Mass converters considered harmful

March 14th, 2010 3:30 pm by Cyde Weys

Let’s be honest, Supreme Commander had severe balance problems with mass fabricators. They were simply too good, and rapidly obviated the need for map control. They replaced strategic fights for mass points with ugly, exponentially growing resource farms.

Forged Alliance rectified the issue somewhat by nerfing mass fabricators (and removing the T1 mass fabricator entirely). This curtailed the territory-less exponential ramp-up in the early game, but didn’t do anything to address the exponential ramp-up of Support Commanders in the end-game. Support Commanders generated a decent amount of mass and energy on their own, and when given the resource upgrade, just forget it. Roving packs of resource-producing, hard-to-kill SCUs were better than any resource-generating building by far.

It looks like Supreme Commander 2 has made the same mistake as Supreme Commander in terms of making mass too easy to get while bypassing territorial control (one might say “turtling”). I was playing through the UEF campaign yesterday and I found a building called a “Mass Converter”. My heart instantly sunk. “No, they couldn’t’ve done it again”, I told myself. But they did.

Let’s look at the numbers of the Mass Converter (and please, correct me if I’m off). It takes 1,000 energy to make 100 mass. This establishes a conversion rate of 10 energy for 1 mass. But energy is really cheap and easily available. One power plant makes 5 energy per tick — convert that into mass, and that’s 0.5 mass per tick, so you only need two power plants to equal a mass extractor.

And therein lies the problem. Two power plants cost less than one mass extractor, yield the same amount of mass as mass extractors when fed through the converter (you only need one, and it’s not that expensive except maybe in research points), and, most importantly, they can be built anywhere. I suspect that the end-game of any multiplayer match that lasts past the opening salvos is going to be filled with farms of energy generators … which was exactly the problem with Supreme Commander.

And the only disadvantage of mass converters? They’re micro-intensive, requiring a key press each time you want to use them, instead of working continually in the background like they did in Supreme Commander. They break the economic balance of the game and they add that intensive mindless micro-management that I love so much. FML.

I really hope to be proven wrong about this. But I can see an out — by the time mass converters start mattering at all, it’s already the end-game, and the end-game is so deadly and prone to topple off its knife edge that mass converters may not have an effect in most games.

Skirmish is where it’s at

March 14th, 2010 9:00 am by Cyde Weys

I just played my first skirmish game (after beating the first eight campaign missions), and I must say, skirmish is where it’s at. Skirmish is the hat to campaign’s head. If you’re getting bored of knocking down set-piece after set-piece in campaign mode like I am (including dozens of minutes of building up forces between each objective), then give skirmish a whirl. It’s more dynamic, more fair, and the action maintains a constant frenetic pace as opposed to the punctuated equilibria of campaign mode. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Now obviously, multiplayer is the ultimate game mode, but I haven’t quite reached the point where I feel comfortable with all the units. Once I get some more skirmish experience under my belt, though, it’s off to multiplayer. Watch out! I’m going to be the caltrops under your heel (that is to say, ultimately squished, but I’ll still inflict some pain before I give up the ghost).

GameStop breaks SupCom2 street date for XBOX360

March 13th, 2010 5:00 pm by Cyde Weys

Live. We'll do it live.

According to a GPGnet forum post, the XBOX360 version of SupCom2 is now available in GameStop stores nationwide. Apparently GameStop had a “We’ll do it live!” moment and broke the street date, releasing copies of the game for sale on March 12th instead of March 16th. Now it looks like GPG (or Square-Enix; I don’t know at this point who handles what) has a little bit of damage-control to do, as the downloadable content codes aren’t slated to unlock until the 16th. Now GPG could very well just leave that as it is, since it’s not their fault the street date was broken, but they risk pissing off some customers in the process.

In the grand scheme of things, though, street dates are a silly, un-enforceable embargo, so I don’t particularly fault GameStop for anything here. Heck, this way, SupCom2 fans with XBOX360s get an entire weekend of extra play. It’s too bad about the resultant loss of coordination with the DLC codes, though.

Anyone who’s gotten their hands on SupCom2 for the XBOX360, please let us know how it is! Personally, I couldn’t imagine playing an RTS on a console, but, hey, my tastes don’t speak for everyone.

Incidentally, I didn’t receive any DLC unlock codes with my PC version of the game? I take it us PC gamers don’t need to bother with this nonsense, because the game is already linked to our Steam account anyway? (Which serves the same purpose of lowering the resale value of the game. Gotta love how crafty Square-Enix is being.)

Supreme Commander 2 first impressions

March 13th, 2010 3:21 pm by Cyde Weys

Supreme Commander 2 arrived earlier today in the mail, and naturally, I’ve been playing it, in the same reflexive manner as how, upon reaching the surface of a pool following immersion, I take a breath. I don’t have nearly enough experience yet with the game to attempt a full review, but here are my absolute first impressions, in the order that they occurred to me. Note that I’ve spent a lot of time playing Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance recently; as that game is fresh is fresh in my memory, comparisons are inevitable.

