There haven't been a lot of RTS's released in recent years. But there have been some.
In this thread, let's talk about what you think they did right and what they did wrong and what Ashes can learn from them.
Game #1: Planetary Annihilation
Game #2: Grey Goo
Game #3: Acts of Aggression
Please discuss below.
you asked the right guy.
I've followed all two of these projects since their baby steps. Planetary Annihilation in particular. I backed it on Kickstarter at the 20$ tier which at the time took my account to zero. It was a big deal for me to make that choice.
after that I started having more money and I invested even further upgrading my backing to full alpha access.
I've been really active on PA's forum. becoming their 3rd most active forum member (devs and moderators included):
As for Grey Goo and Act of Aggression, I followed Grey Goo intently. I played the alpha and stopped after that. I have not played Act of Aggression even though I was aware of it and have been keeping a close eye on it since it's announcement so I will abstain from commentary.
Game #1: Planetary Annihilation
1. DID RIGHT :
Alot of things. It's difficult to find where to begin but the way I'd formulate it is : they KNEW their public. they knew their public like one would his own kid.
The kickstarter video is evidence enough of that. Analyzing it. I find it's subtly catering to SupCom fans, Supcom 2 Fans, Total annihilation fans, Starcraft fans looking for a new kick. It's pretty genius actually.
And you don't make all that stuff up. If you don't say it from the heart it shows. Their ex-community manager wouldn't ever have spent his off-time playing PA and it showed... alot. He was a real lovable chap and everyone in the community liked and even still misses him but in the end it seems that's not what matters.
They got the community interaction right.
That I get to say today that I swung PA towards full strategic zoom with the good help and initiative of Culverin is something of a great pride for me. (/side : not trying to sound menacing there
). not only that but I instigated the renovation of their forum software. I spotlighted some very underrated mods up from the mess of cobwebs they were disappearing under into such center stage that the devs took them and implemented them as stock. I helped list and report countless bugs. and got the satisfaction of helping countless people with technical issues.
So A : their community interaction was based on alot of listening. (more than any other dev studio I've ever seen do for that matter something crazy for a near triple-A studio)
B : their community interaction involved knowing their public and relating to them alot as well as knowing the things to say that would get everyone hyped.
C : lots and lots and lots of interaction : Dev Livestreams, constant forum presence, meddling with the community-organised tourneys and organizing their own, charity, giveaways, hiring active community members as modderators and/or inviting them into their offices/ letting them take a grand role in their event booths, videos of the devs within the game giving you a rundown, you name it.
As for the gameplay in particular what they got right is the engine.
it's strange to say that but... the engine almost resonates with life. it's crazy. no matter how much you push and shove it. It continues to impress. I'm not staying it's the most stable ever. Now it's really really stable but even back in Gamma it was still very crashy. No, what I'm trying to say is that when you break out of the defined limits for "normal" gameplay : say you Mod in "levels" of terrain something that no other RTS has ever done before (and lets be honest hurling the terrain and units around the sun in an orbit and not even feeling anything wrong when you zoom in and play had never been done before and is a feat in and of itself) and there's not gonna be any garantee that what you just modded is playable at all. It's astonishing to discover that what you just did RUNS. that it WORKS and what's best ; it works the way you hoped it would.
During their first stop at Pax prime. while setting up the booth Uber discovered a game-killing bug and fixed it and recompiled the game on the spot. right as they are starting their first demo : a match pitching mixed teams of developers and community members.
the tourist players took a small moon and attempted to send it crashing into the planet the devs occupied but they killed the planet-propelling rocket with a nuke and the planet adopted a new orbit around a nearby planet. they then reconstructed the rocket propeller and started again but the devs finished their catalysts on their metal planet in time to activate it's doomsday weapon : basically the Death Star's laser; just in time to evaporate the moon as it was hurling down. (this is technically impressive because it had never been tested before and noone not even the devs knew if the engine would be able to resolve the "deathlaser"vs "Kenetic Energy Weapon" scenario, if it would crash, if there would be glitches and or bugs. They hadn't even considered this eventuality (it was very small odds). but no. everything went fine and panned out just the way one would imagine this scenario in it's best light.)
they provided a decently powerfull UI.
The AI. God the ai's just bluffing in that you can't really tell it apart form a human. a nooby human perhaps but : it doesn't cheat. Not one bit. It doesn't see the map any more that you do. heck it plays the game basically with the same interface you do only that it is able to have an APM way in excedent of what a human can manage.
