Article: Foundations of a Successful RTS

Foundations of a Successful RTS
[Tom Cadwell, 1999]

In this interesting article, Tom analyzes some aspects that RTS games should be considered when designing a RTS game.

Principles of RTS Balance:
  1. As a general rule, if race A builds up a unit mix and attcks race B, there should exist a cost/effective counter for B that is available around the same time and requires slightly less time to build. Also, versatile units should be less powerful compared to specialist units.
  2. Balane should take the form between unit mixes, not individual units. This is to avoid the "just build a large number of the same unit" problem.
  3. Consider maximum firepower conentration. Many super long range units is bad.
  4. As the range of the unit increases, the firepower should be reduced. This is unrealistic, but balances the game.
  5. Map lag. Don't allow units, especially early units, to cross the map too quickly.
  6. Combat formulae and the various values units have need to be very flexible to be able to fix balance if problems are discovered later on.
  7. Every attack should have a risk. There should always be some opportunity for you opponent to counter your attack and destroy your resources cos effectively.
  8. Endgame driving forces must be in place. Attrition is the way to go. Bigger isn't necesarily better. Avoid getting to the point of players having to control hundreds of units. Also, static defenses need a way of being cracked so a player who suffers from attrition will be unable to continue.
  9. The more a unit can move, the less powerful it should be, but some units that break this rule can be in the game to avoid map specific imbalances.

Design principles

  1. If it isn't fun, it should't be in a game. Avoid tedious tasks. Avoid lots of administative stuff unless your game is designed around them. And always avoid AI that acts stupid, this will 100% of the time annoy the player.
  2. Gameplay over realism. The game needs to "make sense" but that doesn't mean hyper realistic mechanics. If you need to sacrifice one or the other, sacrifice realism.
  3. The aspects of a game that appeal the most to the hardcore gamer should tend to be in the hidden features (hotkeys not visible on the screen, combat bonuses for cover, etc). Don't try to make the game "complex" by cluttering the screen with buttons.
  4. Sound effects and visual effects are extremely useful and don't affect play balance. Use them extensively.
  5. Straegic wealth should always be sought after. This is accomplished by complex unit interactions or simple but elegant resource system. Chess is a great example of simple but elegant game.
  6. Give units a "purijavascript:void(0)ty of purpose". Consider what do race X needs to flesh out its combat abilities in a unique way and come up with units that fit that feel. Also avoid giving units more than one purpose and having more than one unit per race that does the same.
  7. Never let a unit become obsolete. This confuses players and leads to more imbalances.

To read the complete article, go to StrategyGamingOnline.

Tom Cadwell, 1999. Foundations of a Successful RTS. Obtained in Jul 19th, 2011 from Strategy Gaming Online:

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