Can an RTS Game Work on Consoles?
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself lost in the universe of StarCraft II. I know it took me quite a while to get on board with this game (needing a decent computer being why), but when I did I found myself totally sucked into the never-ending battle between the Terrens, Zerg, and Protoss. All my life I’ve found that I’m what one would call a slight more than casual RTS player and have always enjoyed games from the genre, with WarCraft III being the RTS that I have spent the most time with, both competitively and in single player. I’ve also enjoyed games outside of the Blizzard realm messing around with Command and Conquer games and Warhammer.
For those of you who are unaware what RTS games are, here’s a brief overview. RTS stands for Real Time Strategy and the standard objective of the games is to use resources like food and money to build up a base and army in which you use to defeat your opponent. Some like StarCraft focus on creating a good economy to build the best army, others like WarHammer don’t put much emphasis on economy building and focus more on attack strategy. Everything is done in real game time as opposed to games such as Civilization and Advance Wars where it has the same basic concept, but is turn based allowing you to spend time thinking about your next move. The real time aspect makes these games extremely high paced as your mind runs at a million mile a second adjusting to the current situation by coming up with counter attacks or and attempting to follow through with your initial strategy.
RTS game are almost exclusively played on PCs given the control scheme needed to play effectively. The mouse is needed for quickly selecting units, spots to move or attack, which building to select, and so on and so forth. With the keyboard you can use hot keys to execute many different actions, such as selecting and setting control groups (groups of units which you predetermine), using the ‘A’ key to select attack so you mouse doesn’t have to make 2 moves giving you quicker control, etc. Without those 2 things working in conjunction with each other, RTS games are near unplayable. Hence why you don’t see many RTSs on consoles or when they do make it over they never succeed. A standard console controller just doesn’t suit the need of fast, precise, and varied input that a mouse and keyboard can provide.
But why should PC gamers only get to enjoy the loads of fun that RTS games are, surely there must be a way to make one fun and playable on consoles. Halo Wars on Xbox almost had it, but in order to get the game to work on the controller, gameplay had to be dumbed down to make it playable. That’s no fun. Well, I have an idea (which I’m sure some developer has thought of well before me and is already working on it somehow) that may make RTS games playable on consoles. It would be a totally different experience than what a PC RTS gamer would get but the idea is based around how the keyboard and mouse work to make the games playable at high intensity and fast paced levels. First off you take the game controller, hold it in your hand tightly, turn towards the window, and toss that sucker right out of it. I bet you see where this is going to go now ;)
Modern console gaming technology has moved forward embracing new ways to play with the world going crazy for the Nintendo Wii when it first came out. Then Sony and Microsoft followed suit on the motion control craze releasing the Move and Kinect. All of these systems do have games on them that do some justice to motion controls. Thing is there aren’t enough games that are huge successes that could be considered a huge mark in motion controls favor an accepted form of gaming to the ‘hard core’ gamer. Well, in my opinion, some of the most ‘hard core’ and demanding games in both reflexes and mental prowess belongs to RTS games. What if one of those were to use motion controls? A point to motion controls from the ‘hard core’ crowd? I think yes.
If one were to combine motion controls with, wait for it, voice control, well, I think you would be able to successfully port an RTS over to consoles and have it playable at a competitive level. It would take a lot of work to make it happen as the amount of programming that would go into it would be rather labor intensive and making the motion controls comfortable would need to find a scheme that wouldn’t leave a gamers arms tired after 5 min of play, as some more intense matches can go for an average of 30 min, and much longer. But I’m sure a company and developer like Blizzard has some money floating around to make this happen (seriously 15 bucks a month from each World of Warcraft player they have, yeah, they got some spending cash).
Here are some ideas I have that makes me think that an RTS on a console a very doable thing. First lets start with the voice control, which would be they main way you would command your army. Simple commands such as ‘attack’, ‘hold’, ‘patrol’, ‘build’, and so on would be issued by voice only. For example: you would say “Command Center, build worker”, or “Barracks, train 5 marines”. Hot key commands such as “All”, “Group 1″(more on that in a bit), “Retreat”, and many others would be worked in too. Pretty much your voice would take over all the commands that you do on the keyboard and some that you would do with your mouse.
You would be able to create control groups by saying, “All marines and 2 siege tanks make Group 1”, “Battle Cruiser and 2 harriers make Group 2”. Then after you have your control groups (or if you just want to go all in you could say, “All offensive units”) you could use your hand or pointing device to point at a spot on the screen and say very quickly, “Group 1 attack here” or “Group 2 move here”. This basic mechanic would work for the various engagement actions you perform in an RTS.
To make moving around quicker and easier one could say the word “Map” and a large version of the mini-map would pop up on the screen allowing you to make precise larger movements and the main screen would serve to make smaller micro-managing moves. There would have to be work done on making some commands context sensitive. You could say “Group 1 attack siege tank” and the group would attack the closest siege tank raining fire on your army.
Now, I know not all players have the same voice and voice control is spotty with the current technology right now, but it is rapidly improving. I propose that voice commands be mappable to a players voice. If they have difficulty with the controls at first there would be an option for the computer to recognize their specific voice for commands by recording original words and sounds to the set of available actions. Have an accent when you say “Barracks”, re-record what the computer recognizes for the command. This will also allow players to record commands in other languages other than English broadening the appeal of the game to a huge market.
Of course learning and setting commands would take some time and is the down point of my idea, but my rebuttle is that, RTS gamers already put a lot of time in learning commands and strategies their selected game of choice, that I think many would have no problem in learning the voice and command system of the voice and motion controlled RTS game.
For the motion controls and making them usable for extended play time a lot of the control of the game would have to be done by voice so the hands could stay relaxed as much as possible. A player could set certain predetermined spots for where things go on a base on different maps when building up at the start of the game. The map could be in a numbered and lettered grid so you could move units to a specific part on the map, for example: “Group 1 move to B3”. And anyways, it would be a good arm work out for those of us who game mainly in the slouched position, a little healthy thinking never hurt anyone ;)
So, there is my idea on how to make RTS games playable on consoles. It would certainly be a totally different experience than playing on a PC, but the strategy would all be the same, and that’s why we play Real Time Strategy games, right? ;) I think it would be a cool experience to play as a real general shouting commands as opposed to sitting mainly silent only talking to communicate to your teammate (still need to think of a way to make team play and communication workable). People want immersion games, this is the most immersion you could get next to becoming a real general (which I would imagine, wouldn’t be as fun and would be a lot more dangerous). What do you guys think? Is this idea doable, do you think it would be fun to play? Know any developers who would want to make this game for me? ;)
Enjoy a video of Koreans playing StarCraft. No, this system will never allow one to be as intense as the guys in the video, but for the rest of use, it may be possible to make this work.