I am a big fan of Soren Johnson’s work. That being said, I keep an eye on his blog, Designer Notes. In a recent post, he listed what he felt were the “seven deadly sins” of strategy game design. Most of them were dead on for whatever reason. I thought that his first one was particularly interesting specifically because it surprised me with its presence.
He talked about how some strategy games had “too much scripting”. Some of his points included:
The AI takes action depending not on its own development rate or strategic priorities but on whether the human has hit certain triggers. In many scenarios, in fact, the human cannot even lose because – when defeat approaches – the script will freeze the AI and starting pumping in free units for the player. Further, these scenarios are often built around specific “objectives” to achieve, such as destroying a specific structure or capturing a single point. This artificial environment takes decision-making away from the player. Not only is there only one path to victory, but the playerâ€™s performance along that path may not even matter. Games without interesting decisions get boring quickly.
The reason that jumped out at me was that scripting just hasn’t seemed to have been a big deal to me in strategy games. I always thing of scripting in the genres of RPGs and lately a lot of FPSs as well. Not that I haven’t encountered them in RTSs of the past. I used to play some of the single-player campaigns in the early RTS games like Warcraft and Starcraft. I vaguely remember the one in Empire Earth – which was one of my favorite RTS games for a long time. I have to admit that, despite my being aware that there is a campaign mode available in Civ 4, I haven’t even opened it up. I don’t even play a lot of the scenarios in Civ 4… just hand me a random map and let me roll.
Still, campaigns just don’t do it for me. They just didn’t hold me. It seemed to me to be an attempt to “personalize” the experience a la RPGs. That’s not why I was playing an RTS, however. I suppose if it was done better, I may be more interested. I like the latest blending of the RPG genre with the the FPS one that seems to have been en vogue of late (e.g. Bioshock). That was a kinda cool… but for some reason, RTS + RPG doesn’t quite cut it.
In the end, I suppose I agree with Soren’s premise then… it is a sin to put scripted events into an RTS. It’s just not what it is meant for.