A computer game where the user builds up a base of operations, mines resources, builds an army, and attacks other players. The first widely successful games were the computer adaptation of Dune and Command and Conquer. These has since been the model for enless clones, including Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3, Warcraft, Starcraft, KKND, and more.

A strategy game in which time passes regardless of what you do. These games tend to be war based like Command and Conquer and Warcraft, but one could consider The Sims to be a real time strategy. Though they are improving, the real time aspect of a real time strategy is sometimes frustrating for the turn based strategy game player who likes to micromanage everything. Some games succesfully combine the two genres like Sierra's Lords of the Realm.

A type of computer strategy game (q.v.). The real-time strategy games involve control of military units in real time, often to perform military operations. They are called real-time games to separate them from turn based strategy games.

Dune descendants

Many people consider Dune II to be the forefather of all modern real-time strategy games. After Dune II, there came to be precisely two game houses that got really known for the genre: Westwood (the original makers of Dune II), and Blizzard Entertainment. The two made many great games, and were very largely imitated elsewhere. (I think the only game to come close to popularity and quality of the games from these two was Age of Empires II and its followers, but the genre has a lot of sleeping gems buried under the mass of cheap clones...)

Westwood is these days best known for Command & Conquer and the related Red Alert series. Blizzard is known for the Warcraft series (Warcraft II is definitely the game that makes me remember them) and more recently the phenomenally successful Starcraft.

But all of the former games are nothing remarkable in terms of content. I realized this one day when I was playing WCII: It's nothing but a real-time version of Empire with pretty graphics. Everyone can beat the computer by building a lot of units and killing them - fortunately, in the games, the amount of available resources is limited.

The basic idea of "Dunesy" games is that they combine two vastly different games into one experience in a fundamentally incompatible way - and this is probably one of the reasons why turn-based strategy fans don't like them. The game includes a management / micromanagement side, where you capture and gather resources and secure them with your units, and you use the resources to build units. Then there's the tactical side, where you use your units to destroy opponent's units. Unfortunately for the Dune descendants the importance of micromanagement side is very, very high, and the games don't always depend the sense of tactics - they do depend, very heavily, on sense of micromanagement of your army and resource gathering. The tactics suffer in expense of the management, and so all of the actual tactical things are of lesser importance. People usually say that the only sin Blizzard ever commits is the "need to mess with little details on the battlefield" (The Finnish military jargon talks of "nysväys", I couldn't make a shorter translation in this context...)

Variants of the theme (hopefully better ones)

While the previously described kind of games have problems, the concept can be made to work! There are many games out there that already improve the genre a great deal, mostly by separating the micromanagement and economical things and the actual battle side.

A couple of good examples include Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War - these games have their own "turn-based strategy" side where you control the units on large scale and Build Stuff, and the real-time strategy side where zillions of sprite guys meet their bloody end on the fields of glory. Another example is the Myth series - pure tactics and bloodbath, you're given some units (possibly reinforcements later, too) and you're on your own. I have also heard people praising Total Annihilation for having a more working game model. There are also games like Battlezone (the new one, not the Atari arcade game) and the unreleased Golgotha that merge RTS components into first-person shooters.

Real-time strategies are generally defined as strategy games that are distinctively not turn-based. That is, players make their moves simultaneously, time passes whether players are moving or not, and players are (theoretically) able to make infinitely more moves than their opponent(s) (and, by extension, an infinite number of moves during the course of the game). Generally, moves are only limited to a time limit, kill limit, score limit, or any combination of the three.

For most popular RTS games, the structure is thus:

  • Players have full access to three key parts of the game: buildings, units (people, animals, whatever) and resources. Often, types of building and unit are defined by the player's chosen race. These can range from few (such as the 3 in StarCraft) to many (like the 24 in Rise Of Nations: Thrones & Patriots). Each race has its strengths and weaknesses but the races are all fairly balanced for each game. (Archers may be stronger than swordsmen, but British swordsmen are about equal in strength with French swordsmen.)
  • Buildings produce units. They can also research new technologies and upgrade existing technologies, for example increasing the gather rate of resources or increasing attack strength of a particular unit. In some games, some buildings are "drop points", where resources must be taken in order to be able to use them.
  • Units can either gather resources, build buildings or attack the units and buildings of other players.
  • Resources, once gathered (and, in some cases, stored), are used up when a player builds a building or a unit. Common resources are food, wood, and gold, although these go under different names for different games.
  • Players generally start off with a building, some units that can gather resources, and a small stockpile of resources.
  • The aim is to wipe out any and all enemies through conquest or other tactics such as diplomacy and other such dealings.
Popular RTS games that follow this format are StarCraft, Rise Of Nations, Command & Conquer, WarCraft, Age Of Empires and Empire Earth.

There are some games that do not follow this format - a good example being 20,000 Light Years Into Space for Linux. However, for the games that do follow this structure, the following is usually the best strategy to follow:

  1. Set the units you have to gather resources and get an economy running. Keep adding to the economy, even near the end of the game when you are about to start an all-out war.
  2. With these resources, start building defensive buildings, in case your opponent tries Zerging. N00bs should always remember this step as they will be picked on.
  3. When your economy is stable and fairly large, begin to build buildings that create attacking units.
From here, you're on your own. Make up your own strategy. Generally players follow one of three types of gameplay: rushing, turtling and expanding.
  • Rushing means to build up a small but reasonably powerful army, and attacking. If done correctly, it can hinder or even destroy the opposition. If improperly used or correctly defended against, you've lost all your units and wasted your resources. Start again.
  • Turtling means to build up a large defense and keep your opponents at bay that way. The general idea is to tire out your opponent by weakening or even destroying sizeable armies, making the opposition easier to attack. However, it is all too easy to wall yourself in, and if your defense isn't good enough, you'll find that you'll lose quite quickly.
  • Expanding is simply that: expanding. Expansion tends to help your economy since you have access to more resource points. Generally, though, economies don't help if you don't have any attacking units, and as such expanding players are particularly susceptible to players who rush.

At the end of a game, there is usually some kind of large scale battle, unless you've merely been rushed or you are playing for score, rather than conquest. The winner will not be the player with the most powerful units, but the player who knows how to use them more, and who knows their strategies. It is possible to win a game of Rise Of Nations or Age Of Mythology without building any attacking units. It is possible to win any scoring game without building any attacking units, if there is a score limit set. (However, it does help.)

Note my overuse of the word "generally". I do that deliberately: RTS games are very diverse in terms of their style, playability, strategies that need to be employed, and even the look and feel. You'll find that the majority of popular games play by this kind of style, but a lot of others don't. Thank you for your time and your squinting.

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