Part 1: Single Player
Part 2: Multiplayer
Over the past two articles we’ve looked how map design and time can be used by designers to help the player interact with their opponent, whether it be in single player missions or designing the player versus player aspect of the game. Today I want to wrap up this series by looking at a game that literally uses time as a resource, World in Conflict. I won’t be going into it’s map design or the nature of it’s single or multiplayer aspects, I just want to look at the foundation of this game. For the most part the RTS genre is defined by “copy, refine, alter and publish” when it comes to new games. They take an older game, borrow aspects of it, add their own flavor and then make the game. There is nothing wrong with this, some of the greatest RTS games and series of all time have come from this methodology but on rare occasions we see a game developer make an entirely new style of real time strategy. We saw this with the Total War series, Relic’s RTS games and World in Conflict. These series and developers took the genre into new directions or merged them with other genres all together, as in the case of the Total War series.
Let’s delve into WiC a bit more now. In terms of scale unit count it’s not a grand battle, though it’s battlefields and explosions can be large. With between 10-30 units under your control it allows the player to, very intensive when it comes to unit control and positioning. WiC allows the player to get away with this extreme focus and unit management with two tools:
– Limited unit focus
– It’s resource model has no production facilities and unit resources are accumulated independently.
First we’ll briefly look at the multiplayer design. I won’t delve too deeply here since it’s a post unto itself but it’s not related too heavily to what we are discussing. In multiplayer the game is designed specially around teamwork and coordination because unlike in a traditional real time strategy game you don’t get to control all types of units. Instead prior to the game starting you and your teammates choose one of four roles: air, armor, infantry and support. Your unit options are limited by your role and each team needs at least one player in each role. An air commander won’t be able to easily summon tanks to defend them from anti-air attack, instead they have to have their teammate who the armor commander help them in their role. This creates an amazing balance roles within a team and within each match. By forcing a player into a specific role the game allows them to watch over their units and not worry about things outside their control. Support is at it’s best launching ranged attacks and supporting tanks from air attack. Each role has a priority list and good players know their role and is a master of it.
Next let us look at the main reason we are here, how WiC’s resources work. As mentioned it has no resource gathering and resources are largely outside the players control. The game uses an unnamed resource with a set amount determined at the start of the match by your role. From this total you buy your units, the better the unit the more expensive it it. So you can’t just amass the best tanks, instead you need to balance what your team needs (anti-armor tanks or anti-infantry?). These troops are then dropped into the battle at, fairly, safe drop zones quickly. After that a cool down happens when no units can be brought into the battle. Once this resource is used up a player’s resources don’t renew until a unit is lost. What this means that if at the start of a battle a player has 8000 resources and spends all 8000 they won’t be able to bring any more units until some of their current units die. Once a unit dies their resource cost is slowly funneled into their bank. So a tank dies that cost 1000, if that tank is destroyed it’s cost will be refunded. Another mechanic they introduce is the more resources being returned at a time are the faster that refund is. So refunding 10% of your max supply won’t see the return rate as if you were to lose 50%. This mechanic allows players who suffer a big lose to be able to return to battle, in some extent, fairly quickly, even if most of their army was destroyed.
What this system allows is players to field their largest possible army rather quickly and maximize that army to their fullest potential. By taking the collection aspect of the real time strategy away from the player and putting a timer on their units it makes the players job easier. They know within the first minute or so of the match they’ll be at their full force and know that if they lose a unit scouting or a company of infantry engaging a town that they’ll get those units back in time. Now it does lead to some frustration as you look at this tiny counter in the upper right of your screen saying “come on, come on!”
This frustration can turn some players off from the game who are used to being able to control how quickly resources come in and how often they can build a certain type of unit. But to me this creates a unique situation because the player has to really master when and how often to drop troops. If I have 15% of my resources free but I am expecting to lose another 30% defending a hill do I wait till I lose that battle to get the resources back faster or do I rush back 10% of my supply from the bank and hope I hold the hill? What if I lose that battle as I’m expecting and can’t help my teammates for a while because I just used my unit drop? It creates a situation you won’t experience in another real time strategy game and adds that unique twist a new strategy game needs to differentiate itself.
World in Conflict is a large scale game, units don’t pack every inch of a map, instead they hold town squares and try to control hills that can control battlefields. Players are rewarded not for their multitasking and base building, though there is nothing wrong with that style of game, but for awareness, communication with teammates and thinking tactically. Knowing when and what to reinforce your troops can make a break a battle. Too soon and you may risk losing more as your troops trickle in, too late and your forces may be swept from the field. World in Conflict purposely removes resource gathering from you, not to make the game easy for new players, instead it adds a layer of complexity you wouldn’t expect by the removal of a game mechanic. It’s literal use of time as a resource has made a huge impression on me and I hope this series has been worth the read.