Sunday, May 14, 2006

Gozar the Constructor

I'm about to launch into a tiny niche! Let's talk tactical constructive games!

As I mentioned last post, I'm very base-centric in RTS games. I like building bases. Combat is not so interesting to me.

This implies (at least to me) that I love games like Sim City, Civilization, The Incredible Machine, and the Sims, right? I mean, I like building things, and those games are all about building things!

Actually, not so much. There's something very different between constructing in those games and in a real-time strategy.

Think about it for a minute. Don't these games seem to come in three or four varieties? It might be a little fuzzy, but clump the games together. Doesn't it seem like Civilization and Masters of Orion belong in one category, Sim City and the Sims in another category, and RTS games in a very different category? They have a very different feel from each other. (The Incredible Machine is in a fourth category, I guess...)

All these games involve building a complex system, but the differences between them are more than just aesthetic. They run on different methods of play.

As far as I can tell, there's two axes: direction and resonance.

Directed games have a definite set of intrinsic goals. When you build your system, you build it with those goals in mind. The Sim City category is undirected. That's why lots of people call it a toy. On the other hand, RTS and Civilization and the Incredible Machine are all directed games where the pressures of the world shape your construction. Of course, some have clearer feedback than others...

Resonant games are games in which the pieces of the system affect the capabilities of the whole of the system in more than simple increments. Civilization is an incremental, non-resonant game. A new city is not much different from the city before it. A new tech offers little more than a slightly statistically superior soldier.

On the other hand, most RTS games resonate strongly. Gaining the ability to produce a new unit type isn't just a simple statistial change. Each soldier is inherently massively different on a tactical and strategic scale. This one is good at close combat, that at long. This one regenerates, that one casts spells. This one knocks down infantry, but that one has an area effect weapon.

Similarly, the strategic-map side of Rise of Nations/Legends is also a resonant construction game. What you build dramatically changes your effectiveness in neighboring provinces - not just statistically, but giving you whole new powers and a very different complement of soldiers.

Some elements of all games are resonant. For example, the tech tree in Alpha Centauri was kind of resonant: it wasn't rare for a new technology to give you a whole new capability. I think that's the reason Alpha Centauri was so popular.

However, most games aren't very resonant. Most of the accomplishments are minute, persued only for statistical improvement. That's fine, if that's what you want.

But I won't like it as much.


Darius Kazemi said...

Probably the most fantastic experience I have ever had with resonance was playing Super Mario Bros. as a child. The power-ups you receive in that game (and its sequels) literally change the game-space. The cool part is, you can lose that power, too, which isn't the case with RTS titles.

Craig Perko said...

I agree about Mario - great resonance.

As for losing abilities: largely, that's because of the aforementioned positive feedback loop in RTS games. Doesn't give you a way to recover once you lose a bit of power.

However, to some extent, you lose and rebuild that power each level. :)

Damion Schubert said...

Oddly enough, I prefer RTS building as well, but my preferred play pattern is to build an impregnable fortress and defend it against all comers. Perhaps related is the fact that Age of Empires II: Wall Mazes Galore is my favorite RTS.

I, as well, prefer to play RTSes single player, or cooperatively.

Craig Perko said...

Sounds like the same basic philosophy. I am not alone! Someday, we should play a game together and... never win or lose. Just sit there and build our fortresses. ;)