Some game-design choices are spot-on. The tech unlocks are ON THE FIELD. you just build a factory that itself builds an engineer which can build more. one of the things that engineer can build is the higher tier factory. the engy has a type, meaning you must "research" several "trees" that way (air, bot, land, navy, orbital).
and they provided great amounts of scalability on the engine. The game plays pretty much on any computer; is a quick download (3GB and for the longest time it was under 1GB) and is also very VERY easily capable of bringing your computer to it's knees.
So in the end you could say they were spot on for presence, advertising, game design philosophies, game mechanics ideas and the public's good grace (if you take into account the bad press Uber has had in the past and even sometimes today, it's wowing that their good sides redeem them in the public eye).
2. DID WRONG :
Some banners the devs took up towards the end. "Singleplayer is best and more numerous. we make this game for singleplayers not for multiplayers" and the actions this stance justified (such as refusing the community Global chat despite that the community was pleading for it en-masse and in crushing majority).
Bad balancing. One faction and yet the balance is still off to this day. There are units that are note-worthily more worth you investing in than others. it always switches around which unit this is according to the latest balance tweak but mostly I pin the difficulties with balancing on several things :
A : arguably going for a faster-paced gameplay than Starcraft through handicapped UI and one-shot kills all across the board.
B : Everything has nearly as much DPS as HP if not more.
C : And I did say one-shot kills not one-hit kills. Simulated projectiles is notably unused in this game. Even with a firering ark for mobile artillery units that leaps over orbital units the shots still hit.
D : the devs have trouble realizing how good some deals they create can be. You say you have to build five T2 40000-metal costing huge structures called catalysts on metal planets to have control over the death ray with no cool-down or rebuilt necessary... well that's something better players can rush. Very easily. and end a setup that looked like a 2-hour long match in 8 minutes and they GET the death weapon AT the 8 minute mark. Consistently. it means the game-ender is no fun to watch because it signals the end of the game; it isn't part of it.
Same for asteroids that now destroy the entire planet no matter the size. and that costs the same price only you only have to build ONE of them.
Same for the Gaz Giants which provide you with near-endless space in which to build as many mass extractors as you wish unconstrained to spots. and those extractors don't produce less metal than the t1 and t2 they produce more (5 times as much and 1.8 times as much) and they produce energy.
SAME for mass points period. They pay for themselves faster than TA's and SupCom's. WAY faster. and they don't just slightly increase output per tier THEY TRIPLE. Add that to the fact mass points are in overabundance on a default planet there is nearly NO POINT fighting over terrain.
This has forced both the Devs (for their ladder and default skirmish maps) and the community (in their custom-made maps for skirmishes) to abstain from using any of those three types of planets. SEVERELY limiting the variety of gameplay.
Via both the incredibly low survivability of your army AND the incredible efficiency of static defenses (only against large slow land armies not commander sniping payloads which is the opposite of what is good for gameplay value) you are encouraged to bunker in until the exps and game enders you're ecoing for do their thing.
there are techs but they are too close together. you can unlock t2 near instantly. tech 1.5 is available right from the start. the higher tech definitely feels mushy compares to what it could be (again the one-shot phenomena is at work here) a t2 only overwhelms 2-4 t1 units but beyond that it's the opposite. t2 Ranges aren't anything to write home about and in the end there are only two techs.
GALACTIC WAR : their sad pathetic excuse for singleplayer and campaign. <- I'm sorry If you find this disgraceful but there's really no other way to put it. this was and is a sad sad shame for all those of us who love and cherish PA. there's nothing to salvage from it. Even the AI doesn't work with it. it's... I just rather not talk about it. I've expressed what I have to say about it here : http://forums.ashesofthesingularity.com/471850 and it makes it all worse that their stance is "we want to support singleplayers not multiplayers" is utterly in diametric opposition with their situation.
It seems just logic and reason to me to align your stance with the cards you have in hand.
Economy is just plain out the wazoo. it's pointless to hope to have something decent looking going on in your economy bars. better get used to it flickering up and down. That's the energy bar i'm talking about. Mass is just something you'll be wasting the entire length of the game on a massive scale. the mass bar is pretty pointless in this game come to think of it.
Bad UI (some of it plain unjustifiable. the devs said "because we're not making SupCom3"):
no visible build queue. uneditable build previews. all the menus going from the main menu in the game waste screen real estate and end up not being able to adequately present the setups which can easily happen (requires lots TONS of the scroll bar use).
no dual screen (or more. as was promised). no Sli/Crossfire support. Linux port is largely underwhelming. (then again there was always and still is only a single dev tasked with doing the linux port).