And if I’m wrong about any of the points below, please (politely) correct me in the comments below. I’ve only played the first two missions so far, so I could easily be wrong on any of a number of these points. Also, let the rest of us know your own first impressions.

  • The plot has a much more human aspect to it. This isn’t necessarily a positive or a negative, it just felt a little bit jarring to see the dude inside the Supreme Commander controlling it. I don’t see the point of introducing his family though. This is SupCom, dammit, not an RPG or a soap opera!
  • I heard by far the most groaning about the switching of the economic model to pay-up-front, but upon actually playing the game, it doesn’t seem to be that big of a change (with an important caveat being energy; see next point). Basically, the game is for the most part still flow-based, it’s just on a coarser level of discrete units instead of individual resource points. But mass/energy comes in at a certain rate and is spent at a certain rate by unit production factories set to infinite build. So long as your flow isn’t negative, it’s pretty much identical to Total Annihilation or Supreme Commander, and if your flow is negative, then factories automatically pause themselves. Basically it’s incredibly more newbie-friendly than the resource starvation mode of the previous games, and this change totally makes sense to me. Now, granted, long building construction queues are out the window, but it’s not a huge change.
  • I don’t like the change made to energy though. Energy seems superfluous now, identical to mass, except without the strategic considerations because, unlike mass, it can be generated anywhere (like metal on a metal map in Total Annihilation). Energy was very important in Supreme Commander — if you didn’t have enough juice to power everything, shields would flicker off, radar and stealth systems would flake out, even long-range artillery would reload more slowly. Energy added a tactical depth to the game, as it often made sense to target an enemy’s energy-production facilities first to knock down all their shields. This strategy appears to be no longer valid.

  • Research points are effectively a third resource. They’re generated in exactly the same way as energy (from a dedicated building, the laboratory, that can be built anywhere) and spending them makes your units better. Now, granted, research points are absurd; you can’t exactly do basic research on the battlefield, and it doesn’t make sense that all of the better units would need to be reinvented afresh for each battle (e.g. the Abrams tank was not invented in Iraq in 2003). Supreme Commander’s tech tree at least made sense: higher level construction units are needed to construct more sophisticated units because the basic engineers don’t have the advanced machinery necessary. But whatever. Supreme Commander 2 is far from the first RTS to have on-the-battlefield research, and as a gameplay mechanic, it works, so I’ll give it a pass.
  • You can’t select multiple engineers and have them build anything anymore. That sucks. You have to first select N-1 engineers, tell them to assist the Nth engineer, and then order the Nth engineer to do your bidding. I imagine this change has something to do with the change to a pay-up-front model. But I wish the feature hadn’t been dropped.
  • You can’t see the health of enemy units. This actually makes sense, and seems like a good gameplay addition. It adds to the Fog of War, if nothing else. I wonder if there’s going to be an advanced intel unit later on in the game that lets me see the health of enemy units? That would be clever, but judging by the trend of having fewer types of units in this game than in the past one, I’m guessing not. Edit: Scratch that. The health of enemy units can be seen through health bars, just not in absolute numbers.

  • The maps are better and more flavorful than in Supreme Commander. The first two missions really drove that home. Kudos to the map designers. It’s nice to have free-form large-scale structures forming part of the landscape.
  • Individual factories now have micro-managed upgrades?! I can’t figure out what the point of this is. I hated how micro-intensive the Support Commander upgrades were in Supreme Commander, and now every factory has a range of upgrade options, many of which are simply duplications of what other buildings already do? Thankfully, and this is a big win, multiple factories can be selected and all upgraded simultaneously. This is a big win over the Support Commander situation from SupCom.
  • I’m not sure but it appears that the adjacency bonus is gone. That’s a shame. The adjacency bonus was a fun gameplay mechanic. I loved the deliberation required over the trade-off between increased susceptibility to damage versus increased resource efficiency.

  • Bombers are less powerful than in SupCom. A tier 1 bomber in SupCom could decimate a decent-sized formation of tier 1 land units in one bombing pass. Now they do less damage and hit fewer units. But to compensate, they’re cheaper/faster to build. This isn’t necessarily good or bad; it’s just a balance change.
  • The Idle Engineers key (period) is useful. I can’t remember if SupCom had it?
  • Where the hell did Quicksave go?!?!
  • For that matter, where the hell did on-the-fly adjustable game speed go? Single-player games just got a bit more tedious.
  • This game has much better mass appeal than SupCom. It’s all-around more polished and it’s more accessible to a larger audience. I’m sure a lot of the points I mentioned above were concessions in this direction.

So, pardon my wall of text there, but that’s my unedited look at all of my first impressions from playing through the first two missions of SupCom2. If you’re wondering, yes, I was taking notes on paper while playing. Overall I’m enjoying the game so far (it really is all about the fun ot it), and I think a large part of the some of the poor user reviews on MetaCritic is just a reflexive reaction to the changes since the previous game. A lot of things are a bit different, but you just have to accept them as they are, and realize that the game is still fun, it’s just a little bit different than what you may be used to.

