September 13, 2009

The dying RTS genre

With all the buzz about Starcraft2 and the news of the latest (last?) Command and Conquer not being a pure RTS, I think I have to give a few sore words for the imminent (give it or take a few years) death of a great and once popular genre.

I won't talk about all the most recent cases of modest success (Supreme Commander, Company of Heroes) 'coz that would take pages, yet I'll focus on the few latest EA LA games. Many complained that C&C3 and the more recent RA3 construction didn't use a blizzard-like builder system - that was also employed for EA's own franchise spinoff C&C Generals - yet the failure of these games construction models had nothing to do with the MCV model itself - it's with the mutated "MCVA" (read MCV Aberration) that was implemented. Insta-deployable defenses on a "free" secondary tab? Cheap "cranes"? Both were extremely bad moves that removed critical - and tough - decisions that made the MCV gameplay fun. I won't develop the matter, but if you played RA2 or TS paying the least of attention to the play mechanics you'll easily understand what I mean. The "mutant MCV" model is so bad that no amount of balance, support or economy can fix it - believe me, we've tried hard for the CnCLab mod but like AGMLauncher from use to say it was "conceptually flawed". I won't even start on the ridiculously low build times, that inevitably led to an uncontrollable and irrational mass of units.

I know how things got to this point from an insider point of view (I was inside EA LA at the time, as part of the C&C3's community test team) and it's not as if we testers didn't put our words against most of these moves. Nevertheless all I can say about it is that nowadays design caters for marketing purposes, not for design purity or fun factor in itself. Which's a big shame, we might all stick to playing older RTS games 'coz while the industry continues to follow these "18-mins matches" and "Fast and fluid" mantras we'll keep seeing failure after failure in terms of fun factor, never mind moving the genre forward.

If the gaming market is an ecosystem, we'll probably witness RTS as an extinct genre simply for not being slim and fit enough for the new times. And no, I don't think SC2 will make this hugely different for its RTS mode itself, although it's already safe for it's outstanding moddability. Like in Warcraft3, after the "novelty" of the RTS mode fades out, mods will save the day.

Personally I'm definitely glad to see EA moving C&C away from the RTS mold, it's their best chance of at least making a real fun game while pleasing the marketing gurus - and the modern "casualized" market itself.


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