Tuesday, February 22, 2011

RUSE: The Positives

I’ve played over 200 RUSE matches since the game was released last September. RUSE is definitely my favorite RTS. The game does some very important things right. In this post, I’m going to walk you through a few of the highlights. I’ll assemble a list of criticisms over the next week or two.

(I lost a few posts in a hard drive failure a couple of weeks ago, that’s why I haven’t put out much more than a post a week, and it’s also why I haven’t put out the first real part to my series on the fundamentals of games.)

Low APM requirement

I believe that RTS games should be about comparing your planning, perception, and prediction skills against your opponent's. Great RTSes make the act of implementing plans as intuitive and easy as possible--why get caught up in implementing a plan when the real fun is it actually testing it against your opponent? RUSE does this right: you don't need to have more than 20 APM to play the game well. This shows that RUSE is about planning, not about clicking around constantly in a struggle with the interface to make your units behave reasonably. I could write an entire post on how this is accomplished and how great it is, so I'll leave further elaboration for the future.

Active Counters

Spamming isn't an effective strategy in RUSE unless you've already won the game through resource supremacy. If you spam a unit, your opponent can recognize this and build fractional amounts of counters to effectively deal with the threat. The game's score is based on units killing a higher value in opposing units before they die, so the cost effectiveness of counters causes your opponent to suffer a severe setback by throwing countered units at you. Because the tech tree is flat, these counters are easy to build if you recognize the strategic situation is ripe--you can also be forced to counter the wrong thing through use of ruses and unorthodox strategies, which adds depth to what might otherwise be a simple "build counters to win" game.

A Broad Strategy-space

Some strategy games have a few narrow strategies. Such strategies are sequences of optimal actions understood by the community to be optimal. If you stray from these paths, you are playing poorly--you may win a couple of times by surprising an inferior opponent, but going outside narrow strategies won't get you much farther than that.

Contrast this with a broad, but flatter strategy space. You have a large number of options at any one time and many of them will get you an acceptable distance towards your strategic goals. The optimal choice becomes so dependent on the currently game state that you can't accurately deduce optimal strategies. This lends the game a certain dynamism: only a minimal amount of mechanical logic can be generalized from match to match, you must build each strategy fro the particular situation as it arises.

Short Matches

RUSE boasts large battlefields with sufficient room to maneuver, yet matches can be played competitively in 30 minutes or less on average. The scoring mechanism allows timed games to work well--players can make decisions based on the amount of time remaining, which leads to a further blossoming of possibilities. Though units are generally "slow" in the context of the whole map, unit production is fast. This allows players to produce units for decisive battles without it taking too much time. The relatively slow unit move speeds are balanced by the ability to produce units quickly, which leads to the game being paced properly for an enjoyable 20 minute 1v1 match or 30 minute 2v2 match.

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