Giving credit where it's due for mods they took into the base game. Actually moral and technical support for modders period. nowhere inside PA anywhere is there any mention that PA is moddable or has mods. PA does not have a mod hub on steam. PA may possess an intentionally easy to-mod architecture (for a very specific safe zone. requests for API calls and hooks from modders have been ignored for three years now) but the modding community feeds itself. the mod platform was made by the modders, the mod forum can not be linked to without being redacted. it is claimed in some articles about PA that "Mod tools are built right into Planetary Annihilation as first-class citizens. You don't have to install any weird programs on your computer or visit sketchy websites; it's all available within the game." The epitome of lies and not very classy according to the public.
The pathfinding. The pathfiding is godawful in this game. they are using flowfield. but I've lost any conviction that flowfield is meant for anything other than providing CPU overhead. it really doesn't make units path better. side by side comparison with FA : PA pales in pathfinding.
Lack or realism and immersion :
A lot of it has to do with not trying to push the scale further than what FA did as people expected and instead toning it down. I started what is now the biggest thread on their forum the "scale megathread" google is your friend, and obtained nothing on that front despite total support and continued pressure from the community and even a mod/tool by cola colin which did 90% of the work that would be involved to accomplish this.
Intel : they messed intel up real hard. On a spherical map you get less information by default then on a flat one because at the horizons the information is hard to read and beyond that it's hidden. you see somewhere around a third of the planet's surface with one camera angle. and that's not it. there are several planets. and you only view icons on one of them at a time. So with no minimap for all this (excluding Cola_colin's recent excellent mod, how did they deduce this situation was ripe for scaling down the intel you get from it's spiritual predecessors ??
No pinned icons for scouted structures. no type on radar blips. ridiculously small radar ranges. They upright deleted orbital radar and made all orbitals be visible by default. They created an orbital radar with a whole planet's worth of vision. Vision.
The intel in this game does not exist. It's just an aside.
the "feel" of the game is off both in terms of what you see (units poping if you so much as sneeze at them. and this includes the commander, supposed to be a lumbering terrifying giant who in the end has no prestance whatsoever, units as big as mountains mountains as high as the horizon.... basically you're playing on King Kai's planet and it's supposed to feel "epic") and in terms of the gameplay (the strategy is nowhere even near PA. PA is a strictly tactical game. you apply a BO. just like Starcraft. no thinking involved.).
So in the end you could say just balance.
Game #2: Grey Go
1. DID RIGHT :
Very appealing lore and ads. boasted novelty. did I mention stunning ads?
2. DID WRONG :
is a new game?
Do we look like buffoons? the minimap's on the right, the actions are in the middle, the unit preview is on the left.
THAT supposed to flip our world upside down? it's starcraft.
Admittedly it was pretty much advertised as a starcraft for people who got old and slow and wanted to have something more chill. (which I personally think was fantastic there is most definitely a market for that and I'm one of it's buyers)
it's got too little of the slowing down and too little of the mimickery on starcraft (gameplay wise) and it just isn't that much of a special cupcake to deserve a bite out of starcraft's playerbase.
the exp units CRUSH. they Crush way too much. It's pointless to have a big army or even a base rather than 1, 2 or even 3 experimentals. (I think something like that is the max).
this game's replayability is ENTIRELY explored in one game as the optimal build is unique the balance is quite bad (especially humans vs Goo) and honestly it brings nothing new to the table if you've ever played starcraft before.
the only new real interesting thing is the walls and the basebuilding but they are both way too under-powered to matter when you're playing.
Game #42: Etherium (participated in both the alpha and beta. Some of my closest friends and also my clan were hyped for it.)
1. DID RIGHT :
A lot of the concepts. the imagery. the hyping. The balance.
2. DID WRONG :
Again too much Starcraft sparkle in the eyes of this game's developers. Even if this time the gameplay presents itself on paper as something definitely different from starcraft (and mind you, they pretty much did VP before VP were cool), in reality it comes down to a lot more of the same, bad UI. lots of micro. zone control and lots of tentative indecision when it comes to sending in your blob. it's passé with a different shade of brown and it should have done something other than try to stab right into Starcraft's playerbase with the means it actually had.
I really never understood these choices. wanting to tackle the big leagues first. Sure Starcraft is loosing some steam. But it's loosing it to Mobas, FPSes and phone games (yes hearthstone is a phone game. running it on your PC doesn't change that fact). So thinking it was loosing steam to (or potentially to) other RTSes is stupid. WHAT other rtses. These people that were fleeing Starcraft had been trained not to expect any RTSes by the RTS DROUGHT (and I'm excluding all TBSes) that occurred during the FPS-Boom.
Anyways not something you guys have to worry about since you worked your way up to the big leagues the patient and correct way. Still though I'd appreciate the daring move that would be admitting SupCom did a lot of things right and it's what many people want in new games and compare new games to.