Forged Alliance reminds me that it’s all about the fun of it

March 9th, 2010 11:53 pm by Cyde Weys

Supreme Commander 2 is in the mail! While waiting for its arrival, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with Forged Alliance, which I’ve never played through before. I’ve been playing the missions on hard as UEF and I just completed the fourth mission. Let me just say … wow. GPG was not kidding when they say that these missions are “Hard”.

The game was frantic from start to finish, with me surviving on a knife’s edge throughout. By the final phase of the mission, it was a race to rebuild my buildings as quickly as they were being taken out, thanks to the frequent attacks by experimental walkers and mobile artillery. I was caught woefully unprepared at the conclusion of the previous phase and I didn’t have any T3 point defense ready for the massive waves of enemies that I had no idea were going to be coming. I lost a good amount of my base, but survived thanks to all of those assistant commanders I had been building up to that point (thanks in equal parts to their resource generation, combat prowess, and rapid construction ability).

I finally managed to get an edge on my opponent by building one experimental walker of my own for each experimental corpse of the enemy that I was reclaiming, and then not letting mine die as quickly as his. By the very end of the survival phase I had actually started taking out the enemy’s bases with my surplus of walkers.

It was nice getting a chance to finally play around with Seraphim units (I captured some engineers early on in the game). Overall, it’s hard to say whether I like the Seraphim? The sniper bots are nice, but the T2 point defense seems underpowered (especially compared to the Aeon version). And the experimental walker — well, let’s just say, is it really all that different from the Colossus? The experimental bomber, on the other hand, is nifty.

Forged Alliance is reminding me all over again of why I loved Supreme Commander (and, by extension, Total Annihilation) in the first place. The pace of battle in this mission was furious, and I was glued to my computer screen for the duration. I was even downright antisocial to a guest that my friend had over (thanks, GPG), preferring to continue the game rather than talk with him. The time whizzed by, and at the very end I experienced the immense satisfaction of winning in the face of long odds, knowing that the enemy had thrown everything at me.

If Supreme Commander 2 is as fun as Forged Alliance is, then I’m going to love it, no matter what kinds of changes were made to the economy, the scale of the maps, or whatever else people are complaining about on the forums today. As I sit here and await the imminent arrival of my copy, all I can say is … here’s hoping.

Supreme Commander 2 is out

March 3rd, 2010 9:23 pm by Cyde Weys

Supreme Commander 2 was released yesterday! I’m curious to hear any first impressions. I don’t have the game yet (I’m quite busy at the moment), but I shall be getting it just as soon as I finish up Forged Alliance.

Finally getting around to playing Forged Alliance

February 24th, 2010 12:59 am by Cyde Weys

I figured that, in anticipation of Supreme Commander 2, I should finally get around to playing Forged Alliance, which I had put off for awhile (though Grokmoo’s played through it twice). My Supreme Commander skills were a bit more rusty than I had expected. It took me an hour and forty minutes to beat the first mission on hard. Granted, I was purposefully waiting around a lot to build up the perfect attack force — mobile factories, lots of battleships, dozens of gunships and air superiority fighters, dozens of Tech 3 land units, dozens of SCUs, etc. But it was fun. At this rate I’ll get through Forged Alliance before SupCom2 comes out.

The main reason I’m doing this is to have a good basis of comparison for SupCom2. I’ve heard rumors on the message boards that a lot of things are going to be different, including making the change to a pay-up-front economy a la most other RTSes. But to be able to understand the differences, I first have to establish a baseline. I imagine the first week post-release will be chock full of analyses of what’s been changed.

You can use the comments below to discuss the upcoming changes. Just remember though, everything may be speculative until we have proof otherwise — on March 2, of course.

Supreme Commander 2 coming out March 2

February 19th, 2010 10:19 pm by Cyde Weys

Supreme Commander 2 is coming out on March 2. It’s already available for preorder at Amazon.

Needless to say, Grokmoo and I will be getting it and playing it. And … who knows, we might even write about it.

Let me know in the comments below if you plan on getting SupCom2. It’ll be fun to have some familiar faces to chat with and play against.

Supreme Commander 2 is announced

November 12th, 2008 9:47 pm by Cyde Weys

The development of Supreme Commander 2 has been announced. The unexpected part is that the series is switching from its former publisher, THQ, to Square Enix. Yes, that Square Enix, the ones that make Final Fantasy.

This sounds like it could be incredibly awesome, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. No release date is set yet and it’ll probably be a while, but who knows, maybe this blog will become active again with the release of SupCom2.

Grokmoo and I launch a new PC gaming blog

October 20th, 2008 10:04 pm by Cyde Weys

To the the readers loyal enough to SupComTalk to still be checking to updates to this very day: Rejoice! Grokmoo and I have started a new PC gaming blog called PC Game Fun Time. We’re hoping it’ll be exactly like SupComTalk in its prime (seeing as how much fun we had writing this blog), only because it’s focused on PC gaming in general and not one game in particular, we should be able to keep it going for a much longer time.

So head on over to the very first introductory post and get started. PC gaming is a wide world, and we’ll need suggestions on what to cover now more than ever.