the game is not for you.” Fair enough. I’m not the Fatal1ty of strategy gaming, and I’ll be the first to admit as much.

But there are a couple things I’d like to point out. First of all, there should be some middle ground between the stodgy turn taking, hex-based strategy games and the twitch-action strategy games that permeate the market today.

Poring over a primitive map with terrible graphics for hours with each unit taking 20 mins to do anything at all isn’t very exciting. On the other hand, it just isn’t that much fun to crank out as big batch of fighters as possible, send them off to the enemy base while trying to follow up with the next batch, and the next, and so on until you win.