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Thoughts on the RTS genre, from someone who never quite “got” them

Gamingtodaynews1e - Thoughts on the RTS genre, from someone who never quite "got" them

I've made attempts at getting into an RTS, any RTS, through the years. Partially for the sake of my friends, partially for the sake of my own curiosity, and none of them have ever truly clicked with me.

You know what always put me in a rut? It wasn't "multitasking" or "micromanagement", I have no doubt that I'd eventually get to the point where I could expand my mental capacity enough to keep track of all the stuff going on in these games- it was always unit types.

Obviously this depends a whole lot upon the specific game, but it always felt to me as if there was a really weird juxtaposition between the idea that an RTS boils down to "build more dudes than the other guy" and the fact that there are sometimes dozens of slightly different "kill the other dudes" units. An I can't think of a single RTS that did anything at all to explain why that matters.

What's the difference between all these different combat units, aside from the standard rock paper scissors formula? Alright, so this unit has less overall DPS but more HP than this other unit, meaning… what, ultimately? Better at sitting around for a moment and getting shot to death? What about early-game "scout" units, why sometimes describe them as "good in large numbers" if the typical rate at which you can build things is slow enough that it would never be worth trying to build large numbers of them?

And that's before you get into stuff like "ooh, this is a rocket unit, so good luck literally ever hitting anything that moves more than two miles per hour" or "unit with huge range, good luck getting anywhere near it". And the typical idea, I guess, is that you should know what your opponent is building so you can counter it, but that pretty much necessitates that you figure that out very early, which turns the game into "who can shift gears first" followed by a very long, very painful period where you slowly, pitifully, send a few units off to die because you can't possibly build enough to react quickly. And that's all predicated on you being capable of looking at what the enemy units are and understanding what they are quickly enough to react.


I guess part of what I never understood about this stuff was the extent to which these units are just RPS triads within RPS triads, and to what extent you're expected to micromanage them to play to their strengths (not that those are mutually exclusive ideas). Because ultimately, my stupid monkey brain is gonna just go "big ball of things with guns shoots other big ball of things with guns", and I'm never going to be able to think quickly enough or have the memory recall to set up multiple groups of different units set up to counter stuff, not that that'll actually work because meanwhile your opponent might have just gone with a big ball of stuff with guns anyways and now you don't have enough of the unit type needed to counter that. All the while I just sit there thinking "couldn't there be, like, three unit types total, just that rock paper scissors, and hardly anything would change?"

I'd hazard a guess that this sort of thing is why Starcraft specifically got huge. It doesn't really bother with units that just do very slightly different stuff (at least not much). Ultimately though, it still feels like a game of rock paper scissors, inherently a guessing game, with a bit of early intel sprinkled in, culminating in a battle to see who's encyclopedic knowledge allowed them to react slightly faster than the other guy, and I really can't see why that's fun.

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